Engle: The house is on fire; will we stop lighting matches? (Opinion)

WV Gazette Mail


As the White House and Congress discuss infrastructural investments, including green energy and sustainability, and ideas like tax code changes to pay for them, the time to act on the global climate crisis is running shorter than many of us may think.

A draft of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report due out in its entirety by February 2022 recently was leaked to French news outlet Agence France-Presse and came with dire warnings.

“Species extinction, more widespread disease, unlivable heat, ecosystem collapse, cities menaced by rising seas — these and other devastating climate impacts are accelerating and bound to become painfully obvious before a child born today turns 30. The choices societies make now will determine whether our species thrives or simply survives as the 21st Century unfolds,” said the IPCC.

The draft report’s authors continue, “Life on Earth can recover from a drastic climate shift by evolving into new species and creating new ecosystems … humans cannot.”

The draft report also mentions 12 “tipping points,” or points at which irreversible climactic changes set in that have a negative domino effect on global life-support systems and inhabitants. A couple of examples include the drying out of parts of the Amazon rainforest, causing the forest (often referred to as “Earth’s lungs”) to become a grassy savannah, and the melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, a phenomenon already underway, which causes dramatic long-term rises in sea levels and affects ocean currents, circulations and chemistry.

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way, or at least not as dire. According to a new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency, reported on in The Guardian newspaper, “Almost two-thirds of wind and solar projects built globally last year will be able to generate cheaper electricity than even the world’s cheapest new coal plants.”

The Guardian reported that, “In less than a decade, the cost of large-scale solar power has fallen by more than 85%, while onshore wind has fallen almost 56% and offshore wind has declined by almost 48%.”

The report summary states that, “The trend confirms that low-cost renewables are not only the backbone of the electricity system, but that they will also enable electrification in end uses like transport, buildings and industry and unlock competitive indirect electrification with renewable hydrogen.”

Despite these energy trends, however, our federal government is still subsidizing fossil fuels to an enormous degree. A new analysis from the Stockholm Environment Institute finds that, “The U.S. government added as much as $20 billion a year to the value of new oil and gas projects over the last two decades, amplifying companies’ expected profits during the shale booms in the Bakken, Appalachian, Haynesville, Eagle Ford and Permian basins.” The report also states that, “Subsidies likely played a substantial role in making new gas projects in Appalachia viable, beginning in 2010, when more than 30% of new gas projects may have been subsidy-dependent.”

This is planned obsolescence. How myopic can our elected officials be? We have got to end these dirty energy and product subsidies in the tax code. We also need a price on carbon, to do what economists would refer to as internalizing the externalities (aka making the fossil fuels industries and others pay for the damage their products cause to our bodies and our planet) and to help fund a transition for fossil fuel industry families and communities, as my friend Jim Probst wrote about in this paper recently.

It’s time for all hands on deck. Time is running out. Republicans obviously aren’t interested in addressing any of these issues, so let’s eliminate the filibuster in the U.S. Senate and pass strong legislation that meets the urgency of the moment. And let’s make sure that even Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin understand one thing: No climate, no deal.

Eric Engle, of Parkersburg, is chairman of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action, a board member for the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and co-chairman of Sierra Club of West Virginia’s executive committee.