Home | About | Donate

The US Can Go Fossil Free — Here's How


The US Can Go Fossil Free — Here's How

May Boeve, Joe Uehlein

The world must go fossil free – and fast. But the proposals for reducing greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions that the US and other countries are proposing for next month’s climate summit in Paris will still allow nearly twice as much global warming as scientists -- and even those very governments -- say is compatible with civilization as we know it.

Americans have often been told that meeting scientific climate targets is impossible without threatening jobs and costing a fortune. But a new report shows that the opposite is true.


Great goals but no details of how, the steps. How should we be educating our children to be ready for the future of no fossil fuel usage? How should we be educating our farmers, ranchers, pig farmers, chicken farmers as we also need to get rid of big agriculture practices that have a large impact on green house gases. We cannot continue to nutritionally feed the world the way we are doing it at present as it is full of chemicals and antibiotics slowing killing us.


I don't think this goal is a pipedream. New York State is already pursuing something like this goal and has several dozen programs in place with funding to reach the goal. A number of other states seem to be moving in this direction. But the problem is for a US goal all 50 states have to be fully involved. And the major cities of the US and thousands of smaller communities have to be involved as well. And the US Congress cannot be throwing up obstacles. Perhaps the worst poblem is that instead of the goal being met in 2050 it should really be closer to 2025, that is, in only ten years. Calculations for the meeting the 2C target omit potential positive feedbacks such a thawing permafrost and methane hydrates and well as what would happen if the sunlight-reflecting aerosols from coal burning were quickly diminished allowing in more sunlight. At least an annual reduction of emissions in the order of 10% is really what may be needed. However, whether what we are doing is too late or not to avoid catastrophe the only feasible course is to push on.


We need a detailed plan rather than abstract green rhetoric. The real problem is that even with that plan, utilities in this country are mostly private companies. The first step, as a true national security issue, is the nationalization of all power production plants to make them more secure, more tied together and more renewable based. This of course does not include personal independent power production such has home or small community renewable energy (solar, wind, hydro or geothermal). Without public ownership and control, change will be difficult and too slow.


Nothing here about anyone doing without anything. No need to stop producing anything, no matter how wasteful or toxic. Business as usual, full steam ahead! Pull the plug on fossil fuels, and seamlessly plug in renewables!

No need to address the corrupt political economy, or the degrading consumer economy, or income inequality or extreme wealth or plastics in the environment or endocrine disrupting agricultural chemicals or corporate colonialist GMO ag or ANYTHING except power generation.

This is the non-profit equivalent of snake oil hucksterism: No need to panic, the market will naturally take care of this!

We need holistic analysis. We need deep, systemic transformation of the political economy and society. And we need honesty about that.


Being that most of the US military is dependent on fossil fuels to maintain their hegemonic power it seems highly unlikely we'll successfully rally a campaign against fossil fuels. There's too much inbreeding between government politicians and corporate rule to see how any rational purely peaceful movement could possibly succeed in removing them.

Highly organized massive civil disobedience is almost certainly necessary. Those with power are simply not going to rollover because the people make an airtight cogent argument. Government will react the way they always do...offer some conciliatory gesture (to take place years in the future of course), and then we'll remark about it being a step in the right direction and how it's better than nothing, and the status quo will continue to rule.


This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.


I agree that you can't tell Americans to give up things they really want. That would never work on the scale needed. What works is to show people that doing something is in their economic interest. That is why we are seeing such a surge in rooftop solar installations. The same goes for companies, schools, and various types of institutions. They will make changes if they are convinced it will benefit them economically. The other thing is to make the changes as easy as possible. That is why community solar and energy efficiency programs choose contractors that people can select from and even have the contractors fill out government forms for grants since these can be an obstacle if people have to fill them out. This combination is working for solar and to some extent retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency. But it can't work unless states make the programs and incentives available and US Congress tilts things away from fossil fuels and towards renewables


People choose to buy from what is available on the market. You can't find coal burning steam cars for that reason. Fossil-fueled automobile production needs to be quickly replaced with electric cars and other green and public transportation alternatives.


Just the usual, everyday mainstream trash. Not a peep about the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions. I am growing weary of reading arrogant puffing that ignores the source of the problem. If you have to lift a weight a cow is standing on, try moving the cow before lifting the weight. These people are ignoring the cow and urging us to lift the weight anyway. I am sick of the stupid logic exhibited in these mainstream feel-good articles. Any solution that ignores the animal slaughter industry, the number one cause of climate change, is revolting. Stop ignoring the cow in the room - make it move before trying to lift the weight.


Perhaps you should read the report before commenting. See the quote below. It address non-energy GHG emissions in agriculture although it does not accept the data on this source of emissions that you are using.

"The report also cites other studies suggesting that sufficient GHG reduction can be achieved in the remaining sectors –freight and transit, industrial process emissions, and non-energy GHG emissions in agriculture –to meet the 80% by 2050 GHG reduction target."


" but the cost of renewables is falling so fast that they are already cheaper than fossil fuel energy in some places and soon will be in most. "

If that statement is true then there's no need to worry. "Capitalist greed" will take over and replace all fossil fuel power facilities with cheaper renewables while keeping the consumer prices where they are and making huge profit.


We need to install about 1000 GW of power taking out fossil fuels...Can someone explain the numbers and value on each set of projects to get there...Thank you.


This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.


What happened to the idea of weighing all of the reasonable options?

How did nuclear energy get excluded from the conversation?

Clearly this group has allowed fear to win over reason. Fear wins when you don't even bother to investigate why Germany is failing to meet their goals reducing emissions. Their biggest failing was eliminating nuclear energy. They choose coal over nuclear. Please look at the math and objectively do a basic costs vs. benefits analysis. And keep in mind that the issue is we need to do more than simply reduce CO2 emissions, more than stop CO2 emissions but we need to reverse emissions, that is remove CO2 from the air and the oceans. Otherwise we will see mass extinction in the ocean life and that will change our planet forever. Forget about global warming. (no don't) but you get my point.


Creating tons of jobs isn't such a great selling point for an energy system. In fact, it can amount to energy feudalism. Like in the Dark Ages, it took 20 people to grow enough food for 22 people. (Food was fuel for a human work force.)

A much better prospect is an energy paradigm that only needs a minuscule sliver of the population to implement, so the bulk of society is freed up and powered up to do more important work. (Nuclear energy comes to mind…)


The report recommends reducing fossil fuel use 80% by 2050. That's decades too late and far too little to avoid catastrophe. We can do better, and with many other benefits—jobs, equality… With a US WWII-like climate mobilization we can reduce GHG emissions 90% or more in the next 5-10 years

Not only do calculations for 2°C leave out feedbacks and the already-accelerating effects we're seeing, but 2°C is too high to be safe, and the calculations most people and governments are using as an excuse to continue to do nothing only count on a 50-50 chance or worse of staying under it. Those calculations leave us a reasonable carbon budget to make the transformation. But they're wrong. If we want civilization to survive we have no carbon budget left and the only way to avoid rapidly escalating horror is to institute a crash program immediately—a climate mobilization for both replacing fossil fuel use with clean renewables AND sequestering carbon through reforestation and small-scale local low-meat organic permaculture.




I think you are probably right. But at the moment the first task is to get off the business-as-usual track and that is not guaranteed. We are nowhere near carrying out what you suggest. Most of the emissions come from developing countries. Simply getting those countries to commit to reducing emissions is very difficult. What you seem to be advocating is to skip several steps of a process. It appears to me that each step of the process has to take place and yes that will probably leave us in an extremely dangerous situation which could threaten civilization. It has taken about 25 years to get to this point. It is hard to imagine anything quickly happening that would reduce emissions by 90% in the next ten years.


"... at the moment the first task is to get off the business-as-usual track and that is not guaranteed..."

"It is hard to imagine anything quickly happening that would reduce emissions by 90% in the next ten years."

We need imagination now more than ever. Think outside the standard; think what is "unthinkable" under political and economic norms.

Humans are strong and flexible. Populations have demonstrated many times the ability, when called upon, to make major shifts in service to a larger cause. Realistically, we can accomplish major transformations.

When assessing the odds of social transformation, it is important to recognize the possibility of change, and work hard to think it through.


I like webwalk's answer, but in any case, I'm not advocating skipping any necessary steps. We need all the necessary steps, just none of the unnecessary ones.

We need a revolution; this is not to satisfy me or keep the left happy or any such nonsense but so civilization and the human (and millions of other) species can survive.

Belief in a system can be extraordinarily resilient (stubborn or intransigent might be more fitting) but it can also collapse overnight once a tipping point is reached—just like an ice sheet or as James Hansen points out, shifting from Earth Climate 2.0 to 3.0.

The real problem is the US and secondarily other rich countries. The US corporate-owned government has actively sabotaged every effort to deal with the crisis and has still contributed more carbon pollution cumulatively than any other country including China. Most of the emissions in developing countries are the responsibility of the rich here and in those countries; they're caused by making products and growing food and cutting lumber for the rich. (the richest 7% of people cause half the GHGs; the poorest 80%—6 billion people—cause only about 20% of the GHGs. The emissions already emitted and in the pipeline (the ~40 year lag time between emission and full heating effect) are what are going to kill us if anything does, and those are overwhelmingly the fault of the rich countries.

China is forging ahead in front of most of the world with both solar and wind; it's exceeded its agreements to cut coal use. India has built and is building solar PV, solar thermal, and other renewables while trying to better the lives of many of the poorest people on Earth. A couple of dozen countries are at or near 100% of their grid from renewables; many are leapfrogging most of the fossil fuel age and jumping right into renewable age. None of this is fast enough, but the main and virtually only problem we have is the rich.

If you have trouble imagining, take a look at The Case for Mobilization linked to below, or do some other research on the US WWII mobilization. The US built many millions of tons of ships, planes, tanks, trucks, artillery, small arms, uniforms, supplies of all kinds; it supplied Britain with scores of ships and the USSR with trucks and other equipment. This country went from being a 2nd or 3rd rate power to being the most powerful country in the world, militarily and economically, and it did it in 3 years from almost a dead stop. The world has many times the industrial capacity that the US did then, we have the WWI and II experiences to learn from; the only thing stopping us is right wing denying delayalists and despairing negative people all along the spectrum. In the 2 wars there was an enemy trying to beat us (and with a damn good chance to do it). Now the only thing preventing our success is us.