California aims to drop fossil fuels for electricity by 2045
By JONATHAN J. COOPER
Tuesday, September 11
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California has set a goal of phasing out electricity produced by fossil fuels by 2045 under legislation signed Monday by Gov. Jerry Brown, who said the policy should serve as a model for other states and nations.
Brown, who has positioned California as a global leader in the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, approved the measure as he prepares to host a summit in San Francisco of climate change leaders from around the world starting Wednesday.
The new law, along with an executive order Brown signed directing California to take as much carbon dioxide out of the air as it emits, represent the latest in a string of ambitious environmental initiatives as California seeks to fill a void left by President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord and his efforts to boost the coal industry.
“We want others to do likewise, and if enough people often enough do what is needed we will curb global warming,” Brown said during an interview with The Associated Press. “But we’re definitely at the beginning of what’s going to be a long and difficult and contentious journey.”
The state is pushing to rapidly expand adoption of electric vehicles and has created a “cap and trade” program to put a price on carbon emissions, creating incentives to reduce them. It’s working toward a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent over the next 12 years.
The efforts have drawn criticism from business groups worried about rising electric bills. Some environmentalists say Brown is too cozy with oil and gas interests and plan to disrupt the San Francisco summit.
The renewable energy measure would require California’s utilities to generate 60 percent of their energy from wind, solar and other specific renewable sources by 2030. That’s 10 percent higher than the current mandate.
The goal would then be to use only carbon-free sources to generate electricity by 2045. It’s merely a goal, with no mandate or penalty for falling short. California’s renewable energy goal is not as ambitious as Hawaii, which has adopted a 100 percent renewable energy mandate.
Phasing out fossil fuels would be a massive change in the energy grid. Utilities rely on natural gas plants to meet demand when renewables fall short, particularly in the early evening when the sun sets and people turn on their air conditioners as they get home from work.
Utilities are already dealing with an abundance of solar energy during peak times, which must be offloaded to other states when there’s not enough demand locally for the power.
Brown advocates for a regional energy grid that would more easily allow Western states to share energy. An effort he pushed has died the past two years in the Legislature, with critics arguing California shouldn’t be part of a grid with states that rely on coal. But Brown on Monday said moving toward a regional grid is essential to achieving California’s new 100 percent clean energy goal without sending electric prices skyrocketing.
“Those who don’t want it are going to be foisting very high prices on California, and I think there will be resistance to that,” Brown said. “It may take one or two years, but we’re going to get there. It makes too much sense.”
He also pointed to the need for better battery technology to store energy.
Renewable energy experts have looked to batteries that can store solar energy generated in the afternoon as one solution, but the technology is not ready for wide-scale deployment. Another potential solution is pumped storage, in which water is pumped uphill in the afternoon using solar energy and then released through hydroelectric generators after the sun sets.
Brown has often faced criticism that he’s too lenient with the oil industry, including from environmental groups pushing him to create a moratorium on new oil and gas wells in the state. He rejected the criticism and said that California’s approach to climate change relies on curbing emissions from a variety of sources, including oil.
California has nearly 54,000 active wells, some of them close to urbanized areas in Southern California and the Central Valley, according to state data.
California ranked sixth among states in crude oil production in May, the latest data available from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The state ranks 15th in natural gas production. California’s production of crude oil has fallen steadily since the mid-1980s.
Business groups also opposed the measure amid concerns that it would raise the price of energy and, together with California’s other environmental and labor protections, make it hard to compete with firms in other states.
“If we’re going to have these first-in-the-nation laws, we want to see first-in-the-nation benefits,” said Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable.
The measure was written by state Sen. Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat who is running for U.S. Senate against fellow Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
“Today we’re setting a marker that will be remembered by future generations,” de Leon said.
The companion executive order Brown signed directs the state to achieve “carbon neutrality” no later than 2045. After that, he says the state should emit net negative greenhouse gas emissions.
The order directs several state agencies to set targets for artificially removing carbon dioxide from the air through a process known as “sequestration.”
That could involve restoring forests and wetlands to use plants to consume carbon dioxide or new technologies that capture carbon dioxide, compress it and inject it into the ground.
Associated Press writer Kathleen Ronayne contributed.
Opinion: Who Needs Bipartisanship Without a Budget Constraint?
By John Merrifield and Barry Poulson
In 2018, all federal appropriation bills (with bipartisan support) have passed out of their respective committees. Even more stunning, many of these bills have actually passed the House and Senate. No wonder folks in Washington are congratulating themselves en masse for avoiding continuing resolutions and other temporary funding measures.
However, before we give Congress a standing ovation, we should note that this esteemed legislative body has yet to implement an actual budget. All of the appropriation bills include significant spending increases. Such is why total government spending will increase by a whopping 13 percent this year.
Passing appropriation bills without a budget constraint is a pyrrhic victory. The bipartisanship in passing these appropriation bills is possible because legislators “compromised” on an additional $150 billion in spending. Republicans got the boost in military spending they wanted and Democrats received their quid pro quo in higher domestic spending. It is easy to compromise on appropriations when you borrow the money and pass the bill along to future generations.
Simply put, the budget process is broken. For decades, Congress has incurred deficits and accumulated debt at an unsustainable rate. Republicans pay lip service to a balanced budget, yet they refuse modest spending reductions again and again. Democrats show little interest in even discussing deficits and debt. The few remaining deficit hawks, such as Sen. Rand Paul, are criticized for not participating in this fiscal charade.
Continuing to incur deficits and accumulate debt is not sustainable in the long run. According to Congressional Budget Office forecasts, these fiscal policies will eventually be accompanied by retardation and stagnation in economic growth. At some point, a debt crisis is inevitable, accompanied by a collapse in international financial markets.
The bad news is that this nightmare economic scenario is fast approaching. In a recent speech, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke predicted that Wile E. Coyote (the U.S. government) would fall off the cliff in 2020. He was referring to the unwelcome return of trillion-dollar deficits that undermine monetary policies and wreak economic havoc.
Whenever the debt bomb explodes, the outcome would be a global disaster. Just look at the fallout from the recent debt bombs in Argentina and Greece. Needless to say, the consequences of a debt crisis in the United States would dwarf those cases.
The good news is that we do not have to watch Wile E. Coyote plummet off the cliff. In other words, we should not wait for credit markets to signal an unfolding debt crisis in the United States. By implementing common-sense fiscal rules, such as those enacted in Switzerland and other European countries, we can prevent a financial crisis and put the country on the path toward a sustainable fiscal future.
The Swiss have a cyclically balanced budget, with deficit spending in periods of recession offset by surplus revenue in periods of rapid growth. With a cyclically balanced budget, the Swiss were able to pursue a counter-cyclical fiscal policy during the recent financial crisis without triggering an increase in debt in the long run.
At this point, the United States is severely constrained in responding to external shocks and business cycles. It would be difficult for the country to pursue a countercyclical fiscal policy without triggering an explosive increase in debt similar to that during the recent financial crisis. Using debt to finance higher levels of spending, even when the funds are used to finance infrastructure investment, would be counterproductive because of the negative impact of debt on private investment. Increasing taxes to offset higher levels of spending is also counterproductive because of the negative impact on economic growth.
However, with our proposed fiscal rules in place, debt levels could be reduced to a sustainable level, and the United States could then pursue a cyclically balanced budget. This would allow the fiscal flexibility to respond to external shocks and business cycle downturns. The government could pursue fiscal policies to stabilize the economy over the business cycle without triggering unsustainable deficits and debt. The country would also have more capacity to invest in infrastructure to promote economic growth.
Even more stunning, the United States could deliver government services in the long run. Reforming entitlement programs will be essential in generating the savings required for a sustainable fiscal policy. However, the nation will still be challenged to meet the insatiable demand for pension and health benefits demanded by an aging population.
When Switzerland enacted its fiscal reforms, its debt levels, relative to Gross Domestic Product, were well below that in the United States. After several decades of reckless spending, Congress has accumulated a $20 trillion debt, it is obvious that Americans face a daunting situation. The United States must enact more stringent fiscal rules than those employed in Switzerland. Policymakers may be surprised at the magnitude of the task, which will require difficult choices.
The fiscal rules that we propose would require Congress to reach agreement on a budget consistent with a sustainable level of debt, at the outset of the budget cycle. Compromises in passing appropriation bills would require agreement on budget priorities consistent with this budget constraint. Living with a budget restriction requires real bipartisanship. State legislators have learned to live with a budget limit, and it is time for Congress to do so as well.
ABOUT THE WRITERS
John Merrifield is professor of economics at the University of Texas-San Antonio. Barry Poulson is emeritus professor of economics at the University of Colorado-Boulder. They wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Welcome to the new Meghalayan age – here’s how it fits with the rest of Earth’s geologic history
September 11, 2018
Associate Professor of Geosciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Steve Petsch receives funding from National Science Foundation.
University of Massachusetts Amherst provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Jurassic, Pleistocene, Precambrian. The named times in Earth’s history might inspire mental images of dinosaurs, trilobites or other enigmatic animals unlike anything in our modern world.
Labels like these are part of a system scientists use to divide up Earth’s 4.6 billion year history. The biggest divisions are eons which split into eras, which break into epochs, which divide into periods and then all the way down to ages.
Officially, we’re living in the Holocene epoch. Informally, people talk about our current age as the Anthropocene, melding humans with the lingo of geologic time. And now, there’s a new age with a new name – the Meghalayan. So how did the custom of dividing and categorizing time get started, and who gets to decide when there is a new age, epoch or era?
Before the ages, naming the rocks
The geologic time scale was not entirely intentional, at least at its start. In the early 1800s, geologists began to create maps and descriptions showing where different types of rocks occurred throughout western Europe.
Some of this was driven by natural curiosity. The Triassic is named because the same three-part layering – carbonate-rich shale on top of fossil-rich limestone on top of red sandstone – was found throughout western Europe. To European scientists, this configuration seemed common enough to warrant a name.
Some labeling emerged from economic motivations. If a particular type of sandstone or limestone or coal proved useful, then people wanted to know where else to put a quarry or mine to find the same rock.
The study of how rocks are layered and organized became formalized as stratigraphy. To assign a name to a particular rock, stratigraphers put criteria in place. There had to be a location where the archetype of that rock could be found. There should be a widespread geographic distribution, as for the Triassic. There might be signature fossils that only occur in that rock, or are not found in younger rocks (suggesting an extinction) or older rocks (telling us when a new species developed).
Names for the divisions of the rock record drew from where those rocks were first or best described – Devonian rocks in Devonshire, Cambrian rocks in Wales (Cambria, as the Romans called the region) – or from obvious characteristics. Cretaceous rocks in Europe are full of fossils that provide a rich source of chalk. Carboniferous rocks around the world include important coal resources.
Rocks equal time
The big mental leap came in connecting rocks with time – those Devonian rocks were formed during what came to be called Devonian time. That’s how geologic time became a convenient shorthand for major events and changes in life’s history on Earth. The Cretaceous is not just chalk. It’s a time when conditions were just right for the seas to be filled with huge populations of plankton – whose bodies sank to the ocean floor and eventually formed chalk when they died.
What began as a system to distinguish different rocks in western Europe has grown into a formalized, sophisticated and systematic way of thinking about life and time and the ways these are recorded in rocks.
The history of Earth’s atmosphere is one example. Invisible chemical proxies created by ancient organisms and preserved in sedimentary rocks record the rises and falls in oxygen and carbon dioxide over the past 600 million years. These coincide with events along the geologic timescale such as major mass extinctions, the evolution of land plants and the assembly and breakup of supercontinents.
Be it fossils or minerals or minute chemical signatures, the stratigraphic records reveals the interplay between life, earth and environment through time.
Defining the Meghalayan Age
Scientists still continue to refine the geologic timescale. This summer brought the official naming of a new age: the Meghalayan.
Numerous climate records show that Earth faced an abrupt shift towards a cooler and drier climate 4,200 years ago. A team led by stratigrapher and climate scientist Mike Walker proposed that this was a significant and global-scale event, best represented by climate signals found in a stalagmite from Mawmluh Cave in Meghalaya state, in northeast India.
The International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) and its parent body, the International Union of Geological Sciences, vote on and ratify such proposals. ICS is in effect the official keeper of the geologic time scale. When a new time division is approved, as in the case of the Meghalayan, ICS sets the official description and adds that new detail to the geologic time scale.
All rocks younger than 4,200 years are now part of the Meghalayan Stage. Time since 4,200 years ago is in the Meghalayan Age. But there is a lot to unpack in these details.
Splitting up the Holocene
As of July 2018, the Holocene – the most recent epoch of time spanning from 11,700 years ago to the present – is divided into three ages: the Greenlandian, the Northgrippian and the Meghalayan.
Those first two are unusual because their type localities are not rocks. Instead, they’re layers of ice deep within the Greenland Ice Sheet. Both are defined by major, global-scale environmental change: warming in the case of the Greenlandian and ripple effects of melting ice sheets for the Northgrippian.
The Meghalayan, too, is unusual, and not just for its first-ever use of a stalagmite as the rock that defines the archetype. The global-scale climate change that defines the beginning of the Meghalayan coincides with a period of ongoing migration and collapse of many early human civilizations around the globe. For the first time, our stratigraphy has been defined at least in part by effects on human activities.
What about the Anthropocene?
Which brings us to the idea of an Anthropocene – a proposed division of geologic time defined by signs of human activities in the geologic record. If human activities can be associated with divisions of geologic time – as was done for the Meghalayan – and we define geologic time based on various characteristics in rocks, then what to make of the inescapable imprint of human activities in the rock record?
There are good arguments to be made both for and against an Anthropocene.
Human beings have clearly altered landscapes through deforestation, agriculture and industrialization, which among other things have accelerated erosion and sediment accumulation. Plastics are accumulating in our oceans and biosphere, leaving a global-scale marker of these synthetic materials in soils and sediments. People are causing high extinction rates and rapid changes in where species are found around the world. And of course burning fossil fuels and human-induced climate change leave signatures in sediment records worldwide.
But to date, the International Commission on Stratigraphy has not approved the designation of an Anthropocene. One challenge is agreeing on when the Anthropocene should begin. While things such as plastics or carbon dioxide from fossil fuels are geologically recent, human impacts on landscapes, biodiversity and biogeography may extend back thousands of years. It is very hard to pinpoint the first moment in time when our species began to affect the Earth.
The new divisions of the Holocene also cut into the available time for an Anthropocene. The Meghalayan begins 4,200 years ago and continues to the present. Simply put, there is no time left over in the Holocene where we could put an Anthropocene.
For the Anthropocene to be included in the formal geologic time scale, stratigraphers will need to argue that its onset was global in scale, simultaneous around the world and significant in its imprint on the geologic record.
Or maybe these types of formal requirements no longer apply. As scientists recognize that humans are now part of stratigraphy, perhaps we need to rethink our criteria in a way that separates geologic time from human time.