Since taking office President Donald Trump has made a number of decisions to try to boost the carbon fuel industries. He has opened the door to oil drilling and coal mining on federally-owned lands in the West, he has repealed an Obama-era rule which restricted emissions from coal-fired plants, he has given the go-ahead for the completion of the Keystone XL Pipeline, and he put America on a path to withdrawing from the Paris Climate Change Accords. Opening ANWR in the Arctic to oil drilling is also now on the table. It’s full speed ahead for carbon-based fuels!
Encouraging and supporting these old sources of energy, of course, is a short-sighted approach which makes little or no sense if one wants to be a responsible steward of the Earth. Ultimately that approach, if unchecked, will lead to the end of civilization as we know it. Why? Simply because carbon-based energy is based on finite resources—inevitably we will, at some point, run out of them.
How close are we (the Earthly “we”) to moving from carbon-based energy to renewable energy sources? To address this question lets start by looking at places outside of the United States. Take Scotland for instance.
After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico it spun into the Atlantic and combined with Hurricane Lee (he got very little press) and headed toward the United Kingdom. When it reached Scotland there were sustained gale force winds which set the Scottish kilts and their wind turbines spinning—so much so that 99% of the country’s electrical power needs were generated for the month of October. Scotland could take advantage of the wind because they already had in place a green infrastructure. In fact, throughout the year Scotland produces 60% of its electricity from renewable sources.
Don’t have sustainable wind? No problem, look at what Wildpoldsried, Germany has done. In 1999 the town leaders made a commitment to produce all their electric energy with renewable sources by 2020. They developed a variety of green technologies including biomass, wind, solar, solar thermal, passive techniques for new construction, and hydropower. They exceeded their goals. By 2011 they were producing 321% of their energy needs and selling the excess for a nifty profit.
These aren’t the only places making advances. In 2016 Costa Rica ran on 100% renewable energy for 150 days of the year. Ten years ago Uruguay made a commitment to reduce its reliance on carbon-based energy; it now produces 95% of its electricity from renewables. And Iceland, which has incredible geothermal and hydropower resources, generates the most clean energy per person in the world which has helped transform its sluggish economy into a more diverse, vibrant economy that has attracted outside investors.
Where does the United States rank? The picture isn’t particularly pretty. In 2016 the U. S. generated less than 15% of its electricity using renewable energy. That puts us in the league with New Caledonia, Sao Tome and Principe (I didn’t even know that was a country), Macedonia, Belgium, Luxembourg, Japan, Haiti, and Mexico. We are behind a lot of countries we would like to compare ourselves to including Switzerland, Canada, Russia, Italy, China, Germany, France, Spain, and the United Kingdom. We are falling behind in what is clearly the future of energy production.
Here in Florida we have an obvious renewable resource—the sun. Our state’s nickname is “The Sunshine State” and we rank 5th nation-wide in sunshine per year (Arizona is number 1). That’s a lot of sun that could be turned into electricity. Unfortunately, our utilities produce only slightly over 2% of their electricity from renewable resources (and most of that is biomass). What is even more discouraging is that Florida Power and Light is presently asking the State Public Service Commission (PSC) permission to build yet another natural gas-fired plant! In terms of “solar friendliness” Florida ranks 26th, mainly because of backward state laws which fail to provide encouragement and incentives for the use of solar and a PSC which doesn’t force utilities to build non-carbon-based fuel plants. So ignore those TV commercials from FPL that tout its use of solar energy—they’re, at best, distortions. You can also ignore FPL’s claim that its rates are better than most states. In fact, the cost of energy in Florida is above the national average.
What can be done?
It seems clear that action to move toward using renewable energy sources should be a coordinated effort from the national, state, and local levels. Unfortunately, there is no significant leadership coming from the national level. States vary quite a bit with some, such as California, moving aggressively to green energy while others, such as Florida, putting their head in the sand. Local approaches also vary considerably and the problem, of course, is that they have fewer resources available to address it. Still, at all levels it is important to have political leaders who recognize the problem and adopt policies that encourage the use of renewable energy resources.
Our political elites have failed us on this issue. If change is to occur it must come from the grass-roots. Support environmental friendly groups, such as the Sierra Club which is opposing the FPL’s gas-fired plant. Write your representatives, and when they are up for election demand that they address the issue.