“The evidence is clear,” says the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA,) “climate change is happening.” Earth’s average temperature rose 1.4°F during the last century, and is projected to rise steeply (2° to 11.5°F) in the next hundred years. Human beings burning fossil fuel for energy is the major reason for the rise in temperature, EPA says, and climate change results in rising sea levels, to threats to water supplies, to power and transportations systems, the natural environment and every level of human health and safety.
EPA also says that replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources – wind, solar, biomass and geothermal – is the key to solving the climate crisis. Renewable sources are far less polluting and they are by definition inexhaustible.
Environmental activist Bill McKibben and others who founded the international campaign, 350.org, agree.
350.org was formed to create “a climate movement that reflected the scale of the crisis,” and bring climate stability by divesting countries and institutions from fossil fuels in favor of renewable sources. “350” means climate safety, McKibben says; to preserve a livable planet, we must reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of about 400 parts per million to below 350 ppm.
How is Oregon doing? How much of our energy comes from renewables now? What, if anything, can anyone do to influence fossil fuel use here?
Those passionate about the climate crisis say the state has huge potential, but is nowhere near meeting it.
The Good News
It’s impressive. So far, Oregon’s renewable energy sector has brought over $9 billion of capital investment, created over 5,000 jobs in construction and operations, and brought over $110 million in public revenue raised through taxes, according to Lauren Randall, from the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.
“Currently, there are more than 128 solar companies at work throughout the state, employing close to 3,000 people,” she says. Oregon already has enough solar energy installations to power more than 9,300 Oregonian homes.
Oregon is ranked fifth in the nation for total megawatts installed in wind energy. We have installed 1,837 wind turbines and employ people in 2,000 wind-related jobs. We already produce 12.4% of our electricity from wind energy.
In addition, according to a recent report using the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory data, there are enough solar and wind resources in Oregon to provide electricity to all Oregonians and sell excess energy to other states, even if only a fraction of its clean energy potential is developed. The report found that there is enough solar potential in Oregon for utility-scale solar projects to provide eighty times Oregon’s current electricity needs and enough wind potential for on-shore wind to also exceed state electricity needs.
The Bad News
We aren’t making it happen. Currently, heavy-polluting coal provides more than 35% of our power, and natural gas provides more than 16%. Although hydroelectric is our largest source, (Oregon ranks second in hydroelectric generation in the nation, after Washington,) we send much of it out of state and import coal to replace it. Only ¼ of our wind power is used in state; the rest is exported.
Most Oregonians find it surprising that Oregon had been adding fossil fuels to the energy mix for decades, says Dr. Kathleen Newman from Oregonians for Renewable Energy Progress (OREP.) Of the second largest power company in the state, Pacific Power, she says, “With Pacific Power customers getting two thirds of their electricity from coal alone, and another 13% from natural gas, it is way past time to reverse that trend and move rapidly back towards 100% renewable energy.”
Setting the stage for action
Those who see the changing climate as a dynamic threat instead of a battery of tedious statistics, can learn a great deal about the history and future of the matter at an upcoming presentation of the documentary, “Do the Math,” and the discussion by experts afterwards.
“Do the Math” was shot in 2013. Produced and directed by Kelly Nyks and Jared P. Scott, it focuses on the work of McKibben, filming him as he gave a series of talks around the country titled, “Do the Math” that year.
The film doesn’t really require any arithmetic, but does provide a few provocative numbers. One of the main ones is, of course, “350.” McKibben tells us, “Any value for carbon in the atmosphere greater than 350 ppm is not compatible with the planet on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth has adapted.” The film shows how, for example, in addition to climate change’s record heat and extreme weather conditions – fully one half of the arctic ice sheet has disappeared in recent decades.
It also says that a number virtually every country in the world agreed to at a climate summit in 2009, was the number two: That is the maximum number of degrees Celsius we can allow our atmospheric temperature to rise without catastrophic results. The problem is that if we burn our existing fossil fuel reserves, we will release about five times the CO2 it would take to raise the temperature those two degrees. Given that fossil fuel companies continue to pump out CO2 and do not have to pay anything for the consequences, the film’s credible claim is that the only people who can pollute for free are the fossil fuel industry.
Not only do they not pay, but also the U.S. government subsidizes the industry somewhere between $10 billion and $52 billion a year (depending on what is counted as a subsidy).
Out of this money, the top five oil companies spend $440,000 per day lobbying congress. Which is why McKibben says, “These companies are a rogue force.”
Another focus of “Do the Math” is the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil from Canada across the U.S. to the Gulf of Mexico. It is argued that the resulting increase in oil production can only further damage our atmosphere and must be prevented. Unfortunately, we also see President Obama pledging to make the expediting of the Keystone pipeline a priority.
Speakers after the screening include Becca Rast from 350.org, Amy Baird from Renewable Northwest and Kathleen Newman from OREP. The three will discuss efforts of real consequence that continue to be made, right here in Oregon, to address the climate crisis.
“I hope that audiences will feel the immediacy of the climate change issue,” Newman says, “and the dire need for action now.”
“Do The Math”
Salem Progressive Film Series
Featuring live conversation with Becca Rast from 350.org,
Amy Baird from Renewable Northwest
and Kathleen Newman from OREP
Thursday, January 8 7 p.m.
Grand Theater 191 High St. NE