April is the month of Earth Day (April 22), started in 1970 by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, and now celebrated in nearly 200 countries worldwide. Twenty million people participated in the first Earth Day, created to invoke a nationwide demonstration of concern for the environment so that the environment would be a permanent part of the national political agenda. Also, in 1970, the Clean Air Act passed unanimously. And, since then?
In 2000, the focus of Earth Day was clean energy. In 2007, Vice President Gore and the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to sound the alarm about global warming. Fast forward 10 years to 2017 when 15 major natural disasters exceeded $1 billion in damages each and to 2018 when, 14 natural disasters, their severity a result of a warming planet, caused loss of life and cost $91 billion in the US alone. Wisconsin Governors declared statewide State of Emergencies in August 2018 (cost $208.7 million in damage) and March 2019 due to floods and tornadoes.
In October 2018, scientists tell the world in the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming, that global warming emissions must be arrested within 12 years to safeguard a habitable planet, showing that emissions can be brought to zero with rapid, far-reaching changes in land, energy, industry, buildings and transportation. Internalizing the implications, 1.4 million youth in 123 countries marched in a Climate Strike in March 2019 with a message to their decision makers to act now to address climate change and climate justice so that they have a future.
Yet, we learned last week that, in 2018, the US consumed more fossil fuel energy than ever, up 4 percent from 2017, led by a 10 percent increase in consumption of natural gas that dwarfed the 4 percent reduction in coal and 3 percent rise of renewable energy. Are WE fiddling while Rome [California] burns and Wisconsin floods? What can we do about it?
It is time for bold actions- strategic moves that result in big reductions in carbon emissions from fossil fuels and that are accessible to all in society. 100 percent of US energy needs can be produced with solar, wind, and water by 2050. Protecting forests and land is important too to absorb carbon dioxide already emitted. And the good news – this fosters free enterprise, creates jobs, saves money, health costs and lives, lifts all boats, and spurs innovation.
We have the solutions, but actions need to be accelerated in scale and pace, and with deliberate economic signals that benefit all Americans. The articles in this Energy On Wisconsin newsletter show some winning approaches: commercial and industrial zero net energy and carbon, local 100 percent clean energy goals and actions, and energy efficiency savings. There is large scale solar and solar plus storage, microgrid technology advances, electric vehicles and buses with charging infrastructure, as well as policy that supports some clean energy advancement and training.
However, the Clean Jobs Midwest Report and US Wind Energy Market Report, as reported below, show Wisconsin lagging in clean energy production, jobs and tax revenues compared with neighboring states. Their policies and programs that have shown results: prioritize beneficial electrification for energy generation and transit, market-based (like third-party solar) and community-based approaches to clean energy (affordable solar and solar gardens), net metering, commercial energy benchmarking, green building and energy standards, and workforce training.
It is time for an “all of the above” approach by all parties and in collaboration. It will take action by individuals at home, at work and in transit as well. It is the moon shot of our time. It is political, economic, cultural and historic. Will legislators act to ensure the health and safety of Americans as they did in 1970? Will each of us take action to be part of the solution for our children’s future? Gaylord Nelson framed it well – “The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard”.