There’s good news on the viability of President Joe Biden’s climate agenda, with a new report detailing how the U.S. could potentially come within reach of his 2030 objective to power 80 percent of the nation’s electrical grid with clean energy. Doing so would also meet U.S. targets to halve carbon emissions by 2030, using a 2005 baseline, and further reduce them to 77 percent below 2005 levels by 2035, according to the report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Evergreen Action.
Time is of the essence, however. And not just because of any impending climate tipping points. The current administration isn’t guaranteed a second term. And, as the Washington Post's Maxine Joselow pointed out last week, an incoming Republican president would likely reverse any last-minute changes. Ironically, rushing the conversion may also be the best way to end partisanship over the issue as long-term savings become apparent to businesses and consumers alike.
“President Biden committed to the most ambitious set of climate goals in American history,” Charles Harper, power sector policy lead at Evergreen Action, said in a statement. “Important progress has been made, but President Biden must take bold action this year in order to deliver on those commitments. By ramping up its work to transition the U.S. economy toward 100 percent clean energy, the Biden administration and state leaders can reduce toxic pollution, cut energy costs, create good jobs, and advance environmental justice. Let’s get to work.”
The report lists necessary measures which, based on modeling, could result in meeting the climate goals set out in the president’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) if they are implemented immediately. Researchers say setting new and stringent rules through the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air Act, as well as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), will be paramount. Other necessary courses of action include making the most of the IRA’s grant programs and tax credits, and promoting stronger state standards on emissions to match federal targets.
“We don’t need magic bullets or new technologies,” Manish Bapna, NRDC president and CEO, explained in a statement. “We already have the tools — and now we have a roadmap. If the Biden administration, Congress, and state leaders follow it, we will build the better future we all deserve. There is no time for half measures or delay.”
The report does not call for an end to new power plants that generate electricity from fossil fuels, but it does recommend that rule changes and emission standards be applied to existing gas and coal facilities as well. The transition away from fossil fuels is thus presented as more of a carrot than a stick situation — with funds from the IRA needed to encourage the expansion of renewables, as opposed to attempting to eliminate the construction of new fossil fuel-based plants.
The increasing availability and cheaper cost of renewable energy benefits not just consumers, but also the U.S. manufacturers and businesses that rely on all possible savings to remain competitive. The more that can be done to encourage the grid transition to renewables, the cheaper power will be for everyone. In time, then, partisan opposition to renewable energy should wane.
However, it’s important to remember that no type of consumption comes without consequences. Resources must still be extracted to build batteries, solar panels, wind turbines, etcetera in order to power the clean energy revolution. As such, we must be more careful not to create a whole new environmental disaster in the process of slowing the climate crisis.
People in the U.S. use four times as much energy as the worldwide average. Cheaper power runs the risk of increasing total consumption, as seen with the connection between gasoline prices and driving habits. With the impending robotization of multiple industries, increased power usage could be dramatically compounded and raise emissions above current modeling. Therefore, it is imperative that people in the U.S. look to reduce their consumption, in addition to cleaning up the grid.
Many Americans are already willing to adjust their lifestyles to combat climate change, but they need the tools to successfully lower their carbon footprints. Clean power is a big part of this, but so is a public transportation infrastructure that moves us away from the personal passenger vehicle — electric or not — as the primary mode of transportation.
Likewise, the backlash against remote work doesn’t just dismiss employee needs, but it also ignores the environmental benefits of fewer commutes and climate-controlled office buildings. By looking at the bigger picture, perhaps we will begin to understand that our planet does not have unlimited resources. No matter how we power things, we cannot do so from a thought process of ever expanding abundance with zero consequences.
Image credit: Alexandru Boicu/Unsplash
Riya Anne Polcastro is an author, photographer and adventurer based out of the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys writing just about anything, from gritty fiction to business and environmental issues. She is especially interested in how sustainability can be harnessed to encourage economic and environmental equity between the Global South and North. One day she hopes to travel the world with nothing but a backpack and her trusty laptop.