Clean Energy Advocates Must Find the Courage to Talk Climate

Will Greene April 2, 2013 0

By Will Greene
Blog for Arizona |

Climate change is poised to whip Arizona in the 21st century. On a higher-emissions track experts with the US Global Change Research Program warn of an eight to ten degree Fahrenheit increase in average annual temperature in the US Southwest this century. Imagine the hottest Phoenix summer day and add ten degrees to it. Think of the Phoenix economic development pr consultant trying to spin this type of heat. “Come to Phoenix, you’ll have a scorchingly good time!”

Aside from the blistering temperatures confronting anyone who ventures outside (or is forced outside due to poverty) this could mean the loss of vital reservoirs such as Lake Powell and Lake Mead, dust-bowl-like conditions straining agriculture and ranching, constant “haboob” storms, worsening fire seasons making 2011’s record Wallow fire seem minor, and potentially devastating migration issues due to uncertainties as folks south of the border deal with similar issues. The Bureau of Reclamation recently told us we can expect dramatically reduced Colorado River flow thanks to snowpack loss in the Rocky Mountains, increased evaporation, and population stresses, equating to a gap between water supply and demand of 3.2 million-acre-feet by 2060. That is roughly five times the amount of water Los Angeles uses in a year. Arizona’s ability to sustain itself is literally being called into question.

The overwhelming judgment of science, in the most scrutinized scientific hypothesis since Galileo, is that human emissions of heat trapping gasses are responsible for the majority of recent warming. The planet has not experienced a below-average-temperature month since 1985, and is on track to hit temperatures it has not experienced in 30 million years. Our saving grace is we have the clean energy technology and the know-how today, right now, to dramatically curtail these emissions and keep our economy humming along.

Despite the clear and present crisis climate change poses to our state, and the abundant availability of solutions, a philosophy (I call it a fallacy) has penetrated so firmly into the consciousness of clean energy advocates that it is almost an unbreakable tenet. It is: avoid at all costs any mention of climate change as an argument for clean energy lest we conjure images of Al Gore and leftist do-goodery and sink clean energy policy before it sees the light of day at the state legislature and Arizona Corporation Commission. This line of thinking means advocates should focus exclusively on the job-creating and economy-stimulating attributes of an energy switch, while actively excluding any mention of perhaps the greatest long-term threat to this state, its people, and its economy.

There’s no question the economic argument for solar energy is a dynamic one in Arizona. We know solar pv creates at least 3-5 times more jobs per unit of energy than coal and an even higher ratio in comparison to natural gas (RAEL Lab). While only in its infant stage, Arizona’s solar industry is pumping up our economy by $2 billion, and impacting 16,000 jobs. In an ironic contrast, Arizona’s utilities send about $2 billion out-of-state every year in order to import fossil fuels for burning. They might as well burn wheelbarrows of ratepayer cash. We can shut down that suction of energy dollars by investing instead in a new solar infrastructure right here within our borders. There is no question the economic argument for clean energy is strong, however it is not enough if we as a state sincerely wish to cut our climate pollution. If you pin down even the most ardent economics-focused clean energy advocate, he or she will likely admit this is his or her primary motive.

So what Arizona needs is clean energy advocates with the courage to speak up about the very reason they are clean energy advocates. When climate change is omitted from the argument, the door is opened for the rational that, sure, solar jobs are a good thing, but “cheap” electricity from coal is equally a job creator. Of course this is not true. Coal is the most subsidized form of electricity known to mankind because the cost of its pollution is absorbed by society, not to mention continued direct government subsidies from the Dept. of Interior and elsewhere. And we know climate change, with coal as a key culprit, threatens Arizona’s way of life.

The point is this – we can’t solve a problem that we are afraid to even talk about. Clean energy advocates make a momentous mistake by relinquishing their most compelling talking point. Speaking out will not be easy. This is not an uplifting topic. There will be many furrowed brows and nasty responses. But the more Arizona’s citizens hear people they respect saying climate change is a very real crisis that needs addressing, the quicker we can get to the solutions.