Setting a Goal to Cut Climate Pollution
We are facing a global climate crisis. We need to act boldly and urgently to protect ourselves. We have a responsibility to act.
There’s good news. For the first time in ten years we are seeing serious federal efforts on climate legislation. Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) has introduced the 100% Clean Economy Act of 2019 with Representatives Deb Haaland (NM-01), Debbie Dingell (MI-12), Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), Paul Tonko (NY-20), and Chellie Pingree (ME-01). The legislation has over 150 original co-sponsors.
The goal is simple: Eliminate the climate pollution that is the major cause of global warming. That means no more climate pollution—a 100% clean economy that does not contribute methane and carbon emissions: clean buildings, clean agriculture, clean transportation, and clean electricity.
It’s ambitious, but we can do it. Our lives will be better for it. This legislation sets out a goal of achieving Zero Climate Pollution by 2050, setting staged, enforceable goals to begin cutting immediately. And for the health, well-being, and safety of our children—and the world they will grow up in—we must end climate pollution.
100% clean energy? You mean, the way I get my electricity is polluting the air and warming the planet—but we can clean it up?
A: Yes, that’s right. Unless you’re using renewable or nuclear or hydro energy only, the sources of your household electricity produce carbon and methane pollution that contributes enormously to global warming. The U.S. is the leading source of climate pollution, on a per capita basis. China and India follow. Our entire electricity system has to be overhauled, cleaned up, and modernized.
But a 100% Clean Economy isn’t just about household electricity—it is bigger and bolder than that.
We are demanding Zero Climate Pollution for a 100% Clean Economy in every aspect of our lives—meaning our cars and trucks won’t pollute, and neither will the way we raise our food, or the way we build the places in which we work and live, or the sources of power for our homes and workplaces. It means our industries and infrastructure get fully modernized, too.
What exactly is clean energy?
A: Clean energy means any energy source that does not emit carbon or methane or other climate-warming pollution. It means energy that is renewable and safer for our families. Clean energy does not endanger anyone, at any stage of its production, distribution, or disposal.
So what is a clean economy?
A: A clean economy is one that functions without emitting more carbon and methane than is being removed, however that is done. Bottom line? Zero Climate Pollution.
This sounds like an ambitious plan. Is it going to take a lot of work?
A: It is very ambitious. There’s a lot to do in the next thirty years. And that means there is a huge amount to do right now and in the next year. The next five years. The next ten years, and onward.
This legislation is simply a first step. But we cannot make plans if we do not agree on clear goals.
We have waited long enough. The impacts of a warming planet are becoming more dangerous every year; this is because of the methane and carbon pollution that hold solar radiation in our atmosphere. In fact, between 2010 and 2019, there were 119 disasters such as floods, hurricanes and wildfires with losses exceeding $1 billion dollars. The earth is warming up, rapidly. We must start cutting climate pollution right away.
The goal—a 100% clean economy, across all sectors, by 2050—is based on a report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), produced by the world’s leading climate scientists. It states that the world must cut climate pollution 45% by 2030, and completely stop climate pollution by 2050, in order to have a chance of avoiding the worst effects of climate change.
We are entering a defining decade, a turning point. Our goals now will set us up for the rest of our children’s lives. Scientists are warning us—and we are seeing it every day: We are facing a climate crisis that is threatening our health, our families, our farms, our cities, and our futures. We must be ambitious. We have a moral responsibility.
Don’t forget—we’ve made huge energy transitions before. Remember whale oil? The transition from blubber to fossil fuels was controversial and disruptive to all parts of the economy—but we came out better. (So did the whales.) Similarly, coal use in the U.S. is plummeting because of natural gas and renewable energy. (Though it is important to be aware that coal use is on the rise in other parts of the world.) Energy is just like communications—there was a time when no one could have imagined we would be talking to each other on a device smaller than your hand.
Is this even doable? Do we have the tools to cut climate pollution out of our entire economy?
A: Yes, we do. That’s why this goal of Zero Climate Pollution for a 100% Clean Economy is so exciting. The faster we act, the more leadership we will have in new technologies and engineering innovation.
We already know so much about so many of the different pieces of this puzzle. The technology exists now; we know:
- How to produce energy from wind and sun and rivers and tides, among other sources;
- How to save energy through simple steps like better insulation and lighting in our buildings;
- How to reduce transportation pollution;
- How to create laws, set fees, and make rules at the local, state, and national levels that ensure we are on target in cutting climate pollution.
The costs of solar, wind, and energy storage have dropped dramatically. The cost of solar alone is down nearly 90% over the past ten years.
Right now, massive subsidies and tax breaks prop up the fossil fuel industry and unfairly penalize renewable energy. The subsidies to renewable energy are minuscule by comparison to what we give the fossil fuel industry. We spend ten times more on fossil fuel breaks than we do on education! Meanwhile, the costs of those subsidies are borne by our families—and they hit hardest the communities near the sources of pollution. It’s simply not fair, and it has to stop.
We can make sure our infrastructure is climate-smart and resilient—while protecting vulnerable populations who bear the brunt of climate impacts and who should not shoulder the costs of cleaning it up.
We know how to do so much—and every year we learn more about how to do it all better and cheaper. Many states have made their own commitments to reducing greenhouse gases—CA, CO, CT, DE, HI, IL, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, NJ, NM, NV, NY, NC, OR, PA, RI, VT, VA, WA, WI, along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Their plans need support.
It is now a matter of willpower and working together to cut climate pollution and clean up our economy across the country.
Isn’t this going to be expensive?
A: We do need to make a significant investment in a large transition. But it is the sort of investment that is going to pay us back enormous dividends.
We tend to forget: The cost of inaction is already enormous—in the form of climate disaster, the health and safety of our families, the security of our food, and the security of our homes and lands. Doing nothing is way more expensive than cutting climate pollution. In the last forty years, weather and climate disasters have cost us more than $1.6 trillion dollars.
It is only going to get more expensive. Insurance companies are already beginning to refuse to insure homes in climate vulnerable communities. A 100% clean economy will give us climate solutions that will also clean up the air our families breathe—and create more economic opportunity..
Given that more than 40% of Americans live in counties where the air is unhealthy to breathe, this is truly priceless. Our investment in a clean, climate-pollution-free future also means new inventions, new technologies, new leadership—and new opportunity for all. But we have to agree to make that happen. It is up to all of us to tell our legislators to take bold action. Now.
How will this affect communities of color?
A: Black and brown communities have carried the burden of climate impacts for our country for far too long. While America’s reliance on natural gas and limited energy sources have soared, our nation’s low income neighborhoods sit on the fence line of air and climate pollution. Communities of color also pay more of their income to energy cost than their white counterparts, making it a financial burden to simply breathe clean air. From playgrounds to pulpits, communities of color continue to suffer from environmental injustices and action is required now. That’s why Moms Clean Air Force is a signer to the Equitable and Just Climate Platform and focused on ensuring that a JUST transition to zero climate pollution means a fair and equitable distribution of resources, technology and attention to the places and people that need it most.
For Moms Clean Air Force a JUST transition is:
J – Job creation for workers in communities hardest hit by climate injustice and most underrepresented in the clean energy economy. Experts say that the green energy job sector is among the fastest growing in the United States. We support a JUST transition to zero climate pollution that will be inclusive of all communities and pay particular attention to rectifying the availability of jobs in low income communities.
U – Utilizing the best energy sources to lower the cost of electricity to low income communities. The science is clear: Renewable energy options lower climate pollution, improve public health, and create stable energy sources which lower the cost from our pocketbooks. We stand with science and support a JUST transition to zero climate pollution and a 100% clean economy that helps level the playing field for families to pay a fair bill.
S – Stopping the expansion of dirty facilities. Using dirty fossil fuels is not only unnecessary, it’s dangerous to our environment and our heath. Many facilities that produce natural gas sit right on the edge of low income communities, making them ground zero for health disparities and illness. Over 1 million African Americans live within a half mile of an oil and gas operation. This is not to mention the many Indigenous and Latino families that have been historically subjected to living near these facilities. It’s not fair and it’s not right. We support a JUST transition to clean energy that stops the expansion of fossil fuels and refocuses our efforts to investments in renewable and existing energy sources.
T – Transforming our infrastructure for climate adaption in vulnerable communities. It’s no secret that America’s roads, bridges, and sewers are in desperate need of repair. But for cities on the front lines of climate change AND that protect underserved populations, strengthening their foundations could mean the difference between life and death. We support a JUST transition to a 100% clean energy economy that invests in sustainable, reliable, and resilient infrastructure, but prioritizes vulnerable populations that need it most.
How will this affect low-income families and communities that are more vulnerable because they are living near sources of pollution, or in low-lying flood-prone areas? How will you make sure economically insecure people don’t continue to unfairly carry the burden of pollution and climate change?
A: Vulnerable and low-income communities are disproportionally impacted by the harms from climate change—bearing the brunt of floods and natural disasters, while also suffering the most negative health effects of air pollution. Cleaning up the entire energy system and pushing towards 100% clean energy across our economy will reduce this burden while providing equity, justice, and new economic opportunity.
The right planning can also help Americans whose livelihoods depend on traditional forms of energy begin to transition toward a cleaner future. We need to ensure that any approach to achieve Zero Climate Pollution for a 100% Clean Economy not only protects low-income families but also provides time for a fair transition for all communities.
Can we wait for breakthroughs in technology?
A: We’ve done nothing but wait so far. Our carbon and methane emissions are on the rise. That hasn’t gotten us anywhere—in fact, it has gotten us into this state of emergency.
Engineers and inventors are hard at work on innovative solutions, but we can’t leave our future to luck. Every single year that we wait, the climate disturbance gets worse—and more expensive to address. Worse, the Trump administration has refused to take any responsibility for climate pollution. The administration is moving us backward by weakening or rolling back vital regulations against pollution. We have to demand immediate change.
What about nuclear energy?
A: Right now, the USA has 98 operating nuclear power reactors in 30 states. They account for roughly 20% of our electricity. These plants do not emit climate pollution. But they are aging.
Nuclear power carries some large risks. When a solar panel breaks, the worst that can happen is a sunny day. When a nuclear plant breaks, it can be disastrous. However, many states rely on a nuclear energy in their power mix—and have been doing so for decades, without terrible accidents. Nuclear plants that are up and running can continue to produce carbon-free energy. Utilities need to ensure those plants continue to be as safe, up-to-date, and reliable as possible.
What about new kinds of nuclear power?
A: Nuclear fusion (as opposed to fission) is still a very long way off from being feasible, or affordable. But we also believe there should be every possible investment in developing new, clean, and safe forms of power generation. Perhaps there will be a major breakthrough in fusion. But in the meantime, we must use the tools we have to clean up climate pollution. Renewable energy from the sun and wind are already gaining traction across the country, fast.
What about natural gas?
The oil and gas industries are doing a terrible job of getting their pollution under control. Every stage—from getting oil and gas out of the ground to the market and then to your home—creates air pollution from trucks, equipment, gas leaks, venting, and flaring. This pollution can be toxic to people living nearby oil and gas development, and it contributes to climate change.
And it’s not just about methane emissions—natural gas is a fossil fuel. Even if methane leaks from the oil and gas industry are fully fixed, natural gas emits carbon dioxide when burned for energy. It is not a source of climate-safe energy.
It is outrageous that many people in the oil and gas industry are actively working to weaken or repeal regulations that protect our families and the climate. The industry is actually willing to waste what should be a precious resource.
So, unless the oil and gas industries clean up their acts (quite literally), they aren’t part of a safe and clean energy future. And we certainly shouldn’t be investing in more oil and gas infrastructure that locks us into using dirty energy for decades.
What about the Green New Deal? Does this 100% Clean Economy conflict with that?
A: People can and do support them both. There is lots to love about the Green New Deal, including its ideals about what our society could achieve. Our Zero Climate Pollution for a 100% Clean Economy campaign is specific to climate pollution—it focuses on carbon and methane emissions across every sector of our economy. And it calls for urgent action. Certainly, the Green New Deal also calls for exactly that—and more.
A 100% reduction in climate pollution in thirty years is very ambitious, no matter which way you cut it.
Read the full text of the Green New Deal.
Is this just a campaign—or is there legislation?
A: Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) has introduced the 100% Clean Economy Act of 2019 with Representatives Deb Haaland (NM-01), Debbie Dingell (MI-12), Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), Paul Tonko (NY-20), and Chellie Pingree (ME-01). The legislation has over 150 original co-sponsors.
This bill has people talking about what is needed to address the climate crisis. The Senate is also working on climate legislation.
But the current makeup of the Senate, and a president who denies the reality of climate change, continue to be a problem. We won’t get climate legislation passed during this administration. But we are, hopefully, laying the groundwork for a national commitment in the near future.
During the debates before the last presidential election, there wasn’t even a question about climate change. Finally, now, more people are demanding change, and candidates are presenting plans to get us to Zero Climate Pollution.
If we can’t get a law passed in this Congress to get to a 100% clean energy economy, why bother to push for a bill?
A: The clarity of the goal: Zero Climate Pollution for a 100% clean economy by 2050—which is based on the clarity of scientific warnings—is super important. Our political representatives have to stand up and be counted. Those who do nothing to tackle climate pollution will be held accountable.
This campaign also highlights the dozens of terrible things happening now, with the Trump administration’s dangerous rollbacks of regulations protecting us from climate pollution. These rollbacks are only helping put more money into the pockets of big oil and gas companies. They aren’t protecting us.
When you look at where we need to be in thirty years—and where we need to be in the next five years!—to avert climate disaster, Zero Climate Pollution for a 100% Clean Economy makes it clear how immoral and dangerous is the EPA strategy of cutting the rules that protect us from methane emissions, or carbon emissions, or mercury emissions.
This campaign also shines light on the need for a tax overhaul. Tax subsidies and breaks now overwhelmingly favor an old industry—oil and gas development. Subsidies for renewables are minuscule by comparison.
Fossil fuel subsidies in 2015 in the U.S. were ten times the federal spending on education. That’s backward. We, the taxpayers who actually pay taxes, are paying to support a polluting industry—and that public spending could go to supporting health care, education, roads, and many more things that are better for us.
There will be a great deal of work to do—across the country and in every facet of our economy—to achieve the goal of Zero Climate Pollution. But stating a goal, and honoring it, is critical to actually setting out in the right direction.
Our determination to completely eliminate climate pollution and get to a 100% clean economy by 2050 puts us on a path to climate safety, right away.