False Climate Solutions: Coming To A City Near You
It’s safe to say that climate policy has dominated national conversations now more than ever. With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which provides a historic amount of funding for clean energy and emissions reduction incentives, the path towards a healthier and more equitable planet has become a little less hopeless. With this hope, however, environmental activists should proceed with a sharp eye and caution.
The fossil fuel industry and several other dirty energy industries that have amassed profits under our current economic system are pushing back on their descent into irrelevancy. Some are trying to weasel themselves into climate funding under the IRA, using lobbying efforts, tax scheming, and greenwashing techniques to continue to pollute as they please while our climate suffers. When you’re reading up on “green,” “clean,” or “alternative” energy solutions, here are some things to look out for.
You’ve likely seen announcements from companies and governments that declare they pledge to be “net-zero” by 2030 or 2050. This has led to the cap-and-trade, or carbon markets, boom. Under the cap-and-trade system, the government sets an emissions cap for polluting companies. Those who emit less than their allowance can trade the remaining amount to others who have trouble reducing emissions. However, this “solution” is premised on a continued reliance on fossil fuels and other forms of dirty energy that doesn’t address the problem at its root. We need a substantive reduction in emissions as soon as possible. Carbon markets and “net-zero” goals create very limited reductions at a very slow rate. Loopholes in carbon trading systems and instances of corruption abound, and it’s been repeatedly proven that carbon markets are remarkably inefficient.
Furthermore, polluting industries have found another way to circumvent emission reductions – that is, through carbon capture and storage (CCS). CCS technology is unproven and unsafe. CCS also doesn’t address our reliance on fossil fuels, and carbon storage facilities often end up in communities overburdened by pollution.
The principle of carbon markets serves the current linear capitalist economy that puts profitability, thereby monetizing the remaining clean air we have. We can’t afford to buy into schemes that greenwash polluting industries and endanger communities through unsafe facilities and technologies.
Energy created from organic matter may sound like a good idea at face value, but it’s actually incredibly dirty and dangerous. Biomass energy is less climate-friendly than coal and seriously endangers communities near bioenergy facilities. Woody biomass energy—or energy produced from forests— accelerates deforestation and emits a considerable amount of greenhouse gas. It’s also an expensive energy source, taking away from funds that could be used for truly clean energy alternatives such as wind and solar. Biofuels–often made with corn crops and meant to replace petroleum–also accelerates forest loss while jeopardizing global food supplies.
The factory farm and fossil fuel industries are also pushing for the expansion of biogas energy, or energy produced from methane gas or landfill gas – also called Renewable Natural Gas (RNG). This is another impractical energy alternative that drives factory farm expansion–a leader in emissions already. Refineries to produce this energy, as is the gas with biomass, also create a slew of additional pollution problems. The fossil fuel industry has also called biogas its savior– which is a big red flag in and of itself.
Yet, biomass and biogas have been touted as a “renewable” energy alternative. The EPA and Treasury Department in particular continue to uplift these dirty energy industries through a variety of tax credits and subsidies that environmental justice groups have loudly opposed. The current administration can’t continue to ignore the harm that these energy alternatives will bring.
Hydrogen is having a moment in the environmental policy world. When produced correctly, without dirty energy sources, it can offer some clean energy benefits. However, hydrogen energy production is largely being manipulated by the fossil fuel industry so they can market themselves as “climate-friendly” while continuing to pollute and profit. At the end of the day, it pales in comparison to the benefits of electrification.
The stakes for hydrogen energy production have gotten quite high, as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act have invested tens of billions of dollars worth of direct spending and tax incentives for clean hydrogen. As is the case for bioenergy, the fossil fuel industry is trying to find ways to earn tax credits for hydrogen production – even though their version of hydrogen is not truly green.
These are just a few of the many false climate solutions that are spreading to slow down the rise of truly clean energy. Dirty energy industries are grasping at straws so that they can maintain relevancy and profitability. But The Green New Deal makes it clear: We need a transition to 100% renewable, clean, zero-emission energy sources. It doesn’t leave room for half-measures and, frankly, our planet doesn’t have time for half-measures either. Environmental advocates within DSA should advocate against so-called energy “solutions” that will only set us further behind on the journey to an equitable, sustainable future.