From this summer’s sweltering heat in the usually cool Pacific Northwest, to the heat wave that grounded airplanes in Arizona, there is no question that the impacts of climate change are upon us.
The recent draft of a federal climate change report that may never see a final form, shows that the northeastern United States will be hit hard. Here in Vermont, we already know that. We have seen a summer filled with nearly daily rainfall and downpours that wash out dirt roads almost on a weekly basis. All those washouts send polluting runoff downstream turning lakes and streams into mud baths.
While scientists confirm the severe impacts of climate change, our federal government takes action to roll back pollution rules and hide the science, eliminating any mention of climate change in federal reports. Ignoring the problem or calling it something different doesn’t make it go away. Lack of action places our climate, our health and our national security at risk.
Climate change is indeed a big problem. Sometimes it feels too big. And our actions feel too small. History will tell whether our actions — large and small — are as commensurate as they must be to the challenge. In the face of rollbacks, inaction and obstruction at the federal level, it is heartening to see that others are picking up some of the slack and that climate needs and economic reality are pushing good decisions elsewhere.
From the banking and finance sector, JPMorgan Chase recently announced its commitment to source 100 percent of its power needs from renewable energy by 2020. Putting its money where its mouth is, the company also committed to facilitate $200 billion in financing for clean energy by 2025. Beyond altruism, the company recognizes that these are good financial decisions.
For transportation, the ever-inventive Tesla Co. just put 30 of its lower cost electric cars into the hands of drivers. Already over 500,000 people have put down a deposit to get behind the wheel of one of these longer-range electric cars. Beyond Tesla, Volvo announced that all of its cars will be electric or hybrid by 2019. France announced it will have only electric vehicles by 2040, following Norway’s commitment to do the same by 2025 and India’s commitment by 2030. That’s a lot of people cutting their climate change emissions by more than half for getting around. It also shows that neither technology nor customer demand stands in the way of vastly improving vehicle efficiency, and cutting pollution. Standing up to federal rollbacks can avoid propping up gas guzzlers while the advancement of electric vehicles may soon make gasoline cars polluting relics of the past.
The sources of electric power for heating, cooling, charging our cars and gadgets are also changing.
In just the past year, Vermont nearly doubled its already robust supply of solar power. Solar output in Vermont now nearly equals the largest single generator in Vermont, the McNeil Generating Station in Burlington. One example from Massachusetts shows that over 45 proposals were recently submitted in response to a request from utilities for cleaner, lower carbon energy supply. The request sought annual power totaling twice the amount used each year in Vermont. The responses included not only the expected new transmission to bring hydropower from Canada, but also large amounts of even lower carbon new wind and solar power from around the region as well. These responses show there is abundant supply — without gas pipelines or fossil fuels — to meet the region’s energy needs while reducing climate emissions.
Recommending action commensurate with the challenges of climate change is the task of Vermont’s newly formed Climate Action Commission. Sitting idly by or taking baby steps while others reap the benefits of the clean energy economy leaves Vermont an economic and environmental backwater. Vermont has abundant clean energy resources and world class energy efficiency. Let’s put them to work. Pricing carbon pollution puts Vermont on track. The path ahead for prosperity and affordability — and keeping a healthy Vermont for future generations — lies in committing to tackle climate change and kicking our fossil fuel habit. The tools are available. The time is now to put them to use.