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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Whistling in the dark on energy and emissions

This hopeful-sounding headline from the U.S. Energy Information Administration is deceiving – for what it says, and for what it does not say.

One might first cynically ask: we have energy policies in the U.S.?  True, we have aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, a continuing frothy debate over the Keystone pipeline and Canadian tar sands, and “all of the above” energy strategy, shale gas, and shale oil. We have anemic levels of investment in renewable energy, and virtually no progress on essential technologies like carbon capture and storage. And we have some significant but in the aggregate small measures that inch us toward efficiency and renewable energy when we should be leaping.  But it is difficult for me to accept that this dog’s breakfast comprises a true policy other than one of neglect when it comes to the health of our climate, our economy, and our people.

In its 2013 energy outlook, EIA projects that per capita American energy use will fall back to 1963 levels by 2040, due to increasing energy efficiency in appliances and vehicles that will be required by current federal laws.  EIA also says that the U.S. will get 78% of its energy from fossil fuels in 2040, down – almost imperceptibly - from 82% in 2011.

The recent illusory and temporary reprieve in carbon pollution provide by low-priced shale gas has been reversed, and EIA projects a flatlined level of carbon emissions:

Source: EIA

This results from EIA's assumption of a “no sunset” case - the continuation of the production tax credit for wind, biomass, geothermal, and other renewable resources, and the investment tax credit for solar generation technologies.  However, they are the subjects of relentless, perennial attacks by fossil fuel interests (in all their guises, including climate deniers) and their Congressional hires.  If these policies somehow manage to survive against the know-nothing crowd, they would still condemn the United States and the world to the most devastating impacts from climate change. 

We are just about to pass the 400 parts per million mark of atmospheric carbon – a level of CO2 not seen in the earth’s atmosphere for millions of years.  We are headed to disastrous levels of warming. Flatlining emissions will flatline the planet as we know it – and us.

We need far more than more of the same.  We need a national consensus on climate, aggressive investment in efficiency, renewables, and carbon reduction technologies, and energy and climate policies that meet the urgency of the moment and the magnitude of the existential threat we face.  

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