Over the past year, hope has been a bit hard for me to find. One climate report after another came out, like the slow tolling of a Doomsday bell, ringing out across the world, only to be swallowed by the howling chaos of rising authoritarianism in the United States, and around the world. Things are not good, and try though I might, I can’t find any clear signs that they’re going to get better any time soon. It feels like we’re headed for a confrontation between a global civilization falling off a cliff, while a tiny handful of people claim the billions of parachutes they control belong to them, and them alone.
The one sliver of hope I can see for humanity is the fact that we have all the tools we need to make planet-wide progress on both adapting to the warming climate, and ending our contribution to the problem. In the coming year, I’m planning to spend a lot more time adding my voice to the many who have already made the case for that claim. We, and most of the rest of multicellular life on this planet, are headed for extinction right now, but we don’t have to suffer through that horror. We could build a better world, we’re just not doing it nearly fast enough.
Case in point: Georgetown, Texas; population somewhere over 70,600, and the largest city in the U.S. to be run on 100% renewable energy. The Republican mayor of the town is enthusiastic about the change, not just because it’s the right thing to do for the future of our species, but also because it’s the smart thing to do from the oft-touted “fiscal conservative” perspective:
Ross, a certified public accountant, moved to Georgetown in 2004 and became mayor in 2014. He has expanded the city’s park system, begun composting fruits in local schools, and installed nine charging stations for electric vehicles. This year, Georgetown won a Bloomberg Mayor’s Challenge grant to create a virtual solar plant by renting out space for panels on the city’s businesses and homes.
Start from the beginning. How did Georgetown become the first city in Texas—and the largest in the country—to go 100-percent renewable?
Well, back in 2008, when I was on city council as a council member, Georgetown had a provider called LCRA, which was managing the city’s energy portfolio. We asked them, would it be possible for y’all to have 30 percent renewables in our product mix by the year 2030? And they gave us a bunch of resistance to that. So then you move forward to 2010, and a bunch of students from Southwestern University wanted to know if we could make it so that their campus was 100-percent renewable, and we were able to do that for them in 2010. And then in 2012, we were looking at the very real prospect that by 2016 we wouldn’t have any energy purchasing contracts, because we decided we weren’t going to renew our contract with LCRA.So what we did is we put together requests for proposals. We sent it out to fossil-fuel people; we also sent out to the wind and solar people. And when they came back, what was interesting was that natural gas was very competitive to wind and solar—but we had two requirements.First and foremost, we wanted to mitigate price volatility on the short term. How do you do that? Long-term contracts that create cost certainty. So we asked that everybody give us 20-to-25-year contracts. Natural gas would only give us seven years, and the pricing came back the same.The second requirement was that it had to be an electricity source that mitigated regulatory and governmental risk. And that really only applied to fossil fuels, because there’s a lot of regulations in the production of electricity, while there were hardly any for green energy—so truly it came back as a no-brainer.
And then in 2016 we started getting our wind and solar delivered. That first year, we were 100 percent because of favorable weather conditions; in 2017 we were 90 percent; and then 2018 and going forward, we’ll be 100 percent, all the way to 2041.
This is a massive step in the right direction. Moving more to renewable energy where people live and work doesn’t just clean our air and stabilize our power grid, it also will make it easier to move that conversion up the supply chain to manufacturing and on to resource extraction.
In Terry Pratchett’s novel “Jingo”, Vimes is given a glimpse down the metaphorical trousers of time, Where Man Was Not Meant To Gaze (Spoilers ahead). His imp-operated PDA remains connected to one timeline while he lives through another. During a last-ditch attempt to stop a pointless war, the time-addled imp interrupts:
He could feel events racing toward a distant wall. Sweat filled his eyes. He couldn’t remember when he’d last had a proper sleep. His legs twinged. His arms ached, pulled down by the heavy bow.
“…bingeley… Eight oh two eh em, Death of Corporal Littlebottombottom…Eight oh three eh em…Death of Sergeant Detritus…Eight oh threethreethree eh em and seven second…Death of Constable Visit…Eight oh three eh em and nineninenine seconds…death of death of death of…”
“They say that in Ankh-Morpork one of your ancestors killed a king,” said the Prince. “And he also came to no good end.”
Vimes wasn’t listening.
“…Death of Constable Dorfl…Eight oh three eh em and fourteenteenteen seconds…”
The figure on the throne seemed to take up the whole world.
“…Death of Captain Carrot Ironfounderson…beep…”
And Vimes thought: I nearly didn’t come. I nearly stayed in Ankh-Morpork.
He had always wondered how Old Stoneface had felt, that frosty morning when he picked up the axe that had no legal blessing because the King wouldn’t recognize a court even if a jury could be found, that frosty morning when he prepared to sever what people thought was the link between man and deity-
“…beep…Things To Do Today Today Today: Die…”
In Discworld, the rules are different from here on Earth, but while we don’t have magic to give a glimpse of our possible futures, we do have science, which yields more consistent results. We know what’s coming, even though we don’t know how it will unfold year to year. We know that one year, maybe a decade from now, but probably less, heat-amplified droughts, floods, and storms will cause serious damage to most or all major food producing regions on the planet. We know that as the temperature rises, faster and faster, the pollution we’re pouring into the air now will become more toxic, making lives shorter and more painful.
We also know how to create farms that are immune to droughts, floods, and storms. We know how to reduce the pollution we pour into the atmosphere, and we know how to use plants to pull pollutants out of the atmosphere. We still have the ability to make this a greener, cleaner world, and make a more just world as we do it.
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