Today, President Obama revealed his Clean Power Plan, which he hopes will stand as his marquee effort to combat climate change in a world rapidly coming around to the reality of its effects and in a domestic political environment incorrigibly deadlocked on doing anything about it. You’ll be hearing a lot about this in the coming weeks and months, so, in the interest of breaking it down for skiers and snowboarders who just would prefer that snow stick around in the future, we thought we’d do just that.
What’s Climate Change Again?
Climate change=warmer temps=less of these sweet, life-changing turns. Mark Carter enjoying current snow conditions. TGR photo.
Oh yeah, that. Climate change is basically the accumulation of all those carbon pollution generated from our collective years of burning coal, oil, gasoline, etc. to power our homes and factories, fly our increasingly cramped commercial airliners (and TGR’s helicopters), make iPhones and diapers, and make sure strawberries are available in Jackson Hole grocery stores in January.
All that crap in the air traps heat, raising the average temperature of the world on land and in the oceans. It’s happening more in the Arctic than it is in North Carolina, but as more wintertime temperatures in ski country rise above freezing more often, there’ll be less snow. That sucks.
What’s The Idea With The Clean Power Plan?
Coal power is the dirtiest energy source in the U.S., and would face the biggest cuts. Wknight94 photo via Wikimedia.
Power plants are the single biggest source of the U.S.’s carbon pollution–almost a third of the total. The idea behind the Clean Power Plan is to cut carbon pollution from U.S. power plants by 32% below their 2005 levels by 2030.
Each state is given different reduction targets based on their existing energy mix and infrastructure, and can reduce how they see fit: by increasing the amount of renewable energy produced in the state, increasing the efficiency of existing and future power plants, or by foregoing future coal-powered power plants or even closing existing ones, since coal is the most polluting energy source in the country’s mix. It also produces about 40% of the country’s electricity, and is still the single biggest energy source in the U.S.
With coal on the out and natural gas and renewables growing rapidly, the solar industry now employs more Americans than the coal industry. Wikimedia photo.
You hear the phrase “war on coal” thrown around a lot when it comes to the Clean Power Plan, because in fact the plan does mean pollution from coal is the easiest target. It’s the dirtiest fuel, and while it used to be the cheapest, the explosion of cheap natural gas–which has about half the carbon emissions of coal–has upended the coal industry more than any environmental policy ever has. Meanwhile, renewable energy sources, especially solar, have gotten vastly cheaper in the past few years, making them more attractive.
Coal’s been losing out more and more in the past few years for a variety of reasons, and despite all the noise being made about lost jobs, the burgeoning solar industry actually employs more people now.
Why Aren’t We Trying Something Else?
There’s a lot of great ideas coming from different areas about how the U.S. could reduce its carbon pollution and stop the long-term melt trend our snow is due to see if fossil fuels continue to get burned up as they have all along. Some involve simply putting a tax on carbon pollution like we do other “bads” like cigarettes.
Cap and trade is another one that involves “capping” the amount of carbon pollution we can emit, and spreading out permits to everyone to emit that amount. Companies and governments that can reduce their pollution more easily might then sell their permits to those who can’t reduce as easily (read: cheaply).
The problem with both of these policies is that they need congressional approval, and we know what congressional approval for almost anything looks like these days. So Obama is trying to go around Congress and use his executive authority to push through this policy with the Environmental Protection Agency, a federal agency which has had the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions (read: carbon pollution) since 2007, when they rightly classified them as a pollutant that endangers public heath or welfare. Like public powder!
Why Aren’t We Already Doing Much About It Yet?
I'm seein' red! Graphic via Environmental Protection Agency.
Well, it’s a complex issue that affects so many ways our society operates, since energy use is tied so intricately into everything we do. So that means, in a way, no easy answers.
It also feels like it’s only going to happen in the future, so it’s easy not to do anything about it now. Although the effects of climate change are without a doubt already being felt around the world, including in shrinking snowpacks. In most of the world, people are already well aware of climate change and the need to do something about it.
In the U.S., that’s unfortunately not the case. Our current political environment has a bit to do with that, as well as the fact that the folks pushing against action on climate change, who often are doing so because they have some stake in the fossil fuels industry, are doing a much better job grabbing the public’s attention than those supporting action.
The feds have been doing more lately, pushing for cars and trucks that burn less gas, less polluting appliances, and sealing methane leaks from oil and gas wells. But given the U.S.’s leading role in global politics, us dragging our feet on serious climate action has undoubtedly let other countries off the hook.
Another big positive of us taking action stateside is that the prospects for the next United Nations Climate Change Conference, taking place this December in Paris, look a lot better for real, meaningful action around the world if we set the example. That’d be nice, eh?
I Just Like To Ski/Snowboard. Why Do I Care?
Colter Hinchcliffe, Tim Durtschi, and Johnny Collinson with a few reasons to #ActonClimate. TGR photo.
It’s pretty simple. If keep polluting like this, and temperatures around the world continue to rise as they have been, then the prospect for consistent winters, and good powder days, looks pretty bleak. And you’re going to see that happen within your lifetime.
So whether you agree with the EPA proposal, or would rather see a solution come from somewhere else, you should really be engaged with what happens one way or another, lest someone else decide what your future winters look like.