Clean energy scores a small victory
Government scientists worried that their long-in-the-works assessment of climate change would be suppressed. The concern hardly rates as overwrought. Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, says he does not believe that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming. President Donald Trump has called the concept a hoax pushed by the Chinese. (Or maybe he was joking?)
What matters is that a draft of the climate report landed in the New York Times, the public learning that scientists from 13 federal agencies have concluded that Americans already are seeing the effects of climate change. "Evidence for a changing climate abounds," the report states, "from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans."
The purpose of such an assessment is to drive budgeting and policymaking. In that way, the report serves as timely reinforcement. The Senate Appropriations Committee, led by Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, recently issued a bipartisan report that amounts to a strong endorsement of government efforts to boost clean energy.
That stance diverges sharply from the budget plan of the Trump White House. The president has called for slashing deeply projects involving energy efficiency, renewable energy and other clean sources. For example, he would end the promising Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which focuses on long-term, cutting-edge progress.
The federal government would be limited to basic research, no longer helping to test or bring new technologies to the market.
Fortunately, the Appropriations Committee report endorses a much broader view of the federal government's role. As analysts at the Brookings Institution note, the committee grasps that utilities have limited research and development funds, often as part of keeping prices in check. More, utilities cannot easily use their own facilities for testing.
States, too, are short of such early-stage investment funds. They rely on the U.S. Department of Energy for data and tools in evaluating grid modernization.
What the climate assessment from government scientists confirms is the necessary urgency. The report notes that even if greenhouse emissions ceased tomorrow, the planet still would see an additional temperature increase of 0.30 degrees Celsius. That may seem small. Yet scientists advise staying below an increase of 2 degrees. The planet already has seen a nearly 1 degree increase.
With a climbing temperature comes what already has been apparent - at greater levels of intensity. That is, say, longer heat waves and more severe rainstorms, fewer cool nights and species on the move or in jeopardy of becoming extinct, recent decades the warmest in 1,500 years.
The report concludes that it is "extremely likely" that more than half of the global mean temperature increase since the 1950s stems from human activity. Now countries have the task of countering the impact. That is what the Paris agreement attempts to set in motion. It is a shame that President Trump ceded American leadership by withdrawing from the accord.
Thankfully, the Senate Appropriations Committee has pushed back. The hope is, Congress will follow the cue, supporting clean energy that is indispensable to curbing climate change.
©2017 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
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