Science Policy

Paris and Pragmatism

The Paris Climate Agreement, incredibly, was reached by nearly 200 countries. Countries that rely on coal and countries that are soon going to be underwater signed on to the same goal of limiting the global temperature rise due to man made climate change.
The United States must be a part of any agreement like this. We emit more carbon dioxide than any country except China, and they have four times as many people. They signed on too, and are set to beat what they agreed to do.
Our president is about to pull out of the agreement, but I can hardly blame him. He doesn’t know anything about climate change. Neither do most of the people who voted for him. I blame the party who pretends to tolerate him. I also blame the people around him giving him the misinformation that supporting climate change is bad for business. How idiotic? Bad for business: bad for which business? Oil companies? Exxon Mobile is in more agreement with the science of climate change than the country most in position to fix it.
I also blame the laws that allow companies who source, distribute, or burn fossil fuels (or any other companies) to fund the campaigns of politicians. These politicians either know nothing about climate change or are willing to publicly lie about the science of climate change. They stoke the anger of ignorant or uneducated voters who are more likely to be connected to industries that rely on climate skepticism. But this isn’t about us vs. them. Everyone needs to help here. I need to stop driving the less than half a mile to many nearby businesses just like you need to send an email to your representatives demanding legislation to fund LED streetlight upgrades throughout your state, which has been shown to be equivalent to removing hundreds of thousands of vehicles from the roads. Politicians don’t have the spine to be part of the solution unless we demand it.
Research and design, largely in America, have pushed ahead, unabashed. We can now make solar panels be more efficient than coal in much of the world. In other parts, the same is true for wind turbines. Battery technology is advancing at an incredible rate. Tesla, by themselves, made electric cars not only much more efficient than gas-powered counterparts, but cooler and better performing as well. They are more valuable than the Ford Motor Company. To its credit, natural gas is far superior to oil and coal in its scalability and relative cleanliness.
To say that the US can not or should not lead the world on this issue is asinine, and to suggest that it is bad for business is beyond ignorant.

What should we do about it?

I spent a week going door to door to crowd source for a non-profit in 2012. We were aiming to pass legislation in Michigan to protect Michigan’s waterways from mercury and other pollutants emitted by coal fired power plants and to bolster the state’s targets for clean energy. (They are now on the front line in the fight for clean water in Flint.)
It was awful. I had just graduated college. I learned about nuclear energy generation from first principles and on an engineering front. I saw how tenable non-fossil fuel options were becoming. I saw how a real global effort into solving the controlled nuclear fusion riddle could revolutionize our existence. I hoped to fund my life in Ann Arbor for one last summer before moving on to grad-school by enlisting the liberal bubble of Ann Arbor into a noble cause, but it was was awful because, it turns out, every day Americans have no idea about this issue. Most people agreed that we shouldn’t be wittingly putting mercury into our waterways, but most also thought there was no viable alternative for generating energy. Almost uniformly, the skeptics asked “where will we get our energy then?” I made very little money for the non-profit, and I quit. Asking for money is awful. I am bad at it. Everyone should be a little less rude to people who do so for a good cause.
I am still torn over that whole experience. When I’m torn, I tend to view things pragmatically. It almost always sheds light on the way I like to deal with things. Yet, I’m still torn. It makes sense to me to be annoyed by a 22 year old fresh out of college knocking on my door about something much bigger than me. People like Donald Trump get elected, and that doesn’t stop our taxes from funding amazing research that shows us unequivocally that we can do better than we are — that we must do better than we are. Market forces are almost certainly going to do better than we are.
Yet, most of us don’t understand why. We are led by a man who is ambivalent to it. The people encouraging him to withdraw from the Paris pact are wrong. The grass roots should be fertilized by a fresh anger and resistance to idiotic policy. Those angry enough to go around and ask for money should do so, and we should not be rude to them for trying. We should all yell until our voices are hoarse about the wrongness about leaving the climate pact, about the pollution from coal plants that poison our waterways, about the economic opportunity that could be available to us if we would just buy in.
In or out of Paris, we can do better than we agreed to do, and it doesn’t matter if anyone thinks coal jobs are coming back. They aren’t. Coal workers can thank automation for that even if we leave the Paris agreement and subsidize coal more than ever.
We are on track to do better than Paris anyway. Is our government stupid enough to ignore this truth to save face for being wrong on this issue for decades? Are we really going to go in the wrong direction just because ‘regulations are bad, mkay?’
Our government now wants to double down on being wrong. The pragmatic part of me is about to tear my hair out. It seems the only thing to do.

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