Listen, we know things seem, um, a little tricky right now if you’re an American who cares about the climate. Day in and day out, there’s an awful lot going on, and on the climate front, the news hasn’t exactly been great.
At the federal level, Big Polluter influence on policy is painfully evident. Vehicle efficiency standards are on the chopping block alongside the Clean Power Plan. A former coal lobbyist is the acting director of the EPA. Plus, the Trump Administration has begun the process of withdrawing the US from the historic Paris Agreement.
But if you drill just a little deeper, there’re plenty of reasons to believe this is all a (dangerous, unfortunate) blip on the long-term Doppler radar.
“Come again?” you’re no doubt asking. Let us explain.
The Tide of Public Opinion Has Turned (And It Isn’t Going Back)
Looking at the actions of the US federal government, you’d be forgiven for letting your optimism fade. But even as this administration works to unwind years of hard-won climate progress, there’s hope on the horizon. And that hope is you.
The US is a representative democracy, after all – and the movement for climate solutions is quickly approaching the critical mass necessary to become impossible to ignore… or deny.
Public-opinion polling conducted by Gallup in the last few years shows majorities – in some cases clear majorities – of Americans support the expansion of renewable energy and believe the government is not doing enough to support it:
- 59 percent believe that protection of the environment should be given priority over fossil fuel energy production, up from 41 percent in 2011.
- 62 percent of Americans say the government is doing too little to protect the environment. That’s the strongest showing on the topic in 12 years – and up more than 16 percent from the low point of 46 percent the question earned in 2010.
- A March 2018 survey measuring public support for 10 proposals relating to the environment and energy found majority approval – “in some instances above 70 percent” – for proposals to reduce emissions, enforce environmental regulations, regulate fracking, spend government money on alternative energy sources, and pass carbon pricing initiatives.
Indeed, support for putting a price on carbon pollution has exploded in just the last decade. In 2009, the University of Michigan found that about 36 percent of Americans supported carbon pricing; by the fall of 2016, that number had swelled to 50 percent. And more generally, especially when respondents were asked to set aside partisan politics, supermajority support for renewables begins to appear.
According to Pew Research Center, in mid-2016 (an important date, as it established opinion before the current onslaught of environmental deregulation), 89 percent of Americans favored more solar panel farms, and a similarly large share (83 percent) supported more wind turbine farms – with just 9 percent and 14 percent, respectively, opposed to expanding solar and wind energy.
“Across the political spectrum, large majorities support expansion of solar panel and wind turbine farms,” Pew reports. “Some 83 percent of conservative Republicans favor more solar panel farms; so, too, do virtually all liberal Democrats (97 percent). Similarly, there is widespread agreement across party and ideological groups in favor of expanding wind energy.”
Renewable Energy Is Getting Too Cheap to Ignore
There are many, many reasons to support renewable energy over fossil fuels. But for everyday folks out here without a horse in the energy race, so to speak, just trying to live a happy, healthy, sustainable life, the biggest reason is likely the most obvious – in America and around the globe, renewables are now cheaper than at any time in history.
The cost of renewable energy is falling so fast that it’s already increasingly cost competitive in many areas with utility rates for energy from fossil fuels. By 2020, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) (via Forbes), renewables should be “a consistently cheaper source of electricity generation than traditional fossil fuels.”
Forbes reports, “[T]he cost of generating power from onshore wind has fallen by around 23 percent since 2010 while the cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity has fallen by 73 percent in that time…
“There are several reasons for the fast-improving cost performance of the key renewable energy technologies. One is the growing preference among governments for competitive bidding processes . . . Alongside that, there is a growing base of experienced developers competing for project opportunities around the world. Thirdly, continued advances are being made in the technologies themselves.”
It’s a trend that seems likely to continue, according to IRENA: “By 2025 the global weighted average cost of electricity from solar PV could fall by as much as 59 percent, and from CSP [concentrated solar power] by up to 43 percent. Onshore and offshore wind could see cost declines of 26 percent and 35 percent, respectively.”
Some studies estimate that 100 percent of the world’s energy needs could be met with renewable sources by mid-century, as long as the right, supportive public policies are put in place to help implement them. That’s where our leaders come in – and where you come in too.
With so much money to be made in a renewable energy economy for both investors and job-seekers, and falling costs already reaping rewards for consumers, the writing’s on the wall – no matter the actions of the current administration.
President Trump Has Inadvertently Rallied Cities and States Around Action
Nationwide, the response to the president’s announcement that he would begin the process of withdrawing the US from the Paris Agreement was quick and decisive. Though far from universal, a broad consensus from many governors and major city mayors quickly appeared – “Well, that’s too bad. Looks like we’re going to have to do it ourselves.”
And so they set out to do just that.
On the same day that the president announced his Paris intentions from the White House Rose Garden, American mayors from towns and cities both big and small pledged to “adopt, honor, and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement” through the Climate Mayors effort. The initiative has mayors from across the country taking the lead to strengthen local efforts for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
As of this writing, 407 mayors representing more than 70 million Americans are on board, including the leaders of some of the nation’s largest cities, from northern metropolises like New York, Philadelphia, and Boston to southern giants like Houston, Atlanta, and Miami, and many of its most treasured smaller communities, like Golden and Aspen, Colorado; Portland, Maine; Boise, Idaho; Jackson, Wyoming; Louisville, Kentucky; and Bozeman, Montana.
Individual states are also stepping up to meet the emissions reductions targets set forth in the Paris Agreement, despite federal opposition – and they’re continuing to work with other countries to do it, sidestepping the administration entirely.
Just last month, Canada’s minister of environment and climate change, the Honourable Catherine McKenna MP, told Climate Reality that her country continues “to work closely with the US Climate Alliance led by [California] Governor Jerry Brown, a bipartisan coalition of governors committed to reducing emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.”
The Alliance, which counts governors from 16 states and Puerto Rico among its ranks, has three core principles:
- States will continue to lead on climate change.
- State-level climate action benefits economies and strengthens communities.
- States will show the nation and the world that ambitious climate action is achievable.
In September 2017, just a few months after President Trump’s announcement, the Alliance revealed that “14 alliance states were on pace to meet their share of the Obama Administration’s pledge under the Paris accord, thanks in part to local mandates on renewable energy and electric vehicles.”
“Together, we are a political and economic force, and we will drive the change that needs to happen nationwide,” Gov. Brown told the New York Times.
What You Can Do to Support American Climate Action
All of this isn’t to say that you can relax or that everything will be just fine. Not by a longshot. What we’re saying is, We’re still in this fight because we know we can (and must and will) win it. And to change everything, we need everyone.
Across the country, committed people like you are joining Climate Reality chapters to work together for practical climate solutions in communities from sea to shining sea.
These friends, neighbors, and colleagues are bringing clean energy to their towns, fighting fracking developments, and so much more. Most of all, they’re making a real difference for our climate when it matters – and you can too.