The POW Dispatch: Our Take on Climate News, February 19, 2021
WORDS & HEADER IMAGE: DONNY O’NEILL
Welcome to The Dispatch, Protect Our Winters’ weekly wrap-up of climate news, complete with our take on each topic and how that impacts our ongoing efforts to reduce the effects of climate change.
Much of the national news focused on the brutal winter storm that’s brought Texas’ energy grid to its knees this week. While false claims have been made about the state’s renewable energy sources and their role in the massive blackouts that have occurred, the real source of the power failure is the Texas energy grid as a whole. We explore this topic, along with new public lands legislation being introduced into the House, the new social cost of carbon and the continued momentum of the electric vehicle industry. Read all about it in this week’s Dispatch.
“… this is not a story about the flakiness of renewables. Instead it’s a story about how isolation and overtaxed power sources of any kind are dangerous. This example underscores the importance of energy security, and it shows how a lack of it can be deadly in the face of extreme temperatures, which likely will be more common thanks to climate change.” — Heather Hansman, author
Bone-chattering cold temperatures and significant snowfall marched into the central and southern United States this week. Texas was hit particularly hard, with widespread power outages and subsequent heat, food and water shortages. Seeing an opportunity to shirk responsibility, many renewable energy opponents, including Texas Governor Greg Abbott, falsely blamed the outages on frozen wind turbines and solar panels. False narratives were concocted across social media, including a photo of a helicopter de-icing a wind turbine, with accompanying claims that a chemical solution was being applied to a wind generator in Texas. Sometimes, what you’re told isn’t reality, and it turns out that photo showed a helicopter spraying hot water onto a turbine in Sweden years ago.
In reality, the culprit of the outages in Texas was a failure of the state’s energy grid, overall. Texas relies on its own power grid (most of the United States depends on two power grid systems) in order to avoid federal regulation, keep local energy prices low and avoid reliance on outside energy sources. The lack of regulation also doesn’t require the state to prepare for rare cold weather events like this one. This leaves Texas vulnerable to power shortages during extreme weather because it’s isolated from the national power supply and reliant on its own limited energy sources. It’s like venturing out into the backcountry by yourself; if anything goes south, you’ve only got yourself to rely on.
While wind energy supply did go offline, its overall effect on the entire grid was negligible, due to Texas’ overwhelming reliance on natural gas. As Hansman points out in this article, “the larger issue was the carbon-based sources’ fragile supply chains.” The energy failure in Texas highlights the need for reliable energy storage, an interconnected modern grid and local renewable solutions that provide better connectivity in times of extreme weather. The situation in Texas revealed the resiliency of renewable energy and the downfall of traditional natural gas resources. Wind turbines came back online quickly and solar energy has performed as it’s supposed to during the storms, while natural gas wells and pipelines froze and failed to bounce back in a timely manner. As a result, wind and solar operators have benefited from their ability to generate electricity while prices have skyrocketed.
Rather than a failure of the renewable energy sector in Texas, the disaster reveals that its natural gas infrastructure isn’t resilient during unprecedented cold-weather events, which will become more frequent as climate change causes more extreme temperature swings. An energy resilient future in Texas hinges on a combination of technology, policy and cultural adoption that must go hand in hand. This storm has caused preventable human suffering, but it also provides evidence that technological advancements and policy solutions can safeguard against energy shortages in the future. An interconnected grid can provide reliability in these situations and allow for better transportation of renewable power from place to place, an essential function with the majority of renewable energy coming from sources far away from large populations.
“The Biden administration must put a high enough price on carbon pollution to encourage the scale and urgency of action needed to meet the commitments it has made to Americans and the rest of the world. The future of our planet depends on it.” — economists Nicholas Stern and Joseph Stiglitz
Carbon pricing is a dense topic, but, in short, it puts a price tag on carbon emissions. If you want to rapidly reduce carbon emissions, simply make it more expensive to emit them, right? It’s an effective strategy in a capitalist economy as it charges companies and individuals a fee for releasing carbon into the atmosphere, encouraging people to reduce their carbon footprint to save money. Less carbon equals more savings. The social cost of carbon reveals the economic benefits of reducing carbon emissions and represents the value we place on curbing the worst effects of climate change—catastrophic cold snaps, coastal flooding, death from pollution, etc.—on future generations.
This week, economists Nicholas Stern and Joseph Stiglitz published a paper urging the country to reevaluate its calculation of the social cost of carbon. Under the Obama administration, the figure was estimated at $50 per metric ton by 2030, while that figure dropped to $2 to $7 under the Trump administration. Stern and Stiglitz suggest the social cost should be closer to $100 per metric ton.
Way back in January (we know, it feels like years ago), President Biden reinstated a working group to estimate the social cost of greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide and methane included—and requested an updated figure within 30 days. Setting a high social cost of carbon is hugely important for achieving Biden’s goal of making the country carbon-neutral by 2050.
Not only will it encourage companies and individuals to lower their carbon output, but it will also factor in the impact climate change has on future generations and help provide them a stable climate. Stay tuned, we’ll have more on this as the current administration unveils its findings surrounding the social cost of carbon.
POW Alliance Member Clare Gallagher runs along the boundary of the Eagles Nest Wilderness in Colorado.
“The Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act designates approximately 1.49 million acres of public land as wilderness and incorporates more than 1,000 river miles into the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The bill would also withdraw more than 1.2 million acres of public land from new oil and gas and mining claims, ensuring that iconic landscapes like the Grand Canyon and Colorado’s Thompson Divide are permanently protected from the irreversible threats posed by extraction. Advancing this package to the House floor is just one of many actions the Committee is taking to protect the integrity of our public lands and waters, promote outdoor recreation for all Americans, and enhance community resiliency to the impacts of the climate crisis.” — Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act press release
This week, Congressman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) announced a package of Natural Resources Committee bills that will be headed to the House of Representatives for a vote on Wednesday, February 23. If Congressman Grijalva sounds familiar, it’s because POW Alliance member Caroline Gleich interviewed him way back in June 2020 for the POW Lobby Camp. The package includes a slew of public lands protection legislation, including the Grand Canyon Protection Act, Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act and Protecting America’s Wilderness Act. All told, the package, dubbed the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act, features eight separate bills all committed to safeguarding the country’s public lands.
The CORE Act, for example, will protect 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado, establish new wilderness areas, safeguard existing outdoor recreation opportunities and designate a first-ever National Historic Landscape for the 10th Mountain Division at Camp Hale. As if that wasn’t enough, the bill takes 200,000 acres off the table for future oil and gas development and creates a program to reuse methane (a potent greenhouse gas) waste
Currently, the United States faces a huge carbon emissions problem with its public lands; almost a quarter of the country’s total emissions can be traced back to federal land. Ridding fossil fuel extraction from public lands is one of the best solutions to drastically reduce the country’s emissions in addition to preserving incredible outdoor landscapes for recreation purposes. The Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Acts is the whole package when it comes to public land protection. Think of it like those rare occurrences where a storm drops two feet of snow overnight and the skies clear in the morning just when the lifts start spinning. It’s an opportunity where all the stars align.
The bill will likely pass through the House of Representatives (iterations of the bill have had success there in the past, including the CORE Act, which has passed the House twice in previous sessions), leaving the pressure on the Senate to not pass up this incredible opportunity.
Curious about the individual bills included in the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act? Check out each piece of legislation, below:
“Jaguar Land Rover’s aim is to achieve net-zero carbon emissions across its supply chain, products and operations by 2039.” — Jaguar Land Rover
The electric vehicle party continues! More and more major automobile manufacturers are pledging to overhaul their fleets with electric vehicles. General Motors and Ford have already made electric vehicle commitments in recent weeks, and now, Jaguar and Land Rover are also stepping up to the plate. Over the next five years, Jaguar will phase out internal combustion engines and Land Rover will introduce its first all-electric vehicle in 2024, with five additional models expected by 2025.
Anyone who has spent time in a luxury ski town—Park City, Aspen, Sun Valley—has certainly seen a Land Rover equipped with a ski rack rolling towards the ski hill. Now, those luxury car owners can get to the ski resort in a carbon-neutral fashion, a future POW has been pushing for consistently. With so many auto manufacturers evolving their business strategies around electric vehicles, that momentum is set to continue moving forward. This movement represents a cultural shift in how the country treats solutions to climate change, as well as focus on new technological solutions, both of which are imperative if the country hopes to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.
Local Climate News
While national climate topics often dominate the news cycle, there’s still plenty going on surrounding renewables, electrified transit, public lands and more in states and local communities across the nation. Take a look at what’s going on locally via the news blurbs below.