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What Do Biden/Harris, Superman and Clean Energy Disruption Have In Common?

Posted on | December 15, 2020 | 4 Comments

Mike Magee

The formal casting of Electoral College votes this week marked the moment that I felt comfortable in removing the Biden/Harris sign from my front lawn. In that moment, with the first Covid vaccines going in and Bill Barr going out, I allowed myself to believe that our new leaders were up to the task of rebuilding our democracy, and making real the ideals of “truth, justice, and the American way.”

That familiar phrase emerged during another epic moment of crisis in our history. It was 1934, in the middle of the Great Depression, when two New York City kids, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, created the comic book super-hero, Superman. America needed a hero then, as we do now – whether they be our nurses and doctors and teachers, or our incoming President and Vice-President.

With the many serious challenges we face at home and around the world, it would be easy to fall into despair and to imagine that our problems are insurmountable. But in truth, there is real progress in the air, and hope for the health of our species and our planet, which has been moving forward under the radar screen.

Nowhere is this more evident (though largely hidden from sight) than in our planet’s positioning to address the health and safety fallout of global warming. This week, we celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement, the climate accord signed by 195 nations, which Trump abruptly dismantled four years ago. But President-elect Biden has signaled that his first order on January 20, 2021, will be to rejoin the agreement when the signatories gather in Glasgow, just a short 1 hour 11 minute ride north of the Trump Turnberry Golf Club.

As Trump patronized his fossil fuel funders, and promised that “we’re going to have clean coal and we’re going to have plenty of it,” the oil and gas industry wrote down the value of its assets $170 billion in the first 6 months of 2020.

Acknowledging as much this past week, a cabal of energy investors, with combined assets of $9 trillion, signaled a shift in their strategy with a pledge to harmonize their investments with net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Those investors haven’t suddenly “discovered religion.” No. They’re looking at the numbers.

Clean energy options like solar and wind, combined with the latest battery technology, are now 79% cheaper to produce than US coal production. Investors realize that 90% of the new energy capacity generated worldwide in 2020, as reported by the International Energy Agency, has come from clean energy.

Efficiency, profitability, and technology in clean energy are now aligned. The cost of solar panels has dropped 89% in just the last decade, while wind turbines are close behind with a 59% drop in the same time period. The cost of batteries have declined in tandem by 89% resulting in just a two year horizon before electric vehicles reach cost parity with the venerable fossil fuel guzzling internal-combustion engine.

But what about jobs? The news here is even better. Clean energy is currently generating three times as many jobs as fossil fuels. Solar jobs alone are outpacing overall job growth five-fold.

As Trump was fiddling, American cities and states were quietly adjusting their energy investment strategies. Much of the credit goes to former Vice-President Al Gore, whose leadership in this arena has been tireless and earned him a well-deserved share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

Al Gore will be highly visible as part of the US delegation in November, 2021, when all signators of the Paris Agreement reconvene in Glasgow, just a 1 hour and 11 minute drive north from the Trump Turnberry Golf Course. But the true celebrity at that historic gathering will be infromation technology.

Gore helped Climate Trace in 2019. As their site describes:

 “In 2019, a group of nonprofits including US-based WattTime and UK-based Carbon Tracker teamed up to apply for Google.org’s AI Impact Challenge with a proposal to monitor all global power plant emissions from space. Google.org not only selected the project for a $1.7 million grant, but also sent a group of seven skilled data engineering and machine learning Fellows to work alongside WattTime and Carbon Tracker for six months to help bring the initiative to fruition.

After the announcement of the Google.org grant, the teams were surprised to immediately hear from over 50 other organizations and scientists around the world offering to help. So they began systematically investigating: Could mixing and matching innovations from various groups improve global emissions monitoring even further? Among the new collaborators was Vice President Gore, who had long suspected that improved global emissions monitoring through satellites and AI held dramatic potential to accelerate climate progress.”

Gore sees the ability to track real-time atmospheric carbon emissions as a “game-changer.” Combined with efficiency, low cost, and jobs, Gore writes, “This precision tracking will replace the erratic, self-reported and often inaccurate data on which past climate agreements were based.”

With Trump defeated, and a Covid vaccine in hand, and planetary health, racial justice, universal health care, and sane immigration policy cued-up backstage, we have the opportunity to imbue this pledge with pride and substance– truth, justice, and the American way.

Comments

4 Responses to “What Do Biden/Harris, Superman and Clean Energy Disruption Have In Common?”

  1. Biotechnology Consultant
    December 15th, 2020 @ 11:07 am

    From Linkedin/Name Withheld/Biotechnology Consultant:
    It’s a little early to praise the incoming Biden/Harris Democrat admin. Let’s see if they restore democracy or force us into a progressive totalitarian regime. Will our nation improve with fracking outlawed and crude oil pricing increase again? Will our natural gas and electricity bills significantly increase. Will taxes for the middle class suffer. International politics in the previous Democrat administration appeased our enemies and gave much of our productivity to the Chinese. I will hope for the best, but will reserve my opinion for now.

  2. Mike Magee
    December 15th, 2020 @ 11:10 am

    Fair. Certainly in the area of “truth”, Trump has left the new administration a low bar they will likely exceed. As for “justice”, even with Barr’s help and 3 Supreme Court picks, the attempts to negate our election were defeated by our Judiciary. As for “The American Way”, that’s a work in progress, isn’t it? Clearly separating infants from their moms, promoting white supremacists, using the military against our own citizens, undermining a response to a deadly pandemic, and destroying one of our two major political parties is a “path less taken.” I believe most would agree, these have not been America’s finest moments.

  3. Lawrence Williams
    December 16th, 2020 @ 6:01 am

    Dr. Magee I concur in your opinion that there are many positive signals in our troubled nation today with the new administration scheduled to commence on January 20, 2021. However there remains one major hurdle to a decent chance for true progressive change to occur. And that is the runoff races for the two senate seats for the state of Georgia. Unless Democrats can win both of those seats, which is a challenge of Homeric proportions in a southern state, then Republicans and Mitch McConnell will remain in control of the Senate and in that case it is likely that the desk of Senator McConnell will remain the unrelenting black hole for all proposed progressive legislation reaching the Senate, especially with the Democrat’s reduced majority in the House of Representatives. Let us all hope for the best.

  4. Mike Magee
    December 16th, 2020 @ 9:04 am

    Thanks for this, Larry. As you say, all eyes are on Georgia. Time will tell whether our democracy, and our planet, have reached a tipping point. Best, Mike

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