After a year and a half of not writing, I’m finally ready to start again. It’s been too painful to watch the Trump Administration take apart most everything I care about. I’ve been through this for decades – we make progress, then the next administration takes us backward. Now, with new feisty members in the House of Representatives, we’re looking up again.
After living through “the most anti-environmental House of Representatives in our nation’s history,” according to Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of the League of Conservation Voters, many climate deniers were replaced with Democrats who will put climate back on the agenda. No longer will the House Science Committee be led by someone who doesn’t believe in science! And eight scientists ran for the House and won.
In a nutshell, here’s what happened over the past year in the environmental world:
1. After 8 years of dropping greenhouse gas emissions in the US, they are rising again … by an estimated 3.4% in 2018, according to energy research firm Rhodium Group.
The US is now the world’s biggest producer of oil and gas. Most of the increase in emissions comes from energy production, but also from a strong economy that’s consuming more fuel .. and that’s with a record number of coal plants closing last year.
Among the 78 environmental regulations eliminated since Trump took over are those that required natural gas companies to measure and capture emissions. If companies let them flare into the atmosphere, gas is as bad as coal. A 3.4% emissions rise is a lot – that’s the level we saw each year during the booming 1990s.
2. While the world remains committed to the Paris Climate Accord, carbon emissions rose in 2018 after flattening during the Obama years. Incredibly, Chinese companies plan to build 240 new coal plants as part of the Belt and Road Initiative.
3. The Good News: Corporations bought a record-breaking amount of renewable energy last year, 6.43 gigawatts (GW) – enough to provide electricity to over 1.5 million US homes each year, and double the record 3.22 GW set in 2015. Facebook bought close to 2 GW alone, followed by AT&T with 820 megawatts. 53 Fortune 500 companies are committed to achieving 100% renewable energy, up from 23 in January 2017.
99 US cities have formally committed to reaching 100% renewable energy, up from 50 a year ago. Democrats won Governor positions in 7 states and all ran on strong renewable energy platforms.
Janet Mills, Governor of Maine said “I believe that by 2050 we can transition to a healthy and prosperous economy relying virtually entirely on renewable energy. That’s my goal. What we’ve been missing is a leader willing and ready to take advantage of those opportunities.
J.B. Pritzker, Governor of Illinois said, “As governor, I will bring all stakeholders to the table to put Illinois on a path toward 100% clean, renewable energy and make sure that every community justly benefits during this transition.”
4. Utilities are NOT turning back to coal as Trump wants. Instead, they are responding to demand for clean energy. Iowa’s MidAmerican Energy announced it will be the first to switch to 100% renewables in 2020. That’s partly how wind energy rose 12% last year with 12 GW installed, supporting 160,000 US jobs, according to the Global Wind Energy Council.
What does all this point to? That the world was moving forward because of US leadership and now that’s reversing. US states and corporations have much more work to do to replace federal government leadership and its ability to provide incentives through regulations and tax credits.