Now, the Good Climate News

June 26, 2014 in Sustainability

Ok, the headline is slightly misleading. There’s no good news about the fact of climate change, but there is some good news about the politics and the technology for mitigating it. First, the politics where there are several encouraging developments. First, as I’ve previously mentioned, Michael Bloomberg, Henry Paulson, and Tom Steyer have launched an organization called Risky Business that focuses on quantifying and publicizing the economic risks from the impacts of climate change. Politics makes strange bedfellows, and this is an example – people from across the political spectrum and with various perspectives on business and the economy coming together to advocate that we act now to do what we can to slow or stop climate change.

The second piece of news happened at a congressional hearing on June 18th (an archived webcast is available at the link). Four former EPA administrators, all republicans, were called to testify before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. All four of them agreed that there is no debate on the reality of climate change and that immediate action is needed. Here are a few quotes:

William Ruckelshaus, first EPA administrator in 1970 under President Nixon: “Inherent in [a list of previously cited environmental challenges] was uncertain science and powerful economic interests resisting controls. The same is true of climate change. In all of the cases cited the solutions to the problems did not result in the predicted economic and social calamity. Scientific uncertainty or the inevitable industry resistance does not mean that nothing should be done unless we are willing to suffer the consequences of inaction.”

Lee Thomas, EPA administrator from 1985-1989 under President Reagan: “The issue of climate change is one that the EPA and the global scientific community have studied and analyzed for decades. And since my time as Administrator, the assessment of risk global warming poses to public health and the environment has continually improved and become more certain.”

William Reilly, head of the EPA from 1989-1992 under President George H. W. Bush: “Markets the world over eagerly seek clean energy technologies. … Technology and innovation are a comparative advantage for our country that will help control what we can and help find ways to replace the most serious contributors to the climate challenge. This is an enormous opportunity for U.S. entrepreneurs and exporters even as we deploy more clean energy at home.”

Christine Todd Whitman, EPA head from 2001-2003 under President George W. Bush: “Congressional action and leadership would be a preferable approach. But since Congress has declined to act, the EPA must.”

It’s getting harder and harder for the conservative crowd to deny reality. Sooner, not later, they’re going to have to admit that we face a global challenge. At that point they’ll have to decide if the U.S. is going to lead or follow. Industry and citizens clearly intend to lead. Consider the following:

On the technology front there’s more good news. In Hawaii the adoption of solar power has been so successful that the local power company can’t handle the power being fed into the grid. Beginning in December of 2013 the Hawaiian Electric Company told contractors to stop connecting solar panels to the grid because there’s so much energy that it may be a threat to the system. Until studies can confirm whether grid upgrade are needed, and what they are, solar panels can still be connected to homes and businesses but the excess energy cannot be fed back into the grid.

One solution to the problem is storage of the excess energy until it is needed. A new type of battery that uses vanadium in a solution of sulfuric acid is being developed that quickly charges and discharges with little loss of performance, even after 20,000 cycles. It’s called a vanadium redox flow battery. Read the article. It’s pretty amazing to read how smart people are able to solve whatever challenges are put in front of them.