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Achieving Deep Decarbonization

Leaders at the Paris Climate Agreement set the goal of keeping warming over preindustrial levels to well below 2 degrees Celsius in order to avoid the worst climate change scenarios. Did you ever wonder how we will achieve that?

In a recent piece, “A beginner’s guide to the debate over 100% renewable energy,” David Roberts notes that “to hit that globally agreed upon target requires “deep decarbonization” — reducing total carbon emissions 80 to 100 percent — across the globe, by mid-century or shortly thereafter.” Easy peasy. Just kidding! It’s not at all easy (or peasy).

Nor is there agreement about how to do it. Turns out it’s not as simple as just throwing up some more wind turbines and solar panel farms. We all want renewables, but what we absolutely need is deep carbonization. Will renewables alone get us there fast enough? Roberts’ article encapsulates the debate.

“On one side are those who say we should transition to an electricity system powered entirely by renewables … On the other side are those who say that the primary goal should be zero carbon, not 100 percent renewables. They say that, in addition to wind, solar, and the rest of the technologies beloved by climate hawks, we’re also going to need a substantial amount of nuclear power and fossil fuel power with CCS [carbon capture and sequestration].”

So the federal government is hard at work helping to sort out this debate, to move us forward as rapidly as possible, right? Hahahahaha! As Roberts says:

“The most important political division in the world of climate change is between those who accept the urgency of the problem and those who don’t. Those who don’t are in charge of the federal government these days. Their energy plans are a celebration of fossil fuels.”

Indeed. But perhaps the current administration’s incompetence will help us. A recent article about Xcel Energy noted that,

“Nowadays, of course, the Trump administration is trying to take the country backward. It recently offered a scheme to subsidize coal and nuclear plants, but the plan was so ludicrous, a federal panel dominated by Trump appointees voted it down 5-0.”

From a “several-thousand-foot-high big picture” level, it’s as if there’s a “contest” going on between two “teams.” On one team are the highly educated scientists and engineers who are working hard on the problem of how to decarbonize our energy system fast enough to avoid exceeding the “safe” 2 degrees of warming set by the Paris Climate Agreement. We can call that the Science and Technology Team. On the other team are the folks with the political power to make it much easier for us to achieve that less-than-2-degrees-of-warming goal if they wanted to, but are instead making it much harder. That’s the Trump administration and the current Republican-controlled Congress. We can call that the Troglodyte Team. Let’s hope the Science and Technology Team wins.

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