With temperatures and sea levels on the rise – and news that the newly named nominee to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is a self-proclaimed “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda" – the world is at a critical point in the fight against global warming.
Many WINGS Fellows and Flag Carriers contribute invaluable research to the environmental movement in fields such as endangered wildlife species, ocean and river pollution, and climate change. They have spent their entire careers protecting our environment.
WINGS asked climate scientist and WINGS Fellow Dr. Beate G. Liepert what impact the new presidential administration will have on any progress toward climate change reform.
With uncertainty over continued U.S. participation in the Paris Climate Accord, and restrictions on energy production on public land and the Clean Power Plan, Liepert says “we have come too far” to allow “a revival of the coal industry, and expansion of fossil fuels that contribute to climate change and environmental decay.”
Liepert foresees progress on many fronts at the state level that will help advance renewable energy technologies and usage. Here is an excerpt of her observations:
In the November elections there were referenda on the ballots in states, counties and municipalities that were related to climate and the environment. For example, Washington State had, for the first time, a carbon tax on the ballot, which was rejected, but the next referendum is already in the works. In the greater Seattle region, voters accepted a public transportation bill. Although it didn’t pass (due to required supermajority), half of Floridian voters said “yes” to the right to produce and consume your own solar electricity.
Independent of what the new administration will do, it will be on the local and state level where environmental and climate initiatives most likely succeed. The majority of states already have some renewable portfolio standards and goals (see figure below). It will be impossible for the federal government to overturn these laws and regulations.
The tendencies of electricity production towards renewables has been going on for a while now. In the mountain regions the change in electricity generation away from coal over the past decade is shown below.
In the state of Iowa, wind provided 31.3 percent of Iowa’s total electricity generation in 2015, the highest portion of all states. New jobs are created in the cleantech industry every day. Heavy coal and gas subsidies would be needed to upset the development in the cleantech industry.
Lofty international goals may be in jeopardy due to redirected federal priorities.Concrete steps from the bottom up will be more likely to succeed if we all keep working hard on the momentum generated over the past years at the local and regional level.
As a climate scientist, I am optimistic that we will make significant progress towards a carbon free, sustainable energy future in the next four years, no matter what the direction of the federal government.
Dr. Beate G. Liepert discovered the groundbreaking climate change phenomenon of global dimming, which was also the subject of her master's and doctoral thesis. Skepticism of her theorem was so great that she was nearly denied her PhD. Her work was eventually recognized and ultimately cited by the United Nations Panel on Climate Change. She received the 2016 WINGS Women of Discovery Earth Award and was inducted as a WINGS Fellow in October 2016. She is the founder of Lumen LLC, which develops solar energy software.