Extreme Weather Breaks Texas’ Fossil Fuel and Renewables Energy Grids
Millions of people without power in Texas shivered and resorted to boiling their drinking water this week. Fossil fuel industry advocates and climate denialists hurled accusations that the energy disaster was due to wind- and solar- generation failures, which was not the case. The truth is that Texas mostly cut itself off from the national energy grid. Its oil refineries and natural gas systems shut down due to the extreme winter weather. Yet, renewables continued to be blamed throughout the week. Texas faces a stark choice. Burning fossil fuels will make winter and summer weather more extreme, placing even heavier burdens on its infrastructure. It can stay anchored on oil or make the transition to green energy.
It is a decision many states need to make. Renewables are just part of a comprehensive energy solution. Still, fossil fuels have already locked in decades or generations of disastrous weather events, and we need to wean ourselves from petroleum quickly. Even if turbines make some views ugly, as some New Jerseyans complain about offshore wind installations making their coast unattractive to visitor, they will contribute to cleaner air. That will bring more tourists and calm extreme weather in the long run.
We may need to mix in nuclear fusion and hydrogen-based energy generation to meet long-term electricity demand. And, yes, solar and wind technology will need upgrades — that is not a weakness. It is the basis of an energy transition that will create millions of jobs. The alternative is more nationwide cold snaps in winter due to disrupted polar weather patterns and blistering summers that overwhelm the grid with air conditioning demands. The only way out of these ongoing disasters is a pivot to green energy.
Bill Gates’ Green Initiatives Highlight Billionaires’ Carbon Footprints, and Offer Hope
Microsoft founder Bill Gates launched a PR blitz this week to tout his new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster. “Getting to zero is one of the most difficult challenges people have ever taken on,” Gates said in a speech during the GreenBiz 21 conference. “We’re going to have to change the way we make and consume basically everything, and we’re going to have to do it many times faster than energy transitions have happened in the past.”
He targets the “green premium,” the extra cost of being green early in the transition to a net-zero economy, as one of the blockers to progress. But he dismisses the importance of individual changes, according to Politico. The widespread adoption by consumers of low-carbon alternatives and embracing reductions in everyday waste will transform the world. That is a grassroots and bottom-up phenomenon, not merely a top-down event when business and government come to save everyone. Gates neglects that fact in the big bets made by companies and governments are only proven when citizens change their behavior.
Because Gates often makes investments and charitable contributions that pursue similar goals, he is often criticized as an opportunist. Yes, he is an opportunist, but an effective one. When the carbon footprints of billionaires are compared to the average citizen, the rich look hypocritical. Yet we should be listening to Gates, who does take the time to think deeply about big problems. Surprisingly, he told Politico that billions rather than trillions of dollars are needed to catalyze an energy transformation. He urges a 400% increase in Department of Energy research and development funding, arguing that it will kick-off thousands of innovations that drive the green transformation. It’s a practical assessment based on Gates’ own success building on of military and NASA research to create Microsoft in the 1970s.
Gates’ view does remain too one-sided. Were he to combine his investment strategy with financial support to protect one-third of the world’s land as wilderness and concerted reforestation efforts, he might find more people would embrace techno-optimism. A singular focus on technology and large-scale projects is only half the challenge humanity faces. There is no one silver bullet solution to climate change; it is a massively distributed problem that needs large and small changes at every level of society. Or, as Gates stated, “We’re going to have to change the way we make and consume basically everything.”