Today the world celebrates Earth Day, and with it comes a barrage of new policies and commitments from the Biden administration.
The long-awaited U.S climate targets were released this morning ahead of the U.S.-hosted Climate Leaders Summit. Biden pledged that the U.S. will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52% by 2023. This ambitious target will be unachievable without massive changes to our economy and, really, the American way of life.
Some highlights from the White House statement:
The United States is not waiting, the costs of delay are too great, and our nation is resolved to act now. Climate change poses an existential threat, but responding to this threat offers an opportunity to support good-paying, union jobs, strengthen America’s working communities, protect public health, and advance environmental justice. Creating jobs and tackling climate change go hand in hand – empowering the U.S. to build more resilient infrastructure, expand access to clean air and drinking water, spur American technological innovations, and create good-paying, union jobs along the way.
Maybe this is just my own personal pet peeve, but it appears that when it comes to their climate plans, the Biden administration is incapable of mentioning the word “jobs” without attaching “good-paying” and “union” to the word. Didn’t the grammar teachers of these folks tell them that you need to use a variety of language when writing or making speeches?
I’m mostly kidding, but this language is clearly intentional and seems to hearken back to a time when union jobs were the path to reaching the middle class. This may still be the case for some, but many others have learned to value and appreciate more flexible work styles, without union dues or responsibilities weighing them down.
The press release continues:
Building on and benefiting from that foundation, America’s 2030 target picks up the pace of emissions reductions in the United States, compared to historical levels, while supporting President Biden’s existing goals to create a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035 and net zero emissions economy by no later than 2050.
While the U.S. has made significant progress in cleaning up our energy sources and being a leader in reducing emissions, the overweening ambition of these goals should blow you away. In order to even come close to these goals, the American economy must undergo a makeover like it’s never seen before. If you’re frustrated and dismayed (like me) by the fact that the Interior Department is extending its freeze on new gas and oil leases through the end of June, a move the opposite of what Biden promised on the campaign trail, just imagine the changes that must be made to have a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035, not to mention net zero emissions in our economy just 15 short years after that.
To give some perspective, renewable energy sources currently only make up a fraction of our electricity production:
Hydropower produces about 6.3 percent of American electricity. While hydropower production can be boosted slightly, it relies greatly on sites with sufficient elevation difference and those only occur in certain regions of the U.S.
Solar energy has also been growing, but it still only generates 2.53 percent of America’s electricity.
I’ve written more about these energy sources and new energy innovations in recent years in this policy focus, but the point you need to know is that relying solely on these energy sources is unrealistic and irresponsible. Imagining that we can have carbon-free power in just 14 years, when renewables only make up 16 percent of our total electricity production is a nice dream but must be rethought when it comes to policy.
I do have to give one concession to the Biden administration: the press release does mention retrofitting power plants with carbon capture and utilizing nuclear power. Carbon capture and storage is a technology that enables us to take carbon emissions directly from the air and can be used quite effectively to reduce emissions in industrial facilities. Nuclear power is truly the only reliable source of carbon-free energy but even that only makes up 20 percent of our electricity production and without expanding and building new nuclear (the White House statement expressly mentions existing nuclear), coming even close to the new climate commitments will be unattainable.
As much as the Biden administration may dream big, the reality is that enacting policies to reach its goals will come with high costs to the American people. Not only will our energy become much more expensive, making it unaffordable for many Americans, it will become unreliable as renewable energy is intermittent and our battery storage capabilities must dramatically improve in order to overcome this issue.