What if scientists, not politicians, called the shots on climate policy

Source: By D. Michael Langford, The Hill • Posted: Monday, May 27, 2019

Left, right or center, politicians tend to view climate change as a political issue rather than in a logical, technical manner — limiting policy solutions to short-sighted, ideologically-driven approaches. The truth is, both parties are to blame for overlooking technology-neutral climate proposals, resulting in inadequate climate policy.

After three years of relatively little change, global carbon emissions grew last year, reaching an all-time high of 600 million tons, evidence that old philosophies grounded in reducing carbon emissions to zero have failed in a big way. A national clean energy standard, however, takes a new approach that adopts a net zero emissions philosophy. This idea acknowledges that carbon emissions will continue to happen, but that carbon removal technology will compensate for them.

This crucial course averts the worst-case climate change scenarios, based on actual climate science. Equally as important, it gets us out of the zero-sum thinking inherent in imagining a world without carbon emissions at all. Human civilization is deeply complex and will always have a carbon cost, no matter our best intentions.

The science speaks for itself. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), reaching and sustaining net zero global emissions would effectively halt global warming in the immediate term.

To get there, imagine for a moment that scientists, not politicians, called the shots on climate policy. In such a world, an engineered mix of carbon capture technology, nuclear power, renewable energy, energy efficiency, energy storage and low-carbon transportation options would all play a role in achieving net zero emissions.

If it sounds like a pipe dream, it’s only because too many so-called “climate hawks” are, in fact, simply shilling for a favored technology. The science, however, is clear — getting us to net zero will require a role for all technologies and saying otherwise is simply another form of climate denial.

For example, carbon capture technology could broadly decarbonize power generation including both natural gas and coal-fired plants as well as heavy industries such as steel, cement and ethanol manufacturing to cite obvious examples. Indeed, the U.S. is at the forefront of developing carbon capture and storage systems, accounting for 16 of the 22 largest commercial projects built over the past half-century.

Again, according to the science, attempting to keep global warming in check without robust, global use of carbon capture systems would increase overall global costs by nearly 140 percent, according to the IPCC.  It’s not a “nice to have” it is a “must have” if we want to win this fight.

The list goes on through other technologies — wind, solar, nuclear, hydropower, literally all of the above — it’s not a question of picking winners and losers, it’s simply a matter of overcoming the political hurdles to incorporate each of them into a global carbon solution.

The technology-neutral, science-driven approach to lowering emissions introduced recently by Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), circumvents the political hand-wringing around which technology should play the greatest part in reducing emissions, and instead focuses on acknowledging a role for all power generation sources.

We applaud lawmakers’ incremental steps on this issue thus far but, now we call on them to do much more. Bipartisanship has never been so imperative to achieving our shared goals.

While it is not a bumper-sticker slogan, achieving net zero emissions is possible with a broad array of technologies. It avoids the zero-sum thinking that has guided climate ideologues and can bring us together to work toward scientific solutions to a scientific problem. Overlooking the arsenal of climate action tools already within our reach would be as damaging as not doing anything at all.

D. Michael Langford is the president of the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA), AFL-CIO. UWUA represents 50,000 active members employed in the energy, electric, gas, steam, water, generation and related professional, technical and service industries.


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