The US is inching closer to passing a game-changing climate policy

“A time when the United States runs mostly on wind- and solar-powered electricity could be a reality in only a few years. It wouldn’t require any scientific breakthroughs or technological leaps for clean energy to overtake coal and natural gas, which still dominate 60 percent of the US power sector. What it would take to challenge a century of fossil-fuel dominance in record-breaking time is one sweeping, underappreciated policy: a clean electricity standard.”

“A clean electricity standard is a bit of a misnomer because the actual policy being discussed is even more boring-sounding: a clean electricity payment program that pays utilities to clean up their act and fine them for missing deadlines. Still, this approach could effectively double the amount of wind and solar on the market, moving the nation toward roughly 80 percent renewable sources of electricity by 2030, and within reach of 100 percent clean electricity by 2035. It’s critical to getting the US halfway to Biden’s pledge under the Paris climate agreement.”

“Two of the biggest ways Americans contribute to climate change is in their transportation and electricity usage. You might cut your carbon footprint by making your home more efficient, installing a solar panel, and even buying an electric car — and the power that flows from your outlet is a lot cleaner than it was a decade ago. But coal and natural gas, more often than not, are still the status quo. This reality limits the impact of well-meaning actions: A coal-fired power plant may be charging your Tesla, and gas might be powering your office’s air conditioning.”

“The biggest short-term benefits aren’t even about climate change. Continuing to cut coal also slashes the country’s air pollution, like the ozone and particulates that damage people’s lungs and hearts. These gains would easily dwarf what the Environmental Protection Agency has accomplished under previous presidents because it would close more coal-powered plants than even President Barack Obama’s most effective environmental regulation, the mercury and air toxins rule.
And then there are the lives saved, according to research from Harvard University: By 2030, the policy would save 9,200 lives because of the sudden cut in air pollution. Over the next 30 years, that number grows to 317,500 lives saved.”

Air pollution is much worse than we thought

“even as attention has shifted to climate change, the air pollution case has grown stronger and stronger, as the science on air pollution has advanced by leaps and bounds. Researchers are now much more able to pinpoint air pollution’s direct and indirect effects, and the news has been uniformly bad.”

“the effects of air pollution are roughly twice as bad as previously estimated.”

“Right now, air pollution leads to almost 250,000 premature deaths a year in the US. Within a decade, aggressive decarbonization could reduce that toll by 40 percent; over 20 years, it could save around 1.4 million American lives that would otherwise be lost to air quality.”

“With giant data sets, “you can control for socioeconomic status, temperature, hypertension and other existing conditions,” and other variables, says Shindell. “You can convincingly demonstrate that correlation is in fact causal, because you can rule out essentially every other possibility.””

““The well-understood pathways, things like strokes, lower respiratory infections, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, only seem to capture about half the total,” Shindell says. “When you look at the [new] studies, you find that air pollution seems to affect almost every organ in the human body.””

“It is no coincidence that Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency is trying to exclude consideration of co-benefits (often the largest class of benefits) in its air quality rulemakings. It’s no coincidence that it is trying to exclude consideration of studies with anonymous participants, a category that encompasses all the latest research Shindell and others draw on. The fossil fuel lobby, which now includes the entire executive branch, has long understood that the science isn’t going its way. These rule changes are its last-ditch bid to blind the government to new research.”

“It is true that climate change can only be averted with the entire world’s cooperation; if the US reduces its emissions to net zero but the other countries of the world (especially China and India) continue on their current trajectory, it will make almost no difference in temperature. The health benefits of avoided severe heat will not manifest.
However — and this is the crucial fact — the air quality benefits will manifest, no matter what the rest of the world does. Shindell’s team ran a version of their scenario in which the US came into compliance with a 2°C pathway but the rest of the world continued with current policies. “We found that US action alone would bring us more than two-thirds of the health benefits of worldwide action over the next 15 years,” Shindell testified, “with roughly half the total over the entire 50-year period analyzed.”

The air quality benefits arrive much sooner than the climate benefits. They are, at least for the next several decades, much larger. They can be secured without the cooperation of other countries. And, by generating an average of $700 billion a year in avoided health and labor costs, they will more than pay for the energy transition on their own. Climate change or no climate change, it’s worth ditching fossil fuels.”