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Cher Gilmore: Celebrating good news on Earth Day

Posted: April 22, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: April 22, 2013 2:00 a.m.

On this 43rd anniversary of the first Earth Day, several recent good news events for the environment are worth celebrating:

Secretary of State John Kerry, during his April 13-15 trip to Asia, signed non-binding agreements with both China and Japan to cooperate in implementing practical measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The focus will be on post-2020 climate agreements, low emissions development, and building climate-resilient societies. Since the U.S. and China are the world’s largest carbon emitters, their collaboration on climate issues is a hopeful beginning.

Petroleum companies continue to re-evaluate their plans to drill in the Arctic based on Shell’s experience with multiple equipment problems in 2012. Shell stopped all drilling in Alaska’s Arctic seas for 2013, and Conoco-Phillips has now scrapped its Arctic drilling plans for 2014.

The operator of the California electric grid announced last week that California has set a wind energy record, producing 4,000 megawatts of electricity for the state — nearly equal to the maximum capacity of both California nuclear power plants combined.

Three reporters from a small nonprofit environmental organization called InsideClimate News won a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. They were honored for their work on "The Dilbit Disaster: Inside the Biggest Oil Spill You’ve Never Heard Of," a seven-month investigation into the million-gallon spill of Canadian tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River in 2010.

The Pulitzer committee praised them for their "rigorous reports on flawed regulation of the nation’s oil pipelines, focusing on potential ecological dangers posed by diluted bitumen (or ‘dilbit’), a controversial form of oil."

And there’s more good news right in our own back yard, you might say. Lancaster’s Mayor Rex Parris, who would like to see Lancaster become not only the solar capital of California but the "solar energy capital of the world," recently announced that starting on Jan. 1, 2014, all newly constructed single-family homes must include a 1.0 kW solar system at a minimum.

He says changing the building code won’t make the building industry happy, but he and the City Council are willing to take the heat.

A large (9.6 megawatt) school project in Lancaster that put solar panels on all carports in 2011 generated $360,000 in energy savings in its first year alone, which proves that renewable energy isn’t just something for tree-huggers, but also makes sound economic sense.

Take note, Mayor Kellar!

On a planetary scale, perhaps the best environmental good news is that the world can be powered entirely by alternative energy, using the day’s technology, within 20-40 years, according to Stanford researcher Mark Z. Jacobson.

In a paper he and UC Davis researcher Mark Delucchi wrote in Energy Policy, they assess the costs, technology and material requirements for converting the planet from primarily fossil fuels to wind, water and solar energy.

In the plan they devised, wind and solar power would contribute 90 percent of the needed energy, geothermal and hydroelectric sources would each contribute about 4 percent, and wave and tidal power would provide 2 percent.

Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, concludes, "there are no technological or economic barriers to converting the entire world to clean, renewable energy sources. It is a question of whether we have the societal and political will."

He adds, however, that "it would require an effort comparable to the Apollo moon project or constructing the interstate highway system."

Creating the political will for a sustainable environment, then, is clearly the major work we have yet to do, and the first step should be correcting the market failure that keeps fossil fuels artificially cheap.

Currently the price of fossil fuels doesn’t take into account their externalities — that is, the damage they cause in terms of global warming and respiratory illness, for example.

Federal legislation to put a gradually-increasing tax on the carbon content of fossil fuels would be the simplest and most effective way to fix that problem and create a realistic, stable price signal.

This market-based solution would make sustainable energy more competitive, stimulate innovation in renewable energy development, and fuel the transition to a clean energy future.

Returning all carbon tax revenues to households would protect them from bearing the brunt of rising energy costs and motivate energy conservation measures.

Tariffs on imports from countries without carbon pricing coupled with refunds to businesses exporting to those countries would protect American businesses and keep a level playing field.

Senators Boxer’s and Sanders’ Climate Protection Act of 2013, S.332, is a good start along these lines and deserves our support.

Cher Gilmore is a resident of Friendly Valley and group leader of the Santa Clarita chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby.


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