What one Republican would do about climate change

Paul Danish

Kelly Sims Gallagher, director of the Center for International Environment & Resource Policy at Tuft University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, recently told Public Radio International that if the Republicans don’t like President Obama’s approach to curbing greenhouse gases, it would be helpful for them to devise some of their own.

OK. I’m a Republican these days, so here are a few of mine.

I’d start by shifting as many coal-burning American electric power plants as possible to natural gas. Using natural gas produces only half as much CO2 as coal, and it’s a lot cleaner.

We know that shifting from coal to natural gas for electric power generation will produce an immediate and dramatic reduction in CO2 emissions — because it already has. In 2008, U.S. power plants burned 1.045 billion tons of coal. Last year they burned 218 million tons less. The replacement of that 218 million tons of coal with an equivalent amount of natural gas reduced CO2 emissions by almost 400 million tons. A further 300-million-ton reduction in coal use by switching to natural gas could probably be accomplished in less than a decade without breaking a sweat, and would result in cutting CO2 emissions from the electric power sector by more than 1 billion tons compared with 2008 levels.

I’d give utilities a tax credit that covered the capital cost of switching fuels. And to ensure the availability of an adequate supply of natural gas, I’d cut federal highway funds to any state that banned fracking, as New York has done.

Next, I’d launch an aggressive program to systematically replace both coal- and natural gasgenerated electricity with nuclear power. I’d do this by building at least ten 1,400-megawatt nuclear power plants a year, and continue building them at that rate until all existing coal and most natural gas plants have been replaced.

Then I’d continue building nukes at that rate in recognition of the fact that America’s appetite for electric power is going to grow dramatically — as its population increases, as electric cars replace gasoline fueled ones, as the demand for air conditioning rises with the temperature, and so on.

To cut the time and expense of building nuclear plants, I’d settle on a standardized design that would allow the major components to be built on production lines.

To keep environmentalists from delaying construction and running up costs with regulatory delays and lawsuits, I would immediately repeal or modify any laws and regulations they tried to use to game the system. I’d also pass a law that says no environmental review can take longer than a year to complete, and if it’s not done by then the project can go forward without it.

I wouldn’t count on wind and solar for providing more than 20 or 30 percent of the country’s electric needs, but I’d continue to subsidize them anyway — not for their contribution to reducing the nation’s carbon footprint, but for their contribution to national security.

Currently, U.S. electricity supplies are dangerously centralized and vulnerable to cyber sabotage and attack with electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) weapons. The country will become even more vulnerable to such attacks as it becomes even more reliant on electricity in an effort to reduce its use of fossil fuels. (Shifting from gasoline- to electricpowered vehicles will nearly double the demand for electricity.)

A general collapse of the electric system could cause millions of deaths from famine, disease and anarchy.

I’d develop wind and solar power in a decentralized manner along with micro- or mini-distribution grids that can operate independently of the country’s main grids in an emergency.

I wouldn’t approve, finance or license any new electric generation capacity of any kind unless it’s hardened against EMP and cyber attacks.

I’d leave the electrification of the nation’s 150 million car and light truck fleet to Elon Musk. Musk figured out a long time ago that Americans will not switch to electric cars and trucks unless they can compete with gasoline and diesel powered ones in terms of performance, price and convenience — and he’s already delivering, or is on the verge of delivering, vehicles that do all three.

That’s more than can be said about either the government or Musk’s competitors — who are belatedly beginning to do the same, in no small part because Musk has shown it can be done and was getting ready to eat their lunch.

Here are a couple things I wouldn’t do. I have zero interest in entering into international agreements that set decarbonization goals that will be ignored by most of the countries entering into them and which cannot and will not be enforced.

I wouldn’t send a plugged nickel to the Third World to help adopt noncarbon-emitting technologies or adapt to a warmer world. The Third World has made it abundantly clear that it doesn’t have any interest in doing anything meaningful about climate change — development is where its interest lies, CO2 be damned — and I think that under the circumstances any money we sent it would be wasted or stolen.

Finally, I’d adopt a policy of zero tolerance toward environmentalists who devote time and treasure to attempting to block nuclear, wind, solar and natural gas development, as well as technologies intended to help Americans adapt to a warmer world, including new heat and drought tolerant GMO crops and desalination plants.

Don’t get me wrong — I don’t believe any of this will stop global warming or even slow it much. I think a warmer world is already a done deal, and that the main thing we have to do in response is adapt to it. And I think adapting is going to require more energy, technology and innovation, not less.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.