From climate exhortation to climate execution

By | December 30, 2022

Bill McKibben writes:

There are about a hundred and forty million homes in the United States. Two-thirds, or about eighty-five million, of them are detached single-family houses; the rest are apartment units or trailer homes. That’s what American prosperity looks like: since the end of the Second World War, our extraordinary wealth has been devoted, above all, to the project of building bigger houses farther apart from one another. The great majority of them are heated with natural gas or oil, and parked in their garages and driveways or on nearby streets are some two hundred and ninety million vehicles, an estimated ninety-nine per cent of which, as of August, run on gasoline. It took centuries to build all those homes from wood and brick and steel and concrete, but, if we’re to seriously address the climate crisis, we have only a few years to remake them.

So far, the climate debate has gone on mostly in people’s heads and hearts. It took thirty years to get elected leaders to take it seriously: first, to just get them to say that the planet was warming, and then to allow that humans were causing it. But this year Congress finally passed serious legislation—the Inflation Reduction Act—that allocates hundreds of billions of dollars to the task of transforming the nation so that it burns far less fossil fuel. So now the battle moves from hearts and heads to houses. “Emissions come from physical things,” Tom Steyer, the businessman and investment-firm manager, who, after a Presidential run in 2020, is focussing on investing in climate solutions, told me. “Emissions come from buildings, from power plants, from cars, from stuff you can touch. It’s not like information technology, which is infinitely replicable. This is one object at a time.”

So the big question is: How do you move from exhortation and demonstration to execution and deployment? Engineers have provided relatively cheap and incredibly elegant technology: the most cost-effective way to produce power is to point a sheet of glass at the sun. The federal government is providing the biggest infusion of clean-money capital in its history. But can it actually be done? Or is it simply too big a task, especially in the face of ongoing opposition from the fossil-fuel industry? [Continue reading…]

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