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Jun-28-2022 17:27printcomments

The Climate Front: People Who Live There - Dan Kammen Ph.D.

We're on a pace right now where when we get this done it'll be decades too late.

climate change
Photo by Markus Spiske, Pexels

(LOS ANGELES, Calif.) - As COP26 Glasgow came and left, the world’s governments, industries, and technologists converged across continents, countries, and bioregions, to target climate goals established by the United Nations, IPCC, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in Paris, 5 years earlier.

This lofty perch doubtless seems distant from our lives, even as we confront gargantuan fires, loss of sea ice, and redirected migration paths for ocean species, like Bluefin and Sockeye, and those on land, and in the skies – We, as participants, humans dependent on our environment for subsistence, survival, and sustainability.

The Climate Front: People Who Live There continues with Dan Kammen, Lead Author IPCC, United Nations and U. C. Berkeley Physicist, well traveled via the World Bank, United States Department of State, and USAID (usaid.org), and Nobel Laureate.

Dan Kammen Ph.D.

Having the opportunity to sit down with Dan, virtually, I asked him:

Robert Lundahl: ...That connection between the high-level policy and the people on the ground, we can talk about that later after the proper introductions, so maybe you could start by introducing yourself and giving us a little bit of background on your professional activities and so on.

Dan Kammen: Sounds good. Okay, so I’m Dan Kammen. I’m a faculty at the University of California Berkeley where I'm the Chair of the Energy and Resources Group and I am also a faculty in the Department of Nuclear Engineering and the Department of the Goldman School of Public Policy.

I run the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory RAEL, and through RAEL I've worked at the IPCC the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I've been a lead author there since the late 1990s, and then this year I wear a second hat in that I am now back in federal service like I was under President Obama, when I was Science Envoy in the State Department.

Now I've returned to DC as the Senior Energy Advisor at the U.S Agency for International Development.

Robert Lundahl: Wow that's quite a portfolio...

Dan Kammen: Those are my hats – yeah.

Robert Lundahl: Can you take us back to - I guess you said the ‘90s and the beginning of your work with IPCC and RAEL. How did that come about and what were the protocols at that time?

Dan Kammen: Absolutely, so I started working with the IPCC when I was junior faculty at Princeton University, where I was in their environmental institute. The names changed a little bit since then but I got involved in my role as someone working on the expansion of the clean energy industry.

I was involved in several of the big every five-year assessment reports, and then in the interim years there would be more topical reports and so I was involved in a big effort on technology transfer and international partnership.

And I guess if one really ties all the knots together, that effort the international partnership on technology transfer that was a request by China and India and others to work at a framework very slowly and indirectly led up to the point in this most recent climate summit in Glasgow COP26.

There, for the first time, the industrialized nations ticked over the commitment level that we made in Paris and that was to be at the 100 billion a year level of partnership with industrializing countries.

Of course, some countries have now evolved into, and through, and out, of those definitions, you know, now Chile and Kenya and Malaysia are middle-income countries. China and India were always in their own special category.

What happened in Glasgow was that we hit that level once and now optimists say well we've hit it that's great and now we will, you know, be much better partners with emerging economies.

Skeptics will say, "well you hit it once but can you do 100 billion a year consistently?", and we all know that 100 billion is unfortunately a drop in the bucket, and so while it's a big milestone in terms of meeting some obligations made in Paris, the real question is how does this expand, and so what I do now in my federal role ties back to that early work at the IPCC.

It ties back to the work I did when I was at the World Bank for a year in 2010/11 as the Director of Renewables, in my time previously in State Department, and that is to build operational partnerships around investing dramatically in clean energy, not just to ramp up the amount of clean energy in the mix around the world but to replace current fossil generation and future demand.

And so from my perspective, some of the most exciting announcements made in Glasgow were that both South Africa and Nigeria each said they were going to commit to a transition to clean energy. While it's a big deal for China - they're the biggest consumer and importer of coal, they're also a rich country by most definitions – whereas Nigeria and South Africa are fossil fuel dependent economies where the unemployment story alone of doing this transition, without a really significant build of new industries, international partnerships is really hard.

Robert Lundahl: So when you said a hundred billion, you're talking about direct investments right?

Dan Kammen: Well, unfortunately it's not as simple as that. So the Paris commitment was for there to be a hundred billion a year in funding for the energy transition in industrializing countries. Some of that is aid, some of that is grant, some of that is bringing in private sector partners, foundations, so it's unfortunately not an easy kitty to add up.

I think maybe on the optimistic side you probably don't want it to be a simple kitty, you want a lot of different aspects of the economies being invested in. The problem is for those two countries alone, the price tag for the transitions is on the order of hundreds of billions and that’s just two countries.

Doing so without massive unemployment, dislocation, is going to be challenging in South Africa. They need to retire a very large fleet of old dirty coal plants on the order of 22,000 megawatts or more.

Nigeria of course is an oil and gas exporter and has taken on more and more prominence as a partner with the US and elsewhere, in terms of those exports.

Finding ways to do enough investment so that the clean energy sector can take off: large-scale solar, small or distributed solar, energy storage, electric vehicle programs, smart agriculture based around solar water pumps - not diesel water pumps, organic fertilizer production instead of nitrogen, and fossil fuel nitrogen efforts.

All of those things count, but adding up that inventory is both messy and still has a massive way to go, where the bulk of the money isn't even being thought of yet, for how to really move money into big government programs, and to have private sector investments in these countries that builds up local capacity.

Industry isn't just, you know, the big international players do a big project, get credit for it and then leave once it's built.

Robert Lundahl: So there's a lot. It sounds like you're veering back into the banking world with this.

Dan Kammen: I'm a physicist, banking is something I intentionally know very little about, but I think you're probably right that a lot of this story is really about developing financing streams for renewable projects at scale, and in a way that the capacity can be taken over by local firms, ministries, towns - that's hard.

Robert Lundahl: So now you consulted for the World Bank, what is the role specifically of the World Bank? Do they help set policy with regard to development in sensitive areas, for example, or preserving wildlife habitat or energy policy, can you give us a snapshot?

Dan Kammen: Yeah, so, I did more than consult, I joined the World Bank as the Director of Renewable Energy, Efficiency Projects um, to set up this new office which has now been folded into other things so maybe that wasn't successful because the actual title doesn't exist but the World Bank has done a number of things on this front that are positive.

The World Bank worked through a process to ramp up dramatically the amount of large-scale infrastructure investment efforts, larger scale transmission projects when I was at the bank.

One of the big projects I worked on was to finance and put into operation a significant transmission corridor between Kenya and Ethiopia that links hydropower in Ethiopia to large scale wind and geothermal in Kenya to really build a regional market and in east Africa.

It's called the East Africa Power Pool, where countries basically trade the way, you know, we see in Western Europe and in the US and so those projects are a part of it, but you asked about policy.

You know the old adage about the bank is definitely true - the bank is a fund and the fund is a bank, meaning that the World Bank is much more of a fund to draw on and a learning opportunity for people who are going to go back into public service in their home countries in ministries of energy, environment; whereas the International Finance Corporation is really more of a bank, and so on the policy level, the World Bank has adopted a "cost of carbon".

They use thirty dollars a ton. It's higher price than we actually use in California in the market sense, but if you're a critic, you look at it and say, "well it's great on paper", and it gets applied in some project cases.

But there are many many areas that are exemptions, and areas where there's critical need, where there are big unemployment problems, such as the coal sector in South Africa, I would say, is a softly applied price on carbon, but it's a big policy step forward and it also enables international partners local governments to utilize accounting where we now know that if you do it all right, renewables will come out as the cheapest project arguably - even without a cost of carbon.

Certainly with the cost of carbon, the price of renewables plus storage will be less than fossil projects.

And so it limits greatly the number of places that fall into this category of exemptions where a fossil project will get funding, not necessarily by the World Bank, but by the regional development banks, by some of the private banks that co-finance.

There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, but it does mean that clean energy projects are getting a first look now, not a second or third look as you might argue before.

Robert Lundahl: While looking at COP26 there is a lot of concern about skewing the playing field and specifically with regard to Australia and coal, for example, which was the subject of a major article in The Guardian. So does the energy industry put a hand on this market or on this process of decarbonizing, that, in a way, that's not healthy or unproductive, or can we trust them?

Dan Kammen: Well we definitely can't trust them and that that hand is heavy - in fact at the G20 meeting right before COP26 - very disappointing to many people myself included the G20, chose not to follow through on their prior pledge to end subsidies for fossil fuels, and those subsidies depending whose math you use, are somewhere between half a trillion and five trillion a year.

I tend to use the “one trillion” number, as the direct subsidies that exist at the pump in terms of refining in terms of concessions, and at that level it means that the global community is subsidizing fossil fuels at least as much and if not more than the global community is investing in renewables.

That's even before the actual hardware, that's just the subsidy level, so the playing field remains incredibly tilted against renewables, even though we get report after report. Maybe the most famous one was the thing that Bloomberg announced last year - put in a very nice way they found that it's now cheaper to build a renewable energy project essentially anywhere in the world than it is to simply operate an existing fossil fuel project.

But in many cases, those existing fossil fuel projects are the recipients of those subsidies, and so the playing field is very much tilted towards the fossil incumbents around the world.

Robert Lundahl: Well we've had some missteps with renewables too you know it appears from the outsider's perspective, and I'll just say that you know as a journalist or observer, or filmmaker.

Are you familiar with a project called Ivanpah?

Dan Kammen: I am very familiar with Ivanpah. It's a California project so yep, right.

Robert Lundahl: I won't skew the conversation. Did something go wrong there?

Dan Kammen: Well, yes and no. Ivanpah came in over cost significantly but on the other on the other hand its initial siting was going to be in an ecologically very sensitive zone.

The company did a lot of work at that initial site - and then the prohibition because of desert tortoise meant they had to find a new site.

Ivanpah, where it is today, it's an operating facility. It may not be the largest renewable project anymore but of course when it was built it was. Now we have solar one and a variety of others, and so I would say in the end, Ivanpah is a real success, but, as the first of its kind it is the one that really, the regulators and the companies had to sort of come together, “come to Jesus” if you will - on the environmental impacts, the impacts on indigenous people's land.

It’s never going to look like one that was financially a winner from day one but we're now seeing large-scale projects you know. This kind of thousand megawatt scale projects - solar thermal, wind projects, big solar projects now being built.

I think we're all waiting for what happens with Build Back Better, and right now it's on hold because of votes in the Senate and we have an election coming up unfortunately this year, in the United States - election seasons now last exceedingly long time by some people's standards, almost all the time.

But if Build Back Better can get through, it not only means more funding and more policies leaning towards these large-scale renewable projects, both in the U.S. and internationally.

There's a piece of Build Back Better called Build Back Better World, which is the international partnerships, and right now the US is launching various substantive engagements in a number of league countries, South Africa, Nigeria, Argentina, Chile, Indonesia, Egypt, where there's analytic work, there's plans around financing that will need that next push of money, and if you're a pessimist you think that you know it's the Senator Manchins of the world that are holding us back from passing it.

If you're an optimist, you think, well, there needs to be some combination of the jobs benefits of clean energy, the social and racial justice aspects of clean energy, that will be appealing enough that a few - one doesn't need many Republican senators to decide the economic “up story” is high enough that they're willing to weather the attack from the right wing of the Republican Party to support.

We now have enough US states that have made commitments that I would, I'd like to think that there's a bigger chance now New Mexico, and Washington State, California, New York - 11 states now have “zero carbon” objectives that have gone through their legislative or executive office process so that we have mid-century or before goals to be carbon negative.

Robert Lundahl: Well, I know Ivanpah had problems with cooling at one point in the design, because I talked to Dr. Allan Hoffman, who had a good view of that, and, that project, as well as one of Warren Buffett's projects in the Mojave Desert wound up being, uh, “subsidized,” or “augmented” by fossil fuels, natural gas from Southwest Gas and Las Vegas and in the case of Ivanpah.

That's why I asked what went wrong there. So how does the public trust become “augmented” in this environment where there's uncertainty around technology, finance and other matters?

Dan Kammen: Yeah, well I think it's really the public reporting, the “kick the tires” aspect and Ivanpah, which was the first of these mega projects to go through, did have natural gas as part of the planning, you know, the ability to do, not fossil gas, but green gas, meaning gas from urban waste from Las Vegas and elsewhere is part of the opportunities there.

But this is a project now with more than a 10-year run and the cost of renewable has dropped sufficiently that you can now do this with air cooling not water cooling if you if you pick the solar thermal route like Ivanpah, but most groups now would probably pick solar photovoltaics, right, and storage just because their costs have come down so much. So these thousand megawatt, these giga-watt scale projects don't need to have that component built in.

The other part of the equation, which has changed and is waiting on Build Back Better on the national level, but not in California, is the electric vehicle demand for that power is now a really important driver. Because early on, the only off taking was what is the demand for energy in the big markets Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Fresno, et cetera, for the case of Ivanpah.

Now we have enough electric vehicles coming on-line. California has over a million electric vehicles. Norway is actually getting very close to no new sale of internal combustion.

California has said we will prohibit the sale of new combustion vehicles by 2035, and there's a real dialogue around moving that date forward, and interestingly enough, California a month ago, Governor Newsom announced a 10 billion dollar investment in electric vehicles.

What this means is not only cleaner transportation but it means a kind of ideal demand for any power which is not directly needed on the grid, which can now be essentially used to charge up those electric vehicles.

The worry was that you installed more and more solar, for example, and the marginal value, the marginal cost of that solar, drops and drops and drops during the day because our demand is met. You have to store it.

Well, now with aggressive electric vehicle programs, California now New York state we're seeing them being discussed in Massachusetts and elsewhere there are new markets, and those new markets can be for that clean energy, and so this is what I mean by there is now a significant demand base of states that are looking at clean energy as their “by 2050 or earlier,” California's 2045 - right now like to see that move forward a full decade.

There are now demands ramping up where clean energy is the thing that that really makes sense in that mix and so that makes the economic case for bigger clean energy projects, and it means that more private sector funding will hopefully crowd in for things like Ivanpah, but also for smaller ones.

We're seeing a whole new generation of 10, 20, 30 megawatt solar projects cropping up. There are farmers to put them on marginal lands. I was just looking at a series of trailer park, or low-income housing areas. They were using excess land to do grid tied solar, and so that base is operating. It is not moving fast enough, but this is the kind of growth in that clean energy economy that's going to be needed because there's no amount of public money that can finance the transition. This has to ultimately come from the private sector.

Robert Lundahl: I think there is some confusion in the in the permitting of those small to mid-level industrial projects. I guess that's the way to say it, the farmers field, the agricultural, leveraging of energy production to that environment, and there wasn't a category that maybe made it easy to receive permits. Is that still the case?

Dan Kammen: It's getting better, but there's a new challenge, and that is California is now having a hugely contentious debate around the so-called "net metering" rules. The Public Utilities Commission is looking quite seriously at basically adding tariffs to solar installers both residential and commercial.

The solar industry said this would dramatically slow new installations. Also, they would actually be applying this tariff retroactively to existing ones, and so this would be a real damper on the industry right at the time when you want to take it off and so that (the) “net metering” battle is ongoing.

It had a very public hearing a few weeks ago where there was, what, 10 hours of public testimony/hearing materials. The PUC, as a result, said they were going to put the decision “on hold.”

If you're an optimist you say, “Well that's a great step forward because they were going to likely pass it now." It's going to be sitting on hold.

If you're a pessimist you say, "well you put it on hold and then maybe you try to push it ahead at some time when there's less pressure," although I think that the public has been really sensitized that this just makes no sense to walk back solar standards.

Other states are looking at this battle in California as they figure out how to integrate solar, in trying to balance the need to make it so that residents and businesses that install solar can sell their excess into the grid, which both finances more but also makes this a resource that utilities plan out.

The utilities are concerned that the so-called “best customers” are “utility defective,” and they can be more and more independent and you know depending which state, which public access commission, which utility.

The stories vary, but that's a pretty consistent battle over solar that's going around the country, where utilities are not doing all they can to push it ahead and it's requiring, you know, public sentiment. It's requiring push by environmental groups.

I think the big lever would be if Build Back Better passes, then the funding for this at the federal level increases to the point that utilities around the country, even for states that don't have aggressive environmental laws right now, will see this as a job, as the job creator - not trying to hang on to the last of the fossil plans.

Robert Lundahl: Well, here's another business type question. So, are the financial interests of the utilities compatible with a renewable, distributed energy supply?

Dan Kammen: Well, they are if they get modern. In the sense that utilities are used to a very secure very traditional business model where they were paid handsomely for constructing plants, fossil or otherwise, as well as being the distribution company, transmission lines et cetera, exactly, but the new world of much more distributed energy and the utilities building some large-scale facilities.

Arguably some of these large solar and wind facilities, but also storage, where they're paid more like EBay is - they're paid on the transaction and if they're paid more on the transaction, then they don't have the incentives to push for more fossil projects they can really be the arbiter of a new clean grid.

Some utilities are likely to seize that model and kind of become agents of clean energy, others are actually likely to battle this to the end, and face I would say continuing and worsening issues on their balance sheet.

Utilities don't generally go bankrupt in the United States and stay there. We tend to bail them out because they're public services and there's a huge justice issue which we haven't got to yet but I suspect we will.

It's really going to be this question of which utilities step up their game and become enablers of not only clean electricity, but also clean consumption; moving away from natural gas in homes and businesses, induction cooking, heat pumps, and also to really recognizing that there's huge profits for them if they enable electrification of vehicles, essentially all of the revenue that goes to oil and gas companies is revenue that utilities could capture if they become agents of green not agents of greed. Robert Lundahl: Well it seemed there have been leaders in the field that have taken this stance, like the CEO at one point of what was it, NRG Texas. He was saying that the future of energy in the United States is not endless miles of wooden sticks, aka telephone poles.

Dan Kammen: Yeah, I mean I would say the ability to install not only large amounts of distributed renewables and storage, but the ability to build it into our built environment, you know every time you fly into a city and you see the kind of semi-endless big box stores... question one should be "why doesn't every single one of those have solar on it?"

Because even in cloudy parts of the country, solar is now so inexpensive that building integrated solar, building integrated energy storage, turning roadways into solar as we're seeing in some parts of the world, the first pilots are going in now in Europe, United States, and in Korea.

There's induction charging so if you, for example, are a business -you're running a taxi cab company you don't need to pull cabs out of work to recharge those. They can recharge around these induction strips on the roads, and you put those in of course where the roads get the most traffic from public vehicles.

There is an electrified clean energy world that has more jobs, and lower prices of energy. Then all of these savings because air quality gets better because we can now amortize buildings, notably public buildings, public housing projects where you can really build your energy infrastructure into the urban and rural areas and that's, you know, that's the excitement.

And we're seeing nibbles like NRG, we're not seeing a whole lot of utilities, kind of you know, go whole hog - and that needs this next push - that's where Build Back Better or whatever or replace that.

Robert Lundahl: I was going to ask you about the CEC, California Energy Commission, and the PUC, and the other the other players that set rates and regulations and so forth. So they have to get behind this, that's what you're saying right?

Dan Kammen: They do, I mean some are. California is a bit of a unique case because it has three bodies that work together, so the California Air Resources Board essentially devises the climate plan in California.

The climate plan currently calls for us to be carbon neutral by 2045. Again I'm hopeful there'll be legislation soon to move that forward - maybe by as much as a full decade - not giving us you know a whole lot of time to make a massive change, but that Air Resources Board sets the high level policy, invests in some research, invests in pilots, and the California Energy Commission examines how to scale up those projects, and how to work around programs to do public access, electric vehicle charging, siting issues around many of these clean energy projects, and then the Public Utilities Commission is the one that's the most standard across states.

The PUC works out the financial part of that and so it's in front of the PUC that this battle over “net metering” is taking place today. But what what's going on in California - it's now pretty heartening to me to see again these 11 other states that have very similar requirements in place.

New York and California alone are almost 40% of the of the national economic output and they're both very aligned on not only clean energy but a social and racial justice aspect, so-called the just energy transition or environmental justice.

Spending in California requires 35% or more of the revenues from our cap and trade goes there. The Biden administration has done us one better: they've said that 40 percent of federal spending in this area needs to go for justice projects, meaning energy infrastructure projects that preferentially target fence-line communities, communities of color, those that are in environmental non-attainment areas. So there's a real push to utilize the energy transition to do something we haven't done in the social front.

And so to my mind, that intellectual alignment is really critical because it allows you to recognize that those communities that have been left out of the efforts to put in rooftop solar, to get electric vehicle charging - all these things - are now targeted for the front line of these efforts.

Robert Lundahl: Let me ask you a question that I may have difficult formulating because I had done quite a bit of research on this a few years ago but I'm finding that I don't remember everything, so with “net metering” in the common consumer environment it allows a household to sell back something like 106% - it's slightly over 100 but it's not really like you can monetize this significantly, right, so if you're a small farmer if you're going in at a higher level if you're producing more power on your land is there really a reason or is there a limitation on that, at all, of your ability to sell energy, so if you could produce 20 kilowatts on your land, could you sell it and make the profit?

Dan Kammen: Yeah, so these are - this is kind of where the jumble of regulation gets complicated, and needlessly so if we were designing from a blank sheet, but not surprisingly so given that we evolved to get here - and so the “net metering” battle is really about the smaller rooftop units be they small commercial or residential and getting “net metering” in place even if it doesn't allow you to kind of build huge systems is not really a big challenge for example.

On my roof um when I did my first solar installation 15 years ago I put in three kilowatts and, that didn't quite meet all of the needs in my home. I had two young and then teenage daughters at home.

In the last year we've replaced that with a system that's twice as large so almost six kilowatts, and we installed storage, so we can now be a useful supplier to the utilities if they can get out of their own way and permit this in a simpler way.

Kind of like in Germany, where the bureaucracy is actually quite low to make my home or a similar system on the roof of a 7-11 store or something, make that a commercial vendor - that's where that 106 comes in and that 106 probably higher maybe 120 or something but that's really different than the story for farmers and more rural land holders where you're absolutely right.

Robert Lundahl: Can a tribe fund their health care for example?

Dan Kammen: Tribes are in their own particular bucket because they go through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It's a bit of a different loop. There are some tribes that have done it.

On the Navajo reservation, for example, they recently in a very contested process, voted to close the coalmine and the coal-fired power plant. That got some federal funding.

It also got tribal funding that's got some Indian Gaming funding and they have put in a much smaller solar system, but they're also investing in distributed solar because the Navajo for example have up to 15,000 people living without electricity to this day.

And so, distributed off-grid is part of that story and there are really impressive groups like Native Renewables, a Navajo owned company that is one of the big installers, so that's one category, but the other one you mentioned is I think one of the most exciting.

That is that municipalities and farms could become sites of clean energy generation, so we already have significant scale projects called agro-voltaics, integrating solar into agriculture, but also on areas of unused land or marginally used land you can install solar.

We're now seeing that there are clear solar panels, there are transparent solar panels, solar can be used as shading, there's a whole variety or different ecosystems where you can integrate in crops and solar and of course crops and wind are an easy combination for places where wind works so those get permitted differently those typically get permitted as if the farm or the municipality is itself a power plant and so there is a process for them.

What we really need is to get the utilities being proactive to reach out to those groups to say you know this is a way to not just augment your income but as we've seen now in parts of Texas in Iowa, there are farmers that now make more from energy sales than the crop sales on those same parcels of land.

And so the low cost of renewables has opened up a whole other revenue stream. We just need to push it much more aggressively.

Robert Lundahl: Are you worried about the carbon footprint of the supply of PV panels coming from China and elsewhere when we're talking about “green” projects, quote unquote, but then we’re anything but green in our manufacturing and shipping?

Dan Kammen: Well, I'm actually more worried about the human rights side of those projects. The carbon footprint of renewable projects is one that is only going to go down in the sense of the more energy we put on the grid that is a self-renewable.

We essentially get to a world where industrial processes are being powered more and more with green energy. and the rise of “green” hydrogen or ammonia, allows one to store energy and make it available kind of industrial scales and so that's a process where the more renewables you get, you have a positive feedback loop going on.

But I am worried and so I am concerned, but I see a successful path there. Where I am concerned is that we've seen, very clearly, human rights violations in solar manufacturing with what amounts essentially to slave or forced labor, with various violations in Western China or around Western China right now.

It's a feature everywhere, so one of the big challenges that we are, I would say, not grappling with on the global scale is what COVID has kind of revealed and that is no surprise.

Workers worldwide are exceedingly dissatisfied with the massive pay imbalance between blue collar, white collar, and the ultra rich.

Every time we look at the Gini coefficients, the inequality of income around the planet, we see more and more clear data that while technology is driving a lot of these energy changes the, you know, the masters of the tech world, the giga-billionaires out there, are operating in a way that is not promoting more social equity.

That's... you'd like to blame the individuals but that's really a social policy decision by not having capital gains taxes and things that really return a much larger fraction of the wealth of billionaires back into the economy to be reinvested in public transit, in high quality housing - those are critical areas, and very few governments are taking that on seriously, yet.

Robert Lundahl: Well, we were talking about energy and equity, as you mentioned, and there are many examples - so it seems like within the energy industry and its environs there are equity issues almost everywhere.

And you mentioned the, I think, the power plant in San Francisco that was shut down, the PGE plant at Hunter's Point and yeah, I worked with those people, that crew, activists etc., and then they became involved in the Kesterton Sink and the chemical pollution there.

There are a lot of problems in California and a lot of reasons why marginalized communities get the brunt, and we mentioned that too with Alaska. If you live on the coast, if you live in Quinhagak, Alaska, your permafrost is melting, your sea ice is melting, so you can't get out there and hunt whale or walrus. You don't have sanitation so you use a honey bucket, you dump that honey bucket in the lagoon near where you fish.

Dan Kammen: Yep - I mean this is the, you know, these abuses have been there for a long time. Climate change is making them worse. But the under investment in the front line, most marginalized communities, I would say is the biggest thing making them worse and so over the last couple years the new sort of marriage of climate justice and gender, racial, social, economic justice is, I would say, the biggest change in the clean energy field.

So, Fridays for the Future, the Greta Thunberg effect, Extinction Rebellion, these are all efforts to highlight how not only have we built so much of our global infrastructure on the backs of poor people, but also they are the group that doesn't get any of the benefits of the new technology waves.

And so when you hear discussions about, like in California, with the push for electric vehicles it's a very clear component that not only do we need to push for that for the climate but we need to do it in a way so that charging is available to low-income individuals, vehicles are available either for purchase or lease at or below cost.

These are the opportunities to use the climate crisis as a way to address the social one and that is in its infancy.

New York and California, United States now have what I would consider very progressive policies in this area. South Africa is working on their own version right now as part of their energy transition, but we're under armed, and we've been quite frankly irresponsible.

I mean this has been a known feature for decades - people like Robert Bullard in the United States, and many others internationally have highlighted this injustice.

It hasn't gotten until the last half a decade, at most, the attention it deserves and so there are a lot of groups that are thankfully racing to develop the data to document this.

But we're way behind on the policy and investment mechanisms to actually address it; how do you make public housing better, how do you solarize it from the beginning? Groups like Grid Alternatives in California are the leading edge of making energy efficiency and solar part of the build process for low-income housing.

Public transit is another area where we need to invest to make these communities more accessible not less and that's just not been our history. So we have a lot of work to do on making all this happen.

Robert Lundahl: Well, I attended the first Earth Day event at Caltech. And I saw solar panels for the first time there, and I saw people building geodesic domes out of plywood, you know to bring back an era, and...

Dan Kammen: ...Sounds like that might have been the ‘70s then.

Robert Lundahl: ...yeah 1970. That was the first year. I was very impressed. I was 15 or 16-years-old and thought, this is the future. Energy is free it comes from the sun.

So all these things that we've discussed are energy is free it comes from the sun but other players are involved, other social priorities are involved, other methods of accounting are involved, other geopolitical forces are involved, so I kind of added a couple of questions for you, like:

  • What surprised you the most following this whole trajectory of what we've done with energy, and how we've thought about energy, and also our, you know, pollutants and our processes that can be wise for the planet or not?
  • What surprised you, and how would you just categorize having watched this evolution or this change?

Dan Kammen: Well I mean, I think that a couple things, one is that for a long time the clean energy sustainability crowd and the business economics crowds were really at odds. There was very little what we now call environmental economics going on.

And so a lot of well-meaning technical efforts were really naive in terms of what it would take to deploy and to scale, and that divide is finally closing.

There are lots of interesting examples. One is certainly that on January 21st of 2021, the first full day in office, President Biden signed an Executive Order calling for the federal government to use a social cost of carbon for all projects, and social cost of carbon is a process, not a number, but that number as currently assessed is significantly higher than the market price of carbon emissions anywhere in the United States.

California is about 22 in our cap and trade market. It’s lower in the New England Mid-Atlantic states, but the social cost of carbon is in the 50 or higher range; the battle is now getting this into effect.

Robert Lundahl: So where did Germany go with that; what's Germany's number on that?

Dan Kammen: So Germany doesn't use the social cost of carbon yet, the US proposed it, first under Biden. Germany is part of the European Exchange, called the ETS, the Emissions Trading Scheme and that price of carbon is just about 30 US dollars a ton, so they are using a metric in the market, but not one that reflects social and racial justice, and that's really what the social cost is supposed to do.

I would say one of the big features for me beyond this kind of new marriage of climate emergency and the social racial justice emergency is getting the technologists and the economists to now see much more eye-to-eye in terms of what are the opportunities here. That said, no one's moving fast enough.

The number of countries that are on pace to achieve their Paris climate goals are very few. They're generally small countries. Most people would be surprised it's not Denmark, it's not Germany, it's actually the Gambia and Morocco and others that are doing enough to transition their economy.

So there's a long way to go, but the toolkit is hugely better than it was on Earth Day, right?

Solar and wind have gone from the most expensive of all the technologies we talked about to now being the one that defines the lowest cost, and lower than fossil fuels. So if we can get rid of those fossil fuel subsidies, if we can see the kind of infusion of spending that Build Back Better would do in the United States the Europeans are working on their own kind of these stimulus packages.

The toolkit is there. We're just on a pace right now where when we get this done it'll be decades too late.

We need to add zeros to the amount of funding in this area knowing it's going to produce more jobs more economic activity, and we need to get many more of the players that are still basically the recipients of those fossil fuel subsidies to see there's a much brighter future for them on the clean energy side.

Robert Lundahl: We talked about Australia and coal, and maybe getting in the way of meeting goals you know for Australia in that regard, but you know here in the United States we have Joe Manchin, you know, from the coal state of West Virginia - and what do we really know about the opposition there?

Why do you believe that's occurring? Is the coal industry that strong, or is Joe Manchin just going off on his own recognizance and making whatever deal he can make?

Dan Kammen: As it's been reported, two things: one is that the Coal Miners Association in West Virginia have called on Senator Manchin to embrace Build Back Better because it represents not only jobs in the new clean energy industry but there are significant funds built in for people involved in the mining and coal sectors to have transition pathways etc., so I think this is much more a generational and an elites question than it is one of certain states.

As it's also been reported, the Manchin family is highly involved in the coal industry. So one shouldn't be too surprised that there's opposition there to this transition, the broader story is that while we normally think about this as a Democrat Republican battle and so we're kind of surprised when a senator from West Virginia or Arizona sides against clean energy.

And second, the bigger story I would say is that the states where the benefits of clean energy will really be large, are states that have really good assets in terms of this and so a whole number of what are called “red states” in the Midwest are incredibly well endowed with wind resources, the opportunities to build economies that employ more people than are employed today.

Many of our agricultural states would benefit greatly if we switched, for example, from diesel to solar water pumping, in terms of pollution, in terms of the demand centers, and so there's a whole series of things where, you know, we think in red/blue politics, but really jobs politics is the one that both sides would do much better to exploit and that's one that falls very strongly towards renewables both energy generation, energy efficiency, energy storage, are all big job creators if we scale them up in the way that we need to on the climate side.

Robert Lundahl: Well, there were complaints under the Obama green jobs program that there were communities that were being impacted negatively by the placement of renewables nearby, and not given adequate opportunity to consult, and these kinds of things.

So what assurances do we have under Biden and Build Back Better that the economic, the environmental justice areas that are so important will be managed better?

Dan Kammen: That's absolutely right. And we also have predatory lending trying to get people who couldn't afford it early on to purchase solar. There's all there's a litany of things done wrong in this regard. There's no single solution to that but there are some really promising things that have developed. Right now at the Department of Energy we have a very important new Office of Equity and Workforce Inclusivity.

It is now a Senate confirmed position to be head of that office. It's run by an environmental lawyer right now, Shalonda Baker. It's an office that is designed to look at federal investment, be it in solar projects, inciting electric vehicle efforts, and so at the federal level we have that. Within the office in the Department of Justice there is also a similar office focused on environmental justice infractions.

And increasing numbers of state programs - we've mentioned California and New York have justice written in explicitly to their portfolios.

There’s unfortunately no simple solution for the problem you're highlighting, but these are a new generation, if you will, of oversight groups focusing specifically on this topic.

Now I am quite optimistic that as the mixture of learning about how we misplaced solar programs in the past, how we gave utilities funds to do energy efficiency based on dollars spent, not on actual energy efficiency, how the new programs to site electric vehicle charging to specifically benefit people who are renters, and not just land owners - there's a there's a range of these in place.

But you know, unfortunately we seem to be pretty creative at doing things unjustly, right?

So one of the aspects of the story is that this is going to have to be an area of constant vigilance - not just because it's renewables, but just because if this is the next growth part of the economy, we as humans have a history of doing these things unfairly, not because they're renewables but because we reward private sector gain.

Robert Lundahl: Well, you know it's just interesting to hear you say that it's generational because that's what I was getting to with my first Earth Day story. So there's the 15-year-old kid looking at a future, looking at what am I going to do with my life, looking at what interests me, how we're changing, evolving, we've just come out of the Vietnam war, (then we entered) the oil crisis, Amory Lovins working with Jimmy Carter and Dr. Allan Hoffman and others.

And there was a future, you know, pretty exciting future on the path headed toward us.

And THEN we saw, well you know, Reagan came in and tore the panels off the White House roof and ARCO got into solar, you know ostensibly on the idea that well, we've got all these remote oil production facilities we can power them with solar and save some money. But you know they were probably trying to gain control over some aspects of the market and things like that, too, so I think it is generational. It's my generation, and my generation cares about this.

Dan Kammen: ...and that's what you want to hear from your generation too, you know well. My generation has done a pretty poor job at that seizing the technological revolution in clean energy and making it the ubiquitous technology.

The younger generation is rightly and very, very angry at us - that's why this variety of “for the future” protests are happening, because they see us as armed with more than enough data to know how damaging climate change is and to and more than enough data to see the huge socio-economic inequalities and not to see us making this job one, and the need to do so is acute on multiple levels.

But at the same time we are seeing... I would say it's taken many decades too long but we are seeing now a different landscape whether we're going to do enough quickly enough, we'll see, but the clean energy economy, for example, now employs more people in just the solar field in California than in our in our three traditional utilities.

California initially set a goal for a million solar rooftops and was told that's impossible blew past that ahead of schedule. California then set a goal for a million electric vehicles, said that was impossible, met that just sort of like a year late but met it.

Now the question is, do we push in a similar way so that heavy industry is now also powered by clean energy - and those are those are the steps needed to really decarbonizes, not only our economy but to spread it and so I think that that's hugely disappointing that we didn't take more advantage of the innovations we've built but you know, we're poised to do it.

And when I look at young people today who are really fed up with not having done so, that's one of the more hopeful aspects of the story whether the angle is the convenience of clean vehicles, the fact that it's dramatically cheaper to drive an electric vehicle than a gas-powered vehicle.

The recognition that while many of us thought the era of robber barons and the super rich was something of the, you know, the Rockefellers and the Gettys, and the early generation, well we're seeing the same thing now. So the social inequality aspect of our current society is one, but I also hope drives much more of a push for clean energy before it's too late, and we're really pushing the boundaries of what too late means.

Robert Lundahl: So is that your surprise that it took so long?

Dan Kammen: No. As a scientist I'm always surprised that when it feels like we have far better technology and policy, that we still move really slow.

I guess I'm surprised in, with kind of a an innovation hat, but I'm definitely not surprised when you look at, kind of, how society works and how so much of the decision making sits in the hands of those that got rich off of the old economy, and so little of that power is in the people who are building the new economy.

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Dan Kammen PhD, Nobel Laureate, Lead Author IPCC, United Nations and U. C. Berkeley Physicist, well traveled via the World Bank, United States Department of State, and USAID.
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sts July 10, 2022 3:13 pm (Pacific time)

the alt news websites i visit tell a different story..or should I say, more of the story

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