Tuesday, July 13, 2021

What we can do; how we get through doing it

The lived reality of a warming climate is terrifying. Drought, rising seas, hurricanes, burning forests ... it's all too much for most humans to take in, which helps explain how we came to build a civilization which ensures it will happen. So, we did just that and it's happening.

David Roberts is the clearest explainer of climate science and climate policy that I know of. So I'm going to share here what he says is the Main Thing we could and should be doing to avert the worst.

Clean electrification is the entrée. Everything else is a side.

How can the US hit net-zero emissions by or before 2050, a goal shared by almost every Democrat and, at least rhetorically, by some Republicans? ...

... while different climate models disagree about which policies and technologies will be needed to clean up remaining emissions after 2030, virtually all of them agree on what’s needed over the next decade. It’s clean electrification:

  1. clean up the electricity grid by replacing fossil fuel power plants with renewable energy, batteries, and other zero-carbon resources;

  2. clean up transportation by replacing gasoline and diesel vehicles — passenger vehicles, delivery trucks and vans, semi-trucks, small planes, agricultural and mining equipment, etc. — with electric vehicles; and

  3. clean up buildings by replacing furnaces and other appliances that run on fossil fuels with electric equivalents.

Or as I summarize it: electrify everything!

Clean electrification is the entrée. If you decarbonize electricity, transportation, and buildings, you’ve taken out the three biggest sources of emissions in virtually every country. The technologies and policies we need to do it exist today, ready to deploy. 

So I'm looking into an electric hot water heater ... and urging you to subscribe to David Robert's Substack: Volts.

• • •

Matt Yglesias is down on the Sunrise Movement and climate hawks generally for raising a public howl against perceived inadequacies in the climate elements in the Biden administration's infrastructure proposals. 

Is it [the "bipartisan" fig leaf] the most amazing bill in the universe? Of course not. But it’s a good bill. And if passing it on a bipartisan basis makes moderate senators feel happy, that’s great. And if Republicans tank a bipartisan bill and that makes moderate senators feel angry at Republicans, that’s great. But instead, climate groups seem to have decided they want to try to sink the bill from the left, on the theory that Biden is a “coward” and the bill doesn’t address climate issues. ... the idea that this bill does not contain climate measures is just clearly false.

... Will that solve climate change? No. Should it cause everyone to shut up about the issue and never press for anything new? No. But should it induce a crowd of protestors to come to the White House and get mad at Joe Biden for not addressing climate change? That’s absurd. 

Yglesias is a fine policy dissector but he's missing how norm changing politics works in our fractious dispersed polity. It goes something like this:

• Outsiders think up the unthinkable. Here are some novel ideas: Black people are just as human as white people. Or gay people should be able to get married. Or the society is going to have to find new energy sources and cut out fossil fuels. 

• Neither political party wants much or even anything to do with the radical idea. It might upset some portion of their existing coalition. Because the Democrats really do have a big tent and some understanding of their need to get bigger, the novelty gradually gains a foothold on the fringes of "mainstream" politics.

• If the novelty can be made popular, mostly by the outsiders who first brought it forward, Democrats may incorporate it in their broad program. That's nice.

• If the Dems have power -- and that's rare -- they may try to advance their recently adopted idea. The path will not be easy because our government system makes nothing easy. Some of the original outsiders may be drawn inside, but their influence will continue to depend on agitation from the outsiders. 

And so you get people who never experienced themselves as anything but outsiders picketing outside the White House. It's how they know to make progress; it has worked, sort of, in the past; what else are they supposed to do?

The only way to get them away from the White House is to give them something else to do to win what must be won. I'm pretty sure they've already figured that out and set up periodically on Joe Manchin's lawn. Climate hawks are actually very smart. But thwarted terror and passion can turn very sour.

Where Yglesias is right is that climate warriors can't win with just dramatic messaging. They need to organize a much more sizable fraction of the electorate for whom climate action is their first and foremost demand from government. The climate is doing its part to arouse such masses; most of us want to be able to keep living where we live now, reasonably comfortably. It's climate hawks job to be available to people to connect the dots and organize ever greater numbers of us to afflict our politicians. 

As Roberts explains, the technologists know what to do. The Democrats have gotten to the place where they want to get it done. And it's still true it won't happen without a push from perennial outsiders.

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