My Turn: Solving climate crisis demands strong actions now

  • President Joe Biden shakes hands with Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, after signing H.R. 5376, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, in the White House on Aug. 16. BLOOMBERG/SARAH SILBIGER

Published: 11/13/2022 11:06:12 PM

We know to stop climate change we must achieve net zero emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxides and other climate-warming, carbon-based pollutants. This will require replacing fossil fuel sources of energy with renewable sources and lowering our energy consumption.

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the first comprehensive legislation to solve the climate change crisis ever passed by Congress, makes a major shift to spend our tax dollars on renewable energy. Creating programs and allocating money to implement climate crisis solutions will jump-start change in the U.S. from an economy dependent on polluting fossil fuels to an economy powered by clean renewable energy.

The Inflation Reduction Act uses tax credits, rebates, and investments in new and existing renewable energy technologies to drive the cost of renewable energy below carbon-based energy. The tax credits promote advanced manufacturing of solar, wind, battery, electric vehicle, and electric building heating/cooling products made in the United States. It also encourages investment in new clean electricity production and advanced manufacturing in communities that are economically dependent on fossil fuel energy. Rebates are available for low-income households to convert to energy efficient, electric powered homes. Grants will train employees for renewable energy jobs and loans will provide lower financing of renewable energy projects. The IRA derives funding from a 15% minimum tax on corporations that make more than $1 billion dollars a year and stronger enforcement of tax payments. That money will make energy cheaper and cleaner for all Americans, create jobs in renewable energy industries, and make cleaner renewable energy options the smart financial decision for businesses and consumers.

A more comprehensive understanding of the many programs and potential climate change solutions in the Inflation Reduction Act can be learned through an interview with Jess Jenkins, an energy and climate expert at Princeton University, conducted by Ezra Klein, in a New York Times podcast in September (nytimes.com/2022/09/20/podcasts/transcript-ezra-klein-interviews-jesse-jenkins.html). 

Did you know that about 40% of our electricity today is already carbon free? One problem is that about half of that comes from nuclear power plants built 40 to 50 years ago. The other half of renewable energy comes from hydropower and more recently, the large-scale growth of wind power and solar power. The U.S. single year record of added renewable capacity is 25 gigawatts in 2020. An annual total of 60 to 70 GW of renewable energy sourced electricity is needed to meet net zero by 2050, according to the report “Pathways to Net-Zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2050” published by U.S. State Dept. and Office of the President. As a reference, 1 GW of energy would service 750,000 homes.

Why do we need to expand electrification so rapidly? Electricity moves energy to end users with zero emissions of CO2, methane, nitrous oxides and other climate-warming pollutants. The two biggest sources of CO2 emissions today are transportation and heating/cooling of buildings. As we move from climate altering fossil fuels to electricity from renewable sources of energy, we will need increased amounts of electricity. There is an established infrastructure of electricity transmission lines, however, to achieve a net zero economy the electricity delivery infrastructure needs to more than double by 2050. The conversion to renewable energy needs to be a top national priority each year without pause to reach the electricity production and delivery capacity for net zero carbon emission by 2050.

A UN report published Oct. 22, 2022 on global progress to implement climate crisis solutions concluded only 26 of 193 countries have followed through on their pledged goals. The worldwide switch from fossil fuels to renewable sources must happen faster to avoid higher temperature increases and catastrophic effects. Some energy experts advocate a carbon fee as the quickest way to stop using fossil fuels. There are 46 countries using carbon fees and emission trading schemes. The challenge is to create carbon fees that achieve a fast significant reduction of fossil fuel use, and designed for economic justice. The people and companies using the most fossil fuel (those with a large carbon footprint) should pay the highest carbon fee.

Mothers Out Front has created a letter to Gov.-elect Maura Healey, urging aggressive support for more legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, implement equitable climate crisis solutions, and protect frontline communities from environmental pollution and climate disasters. Send your message that Massachusetts could lead the nation with climate crisis solutions, but only if our governor is ready to champion clean energy and clean air for all (https://www.mothersoutfront.org/take-action/ma-letter-to-governor/).

We all need to speak up and stay involved to keep our state and national government officials accountable to solve climate crisis by demanding follow through to expand programs that work. Our future environment depends on aggressive actions today and for the next three decades.

Tom Bassett is a Florence resident of 40 years, grandfather of four, retired mechanical engineer, and member of Mothers Out Front. Please reply with comments and ideas for future columns to shawbass@comcast.net.

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