Reflections on a Remarkable Year
Well, check off one of the Crucial Years. If our civilization has a fighting chance of survival, we need to cut emissions in half by 2030; it’s the greatest challenge we’ve ever faced as a species, and the greatest drama imaginable.
I’ve been writing this newsletter for a particularly remarkable trip around the sun. It’s been a pivot year: the U.S. Congress finally passed climate legislation, by the thinnest of margins, and filled with all the gifts to Big Oil that Joe Manchin could cram in. But it’s what we should have done 30 years ago: started moving aggressively towards clean energy.
And so now the game is on. The next year is going to see at least three crucial things
1) Having gotten some concessions from Politics, the movement is now going to go hard against Money—Wall Street will be as much the target as Washington
2) They don’t call it global warming for nothing, and so it will be fascinating to see if the Biden administration can leverage American action to help move the rest of the world (which is a way of saying I’m looking forward to reporting from the climate talks in Cairo)
3) Execution. With the burst of money from DC, it’s time to build out all those EV chargers and offshore wind farms; figuring out how to make it happen in timely fashion is going to be crucial.
So we’ll watch these things together—but this is a fighting newsletter. So we’ll also figure out ways to help spur change on.
In our first year together we had one clear win as a community: convincing the president in late spring to sign legislation using the Defense Production Act to start producing heat pumps as a response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “Heat Pumps for Peace and Freedom” went from a newsletter post to American policy inside a hundred days, and you folks made it happen, with a storm of organizing. More to come.
I’ve figured out a few things in the course of writing this thing, and one is that I can’t bring myself to divide up its content between paid and free. This is the most important topic in history; information needs to be out there where people can use it. So it’s all free.
But it takes a lot of time to produce, and some help. (Thanks to Eden Friedman for her work this past year!). So it depends on those who can afford it to keep it going. If you honestly can’t afford to pay for it, then don’t worry about it for a minute, but if you can subscribe please do. I’m used to this kind of arrangement—my books can be found for free at the library, but enough people pay for them at the bookshop to make it possible to keep writing. I don’t know why this balance works, but it does; it’s how a community should operate. And it is a real privilege to be part of this community. Thank you.
And on we go. Another year; another set of chances.
This is a fighting newsletter. If you can’t afford to subscribe, that’s fine. If you can, you’re helping build this remarkable community.
More news from around the world of climate and energy:
+The aftershocks from the Inflation Reduction Act continue to rumble: the next question is whether “permit reform” will go through Congress. We obviously need ways to speed work on renewable energy projects, but making it easier to build pipelines is just as clearly a bad idea—not only for the atmosphere, but also for investors, as a new analysis from IEEFA makes clear.
A government permit process that affords comprehensive public scrutiny backed up by the right to judicial review prevents unnecessarily harmful, wasteful conduct. It forces decision-makers to think about alternatives that are more prudent economically and environmentally.
+Daniel Sherrill, the youthful author of Warmth: Coming of Age at the End of the World, offers his take on the bill, and I imagine he speaks for many:
As we question, grapple and experiment – as we lead, in other words – our opponents hold fast to their myopia. Blinkered, rigid, selfish to a fault, theirs is a losing ethic, a worldview in retreat. Ours, on the other hand, is advancing toward the helm. May we occupy every inch they concede. May the IRA be the floor, not the ceiling, of our ambition.
The wonderful organizer Daniel Hunter adds his own thoughts on the wonderful website Waging Nonviolence.
Those of us who’ve been around for a while have experienced much loss. And those losses don’t go away. They creep into our souls and whisper doubts whenever a possible success comes along. They urge us to look around the corner for catches and be cautious around words like hope.
Yet, if we’re not careful, losing can cultivate a self-fulfilling prophecy where that’s all we see.
+Some sage investment advice from the LA Times, aimed particularly at people controlling large pension funds: the IRA makes it official that Big Oil stocks are going to be under pressure forever. So the boom that came their pal Putin’s invasion of Ukraine may be your last chance to get out without taking a bath.
+John Ewing, who runs the Rural Climate Partnership, points out that the IRA could be a big boost across the American countryside
First off, the bill would invest $20 billion in family farmers and ranchers, the backbone of our rural economies. This will create opportunities to improve soil health, increase crop yields, reduce fertilizer costs, increase resilience to extreme weather and diversify income streams. These agricultural practices can improve farmers’ bottom line and are good for air and water quality, too.
Second, there are major cost savings for rural America through $10 billion in funding for electric cooperatives to invest in cheap, renewable energy. This will make it possible for coops — which supply electricity to 42 million people, including 92 percent of persistent poverty counties
+You know who’s an interesting writer? Marshall Shepherd, in this case on why young people wear hoodies even in the intense summer heat
+Heating the atmosphere increases both evaporation and precipitation. California’s dealt with plenty of the former, as its endless forest fires attest. But the New York Times produced a stunning report on the danger of the latter: the Golden State can now expect to see an eventual “megastorm,” when one of the Pineapple Express atmospheric rivers comes in off the Pacific and produces rainfall that could in places total a hundred inches.
This vapor plume will be enormous, hundreds of miles wide and more than 1,200 miles long, and seething with ferocious winds. It will be carrying so much water that if you converted it all to liquid, its flow would be about 26 times what the Mississippi River discharges into the Gulf of Mexico at any given moment.
When this torpedo of moisture reaches California, it will crash into the mountains and be forced upward. This will cool its payload of vapor and kick off weeks and waves of rain and snow.
Meanwhile, a new scientific study on Friday indicated that the damages from such storms are likely to double as the century wears on.
+Boris Johnson’s likely replacement as Britain’s prime minister said last week that she thought solar panels in fields were a “depressing sight.” Meanwhile, for really depressing sights, here’s a short video of images from around Europe of rivers drying up in the deepest drought in at least a half-millennia. And here’s what the Rhine looks like today:
+The remarkable Stanford professor Mark Jacobson has a new study out: the world could pay for the entire transition to renewables on just six years of the savings that would come from not buying coal, gas and oil
+Vladimir Putin is writing some new entries in the annals of ugly wartime behavior: using an operating nuclear power plant as an artillery base has to be one of the more desperate tactics of all time
+Oh, and the Arctic is warming up to four times faster than scientists had previously imagined. Man do we have a lot of work to do! Thank you for being a part of it.
The Crucial Years is a fighting newsletter. If you can afford to help support it, please do. If you can’t, don’t worry!
"“Heat Pumps for Peace and Freedom” went from a newsletter post to American policy inside a hundred days"
Given the state of our country division witch I believe was partly caused by removing the office in the white house that dealt with lobbyist. Witch in turn let lobbyist pit one side against the other by letting money rule! Our democracy is said to be by and for the people yet that too is used by both sides. the true will of the majority of the people which is what a democracy is does not happen. The partisanship even in the supreme court does not speak for the majority of us and ether party has a hard time doing its job as well! So much money and time is spent with the fights going back and forth with little done. SO, I SAY WE SHOULD LET THE PEOPLES WILL BE DONE! Put these things on our voting ballots! We should not be wasting our lives and time and money only to have the majority suffer! Let’s have a true democracy! With guns laws 90% of the people want them! With climate change about 70% want action now! voting rights and drug cost and health care and more! LET THE PEOPLE SPEAK! DOING THIS WILL ALSO HELP TO GET PEOPLE TO VOTE!