News Archive:

National Public Radio: Former U.S. Science Envoy: The Tone Of Climate Talks Is Now ‘Quite Grim’

For the audio of the story, click here.

For­mer U.S. Sci­ence Envoy: The Tone Of Cli­mate Talks Is Now ‘Quite Grim’

NPR’s Michel Mar­tin talks with Daniel Kam­men, for­mer sci­ence envoy to the State Depart­ment, about the U.N. cli­mate talks being held in Poland.


COP24 March For Climate In Katowice


Now we’d like to hear about that major U.N. con­ven­tion on cli­mate change. Ambas­sadors and sci­en­tists from around the world have been meet­ing in Poland for this. It’s being called the most impor­tant gath­er­ing on cli­mate change since the Paris Agree­ment was signed almost three years ago. Now, the pur­pose of this con­fer­ence is for coun­tries to take stock of how well they’re doing since that agree­ment was signed. Daniel Kam­men is a for­mer sci­ence envoy for the U.S. State Depart­ment, and he has attended many such gath­er­ings, called COP, or Con­fer­ence of the Par­ties. And he’s with us now. Pro­fes­sor Kam­men, thank you so much for talk­ing with us.

DANIEL KAMMEN: Oh, thanks for hav­ing me on.

MARTIN: What is your sense of how this con­fer­ence is going so far?

KAMMEN: Well, not good. Unfor­tu­nately, because the U.S. backed out, that’s left a num­ber of holes. Essen­tially, the Paris con­fer­ence was such a suc­cess because coun­tries have been ramp­ing up clean energy and becom­ing less expen­sive. But the U.S. and China, the two big hold­outs, took major lead­er­ship posi­tions in 2014, with Pres­i­dent Obama and Pres­i­dent Xi com­mit­ting to very strong clean-​​energy strate­gies. And, of course, Pres­i­dent Trump has now stepped out of that. And that’s left a big financ­ing void of at least 20 bil­lion a year against the com­mit­ted or pledged totals. And we are see­ing that only very few coun­tries are actu­ally on tar­get to deliver on what they promised in Paris.

MARTIN: You know, I was going to ask you about that. So, really, there are two issues there because there’s been a lot of report­ing in recent weeks, includ­ing from the United States, from fed­eral agen­cies in the U.S., that says that, despite these agree­ments, coun­tries on the whole are still falling short of what is actu­ally needed to mit­i­gate the very dan­ger­ous effects of cli­mate change. So the ques­tion here is — if the tar­gets were ambi­tious enough to begin with and if nations have kept up with the tar­gets that were set, what’s your take on it?

KAMMEN: Right. Well, the tar­gets that were set in Paris were def­i­nitely ambi­tious enough. They set a goal of not hav­ing the global tem­per­a­ture rise more than 2 degrees Cel­sius. And there’s been this more — most recent report this fall that called for our tar­get to become 1.5 degrees Cel­sius. But what’s hap­pened, instead, is that we’ve seen that emis­sions have risen for 2017 and 2018 after sev­eral years of emis­sions being flat or going down very slightly. And what has been left in the void of the U.S. step­ping out of this process is that a num­ber of indus­try groups that would’ve prob­a­bly been onboard and mak­ing progress have really taken this as a chance to back off.

And so we’re left with a very small set, actu­ally, today. Morocco and The Gam­bia are the two coun­tries that have kept up with their pledges. All of the Euro­pean Union are in a hold­ing pat­tern. The United States is in the group of coun­tries that — whose emis­sions are going the wrong direc­tion. And so lack of U.S. lead­er­ship has really hurt a process that needs to be thought of as a long-​​term change in the econ­omy. As I like to say, it’s much more of a marathon than a sprint, but that means you need to keep run­ning each mile.

MARTIN: You men­tioned emis­sions in the U.S. The pres­i­dent tweeted — the U.S. pres­i­dent tweeted this week­end, say­ing, quote, “very sad day and night in Paris. Maybe” — well, he’s speak­ing, of course, about the demon­stra­tions there, but — “maybe it’s time to end the ridicu­lous and extremely expen­sive Paris agree­ment and return money back to the peo­ple in the form of lower taxes. The U.S. was way ahead of the curve on that and the only major coun­try where emis­sions went down last year,” unquote. Is that true?

KAMMEN: No. Unfor­tu­nately, he’s just fac­tu­ally inac­cu­rate on mul­ti­ple counts. What we’ve found is that invest­ing in cleaner-​​energy econ­omy has actu­ally been good for busi­ness. Solar and wind have become some of the cheap­est forms of energy, and they pro­duce far more jobs than fos­sil fuels. And, in fact, U.S. emis­sions didn’t go down.

What’s really sad to see is that the U.S. was in a busi­ness lead­er­ship posi­tion after Paris, where U.S. solar and wind com­pa­nies, energy stor­age com­pa­nies, energy effi­ciency com­pa­nies were find­ing really valu­able over­seas mar­kets because of this over­all push to a cleaner econ­omy. And Pres­i­dent Trump, by step­ping away from that, has taken the impe­tus away from many com­pa­nies that could’ve got into this game, iron­i­cally, leav­ing more and more busi­ness for those play­ers who are still in, mainly, the Euro­pean Union and China.

MARTIN: So, finally, I know that you aren’t there. You gen­er­ally would go to this, but there are sched­ul­ing con­flicts, you weren’t able to. But you are in com­mu­ni­ca­tion with peo­ple who are there. Do you have a sense of what — of the tone at the con­fer­ence? Is there any sense of opti­mism? Is there any sense of, you know, the oppo­site? Is there any gen­eral feel­ing that you can deter­mine about how we are doing on this?

KAMMEN: Well, iron­i­cally, I’m not there because the Camp Fire in Cal­i­for­nia closed uni­ver­si­ties here. And so we have a climate-​​related rea­son not to be at the cli­mate con­fer­ence. The tone of the con­fer­ence is quite grim, and it’s for sev­eral rea­sons. One is that the recent report, such as the Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change’s report, say­ing we really need to reduce the 2-​​degree goal that was set in Paris to have our warm­ing of less than 1.5 degrees Cel­sius, mak­ing the job tougher — that would be pos­si­ble because of the impres­sive per­for­mance gains we’re see­ing from solar power, from wind power and from some projects try­ing to pre­serve forests around the planet. But, with the U.S. step­ping away, leav­ing at least a $20-​​billion-​​a-​​year gap in the fund­ing needed to part­ner with poorer coun­tries and the fac­tu­ally incor­rect state­ments Pres­i­dent Trump has been mak­ing about cli­mate change — we have very clear agree­ment that humans are caus­ing the cli­mate change.

We’ve seen that in inter­na­tional reports. We’ve seen that in the U.S. National Cli­mate Assess­ment. And we see that invest­ing in clean energy actu­ally is a very sig­nif­i­cant job pro­ducer. So this is the right time to really take heed of this cli­mate report. But U.S. fed­eral action is not only lack­ing but the U.S. has, of course, left the Paris Accord, entirely.

MARTIN: That’s Daniel Kam­men, for­mer sci­ence envoy for the U.S. State Depart­ment. He’s now pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley. Pro­fes­sor Kam­men, thanks so much for talk­ing with us.

Tran­script pro­vided by NPR, Copy­right NPR.

Foreign Policy editorial: The Beautiful Rivers — And the Dammed

To access the arti­cle, click here.

The Beau­ti­ful Rivers—And the Dammed

Advances in solar and wind power mean that hydropower is no longer the only renew­able game in town—and that’s good news for the world’s rivers.


NOVEMBER 23, 2018, 9:05 AM

For­eign Pol­icy - https://​for​eign​pol​icy​.com/​2​0​1​8​/​1​1​/​2​3​/​t​h​e​-​b​e​a​u​t​i​f​u​l​-​r​i​v​e​r​s​-​a​n​d​-​t​h​e​-​d​a​m​m​ed/

Screen Shot 2018-11-23 at 10.33.05 PM

Fig­ure: Water is released from the flood­gates of the Xiaolangdi dam on the Yel­low River near Luoyang, China on June 29, 2016. (STR/​AFP/​Getty Images)

In Octo­ber, the Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change released a report out­lin­ing strate­gies the world can pur­sue to keep global warm­ing below 1.5 degrees Cel­sius and main­tain healthy economies and ecosys­tems. But unless we are smart about how we imple­ment that blue­print, it could cause irrepara­ble dam­age to the world’s great rivers.

The panel’s report urges a rapid tran­si­tion to low-​​carbon, renew­able sources of elec­tric­ity. That call to action could trig­ger expanded invest­ment in hydropower, which is cur­rently the world’s main source for that kind of energy (70 per­cent as of 2017). But if that devel­op­ment fol­lows the pat­tern of ear­lier dam-​​building, it could accel­er­ate an alarm­ing loss of rivers and their resources, includ­ing of the fish that feed hun­dreds of mil­lions of people.

The case of the Mekong River puts the prob­lem into sharp relief. The river is the world’s most pro­duc­tive fresh­wa­ter fishery—it pro­vides nearly 20 per­cent of the annual global fresh­wa­ter fish har­vest, the pri­mary source of pro­tein for tens of mil­lions of peo­ple in the region. Already, sev­eral hydropower dams on the Mekong are under con­struc­tion or are mov­ing through the plan­ning process. Sci­en­tists esti­mate that those dams, if com­pleted, will cut the river’s annual har­vest by half.

With the Mekong Delta’s sand sup­ply cut off, sci­en­tists project that it will sink and shrink, with more than half under­wa­ter by the end of the century.

The dams are also pro­jected to trap within their reser­voirs more than 90 per­cent of the sand that would oth­er­wise flow into the Mekong Delta, which is home to 17 mil­lion peo­ple and pro­duces 90 per­cent of Vietnam’s rice exports. With its sand sup­ply cut off, sci­en­tists project that the delta will sink and shrink, with more than half under­wa­ter by the end of the century.

It is easy to hear such sto­ries and con­clude that the world faces an ago­niz­ing dilemma: Must we sac­ri­fice our rivers to save our cli­mate? Even just a few years ago, that trade-​​off seemed unavoid­able. With wind and solar power lim­ited by their expense and vari­abil­ity, global hydropower was pro­jected to nearly dou­ble by 2050. Mas­sive dams were under con­struc­tion or planned for many of the world’s great rivers, includ­ing the Yangtze, Mekong, and most trib­u­taries of the Ama­zon. Some gov­ern­ments used cli­mate and renew­able energy objec­tives to jus­tify these projects, even as sci­en­tists quan­ti­fied their impacts and affected com­mu­ni­ties and indige­nous groups protested.

But we do not need to sac­ri­fice rivers for zero-​​carbon energy. In the last two years, solar energy has rapidly become more eco­nom­i­cally viable due to tech­no­log­i­cal improve­ments and to economies of scale in pro­duc­tion and deploy­ment. Whereas solar energy used to cost 20 cents or more per kilowatt-​​hour, new projects in Chile, Mex­ico, and Saudi Ara­bia have come in at one-​​tenth that cost. Wind energy costs have like­wise plum­meted. In 2017, a win­ning bid for a new wind farm in Mex­ico fea­tured costs of around 2 cents per kWh. That was half the pre­vi­ous year’s low­est bid there. This makes solar and wind the price lead­ers across much of the world.

Even with falling costs, the vari­abil­ity of wind and solar power remain a chal­lenge. Sim­ply put, in order for these tech­nolo­gies to offer reli­able, round-​​the-​​clock elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion, there needs to be a way to store power when the wind is blow­ing and the sun is shin­ing and then deploy it when the wind dies down or the sun sets.

For­tu­nately, the costs for stor­age tech­nolo­gies are plum­met­ing as well, with the cost of lithium ion bat­ter­ies, capa­ble of grid-​​scale stor­age, drop­ping by about 90 per­cent over the past few years. New tech­nolo­gies are emerg­ing as well. For exam­ple, a Chilean solar power plant that uses molten salt as stor­age recently offered to pro­vide 24-​​hour base­load elec­tric­ity at less than 5 cents per kWh. That is com­pa­ra­ble to or cheaper than most hydropower and fos­sil fuel options. Tesla and Google X, mean­while, are pur­su­ing “moon­shot” solu­tions for stor­age technologies.

Also tip­ping the scales toward wind and solar is that, among large infra­struc­ture projects, hydropower dams have among the worst per­for­mance in terms of delays and cost over­runs, in part due to the con­flict and con­tro­versy sur­round­ing them. Whereas some dams take a decade to com­plete, wind and solar power can be deliv­ered through rapid, smaller-​​scale, and lower-​​risk projects that tend to engen­der far less conflict.

Gov­ern­ments are tak­ing note. Thai­land ear­lier this year sig­naled that it would delay sign­ing a power pur­chase agree­ment for Pak Beng, a 912-​​megawatt hydropower dam that Laos is plan­ning for the Mekong. In announc­ing the delay, the coun­try stated that it needed to revisit its energy strat­egy since other renew­able sources, includ­ing wind and solar, were becom­ing increas­ingly viable. Thai­land was slated to buy 90 per­cent of the dam’s elec­tric­ity, so its change of plans could spell the end of the project. In Guyana, mean­while, ris­ing cost esti­mates and delays for the Amaila Falls hydropower project led the gov­ern­ment and financiers to trans­fer fund­ing intended for the dam toward a 100-​​megawatt solar project.

The rapidly evolv­ing renew­able energy land­scape doesn’t mean an end to hydropower, but rather a shift in its role. Hydropower reser­voirs are cur­rently the dom­i­nant form of energy stor­age for grids, and although other forms of stor­age are improv­ing, they will con­tinue to pro­vide crit­i­cal stor­age ser­vices in the near future. Upgraded older dams and strate­gi­cally planned new projects, care­fully located to min­i­mize envi­ron­men­tal and social dis­rup­tion, can empha­size energy stor­age to facil­i­tate adding large incre­ments of wind and solar into a grid.

Although it is now pos­si­ble to build afford­able, low-​​carbon wind and solar sys­tems, they still face con­straints, includ­ing polit­i­cal and social pref­er­ences for large infra­struc­ture projects. Pak Beng may have been paused, but other dam projects on the Mekong and on other key rivers are mov­ing forward.

It would be a great tragedy if the renew­able rev­o­lu­tion arrived just a few years too late to save the world’s great rivers. Mar­ket reforms and new finan­cial mech­a­nisms can accel­er­ate the adop­tion of more sus­tain­able energy sys­tems, as can inno­v­a­tive sci­ence. For exam­ple, the Renew­able and Appro­pri­ate Energy Lab­o­ra­tory at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley recently devel­oped and is using an energy plan­ning model for Laos. The lab found that invest­ments in solar pan­els (backed up by exist­ing hydropower) could meet that nation’s objec­tives for sell­ing elec­tric­ity to neighbors—with greater returns and lower risks than the planned dams that threaten the Mekong’s fish har­vests and the via­bil­ity of its delta.

There’s no need to con­tinue accept­ing tragic trade-​​offs between healthy rivers and low-​​cost, reli­able, and renew­able elec­tric­ity. The renew­able rev­o­lu­tion pro­vides an oppor­tu­nity to have both. Gov­ern­ments, fun­ders, devel­op­ers, and sci­en­tists should seize it.

Jeff Opper­man is the World Wildlife Fund’s global lead sci­en­tist for fresh­wa­ter. Twit­ter: @jjopperman

Chris Weber is the World Wildlife Fund’s global lead sci­en­tist for cli­mate and energy.

Daniel Kam­men is a pro­fes­sor in and the chair of the Energy and Resources Group and a pro­fes­sor of pub­lic pol­icy at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley. He has been a coor­di­nat­ing lead author for the Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change and a sci­ence envoy for the U.S. State Depart­ment. Twit­ter: @dan_kammen

For­eign Pol­icy - https://​for​eign​pol​icy​.com/​2​0​1​8​/​1​1​/​2​3​/​t​h​e​-​b​e​a​u​t​i​f​u​l​-​r​i​v​e​r​s​-​a​n​d​-​t​h​e​-​d​a​m​m​ed/



RAEL contributes to Chapter 3: Energy systems. In State of the Carbon Cycle Report (SOCCR2): A Sustained Assessment Report for the United States

To access the Energy Sec­tor chap­ter, click here.


  1. In 2013, pri­mary energy use in North Amer­ica exceeded 125 exajoules,1 of which Canada was respon– sible for 11.9%, Mex­ico 6.5%, and the United States 81.6%. Of total pri­mary energy sources, approxi– mately 81% was from fos­sil fuels, which con­tributed to car­bon diox­ide equiv­a­lent (CO2e)2 emis­sions lev– els, exceed­ing 1.76 peta­grams of car­bon, or about 20% of the global total for energy-​​related activ­i­ties. Of these emis­sions, coal accounted for 28%, oil 44%, and nat­ural gas 28% (very high con­fi­dence, likely).
  2. North Amer­i­can energy-​​related CO2e emis­sions have declined at an aver­age rate of about 1% per year, or about 19.4 ter­a­grams CO2e, from 2003 to 2014 (very high confidence).
  3. The shifts in North Amer­i­can energy use and CO2e emis­sions have been dri­ven by fac­tors such
    as 1) lower energy use, ini­tially as a response to the global finan­cial cri­sis of 2007 to 2008 (high con­fi­dence, very likely); but increas­ingly due to 2) greater energy effi­ciency, which has reduced
    the regional energy inten­sity of eco­nomic pro­duc­tion by about 1.5% annu­ally from 2004 to 2013, enabling eco­nomic growth while low­er­ing energy CO2e emis­sions. Energy inten­sity has fallen annu– ally by 1.6% in the United States and 1.5% in Canada (very high con­fi­dence, very likely). Fur­ther fac­tors dri­ving lower car­bon inten­si­ties include 3) increased renew­able energy pro­duc­tion (up 220 peta– joules annu­ally from 2004 to 2013, trans­lat­ing to an 11% annual aver­age increase in renew­ables) (high con­fi­dence, very likely); 4) a shift to nat­ural gas from coal sources for indus­trial and elec­tric­ity pro­duc­tion (high con­fi­dence, likely); and 5) a wide range of new tech­nolo­gies, includ­ing, for exam­ple, alter­na­tive fuel vehi­cles (high con­fi­dence, likely).
  4. A wide range of plau­si­ble futures exists for the North Amer­i­can energy sys­tem in regard to car­bon emis­sions. Fore­casts to 2040, based on cur­rent poli­cies and tech­nolo­gies, sug­gest a range of car­bon emis­sions lev­els from an increase of over 10% to a decrease of over 14% (from 2015 car­bon emis­sions lev­els). Exploratory and back­cast­ing approaches sug­gest that the North Amer­i­can energy sys­tem emis­sions will not decrease by more than 13% (com­pared with 2015 lev­els) with­out both tech­no­log­i­cal advances and changes in pol­icy. For the United States, how­ever, decreases in emis­sions could plau­si­bly meet a national con­tri­bu­tion to a global path­way con­sis­tent with a tar­get of warm­ing to 2°C at a cumu– lative cost of $1 tril­lion to $4 tril­lion (US$ 2005).

Note: Con­fi­dence lev­els are pro­vided as appro­pri­ate for quan­ti­ta­tive, but not qual­i­ta­tive, Key Find­ings and statements.

Con­tribut­ing Authors

Peter J. Mar­co­tul­lio, Hunter Col­lege, City Uni­ver­sity of New York (lead author)

Lori Bruh­wiler, NOAA Earth Sys­tem Research Lab­o­ra­tory; Steven Davis, Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Irvine; Jill Engel-​​Cox, National Renew­able Energy Lab­o­ra­tory; John Field, Col­orado State Uni­ver­sity; Conor Gately, Boston Uni­ver­sity; Kevin Robert Gur­ney, North­ern Ari­zona Uni­ver­sity; Daniel M. Kam­men, Uni­ver­sity
of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley; Emily McG­lynn, Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Davis; James McMa­hon, Bet­ter Cli­mate Research and Pol­icy Analy­sis; William R. Mor­row, III, Lawrence Berke­ley National Lab­o­ra­tory; Ilissa B. Ocko, Envi­ron­men­tal Defense Fund; Ralph Tor­rie, Cana­dian Energy Sys­tems Analy­sis and Research Initiative.


Rec­om­mended Cita­tion for Chap­ter:

Mar­co­tul­lio, P. J., L. Bruh­wiler, S. Davis, J. Engel-​​Cox, J. Field, C. Gately, K. R. Gur­ney, D. M. Kam­men,
E. McG­lynn, J. McMa­hon, W. R. Mor­row, III, I. B. Ocko, and R. Tor­rie, 2018: Chap­ter 3: Energy sys­tems. InSec­ond State of the Car­bon Cycle Report (SOCCR2): A Sus­tained Assess­ment Report [Cav­al­laro, N., G. Shrestha, R. Bird­sey, M. A. Mayes, R. G. Naj­jar, S. C. Reed, P. Romero-​​Lankao, and Z. Zhu (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Pro­gram, Wash­ing­ton, DC, USA, pp. 110–188, https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​7​9​3​0​/​S​O​C​C​R​2​.​2​0​1​8​.​Ch3.


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Knowledge@Wharton — the IPCC 1.5 degree Report

To lis­ten to the pod­cast RAEL did on the IPCC 1.5 degree Report, click here.



The UN’s lat­est cli­mate change report should spur coun­tries and busi­nesses to take quick and effec­tive steps to com­bat global warm­ing, says Pro­fes­sor Dan Kam­men of the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley.  To hear the whole pod­cast, click below.

Right ref­er­ence:


KQED Newsroom with Thuy Vu — Climate Change Solutions.

On KQED News­room, Octo­ber 12 — 14, 2018

Dan Kammen & Thuy Vu, cal (Rhetoric) and host of KQED Newsroom

Cli­mate Change Goals
This week, a new United Nations report sounded the alarm over world­wide cli­mate again, warn­ing that the most severe effects of cli­mate change — increased flood­ing, drought, wild­fires and heat waves — could start being felt as early as 2040. To avoid these crises, global car­bon emis­sions would need to be slashed by 45 per­cent by 2030, accord­ing to the report. We talk with UC Berke­ley pro­fes­sor of energy Daniel Kam­men about what can be done to reach that goal.

The IPCC 1.5 Degree Report is the focus of the conversation.


To watch, click here:


Students can lead the (Just) Transition on Climate -

From The Daily Cal­i­forn­ian, Tues­day, Octo­ber 8.  Click here to go direct to that link, or here for the Berke­ley­Blog ver­sion.

Vot­ing for a Just Transition


Daniel M Kammen

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Each fall at UC Berke­ley I teach ‘Energy and Soci­ety’, a very unusual course that cov­ers the sci­ence, pol­i­tics, and pol­icy angles needed to under­stand – and to change – our energy sys­tem from one that is now rapidly degrad­ing the planet, to a sus­tain­able, healthy, and equi­table one.  The best fea­ture of this class is that it is a melt­ing pot not only of dif­fer­ent majors, but also of under­grad­u­ate and grad­u­ate stu­dents work­ing together to mas­ter the material


The first thing we cover, using basic chem­istry that has been well known to sci­ence for over 100 years,is that end­lessly emit­ting green­house gases will warm the planet. We have known sci­en­tif­i­cally since the 1990s that cli­mate change is already impact­ing ecosys­tems, crops, and both human and envi­ron­men­tal health.  We have known for almost two decades that we have already warmed the planet by one degree Cel­sius, and that at two degrees Cel­sius, dra­matic changes to the earth will be every­day events.


Instead of becom­ing a ral­ly­ing cry for inno­va­tion as were the responses to dis­ease (“the war on polio”), food, poverty and nutri­tion (“the Green Rev­o­lu­tion”) or the desire to reach space (“the Apollo pro­gram”), cli­mate change has become, arguably, the most divi­sive issue in the United States.  Where we used to see chal­lenge as an oppor­tu­nity, this one, inex­plic­a­bly has become a proxy-​​war for eco­nomic inse­cu­rity and class division.


After all, the U.S. Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, launched under Repub­li­can Pres­i­dent Nixon and passed through House and Sen­ate Com­mit­tees in 1970.  TheClean Air Actbecame law in 1970, where it passed the Sen­ate with­out a sin­gle ‘no’ vote. Only one rep­re­sen­ta­tive voted against the bill.  Against expec­ta­tions, George H. W. Bush fea­tured the envi­ron­ment promi­nently in his cam­paign, and in 1988 his pres­i­dency saw an expan­sive update to the Clean Air Act which the Sen­ate passed with bipar­ti­san support.


Since then, how­ever, things have dete­ri­o­rated, with atten­tion and invest­ment in envi­ron­men­tal qual­ity at local, to national, and at global lev­els becom­ing the ‘third rail’ of U.S. politics.


This is where local action by Cal stu­dents is so crit­i­cal.  As the acknowl­edged top pub­lic uni­ver­sity in the world, Cal stu­dents, staff, fac­ulty and alumni have helped to make Cal­i­for­nia the remark­able energy and cli­mate leader that it is, but have also found a myr­iad of ways to spread those expe­ri­ences across the coun­try and around the world.  That reach has never been more impor­tant than now as we approach the most impor­tant mid-​​term elec­tion in decades.


At the Cli­mate Action Global Sum­mitin San Fran­cisco last month I heard an approach that harkened back to the bipar­ti­san­found­ing of the U.S. EPA.. This new vision was stated most clearly and elo­quently not by politi­cians, ora­tors, or sci­en­tists, but by high-​​school and col­lege stu­dents who gath­ered in a series of youth sum­mits orga­nized within and around the offi­cial meetings.


What is most ironic is that cli­mate change is actu­ally one of the most inter­est­ing issues and oppor­tu­ni­ties we as a coun­try have ever faced because its solu­tion cre­ates eco­nomic oppor­tu­ni­ties. Every bit of coal, gas, or oil that we replace with energy effi­ciency and clean energy is a shift away from min­ing resources to invest­ing in com­pa­nies and invest­ing in peo­ple.  After all, when the fuel is free, cre­at­ing new tech­nolo­gies and build­ing social insti­tu­tions and poli­cies are all ways to invest in our­selves and to both cre­ate employ­ment and to use data and insti­tu­tions to grow the econ­omy.  My lab­o­ra­tory here at UC Berke­ley has been research­ing and doc­u­ment­ing the green jobs ‘div­i­dend’ and has been doing work witha series of stu­dents, many of whom are alumni of ‘Energy and Society’.


The clean energy oppor­tu­nity is aligned with core val­ues – at least those stated on paper – by both the Demo­c­ra­tic and Repub­li­can par­ties. Instead of one of the few places for bipar­ti­san action, how­ever, it has become an area where even the most basic facts are end­lessly debated.  As research launched at Berke­ley has shown, invest­ments in mass tran­sit and for those who need cars, elec­tric vehi­cles are not only cheaper to oper­ate than gas-​​powered cars, but they also lead to dra­matic reduc­tions in urban air pol­lu­tion, a hall­mark of Cal­i­for­nia poli­cies since the 1970s.


As inequal­ity has grown across Amer­ica, UC-​​based research has con­tin­ued to high­light the many exam­ples of well-​​meaning poli­cies (such as sub­si­diz­ing elec­tric vehi­cles for the afflu­ent) that exac­er­bate the grow­ing national eco­nomic divide.  Instead, efforts launched here to invest in more afford­able homes and apart­ments by inte­grat­ing energy effi­ciency, solar, power, and both bet­ter mass-​​transit and elec­tric vehi­cles for low-​​income Cal­i­for­ni­ans offers a sus­tain­able path to social equity.


Of par­tic­u­lar note is that California’s land­mark cli­mate leg­is­la­tion, SB32which gov­erns our state decar­boniza­tion from 2020 – 2030, calls for 35% or more, of our green­house gas cap and trade rev­enues (now in the $10 billion/​year range) to be spent on under­served minor­ity com­mu­ni­ties. I’ll wager that when we look back this bill, it will be this invest­ment in social jus­tice, not the cli­mate tar­get that will be its most impor­tant legacy.


This is where the Cal stu­dents can play a most imme­di­ate and hugely impact­ful nation­wide role: by reach­ing out to fel­low stu­dents, par­ents, and friends both across Cal­i­for­nia and across the coun­try to high­light how dou­bling down on equi­tableclean energy projects offers a rare and gen­uine ‘win-​​win’ at a time when the coun­try is more divided than ever.


Daniel Kam­men is pro­fes­sor and chair of the Energy and Resources Group, and Pro­fes­sor in the Gold­man School of Pub­lic Pol­icy, and in the Depart­ment of Nuclear Engi­neer­ing.  He served in the Obama Admin­is­tra­tion as Sci­ence Envoy for the State Department. 

Twit­ter: @dan_kammen

KQED Newsroom with Thuy Vu: the Climate Action Summit (TV)

To watch the show,  click here.

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Cli­mate Action Summit

San Fran­cisco Hosts Global Cli­mate Sum­mit
Just days after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill requir­ing California’s energy sources to be com­pletely clean and renew­able by 2045, thou­sands of peo­ple gath­ered in San Fran­cisco for the Global Cli­mate Action Sum­mit. The three-​​day event, fea­tur­ing politi­cians from around the world, CEOs from com­pa­nies like Star­bucks and Sales­force, and celebri­ties like Har­ri­son Ford, was launched to show that cities, states, regions and indus­tries are step­ping up to meet the carbon-​​cutting tar­gets of the 2015 Paris Cli­mate Agree­ment despite the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back envi­ron­men­tal protections.


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