By Walter Borden
The Executive Branch took the lead for the US Public in addressing Climate Change amelioration in 2014 with both EPA actions as well as international diplomacy. By any standard the US China Agreement on Climate Change is, as The Guardian wrote:
A historic milestone in the global fight against climate change
Solar and wind energy are now price competitive with conventional fuels and installations, especially in the Northeast and Southwest. The US military maintained its tremendous foresight as it advances with solar installations as well as developing equipment for the field.
Stock traders have been bullish (though recently skittish to bearish). Nonetheless, the Guggenheim Solar ETF (NYSEARCA:TAN) vs. the S&P 500 showed huge swings to the upside again marked by very high volatility. Observations that low oil prices will harm solar lack coherence as the main competitor to solar and wind is coal in the world’s energy marketplace. Furthermore oil accounts for less than 10% of the input costs of solar manufacturing and de minimus amounts in plants presently online.
Divestiture from fossil fuel concerns now stretches from the offices of the Rockefeller Foundation to those of the Stanford University endowment, among a great many other institutions. In other areas of finance, firms like Generate Capital have rolled out innovative methods for providing capital for renewable energy and fresh water infrastructure.
Challenges lie ahead in 2015 to be sure. Many states such as Ohio and Florida are rolling back programs to encourage adoption of clean energy. The incoming U.S. Congress will be controlled by policymakers quite hostile to climate change mitigation, clean energy, and the EPA. Worse still, they are more committed to corporate welfare for the fossil fuel industry than ever. While jobs have been created (and destroyed) in the boom-bust cycle of shale extraction, in a handful of states the notion of the industry undertaking retraining assistance is never mentioned. Thus any hope of 21st Century Public Works project to build our climate friendly infrastructure hinge on the outcome of the Presidential election some two years out.
Many journalists in covering New York State’s ban on fracking missed a central point. For example, Andrew Revkin at Dot Earth wrote:
….even though I felt (and still am convinced) that gas extraction from shale can be done safely and cleanly if properly regulated.
In our current environment regulatory capture — the revolving door between regulators and the industries they are tasked to regulate by the electorate — continues to intensify. So expecting ‘proper regulation’ to protect our water supply and atmosphere is an inviable approach in the Citizen’s United era. (As an aside Journalists Charlie Rose and Cory Johnson, both of Bloomberg TV, have recently professed ignorance as to what regulatory capture is. Yet, its well known many key regulators are paid bonuses to leave their jobs for government all the while expecting to be hired by the same industry that they regulated. Who is going to regulate and fine firms for which they expect to work?) Quis custodiet ipsos?
Utility scale solar in particular presents legitimate concerns due its water requirements for keeping sand and dust off the panels. Though as the World Bank notes many Concentrated Solar Power plans have managed to cut water usage by 90%.
Nonetheless, fossil fuel is still the primary threat to supplies of fresh water, whether from fracking, coal mining, or aquifer depletion. Rampant plastic pollution injures our hydrosphere and climate change continues to change the ecology of the world’s oceans via acidification. Such changes are dangerous, and the one’s still under study are worrisome in the uncertain nature of their long term effects.
Meanwhile confusion and weak logic reign when it comes to the Keystone XL pipeline. Economist John Cochrane calls it “infrastructure” yet its only purpose is to ship oil from Canada for export and usage in other nations. And, the profits will largely accrue offshore. The hope is that the President will veto this boondoggle — which will create comparatively few jobs, the majority of which will be temporary.
However, it is worth ending on a positive note. Increasing numbers of people recognize the threat of climate change and are integrating ecology into economy. The picture at the beginning of this post is one of a Christmas Tree made entirely of recycled plastic bags. A realization is spreading that the natural world, the source of all life and profits, needs to be given as high a priority as national defense for it is essential to the general welfare.