A little over a month ago, leaders from almost 200 countries approved an agreement that basically says, “We’ve got a serious climate problem and an unprecedented opportunity; we will work together to solve it for the benefit of humanity.”
Since then, while the rest of the world argued over whether the agreement was aggressive enough, many of America’s—and Michigan’s—elected Republicans, by their actions, weighed in heavily for business as usual, and even steps backwards. Their isolation from the rest of the world is stark, even breathtaking.
In Washington, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) held a hearing that heard only from climate change deniers; Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) insisted the unanimous international agreement didn’t mean anything; and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) said he’d keep an eye on Obama’s suspicious climate agenda.
Similarly, in Lansing—despite efforts by unified Democrats, some moderate Republicans, and a few anti-utility-monopoly Tea Party members—some very conservative Republicans who enjoy sizeable campaign contributions from monopolies are doing all they can to halt progress. Efforts to take the next logical step in state policy and require more renewables have been denied.
Not long ago, these folks were arguing that since China isn’t acting on climate change, why should we—regardless of whether the science behind it is real?
But last year, and then again in Paris, the U.S. and China kicked the legs out from under that claim. In 2014, they promised to work together on climate change; in Paris, China promised 200 gigawatts of wind and 100 gigawatts of solar on their grid by 2020. Given that a gigawatt is the output of a very large coal plant, this is an enormous move—akin to installing enough additional solar to power Michigan, and as much wind power produced every year in Texas and California combined!
By rejecting attempts to slow climate change, elected Republicans in Washington and Michigan are blocking things like cleaner water and air, resiliency during extreme weather events (like, say, a wind shear in Glen Arbor), local jobs, savings for utility customers, keeping more dollars in the local economy, increasing the tax base, and building new industries. By the time that list gets to avoiding climate change’s catastrophic expense—never mind the human suffering—the argument for acting is beyond lopsided.
So, while China bursts out of the gate at a full sprint, America is still lacing up its running shoes, trying to find an end run around the coterie of very conservative elected Republicans who are blocking action. It’s embarrassing, morally indefensible, and will produce very negative domestic economic and global environmental outcomes if it continues.
That is why, in 2016, Groundwork will be hustling to make sure northern Michigan explodes off of its own starting blocks with a plan to win on clean energy.
Picture moving northern Michigan’s 100,000 housing units off of fossil fuel. A deep energy retrofit plus solar panels would cost about $20,000 per home—about $2 billion for our 10-county area.
A carefully crafted, locally employed, locally financed clean energy campaign would transform the region. Imagine 500 locally trained energy professionals insulating homes and topping them with solar panels (or shares in community solar). Imagine, if we get creative, that $2 billion as self-funded, with most of the economic gains staying right here instead of leaving town via a coal train or gas pipeline as they do today.
This is not a delusional fantasy. Here’s why:
A company called Next Step Living, which focuses on energy efficiency, did something like this in Massachusetts. It reached 100,000 housing units in just eight years and now employs more than 500 people. Something similar happened with solar panels in California, when Solar City, Elon Musk’s residential solar installation company, helped more than 200,000 homes start the solar process in 10 years.
We’re inspired by what others are doing in Michigan, the U.S., and internationally. We have little patience for what is not happening in D.C. or Lansing. So, while far too many elected leaders wallow in climate denial, we are forming our own northern Michigan Energy Force to ensure that the actual “Citizens for Michigan’s Energy Future”—not the front group of that name running fishy ads touting Lansing’s current, destructive energy proposals—cash in on this new, clean energy economy, which is every bit as powerful and world-changing as the Industrial Revolution, and will make northwest Michigan shine even brighter in the coming decade!
Dan Worth is an energy policy specialist at the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities. Reach him at [email protected].