2016 rocked my world. From beginning to end I’ve been privileged to be involved with education for sustainability tackling issues like climate change, energy transformation, and environmental justice. Last year I was voted into municipal office which has given me a new way to serve my whole community. After a delegate withdrew from the Democratic National Convention, I was asked to be a Bernie Sanders delegate in Philly, an experience that brought me a little closer to the Democratic Party. Finally, friends and family have been stalwartly beside me.
As the year ends, it’s good to just reflect on a few things. We now live squarely within the Anthropocene, the Age of Humans. We’ve so altered the planet’s systems that we are a true geological force. We’ve thickened the atmospheric blanket of CO2 and other greenhouse gases by about 40% since 1800. We can even watch that CO2 swirl in the atmosphere with the aid of satellites.
As any blanket owner will tell you, blankets heat what’s underneath them. And 2016 has eclipsed 2015 and 2014 as the hottest year on record and the proof is everywhere.
From a wicked wildfire season to a December super-typhoon in the Pacific to record temperatures and ice retreat in the Arctic to the continued advance of mosquito and tick-born diseases like Zika and Lyme, we’ve made life hotter and less pleasant. The damage is already so severe and predicted to be so bad that the World Economic Forum has recognized inaction on climate change as one of the greatest risks to the global economy.
Despite what the hot air Trump-pumped deniers say, climate action is needed now more than ever. And in case you think Trump knows anything about anything, remember he lies, misdirects, bullshits, or makes things up all the time about just about everything. Politifact has found that 70% of his statements are Mostly False, False, or Pants on Fire. If there’s a greatest hoax being carried out it’s that climate change isn’t a massive problem. Look at the sheer number of authoritative scientific societies that are saying human-caused climate change is real and we need to act.
— Peter Gleick (@PeterGleick) December 30, 2016
Luckily, there’s a lot of work being done by smart, caring, and organized people.
Where to begin? Solar and wind continue to make huge advances while coal is falling rapidly. By the end of the year, the largest gains in new power will come from solar and natural gas. In a few years, with solar PV at price parity, a larger permanent workforce, investors making more money, I’d expect that solar will permanently displace natural gas for new installation. Substituting natural gas with solar–really making gas a bridge fuel–should happen in the next couple of decades. If we put a price on carbon and remove subsidies the shift would be even faster. Of course, the Trumpsters who’re setting up the kaksitocratic presidency don’t want it to happen.
For example, as I wrote previously, the Koch Brothers-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) wants you to believe Americans love fossil fuels. We don’t. This year, Gallup found that 51% of people oppose fracking while 36% support it. In 2015, those numbers were 40% to 40%. In both cases, the remainder are undecided or have no opinion. There’s an increased alignment between public concern about climate change, scientific consensus and expert risk assessments. And the price of solar PV keeps coming down, making it increasingly cost-competitive. All of these factors are making it easier for conservatives to come on board.
Putting a price on carbon has strong bipartisan—and conservative—support. Take Bob Inglis for example. Bob Inglis fell from his reddest-of-the-red congressional seat in 2010. He fell in some part because of his views on climate change and energy. But the man is an ultra-conservative. But with the rise of the Tea Party and his heretical view of climate change he was vanquished in a landslide – 71% to 29% – by his primary opponent. Since then, he’s worked with RepublicEn on climate and energy from a place of deep economic conservatism and belief in the market. Currently there’s a group of Republican congressman who are rising to the challenge of getting rid of our climate debt and working with the market to bolster renewable energy. With prominent economic conservatives at the Paulson Institute and others talking about placing a price on carbon, that number will go up. And the demand is there.
Corporations are demanding more clean energy. Amazon purchased over 400 GW of wind energy in 2016. Google is penning a deal for over 2,000 GW of mostly wind and some solar. Other corporate giants are following suit. While wind has been the most popular so far, solar is gaining ground. As solar PV’s price comes down more, it’s going to spread like wildfire on the roofs of stores, office buildings at corporate, government, and university campuses, and on parking lot and garage canopies. America’s first offshore wind farm is up and providing 17,000 Rhode Islanders with zero carbon energy. A conservative Wyoming billionaire is building the largest wind farm in North America that’ll supply power to a lot of people in California. Ohio governor John Kasich kept Ohio’s wind economy going by vetoing a hack bill that was trying to keep their citizens hitched to the 19th century. In North Carolina, where you’ll be chased with torches and pitchforks in some places for saying the words “climate change,” one town has decided to go 100% renewable. And I hope it won’t stop with these initiatives.
As a township supervisor, I’m focusing my efforts at the local level in Ferguson Township, the municipality where I’m serving a four-year term. How? In 2017 we are rewriting our zoning and it will include incentives for green building and infrastructure. We are getting proposals for a new public works building that will have to be LEED Gold (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Finally, we will conduct a comprehensive assessment of all township-owned property for solar PV. That assessment will be carried out by students in Dr. Jeffrey Brownson’s classes (Penn State Energy and Mineral Engineering professor and blogger at Heliotactic Press), making the community good come with a big educational benefit as well. These three steps will lead to something more.
Finally, there’s the work I’ve been doing at Penn State. The year started off with Penn State changing its Strategic Plan to incorporate climate change in addition to sustainability. Thanks to a group of faculty and thousands of signatories from across the globe, we have risen to the occasion. And it’s being followed through with educational and operational changes. For example, my students participated in the Power Dialog, providing input to state representatives and officials on how the Clean Power Plan could work in Pennsylvania. And at University Park, our group of electric vehicles powered by photovoltaic arrays is growing and a 2.5 MW array is slated to be constructed this year while the university carries out a comprehensive assessment of rooftops for solar PV. But it’s not just climate, energy, and policy. It’s also fun.
I’ve led a couple of lives. One has been all the stuff above. The other life has been steeped in studying, teaching, composing, and performing music since I was a kid. Sometimes these lives merge in curious ways. Last year I published an article on what can we learn about environmental ethics and environmental degradation from thrash metal songs. That built on work I did on the sonic form of late Cold War paranoia and environmental degradation. And as the year is ending, I’ve been working in that vain again.
In November I was accepted to give a TEDxPSU talk, the theme of which is Breach. I will join a group of national speakers to share our “ideas worth spreading.” My talk is tentatively titled, “Is Existence Futile? Ask a Metalhead.” The short version is that some metal is really good at telling us what’s wrong in the world and we should listen. When we don’t listen, when we censor and turn our heads away, we deny who we are and hamstring ourselves from being able to act. And if we actually listen—and listen to one another—we find solidarity. And metal, though it’s like the Lady Melisandre’s night (dark and full of terrors), it’s really about coming together in solidarity. At this time, I think we can all use that. So go listen to Revocation’s new album Great is Our Sin with some friends, recognize the problems and the world, and do something about it.
That’s what I’m going to do anyway. I might have to wait ’til tomorrow because I’m going to some friends’ house for New Year’s Eve. But they’re pretty awesome. We can commiserate over how true “Only the Spineless Survive” is, raise a toast, and rise tomorrow in solidarity to make 2017 kick 2016’s ass.
Follow me on Twitter @pdbuckland.