Last week, the Obama administration negotiated the first global accord that commits 195 countries to diverge from their “business-as-usual” emissions of greenhouse gases. But when the U.S. climate negotiators return from Paris, the partisan bickering is going to intensify, said Marilyn Brown, the Brook Byers Professor of Sustainable Systems in the School of Public Policy.
The U.S. fleet of fossil fuel-fired power plants is our nation’s single largest source of climate-destabilizing pollution and one of the largest sources in the world. That means our politicians are going to fight or support the Administration’s first climate policy aimed at decarbonizing U.S. power plants – the Clean Power Plan. Critics are going to argue that the U.S. cannot afford to take such actions.
But strong evidence suggests that the Clean Power Plan will save thousands of lives each year, prevent tens of thousands of asthma attacks annually, and help ensure hundreds of thousands of Americans do not miss work and school due to harmful air pollution. The monetary value of these public health and climate benefits is in the billions. While there are costs associated with reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, they are far outweighed by their benefits. Research by Georgia Tech’s Climate and Energy Policy Lab documents that the cheapest approach to reducing CO2 emissions is to consume less energy by using it more efficiently.
By “energy efficiency,” I don’t mean taking cold showers and drinking warm beer. It means getting more energy services out of the energy you consume – with LEDs instead of incandescent bulbs, smart appliances that run when electricity is cheapest, 3-D additive manufacturing, and the transformation of manufacturing plants into power generators by using their large concentrations of waste heat. These “negawatts” that can be saved are the cleanest and cheapest energy resource in the U.S., and especially right here in the South. Their full potential will be exploited, however, only if the U.S. creates a supportive policy environment.
Let’s get behind the Clean Power Plan and show that saving the planet via the Paris Accord can be good for the health of the U.S. economy, its citizens, and its ecosystem. The climate challenge faced by the U.S. and the world is not partisan -- it affects everyone.
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