Washington Weekly: March 23, 2022
This Week’s Headlines
- Polar Extremes: Temperatures in both the North and South Poles simultaneously hit alarming extremes over the past week. Temperatures in parts of the Arctic reached 50 degrees warmer than average and parts of Antarctica broke records with temperatures more than 70 degrees above average, the latest example of the impacts of climate change and the critical need for action to address the crisis.
- Americans Against Big Oil: Dealing with outrageous prices at the pump, new polling from LCV and Climate Power shows 80% of American voters – including 73% of Republicans – support a windfall profits tax on fossil fuel companies that are blatantly profiteering off the crisis in Ukraine and hauling in record profits thanks to the high gas prices.
- 74% by 2030: That’s how much the United States needs to cut oil and gas production to have a 50% chance of meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. A new study reveals just how drastically far behind we are in addressing climate change despite international pledges. The report notes richer countries have until 2034 to get off oil and gas completely, while the poorest nations have until 2050 if the world is to avoid dangerous levels of global warming.
A Deeper Dive
On his first day in office, President Biden signed an executive order for the United States to rejoin the landmark Paris Climate Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. It was a big step, but the U.S and nations around the world have done little to decrease fossil fuel production that is driving the climate crisis. Now, scientists have unequivocally demonstrated that rich countries must get off of fossil fuels by 2034. The report “Phaseout Pathways for Fossil Fuel Production Within Paris-compliant Carbon Budgets” states:
There are no exceptions; all nations need to begin a rapid and just phaseout of existing production. The report makes absolutely clear that there is no capacity in the carbon budget for opening up new production facilities of any kind, whether coal mines, oil wells or gas terminals.”
Replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy will require a society-wide transformation, with rapid deployment of utility scale wind, solar, hydropower and geothermal energy needed to decarbonize electricity production.
We also have to electrify everything. This means:
- Replacing gas stoves and furnaces with electric alternatives
- Reducing our dependence on single-occupancy vehicles
- Investing in mass public transit
- Transitioning to electric vehicles
- Weatherizing homes, businesses and schools
- Revolutionizing and decarbonizing industries like agriculture, shipping, and airlines
These are just a few of the tasks ahead, changes that we must make in the timespan that has elapsed since Interstellar (2014) hit the big screens. The good news is that all of these steps make our lives more affordable, comfortable and healthier in addition to the climate benefits.
That said, beginning to build out a renewable-based electric grid is difficult given the power of our utility companies that prioritize shareholder profits over building clean energy and affordable rates for residents. Michigan has some of the highest energy rates in the Midwest combined with some of the worst reliability and restoration times. In fact, DTE Energy has raised rates six times since 2011 (with little improvements to service) while shutting off power for 208,000 homes between April 2020 and December 2021 despite receiving federal COVID relief funding to specifically prevent shutoffs during the pandemic. DTE is now requesting yet another rate increase, as well as new mandatory fees for residential “distributed generation” of solar energy that would make investing in rooftop solar impossible for many Michiganders. It is clear that making clean energy more accessible and affordable undermines the business model of utility companies that would rather double down on fossil fuels.
It’s not just investor-owned utilities that must change. Energy utilities and services owned by the federal government (many of which are still controlled by Trump nominees) are also failing to make the switch to renewables. This week, the largest federally-owned utility, the Tennessee Valley Authority, doubled down on fossil fuels by choosing to invest $3.5 billion in new natural gas plants. This comes after the United States Postal Service chose to replace its fleet with gas powered vehicles instead of electric ones. With the President’s climate agenda stalled in Congress, it’s fair to wonder what chance we have to stay below 1.5 degrees warming.
The backlog in Washington demonstrates the importance of the upcoming 2022 elections and advocating for bold policy in the states. The House Progressive Caucus recently released a set of recommendations that President Biden can act on right now, which includes using the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of things like heat pumps. Next month, Governor Whitmer will release the final MI Healthy Climate plan, which will help utility companies rapidly transition towards renewable energy. At the local level, Michigan communities are leading the way on climate action, as a new report released today from Michigan Climate Action Network demonstrates.
Fighting climate change will always be worth it, even if we cross dangerous thresholds. 1.7 degrees warming is infinitely better than 2.2 degrees, and 2.2 is better than 3 degrees. Lives are on the line each step of the way, and at no point can we give up. It is more important now than ever that we demonstrate the opportunities fighting climate change can bring. We have a chance to create millions of jobs, undo legacies of harm in marginalized communities, eliminate poverty, and build a more equitable future. We just have to organize to win that future.
Let’s hope this report is a wakeup call for our political leaders who are sleepwalking into catastrophe.
The Michigan LCV Difference
Here are three climate events to check out over the next week:
- Today at 5 p.m., join Michigan clean energy champions to hear how the climate crisis is impacting Michiganders and why we must urgently take action. Hear from Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, State Senator Stephanie Chang, and Bryan Lewis from EcoWorks on how Michigan can continue to invest in clean energy and fight for environmental justice. The event is hosted by our friends at Climate Power and will be moderated by Frank Houston from the BlueGreen Alliance. Plus, learn how to share your story to drive your lawmakers to take bold climate action. Again, the event is today (Wednesday) at 5pm and you may click this link to register.
- Hear insights from University of Michigan students about their trip to the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference next week. The University of Michigan student group Climate Blue sent a delegation to COP26 in Glasgow and is hosting an event on their experience next Tuesday, March 29, 2022 at 5pm. Register here: there is a virtual webinar and you may also attend in person in Room 1040 in the Dana building, on University of Michigan’s Main Campus in Ann Arbor.
- Stay tuned for details about an event happening next week (also with Blue Green Alliance and others) focused on the benefits of the Infrastructure law for energy efficiency, home weatherization, and saving money on your energy bill.
Thanks for reading, and have a great week!