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Flickers of climate light in the D.C. darkness






Flickers of climate light in the D.C. darkness

I’m just back from a weeklong trip to Washington, D.C. to talk about a new project we’re launching at Next Generation (more on that later!).  Everyone loves to get down on Washington these days – those people can’t get anything done! They’re paralyzed by partisanship! But I was encouraged by my meetings with incredibly smart people in the administration, agencies, NGOs – and yes, even Congress – who are working insane hours every day to move the ball forward on climate, and make this country more sustainable over the long term.

The Beltway actually just made a huge contribution to the argument for taking action on climate: a new report from the Department of Energy laying out how the increase in extreme weather events will ultimately undermine our entire energy system.  The report points out that rising sea levels, increased hurricanes and flooding in some areas, and decreased water availability in others, will all massively disrupt our ability to produce and move electricity and fuel. Oil and gas production; fuel transport by rail; natural gas, coal, and nuclear production; and large-scale renewable energy production all depend on a calm climate and a steady supply of water.  Increasingly, those things are at risk, and the report points out we need to plan our energy development accordingly.  

These points hit home here in California, where our rainfall is at a 90-year low. It’s easy to get depressed just thinking about what that means for our state energy system, not to mention our farmers.  But what I like about the DOE report is that it doesn’t just lay out an apocalyptic scenario.  Instead, it points out the inherent vulnerabilities of our current energy system, and suggests steps we can take to reduce our risk.  It’s not a message of resignation; it’s one of action and strategy. 

That’s critically important, because focusing on the climate apocalypse can be overwhelming and paralyzing. In fact, as psychologist Mary Pipher recently wrote in TIME Magazine, the sheer vastness and seemingly ethereal nature of climate change as a threat can lead us to deny, minimalize, or normalize the situation. “We are genetically programmed to react to threats by fleeing or fighting, and at first, our environmental crisis does not seem to allow us to do either. We’re better at dealing with problems that are concrete, close-at-hand, familiar and require skills and tools that we already possess. Our global storm is invisible, unprecedented, drawn out, and caused by all of us.”

So we need reminders that we have the power, and agency, to do something about climate change.  That’s why I love living out here in California, where every day brings new evidence that it’s actually possible to do something at the personal, business, and even policy level to chip away at this huge wall of climate change.  Here are this week’s great stories:

We are kicking a** on rooftop solar … The California PUC just issued its  annual report on the progress of the California Solar Initiative.  A residential solar system in California now costs about $5.78 per watt and, to date, the program has achieved 66 percent of its total goal – that’s 1,629 MWs of installed solar capacity.  In 2012, the amount of solar installed on California’s rooftops grew by 391 MWs–a 26% increase.  Even more impressive, these figures only represent new capacity generated by investor-owned utilities.  

… But we have to make sure it’s available to all:  The success of distributed solar is a huge boon for our energy security, but we have to make sure it doesn’t cause a new “electrical divide” and leave out low-income communities.  A new paper from my colleagues at the Center for American Progress recommends specific policy and regulatory actions to allow low-income Americans to share the benefits of solar energy without being forced to pay skyrocketing utility bills.

Even China wants to be like us: California and China continue to work together to shore up one another’s ambitious climate goals.  The Province of Shenzen, in particular, is working hard to reduce its carbon intensity by 21 percent, and is looking to California to provide a solid example of how to do that while maintaining economic prosperity.

When you’re an inspiration to the biggest carbon emitter in the world, you have to feel some measure of hope that we can lick this climate change thing.  The other thing that brings me hope: the passion of our future leaders to take action. This week we posted a new video, coming out of our partnership with the Alliance for Climate Education, with four young Californians talking about why fixing their school buildings is just as important as fixing the planet. 



Solar installations soar in California

California utility customers installed a record-breaking 391 megawatts of solar power systems last year. That was a banner year for the nation’s largest photovoltaic rebate scheme, with installations up 26 percent compared with 2011. Those panels were installed with the assistance of the California Solar Initiative [PDF], a $2.2 billion program started in 2007 that aims to help residents meet the costs of installing 1,940 megawatts of solar capacity by the end of 2016. The program is on track to meet that target well ahead of schedule, meaning incentives will begin to dwindle. 
12/Jul » Grist

Appeals court orders Calif. to fix low-carbon fuel standard

A California appeals court yesterday ordered the state to fix its first-in-the-nation program to lower the carbon content of transportation fuels but allowed the rule to remain in force.
16/Jul » E&E News ClimateWire

Climate Change Will Cause More Energy Breakdowns, U.S. Warns

The nation’s entire energy system is vulnerable to increasingly severe and costly weather events driven by climate change, according to a report from the Department of Energy to be published on Thursday.
11/Jul » The New York Times

The Danger Of A New Electricity Divide — And How To Solve It

How we get and use electricity is undergoing a massive jump forward in technological sophistication — just like telephone communications, the internet, wireless and broadband access did before it. And while this advancement brings benefits, it also threatens to leave poorer and less privileged Americans behind. That’s the takeaway from a new paper by Richard Caperton and Mari Hernandez at the Center for American Progress, which also offers a few ideas to get out ahead of the problem.
15/Jul » ClimateProgress

California: With precipitation at 90-year low, state girds for water shortages

California officials are warning of surface water shortages this year and next with precipitation levels hitting a 90-year low. Shortages are likely to affect farmers and others who depend on the Sacramento River watershed, the State Water Resources Control Board said yesterday.
16/Jul » E&E News GreenWire

China Raises Target for 2015 Solar Power Capacity

China raised its 2015 target for solar-electricity capacity, giving a shot in the arm to solar companies that are struggling because of industry overcapacity, weaker global demand and overseas trade disputes. Installed capacity for solar electricity should reach more than 35 gigawatts by 2015, up from about seven gigawatts last year, China's State Council said in a statement posted Monday but dated July 4. China's previous target was 21 gigawatts. 
15/Jul » Wall Street Journal

Hopeful signs for U.S. and Chinese cooperation on climate change

As California and Shenzhen roll up their sleeves to support one another’s ambitious climate change programs, they will provide demonstrable proof of the promise of cooperation between their nations and will deliver results and momentum towards national action. In her remarks at the Shenzhen launch, Mary Nichols called the leadership of California, Shenzhen, and other provinces, states and cities around the world “a foundation that national and international action can spring from.”
10/Jul » Environmental Defense Fund, EDF Voices

These maps show the best places to put solar and wind power. (It’s not where you think.)

At first glance, it might seem obvious where the United States should focus on building more renewable energy. Stick the solar panels in sunny Arizona and hoist up the wind turbines on the gusty Great Plains, right? Well, not necessarily. A recent study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University offered another way to look at the issue. 
15/Jul » Washington Post

We Are All Climate Change Deniers

I’ve learned not to argue too long with people who do not “believe in” human-made climate change. I figure it’s impossible to reason someone out of a position that they didn’t reason themselves into. But the fact is that even those of us who do believe climate change is man-made are in partial denial about our enormous global problems, and almost all of us minimize or normalize the situation.
15/Jul » TIME

Shaheen-Portman: The Little Energy Efficiency Bill That Could. But Will It?

A bipartisan energy efficiency bill sponsored by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) may be on the verge of a Senate breakthrough. That is, it’s an energy bill that might actually pass.
15/Jul » ClimateProgress

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