The next Congress must respond quickly and comprehensively to the significant economic and national security impacts posed by climate change that were forcefully documented in the recent reports of the U.S. Global Change Research Program and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The answer is not the narrowly-drawn Green New Deal, a renewables-only proposal that has generated support from some climate concerned organizations and new members of the House of Representatives. This approach is not in the national interest and a single-path focus will not adequately address the full range of challenges, a key point that Bill Gates clearly articulated in an interview this week.
The new reports make clear that climate change will negatively affect the economic strength of the U.S., the well-being of its citizens, and its security throughout this century. The Pentagon, across administrations, has consistently made clear its serious concerns about how climate will impact is missions and infrastructure.
An effective congressional response must be comprehensive and balanced to be effective over the long term and adapt to evolving circumstances. It must include significant support to maintain and expand research, development and wide-scale deployment of renewable energy sources, non-carbon-emitting nuclear power, and atmospheric carbon removal and sequestration.
Renewables are on the rise and that trend should be fully supported. But, as the world moves toward a clean energy future, no one technology will be adequate to respond to the growing electricity demand in developing nations and the global need to decarbonize the transportation, manufacturing and agriculture sectors, which together account for almost 60 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Nuclear energy generates 56 percent of the emission-free electricity in the U.S., roughly triple the amount generated by hydropower and wind, and almost 19 times the amount produced by solar power. The elimination of nuclear power in Germany and its significant curtailment in Japan have resulted in increased carbon emissions as those nations have been forced to rely more on fossil fuels, despite increasing their deployment of renewables.
Nuclear power also plays an important role in strengthening U.S. geopolitical competitiveness, sustaining America’s leadership in technological innovation, and improving global security and governance.
The United States Congress has been a leader in responding to global challenges. It can and must rise to meet the serious challenges posed by climate change. A key element of that response must be a recognition that a full range of climate responses and technologies are necessary to bend the carbon emissions curve in the right direction. Time is limited, and renewables-only rigidity is not a sustainable path toward a zero carbon future.