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Congressman Jerry McNerney

Representing the 9th District of California

New technology investments needed to combat climate change

Apr 18, 2013
Op-Ed
The Hill

We welcome spring after a year of extreme and record-setting climate events in the United States and worldwide. The trends today are clear. We are now seeing unprecedented changes in climate such as Hurricane Sandy, which wreaked havoc on the East Coast, causing immense human suffering and a massive federal bill. The sea level is rising, storms and weather events are increasing in severity, biological systems are migrating or disintegrating, historical glaciers are melting and ocean acidity is increasing. The evidence that human-caused climate change has begun is overwhelming, and so is the scientific consensus of this fact. Unfortunately, the impacts will only get worse, ultimately causing crushing costs to society.

Humankind’s use of fossil fuels continues to increase, pouring more carbon into the atmosphere every year. Carbon released into the atmosphere tends to remain there for generations. In addition to carbon, other greenhouse gasses are being released into the atmosphere at increasing rates. Thanks to the warming of the polar regions, frozen wastelands are thawing, releasing methane — a highly effective greenhouse gas — that has been locked in the earth for millions of years. This situation causes a “feed-forward” mechanism in which more heat causes more melting, which causes more methane to be released. Because carbon remains in the atmosphere for generations, we are now committed to changes in the earth’s climate even if we stopped releasing greenhouse gasses into the air today. How much change will occur? The answer depends on how much carbon we continue to dump into the atmosphere. If we continue current patterns, the threat to our nation’s well-being will be significant.

Make no mistake: our infrastructure is at serious risk from the effects of global warming. Coastlines will experience more of what Hurricane Sandy brought. Droughts will devastate agricultural production. Water sources will be threatened. Energy supplies will become prohibitively expensive and unreliable. These are the things we depend on for our daily lives.

The nations of the world look to the United States as a technology leader. If we continue to generate carbon and dump it into the atmosphere, other countries, especially developing countries, will do so as well. Leadership requires strong actions. It is time for the United States to exhibit leadership on this issue. Our nation’s past leaders did not shirk their responsibility to invest in the nation’s infrastructure that we enjoy today. We must invest in infrastructure and technology that will pass prosperity to future generations.

Fortunately, there are technologies and innovations that can help reduce carbon emissions today. For example, new electric vehicles are nearing the cost and convenience of fossil-fuel vehicles. Within a few years, electric vehicles could be the vehicles of choice for most transportation needs. In my own district in northern California, I see companies like Electric Vehicles International (EVI) and the regional transit district making a real difference. EVI has partnered with UPS and other companies, delivering 50 of the first 100 electric vans to UPS earlier this year.

Government incentives are needed to insure this trend continues. Wind energy is cost competitive with most other forms of energy, but needs additional government investment to overcome the intermittency problem and to construct transmission infrastructure to bring wind power to load centers. Solar energy is cost competitive with fossil fuels, or nearly so for many applications. An investment tax credit is needed to make sure solar continues to grow as a part of our national energy mix.

A great nation like the United States can certainly make these kinds of investments to help protect our future. The benefits will extend beyond addressing global warming. Unlike the fossil fuel market, renewable energy is cost stable and creates more jobs per unit of energy delivered than fossil fuel energy. If our nation takes the lead in developing renewable energy technology and implementing it here at home, we will be world leaders in manufacturing and exporting this technology. In order to succeed in this endeavor, our businesses need the certainty of long-term government investment in research and in providing thoughtful and effective incentives to develop and implement clean-energy technology. Our nation will benefit greatly from such long-term and forward-thinking policies.

McNerney serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.