By Bill McKibben
The knock on environmentalists is that they’ve been better at opposing than proposing. Sure, being against overheating the planet or melting the ice caps should probably speak for itself—but it doesn’t give us a means. So it’s important news that the environmental movement seems to be rallying round a new flag. That standard bears a number: 100 percent.
It’s the call for the rapid conversion of energy systems around the country to 100 percent renewable power—a call for running the United States (and the world) on sun, wind and water. What Medicare for All is to the healthcare debate, or Fight for $15 is to the battle against inequality, 100% Renewable is to the struggle for the planet’s future. It’s how progressives will think about energy going forward—and though it started in northern Europe and Northern California, it’s a call that’s gaining traction outside the obvious green enclaves. In the last few months, cities as diverse as Atlanta and Salt Lake have taken the pledge.
No more half-measures. Barack Obama drove environmentalists crazy with his “all-of-the-above” energy policy, which treated sun and wind as two items on a menu that included coal, gas and oil. That is not good enough. Many scientists tell us that within a decade, at current rates, we’ll likely have put enough carbon in the atmosphere to warm the Earth past the Paris climate targets. Renewables—even the most rapid transition—won’t stop climate change, but getting off fossil fuel now might (there are no longer any guarantees) keep us from the level of damage that would shake civilization.
In any event, we no longer need to go slow: In the last few years, engineers have brought the price of renewables so low that, according to many experts, it would make economic sense to switch over even if fossil fuels weren’t wrecking the Earth. That’s why the appeal of 100% Renewable goes beyond the Left. If you pay a power bill, it’s the common-sense path forward.
Environmental groups from the Climate Mobilization to Greenpeace to Food and Water Watch are backing the 100 percent target, differing mainly on how quickly we must achieve the transition, with answers ranging from one decade to around three. The right answer, given the state of the planet, is 25 years ago. The second best: as fast as is humanly possible. That means, at least in part, as fast as government can help make it happen. The market will make the transition naturally over time (free sunlight and wind is a hard proposition to beat), but time is the one thing we haven’t got, so subsidies, hard targets and money to help spread the revolution to the poorest parts of the world are all crucial.