1/18/2015, Tom Zeller Jr.
The revelation late last week that global average temperatures set a new record in 2014 seemed to underscore a political and cultural shift on climate change that, by many accounts, was already well underway. From the stock markets and Wall Street to the boardrooms of Big Oil – and even the living rooms of Republican voters – the era of reflexive skepticism and denial of basic climate science appears to be coming to a close. That won’t likely mean an end to partisan bickering, of course. But as the adage goes, the first step to solving a problem is admitting that you have one.
That’s precisely what the American Petroleum Institute did when it released its annual State of American Energy Report two weeks ago. Amid its bullish assessment of the nation’s ongoing boom in shale oil and gas, the leading fossil fuel trade group clearly and unequivocally acknowledged the threat of global warming, and highlighted – at some length – the steady rise of solar power as an encouraging sign.
“Few things threaten America’s future prosperity more than climate change,” the report declared. “But there is growing hope: Every 2.5 minutes of every single day, the U.S. solar industry is helping to fight this battle by flipping the switch on another completed solar project.” The report goes on to note that the solar power sector has shaved installation costs and enjoyed over 40 percent growth over the last year:
Simply put, when looking at America’s energy future, solar can be a real game changer, providing more and more homes, businesses, schools and government entities across the United States with clean, reliable and affordable electricity while also helping states to meet proposed new obligations under Š the Clean Air Act.
Sure, the same lobbying group has spent a good deal of money over the years combatting tougher pollution rules and stoking skepticism about climate change. The same report, in fact, savages the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which seeks to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants, arguing that it will kill the coal industry and cause significant harm to the nation’s economy (not everyone agrees).
“The first step to solving a problem is admitting that you have one.”
And as Travis Hoium noted over at the investing advice site The Motley Fool, the big oil giants have mostly shuttered their efforts at researching and developing clean energy technologies. This includes BP, which folded its solar business three years ago, and Chevron, which finalized the sale of its renewable energy division in September.
And yet, there it was: The nation’s largest and most powerful oil lobby stating in no uncertain terms that climate change is real, that it’s a threat to American prosperity, and that clean energy technologies promise a solution. Along those lines, Hoium notes that France’s Total oil company is bucking the trend, buying up large stakes in solar firms like SunPower and biofuel maker Amyris. And it’s worth noting that the clean tech sector as a whole saw a substantial rebound in 2014, with investments jumping 16 percent, topping $310 billion, according to new data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
Such trends would not be surprising to the many Republican voters who participated in a recent poll conducted by Yale University’s Project on Climate Change Communication. Despite promises by a Republican-controlled Congress to aggressively fight and roll-back a whole host of environmental protections, including curbs on carbon dioxide emissions, more than half of GOP poll participants said they supported regulation of carbon dioxide as a pollutant. This was true even among those who identified themselves as part of the party’s conservative wing:
Republican voters want to see carbon dioxide pollution regulated, too.
Among the GOP’s liberal and moderate wings, roughly two-thirds were convinced that global warming is real – a fact that has even Republican pollsters arguing that the GOP risks its future by continuing to deny basic climate science on Capitol Hill. That message appears to be sinking in. As Michael Shank noted in The Week on Thursday, beneath the bluster of leading Republicans’ war on the EPA, the reality on the ground is slowly but steadily driving a new era of bipartisanship on a variety of climate-friendly initiatives at the federal and state levels.
To be sure, the partisan fights over climate change are far from over, and there are legitimate debates to be had over how best to address the problem while keeping the lights on, the cars moving, and the economy more or less healthy. But with another year now proving to have been the warmest since record keeping began – and with a proliferation of record-setting years happening in relative succession – the paralyzing debate over the reality of global warming would seem to be over.
After all, a record-setting year every now and again is no big deal. Anomalies happen. But the fact is that all 15 years since the year 2000 have been among the top 20 warmest years ever recorded. The odds of this happening randomly, or as a part of natural variability? About 1.5 quadrillion to one.
Tom Zeller Jr. has written on energy and environmental issues for a variety of publications, including The New York Times, National Geographic, The Huffington Post and Bloomberg View.