January 17, 2017
On Second Thought...There's Wyoming
In the few days after the election -- which maybe we should call "The Election" from now on -- I wrote some optimistic articles about sustainable business and the clean economy, including...
I spoke too soon. I'm still generally optimistic about mega trends and economics driving change. But I have to admit I had a lack of imagination about what leaders could do to attack the clean economy. I didn't really think anyone could assemble a cabinet full of climate deniers. When the CEO of Exxon -- which has spent decades and many millions of dollars making climate science seem uncertain -- is the most reasonable voice on climate, you know there's a problem.
But I got better at imagining. Since the election, with many colleagues, I've mused about what legislators could do to, say, prop up coal. We discussed how you could subsidize fossil fuels or create a "coal portfolio standard," a bizzaro-world twist on existing state rules that mandate a certain percentage of electricity come from renewables. Most chuckled at the idea.
Then Wyoming got a bright idea.
Some state senators and reps have put forward a bill to effectively ban large-scale wind and solar production. The state would ban utilities from providing customers with renewable energy. Rooftop solar would still be ok (freedom of the individual and all that), and companies could still produce wind power, but only for people out of state. But still, this is a clear attempt to prop up a dying source of energy. As the bill sponsors say, this climate change thing is unsettled and "coal=jobs" (don't all forms of energy = jobs?).
Wyoming is tiny, but is an outsized player in energy (and in electors per citizen), and somehow I doubt this will be an isolated event. I've heard from knowledgeable sources that the new administration has plans to significantly increase coal use. This is a horrible idea.
It's strange to have to say this, but climate change is the most serious threat to humanity (sure, many say nukes and extremism are, but if that's the bar for considering something an existential threat, um, ok...and I've heard Mayor Mike Bloomberg talk about how he thinks climate is actually even bigger).
It all makes sense on some level. Coal has been an important economic engine in some parts of the country so they will defend it. Telling them that there are many jobs created for every job they lose -- but elsewhere -- is not much help. But nobody can block progress like this for long. They're just delaying the tough work needed to help a community find another path to prosperity.
Wyoming's actions are a bad sign. We all need to get better at imagining the worst, and the best, possible paths forward. A battle of competing visions for the future is being waged and starts in earnest on Friday. Let's get to work.
(This post also appears on medium.)