By Guy Page
During his Oct. 8 interview on the Dave Gram Show on WDEV, climate change activist Bill McKibben said many Vermonters don’t believe manmade climate change is real, and probably never will.
For better or worse, the Sage of Ripton is probably right about that. He was appearing on WDEV to comment on a recent United Nations report claiming an increased threat of global warming.
However, McKibben told Gram, the 70 percent of Vermonters who do believe in manmade climate change must organize and force government to act. The recipient of many honorary doctorates from universities and the Gandhi Prize said:
“It’s not that we don’t know what to do….We do know what to do. The price of solar power and wind power has dropped like a rock. It’s now the cheapest way to generate power almost anywhere on the plant. 75 years from now, that’s how we’ll run the planet. Because it’s cheap.”
But by then, the planet will be “broken,” McKibben said:
“We have to move way faster than economics will move on its own. That’s why we need to get government leading the way, and that’s why we need movements pushing government.” In particular government must be pushed to divest state pension funds of all fossil fuels, and Vermonters must drive less, ride trains and buses more, and dramatically increase home weatherization, he said.
In sum, Dr. Bill offers both diagnosis and a confident prescription. Climate change breaking the planet. Market too slow. Government must act. Divest now. Build more solar and wind power because it’s clean and cheap.
His “breaking” prognosis might be right. Most scientists say yes; time will tell. But his course of treatment is questioned by other experts.
Let’s start with his insistence on fossil fuel divestment Two years ago State Treasurer Beth Pearce, Democrat and firm believer in man-made climate change, paid a consultant to determine if divestment would 1) reduce carbon emissions and 2) affect pension fund value. Conclusion: it wouldn’t affect emissions because those stocks would be bought by investors who cared nothing about climate change. And fund value would suffer. Retirees would suffer. Global warming wouldn’t. McKibben’s just wrong about the impact of Vermont divestment.
Is the market too slow to reduce carbon emissions? Actually the market is the #1 reason why the U.S. is leading the world in carbon emissions reduction. Yes, you read that right. According to the 10/2017 issue of Forbes Magazine:
According to the 2017 BP Statistical Review of World Energy, since 2005 annual U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have declined by 758 million metric tons. That is by far the largest decline of any country in the world over that timespan and is nearly as large as the 770 million metric ton decline for the entire European Union. By comparison, the second largest decline during that period was registered by the United Kingdom, which reported a 170 million metric ton decline. At the same time, China’s carbon dioxide emissions grew by 3 billion metric tons, and India’s grew by 1 billion metric tons.
2005 is about the time hydro-fracking mining of natural gas began to emerge. Ever since, ‘clean’ natural gas has eaten ‘dirty’ coal’s lunch at the power auctions. That consumer-driven transition – and not government mandates for solar/wind – has driven emissions reduction.
Solar and wind power – cheap? You’d never know it in Vermont. Subsidized six ways to Sunday, its owners still are permitted to charge utilities in double-digits for a kilowatt-hour. Natural gas, Canadian hydro and nuclear power providers all typically charge well under 10 cents wholesale for the same unit. Vermont’s utility officials privately and sometimes publicly grumble that state mandates to buy solar are driving up consumer rates. They say cheaper renewable power is available on the open market.
But when the advantages of carbon-free nuclear and hydro power are mentioned to wind/solar supporters, suddenly their perceived problems become more important than the Future of the Planet. These critics moan about flooding land to create a reservoir, or the dangers of spent fuel recycling and longterm storage. But wait – a minute ago, weren’t we Breaking the Planet? Isn’t a little planned flooding or a few desert storage facilities a fair price to pay for not Breaking the Planet? You’d think so.
I am a great admirer of Meredith Angwin of Wilder, Vermont, a scientist and author/activist who reckons nuclear power a viable climate change strategy. Yesterday her Yes Vermont Yankee Twitter feed reposted a Huffington Post essay about how the only industrial countries meeting aggressive emission goals rely on either hydro or nuclear power. Unless blessed with abundant hydro power, countries determined to maintain a prosperous, first-world, industrial economy and significantly reduce carbon emissions MUST use nuclear at least as a bridge until a new high-yield, carbon free power source (plasma, thorium, next-gen battery, etc.) finally gets to market.
If Dr. McKibben’s prognosis is right (as I suspect it is, in the main) but his recommended treatment is wrong, what then is the best medicine for reducing emissions? Here are a few specific suggestions for Vermont policymakers:
- Seek more transmission lines to deliver more Canadian hydro power
- Defend New England nuclear and hydro power from misguided environmentalists
- Push Washington and Detroit to build a winter-safe, affordable, all-wheel drive electric SUV
- Educate Chinese and Indian “sister” cities and states, via information exchange programs, about how we’ve reduced our carbon footprint
- Think adaptation. How can Vermont prepare for the likely effects of climate change?
- Refuse to legalize commercial cultivation of marijuana because of its extremely high energy consumption, including the practice of intentionally emitting large quantities of CO2 from gas-powered emitting machines
- Enforce existing home-construction energy-efficiency codes, something Vermont homebuilders’ trade groups have been seeking.
Seventy-six years ago, the world faced another crisis: German U-boats were sinking merchant ships stuffed with food and war material vital to the survival of Great Britain and the Soviet Union. In response, the U.S. Navy developed “hunter-killer” squadrons of destroyers to find and sink submarines. The ships dashed back and forth across the raging seas with the energy of terriers chasing a scared rabbit, and with just as little success. Alas the Atlantic Ocean was too vast and the technology too primitive. After squandering precious time, men, ships and material, the Navy redeployed the destroyers to defend convoys. They found and killed U-boats in abundance. The ships got through and we won the war.
Like the hunter-killer squadrons of WWII, wind turbines, solar panels and divestment are seen by some as an aggressive Solution when all it’s really doing is wasting time and losing the war. These ‘feel good’ policies are ultimately too primitive and unproductive to satisfy a vast globe of people demanding the ‘good life’ of energy-driven industrial society.
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.