Sunday, July 13, 2014

Eyes on the Prize: 100% Renewables Now!

Here is the talk I gave at the No Oil Trains! No Way! Rally on the Seattle Waterfront July 12 organized by 350 Seattle.  The event was to commemorate the oil train explosion that devastated Lac Megantic, Quebec a year ago on July 6, 2013, vaporizing 47 people and leaving the center of the town a toxic wasteland to this day.  Oil trains carrying the same unstable Bakken shale crude are regularly moving through Seattle and other Northwest cities threatening similar death and destruction.  We need to stop them.  We have the renewable energy technology to make exploiting oil shale, tar sands and other unconventional fossil fuels unnecessary. That was the topic of my talk. 

Video of part of my talk as well as Washington House 43rd District candidate Jess Spear and Abby from youth climate group Plant for the Planet is here.  Especially watch Abby!  She is a super youth climate leader!  

No Oil Trains! No Way! July 12 Rally stages symbolic blockade of Seattle waterfront train tracks.

We hear all too much bad news today. Often it just weighs us down.  But there is at least one genuinely great story happening in our world now, and it is coming just when we need it most.  Solar and wind power are becoming the world’s biggest new energy sources. Renewable energy is finally breaking through.

In 2000 the big news was that the world had just produced its first billion watts of solar. It took 27 years to get there.  Last year the world produced 38 billion watts.  It could produce 55 billion watts this year.  That is more solar panels made in one week than in all of those first 27 years.  The U.S. now has four times the solar power plants it had in 2010.

Wind power is surging too.  By the end of 2013 the world had 318 billion watts of wind turbines. World wind power has grown over 10 times in just over the last 10 years.

Germany, the world’s fourth largest economy, powered itself one-third on the sun, wind and other renewable sources the first half of this year.  In the middle of the day a couple of months back Germany drew a full three-quarters of its electricity from renewables. 

Wind is already economically competitive with fossil energy, and of course nuclear. Solar is closing in, and is already there in some regions.  Solar panels hit an all-time low price just in the past few months.

The only disadvantage solar and wind now have competing with fossil and nuclear is that wind and sunlight vary so power generation varies. But economical batteries to store renewable energy eliminate this disadvantage. And the growth of electric vehicles is dramatically bringing down battery costs.

That’s the other good news piece of the story, and the one that comes home to this event today.  We don’t need these toxic, explosive oil trains rolling though our cities and along our waters. We can run much of our transportation system on renewable electricity.  
We can get our cars off oil.   Electric vehicle sales are climbing rapidly.  Tesla Motors projects it will sell a half-million electric vehicles by 2020, and that this will bring down the cost of batteries by one-third.
We can run our trains on electricity like they do in countries all over the world.  Running a ton of freight on electrified rail instead of a truck takes one-twentieth of the energy.  That’s right.  Just 5% as much.  Let’s take coal and oil off trains and put truck freight on them.
The world is already one-fifth powered by renewables.  Even conservative projections say it could be one-third in 20 years.  But we need to move faster than that.  Because global warming impacts are moving fast.  Faster than was expected even just a few years ago.  Polar ice is disappearing, storms are intensifying and dust bowls are spreading. Fossil fuel carbon pollution is responsible. We need to switch to 100% renewable energy as quickly as possible.  We need a major global campaign to make this happen.

The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and early '60s succeeded because the people of the movement kept their eyes on the prize, an end to legalized discrimination against African-Americans. (Of course the fight for economic justice continues.) All of us now moving for climate and our children’s world should put our eyes on this prize - 100% renewable energy now!

Our governor, Jay Inslee, has created a task force to design a climate policy for Washington state.  It’s expected to propose a cap and price on carbon pollution.  These tools can be helpful but they alone are not enough.  We need to go further and set a goal to move Washington state to 100% renewable energy as rapidly as possible. 

I’ve known Jay Inslee for 15 years since he was a congressman.  I know it’s easy to be cynical about politicians, and a lot of politicians deserve it.  But I also know that Jay Inslee is genuinely worried about global warming and what it’s doing to our state and world.  And I know he knows the tremendous potential of renewable energy.  He wrote a book about it. 

So I call on Governor Inslee to set a 100% renewables goal for Washington, to ask his climate task force to design a policy that will get us there as fast as humanely possible, and to work on the full range of policies we need to achieve 100% renewables beyond carbon caps and pricing.  

We could use the bonding power of the state to secure low-cost energy financing.  We could create a state green bank to fund energy transition.  We could provide inexpensive loans to make homes efficient and renewable powered. We could provide high payments for feeding renewable energy into the grid, which is how Germany achieved its success. 

We can do it.  The Salish Sea needs it.  Our children need it.  Our world needs it. 

Let’s put our eyes on the prize - 100% renewable energy now!

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