By Jerry Bernhaut —
The international summit on climate change, COP27, resulted in an agreement to create a fund to support the developing countries coping with the impacts of climate disasters. There was no agreement to phase out the use of fossil fuels. There was a reported presence of 600 fossil-fuel lobbyists.
The near-term timeline for averting irreversible catastrophic planetary warming calls for a 45% reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel use by 2030, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In theory, electrifying our fossil fuel economy, with electricity generated by non-fossil fuel energy sources such as wind and solar power, hydro, and geothermal, is a feasible path to resolving the climate crisis. In practice, as Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute has said, full transition to electrification powered by non-fossil fuel, renewable energy sources will require the replacement of an extraordinary amount of infrastructure in our food system, manufacturing, building heating and cooling, transportation, the construction industry, and on and on. The only realistic way to make the transition at sufficient scale in industrial countries like the US, in time to avoid irreversible warming, is to reduce overall energy usage substantially, by scaling back economic activity, as we transition to electrification from renewables.
We can remove some CO2 from the atmosphere and store (sequester) it. Natural sequestration of carbon emissions is highly effective and one part of the solution. We must preserve existing forests, plant more trees wherever we can, and adopt policies that leverage working lands to their fullest carbon removing potential. It is part of the solution but does not eliminate the need to reduce overall energy demand.
The effectiveness of technical sequestration, known as carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), is doubtful. I found a consensus among credible sources, including the Sierra Club and the Climate Center here in Sonoma County, that CCS is an unproven technology that has failed to produce promised results. (See citations online). Despite that consensus, CCS is increasingly relied on by government agencies at all levels to project a false techno-optimism that atmospheric CO2 can be reduced while maintaining economic growth.
The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) has been promoted as “the most aggressive action ever to confront the climate crisis” by President Biden. He praised the IRA as demonstrating that we can solve the climate crisis and maintain economic growth. He clearly saw that as politically necessary.
The IRA provides substantial tax credits for wind, solar, and battery technologies. However, it also reinstates an 80-million-acre oil and gas lease sale previously overturned by a federal judge because of climate impacts. The IRA also requires the Interior Department to offer at least two million acres of public lands and 60 million acres of offshore waters for oil and gas leasing each year for a decade as a prerequisite to installing any new wind or solar energy facilities on public lands. This was called a “climate suicide pact” by the Center for Biodiversity, one of the most respected environmental groups.
The recent Cal. Air Resources Board (CARB) Plan for achieving the State’s carbon reduction goals fails to identify clear policies to reduce emissions at their source, while relying on unproven assumptions about the effectiveness of carbon capture and a flawed cap-and-trade program.
Sonoma County continues to pursue policies based on a flawed Climate Action Plan (CAP) which was invalidated by court order in 2017. The CAP failed to account for GHG emissions from millions of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) from tourist air travel and global wine export. Despite the CAP being declared legally invalid, the County continued to rely on it as an “advisory document” to make false claims as a leader in climate policy.
The County has implemented some good emissions reduction policies through Sonoma Clean Power and the adoption of building energy codes requiring new commercial structures to include solar panels and energy storage, and requiring new dwellings to have all-electric appliances. However, our cities and the County continue to promote international tourism, wine export and large-scale growth. There are plans for significant long-term expansion of capacity at the County airport. This business – and growth – as usual approach is clearly counter to any County claims of climate leadership.
We must advocate for government policies and individually act to scale back global economic activity as we transition to renewable non-fossil fuel energy sources. Our economies must become more localized, less dependent on global supply chains. We should eat locally grown food as much as possible, buy locally produced goods, and generally consume less. Some level of long-term environmental harm is already irreversible, but I believe we can still make a significant difference if we have the ability to make fundamental systemic changes.
Jerry Bernhaut, a resident of the Sonoma Valley for 45 years, is an attorney for California River Watch, is a member of the Sierra Club State Committee on Climate and Energy, and has served as a member of the Sonoma Valley Citizens’ Advisory Committee. This commentary is excerpted from a longer piece posted at Sonomasun.com