Sean Sweeney recently authored an intriguing article entitled “A Bridge to Somewhere? Progressive Democrats’ “Climate Ambition” Must Confront Energy Realities”. This post addresses an unexpected agreement on some aspects for two individuals from opposite ends of the climate change debate.
Sean Sweeney is director of the International Program for Labor, Climate and Environment at the Murphy Institute at City University of New York, and coordinator of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy. His article published in the New Labor Forum mentions deniers in the first paragraph and states that the 2017 hurricane season was severe enough to “warrant climate change to be declared a national emergency?” At the other end of the spectrum when I look at a papers based on actual data I find that “since 1900 neither observed continental United States landfalling hurricane frequency nor intensity show significant trends, including the devastating 2017 season.” As a result I do not believe that climate change is a national emergency.
Nonetheless we find common ground. I agree with Sweeney that “the more ambitious the targets, the harder it is to answer questions about how they will be reached.”
Sweeney describes two bills introduced in Congress in 2017 that represent progressive Democrats’ climate ambition. A Senate bill introduced in April 2017 by Senators Jeff Merkley, Bernie Sanders, and Ed Markey. It calls on the United States to transition 100 percent off of fossil fuels by 2050. The “100 × 50” Act would impose new federal mandates requiring “zero carbon” vehicles, while barring federal approval of oil and gas pipelines. The House bill, submitted by Tulsi Gabbard on September 7, 2017, along with six other representatives seeks to end fossil-fuel use in the United States as early as 2035—a full fifteen years earlier than the 2050 target date proposed by Sanders and Merkley. Titled “Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act” (OFF Act) would also mandate the United States to transition to 80 percent clean renewable energy by 2027 and 100 percent by 2035.
Both bills mandate moratoria on any new coal, oil, and gas projects (extraction and infrastructure, including power plants, pipelines, and export terminals). Sweeney and I agree that these are ambitious goals. I agree with him when he states “Ambition surely has its place, but committing to a crash diet on the morning of January 1 is one thing, being fifty pounds lighter in time for the July 4th weekend is something else altogether.” I also agree that with him when he notes that “the difference between aspirational targets and actual accomplishments is not always acknowledged by leading green nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).” I believe he is also correct when he notes that “Mandating electricity retailers to source 80 percent of their power from renewables does not answer the question how that power might be produced, integrated into the grid, or who will do the work.” As noted on my other blog, the aspirational plans to reduce New York State emissions certainly signal the virtue of the Governor of New York but it is not at all clear how those plans will be implemented, whether anyone is looking to see if there are unintended consequences between competing components of the plan, and, most importantly in my mind, how much will they cost.
Despite our agreement on this aspect I cannot overstate how much I disagree with his statement that those two climate bills are “informed by the core findings of the scientific community”. These targets are arbitrary, reflect a mis-reported 97% consensus and the idea that a portion of the scientific community funded to the tune of over $2.5 billion dollars in 2016 would come up with any conclusion other than “it is a problem and you need to fund us more” is naïve. I agree with Dr. Judith Curry “we do not know how much humans have contributed to the recent observed warming and there is disagreement among scientists as to whether human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases is the dominant cause of recent warming, relative to natural causes.” As a result I do not support mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.
Finally, Sweeney states that “If either bill became law, it would amount to a declaration of war on fossil-fuel interests, because much of the present-day stock market value of coal, oil, and gas companies is based on their below-the-ground reserves.” While I agree that this would be a declaration of war on fossil-fuel companies, I think it represents a much bigger target. I believe that fossil fuels have been one of the greatest things to happen to mankind. Until there are in-kind, same price replacements for the ubiquitous use of fossil fuel in society this targets the way of life of everyone. There is a massive lack of understanding relative to what keeps the lights on and enables our affluent and mobile lifestyles. Once you understand that cutting CO2 to the levels proposed will be extraordinarily difficult it is clear that it will be expensive and it is going to affect our lifestyle. For example, electrification of the transportation and residential heating sectors will be required. Sponsors of these bills owe it to their constituents to explain just how expensive it will be and what will have to change in our lifestyle.