Fixing the planet – it takes big ideas


Today on Facebook, I saw yet another rant by a well meaning environmental action supporter. The post was denigrating Suburu owners for driving cars that didn’t get enough gas mileage. While initially funny, it’s a very counterproductive thing to do. The last thing I think that many of us who want to see the planet saved want is to alienate those that might be supporters. It’s a good reason that the environmental coalitions are in such disarray and that environmentalism is a dirty word to many people around the county.

If we are going to save ourselves and this planet, from the increasingly bad future that 97% or more of our scientists believe is our fate, then we need big ideas. I mean really big. Changing out our cars would be great, but only if we saw a viable push to get all of humanity off the internal combustion engine in 20 years or less.

While we haven’t been looking, China, with all it’s environmental problems, has invested more than the US to work itself out of there problems. In 2011 they invested over $52 billion in solar and wind. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/jackperkowski/2012/07/27/china-leads-the-world-in-renewable-energy-investment/),

In 2015, China is targeting adding more than 2.5 times the amount the US is adding in solar.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-03-18/china-increases-solar-target-for-2015-as-it-fights-air-pollution

“China’s emissions of carbon dioxide fell last year for the first time in more than a decade, helping stall global production of climate-warming gases,” according to the Bloomberg article above. And areas with the worse pollution were receiving the largest investments.

Here in the States, let me give you one simple idea that could really make a huge difference. Just as raising gasoline standards on cars bought back billions of gallons of gas usage, and insulation has bought back required expansion of coal and nuclear plants, the Federal government could adapt a Mason Dixon Line  approach, not only converting millions of homes and businesses in the areas with the most solar power available, (south of a line drawn across the US at roughly the latitude of the Ohio River). By instituting a policy of solar first in this giant region, we could see the conversion, with help by low income loans and incentives for wealthier people, to convert all homes and businesses  that are feasible to solar. This could generate hundreds of thousands of new jobs, lower energy bills for many people, and obviate the need for coal or gas fired generation expansion. In the meantime, converting all existing coal fired plants to natural gas would also dramatically lower carbon emissions. Offer generous incentives to miners to move into jobs installing and designing these installations, with funds given to going back to schools to get retrained in HVAC.

According to a Wikipedia entry, Household energy use varies significantly across the United States. An average home in the Pacific region (consisting of CaliforniaOregon, and Washington) consumes 35% less energy than a home in the South Central region. Some of the regional differences can be explained by climate. The heavily populated coastal areas of the Pacific states experience generally mild winters and summers, reducing the need for both home heating and air conditioning. The warm, humid climates of the South Central and South Atlantic regions lead to higher electricity usage, while the cold winters experienced in the Northeast and North Central regions result in much higher consumption of natural gas and heating oil. The state with the lowest per capita energy use is New York, at 205 million Btu/yr,[24] and the highest is Wyoming, at slightly over 1 billion Btu/yr. – Danielle Kurtzleben. “The 10 States that Use the Most Energy Per Capita”US News & World Report.

As of 2013, there were approximately 518 coal plants in the US, generating 1.5 Billion killiwatts. These plants generate 38.44% of the electricity of the US.  By tackling the conversion of homes and businesses in the South and Southwest as a primary goal, we would be giving jobs to Southern states, which being almost entirely Republican, would be more likely to find favor  with the Republican Congress than other possible ideas.

I am not convinced this is the best or only plan, or if it’s even feasible, but the point being that  when you find people focusing on the small consumer and making individuals  feel bad about their attempts to just live their lives, it’s not going to get people on the bandwagon to affect real change. It may even be true, but it’s not effective. Let’s focus on getting politicians to come up with ideas  like the Mason-Dixon line of solar, that are capable of radically moving the needle quickly. We don’t have time to do much else.

Your thoughts are welcome.

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