Draft GPUS Platform Amendment Energy
Section Title: Energy Section Subtitle: Energy for a safe climate and a cleaner world (change to: Energy for a Healthy Planet)
Our Position The Green Party advocates a rapid reduction in energy consumption via implementation of national energy efficiency standards, and a decisive transition away from fossil and nuclear power toward cleaner, renewable, local energy sources.
With five percent of the world's population, U.S residents consume twenty-six percent of the world's energy. U.S. consumption of electricity is almost nine times greater than the average for the rest of the world. These are not sustainable levels.
The United States has a high energy consumption economy based on fossil energy. Fossil energy is extremely harmful to the local and global environment and communities, and is finite. Our infrastructure is designed for, and utterly dependent on, plentiful oil, coal, and natural gas. We have built an extensive network of highways and airports used by great numbers of cars, trucks and airplanes. Our shopping malls are filled with imported products. Our food system uses fossil fuels for mechanized production, fertilizer and biocides. We then transport food ever further distances to giant supermarkets accessed almost exclusively by private automobiles. Most of our homes are heated with fossil fuels and we have built countless car-dependent neighborhoods. Our electric grid system depends on fossil fuels for two-thirds of its energy.
Dirty and dangerous energy sources have generated an unparalleled assault on the environment and human rights in many nations. In the U.S., low income communities and communities of color bear the greatest burden of health impacts due to exposure to emissions from coal and gas-fired power plants. Native American communities have been devastated by uranium mining, and the poor of Appalachia witness helplessly as their ancient mountains are destroyed for a few years’ worth of coal-fired electricity. Regional and global peaks in supply are driving up costs of conventional fuels and threatening wars and social chaos
Fossil Fuels are Finite
Oil extraction rates from any oil field or country are known to follow a bell curve. U.S. oil production peaked in 1970 and has been in steady decline ever since. It is a bell-shaped graph. For the entire history of petroleum extraction, the world has cumulatively experienced the growing side of the bell, which has translated into an expanding global economy. Many petroleum industry experts predict the global peaking of the curve within the coming decade, with permanently declining extraction rates to follow. The International Energy Agency warns that “the era of cheap oil is over, the time to act is now.” Coal and natural gas also follow bell curves in terms of extraction rates. Although coal is more abundant than oil, it is inherently dirtier than oil, is limited in terms of its use as a vehicle fuel, and demand is skyrocketing globally for use in electricity generation. Natural Gas, a fossil fuel, is also in high demand for power production and is ultimately finite. All of these energy sources are associated with extraction, transportation, processing and refining practices that are extremely hazardous to human health, the environment, and communities throughout the globe.
Since 1859 when the first commercial oil well was drilled in Pennsylvania, the global community has consumed about half what nature generated over hundreds of millions of years. As far as petroleum goes, we have picked the low-hanging fruit. We must plan and prepare for the end of fossil fuels now, while we still have energy available to build the cleaner, more sustainable energy infrastructure that we will soon need, based on true primary sources of energy such as the sun.
Catastrophic Climate Change
Burning fossil fuel releases enormous quantities ancient carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that are changing the global climate, and thus reducing the survival prospects of future generations. If humanity and other species are to avoid catastrophic climate change, we must begin reducing fossil carbon dioxide emissions immediately, and bring them virtually to zero before mid-century. (See separate section on Climate Change.)
Simple Substitution Won’t Work
To simply substitute better energy sources in place of fossil fuels is not the answer for two main reasons. First, there are no energy sources (renewable or otherwise) capable of supplying energy as cheaply and in such abundance as fossil fuels currently yield in the time that we need them to come online. Second, we have designed and built the infrastructure of our transport, electricity, and food systems – as well as our national building stock – to suit the unique characteristics of oil, natural gas, and coal. Changing to different energy sources will require the redesign of many aspects of those systems.
The energy transition cannot be accomplished with a minor retrofit of existing energy infrastructure. Just as our fossil fuel economy differs from the agrarian economy of 1800, the post-fossil fuel economy of 2050 will be profoundly different from all that we are familiar with now. The differences will be in urban design and land use patterns, food systems, manufacturing and distribution networks, the job market, transportation systems, health care, tourism, and more.
It can be argued that these changes will occur if we wait for the market price of fossil fuels to reflect scarcity with higher costs forcing society to adapt. However, at least a decade of lead time is required for any kind of orderly transition to a new energy paradigm. Lack of government planning will result in a transition that is chaotic, painful, destructive, and possibly unsurvivable. We need to reduce our energy consumption and restructure our economy to run primarily on renewable energy.
THE GREEN PARTY SOLUTIONS
The Green Party calls on the United States to:
1. Encourage Conservation and a Significant Decrease in our Energy Consumption, Institute National Energy Efficiency Standards.
The U.S. must retrofit its building stock for energy efficiency. Most U.S. residents live in homes that require heat during the winter, and most are inadequately insulated. Buildings in the South require air conditioning during the summer. Fuel shortages, power outages, and energy price hikes could bring not just discomfort, but a massive increase in mortality from cold and heat. Millions of buildings can and must be super-insulated and, as much as possible, provided with alternative heat sources (passive solar, geothermal, or district heating).
In California, the energy efficiency standards adopted in the late 1970s have resulted in overall electricity-use remaining flat over the past three decades while the population has steadily increased. During the same time period electricity use in the rest of the U.S. has climbed along with population growth. Energy efficiency standards similar to those in California must be adopted nationally. This is the easiest, quickest and most empirically-proven means of speedily reducing the need for fossil and nuclear energy.
Moving toward a more sustainable energy future will mean much more than just replacing existing fossil fuels with renewable energy, it will mean a concerted effort to increase efficiency and reduce waste in every sector of our economy. There are many different ways to increase energy efficiency and the best path for one region of the country might differ from that of another. Transportation, electrical and food systems should be carefully planned to maximize efficiency. Technologies exist that, if widely implemented, can result in huge energy savings. For example, cogeneration and use of waste heat to generate electricity should be encouraged to maximize useful energy, however it is generated. We must greatly increase our efforts at conservation now before tight energy markets drive up prices and force a much more painful adjustment. A carbon tax, which the Green Party supports, would serve as an important market incentive to increase efficiency.
2. Move Decisively to an Energy System Based on Solar, Wind, Geo-Thermal, Marine, and other Cleaner Renewable Energy Sources.
The development of Earth-gentle, sustainable energy sources must be a cornerstone of any plan to reduce our national reliance on conventional fossil fuels and build a sustainable future. Many “alternatives” being pushed by policy-makers, including nuclear power, coal, industrial-scale biofuels, and low-grade fossil fuels such as oil shale and tar sands, suffer from serious drawbacks, including low energy profit ratios, high environmental impacts, or a limited resource base. In short, they tend to create more problems than they solve.
The Green Party advocates clean renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, marine-based, and other cleaner renewable sources as the long-term solution. However, further research with increased government support is needed into new energy storage technologies, as well as new cheaper and non-toxic photovoltaic materials and processes, and new geothermal and ocean power technologies. Policy tools to directly support the development of renewable energy sources, such as Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) and Feed-in Tariffs, should also be reviewed for effectiveness. In general, a feed-in tariff is legislation enacted by the government that requires the large electric utilities to guarantee a price for the renewably-generated electricity fed into the grid. When done right, such as in Germany, this policy is proven to succeed in harnessing entrepreneurial zeal toward the clean energy transition.
State-level financing policies like California’s AB 811 can help homeowners install expensive renewable energy where the county pays the up-front cost and the system is eventually paid for by the homeowner via an adjustment on the homeowner’s property taxes. Greens support efforts of individuals and institutions to voluntarily purchase wind and solar power products through tradable renewable energy certificates. However, voluntary approaches are not sufficient to fully replace current energy supplies with clean energy. Greens support research into advanced fuels, such as non-fossil/nuclear-based hydrogen, when the purpose of the research is to develop a fuel that in its full cycle does not create more problems than it solves.
3. End the Use of Dirty and Dangerous Energy Sources.
The Green Party advocates the phase-out of nuclear and coal power plants. All processes associated with nuclear power are dangerous, from the mining of uranium to the transportation and disposal of the radioactive waste. Radioactive waste can remain hazardous for thousands of years and there is no way to isolate it from the biosphere for the durations of its toxic life. The generation of nuclear waste must be halted. The enormous and long-lasting health and environmental dangers alone make nuclear power unfeasible. Cost is another huge factor, with each new nuclear power plant expected to cost billions dollars.
The Green Party calls for a formal moratorium on the construction of new nuclear power plants, the early retirement of existing nuclear power reactors, and the phase-out of technologies that use or produce nuclear waste, such as nuclear waste incinerators, food irradiators, and all commercial and military uses of depleted uranium. Greens advocate terminating public subsidies or bailouts for nuclear power.
Coal is the largest contributor to climate change with estimates as high as 80%. With limited supplies, and in the absence of commercially viable “clean coal” carbon sequestration, which is many decades away, coal is neither an economically or environmentally sustainable solution. The Green Party calls for a ban mountaintop removal coal mining.
Greens call for the cessation of development of fuels produced with polluting, energy-intensive processes or from unsustainable or toxic feedstocks, such as genetically-engineered crops, coal and waste streams contaminated with persistent toxics. We support community-scale renewable and biofuels fuel production programs that recover otherwise wasted biomass or utilize clean primary energy sources such as wind and solar.
4. Plan for Decentralized, Bio-Regional Electricity Generation and Distribution.
Regional utilities are beginning to invest in renewables and “smart grid” upgrades, but the work is going much too slowly and economic realities can slow the process. The federal government must step in to set goals and standards and to provide public investment capital. This effort must not favor commercial utilities over municipal power districts. Decentralized power systems are likely to be more resilient in the face of power disruptions and will cut transmission losses, assure citizens greater control of their power grids, and prevent the massive ecological and social destruction that accompanies production of electricity in mega-scale projects.
The Green Party opposes deregulation of the electric industry and is a strong supporter of public power. Publicly owned electric utilities afford greater accountability than investor-owned private utilities, offer power at rates that is consistently less expensive on average across the nation than private utilities, and are better able to respond to ratepayer demands for accelerated investments in renewable energy due to the fact that the profit demands of shareholders are non-existent in public utilities.
5. De-Carbonize and Re-Localize the Food System
Our national industrial food system produces cheap, abundant food using minimal human labor. However, it is overwhelmingly dependent upon oil and natural gas for farm-equipment fuel, fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, and the transport of farm inputs and outputs. The current food system is responsible for over 12% of all greenhouse gases from human activities in the U.S. This situation is unsustainable. New farming methods, new farmers, and a re-localization of production and distribution are all needed. These in turn will require land reform, an investment in revitalizing rural America, support for new farmers and the creation of local food processing plants and storage centers. Laws and incentives affecting the food system (including food safety laws and farm subsidies) will need to be rewritten to provide preferential support for small-scale, local, low-input producers.
6. Electrify the Transportation System
Our enormous investment in highways, airports, cars, buses, trucks, and aircraft is almost completely dependent on oil, and it will be significantly handicapped by higher fuel prices, and devastated by actual fuel shortages. The electrification of road-based vehicles will require at least two decades to fully deploy. Meanwhile, road repair and tire manufacturing will continue to depend upon petroleum products, unless alternative materials can be found.
Even if electrified, personal vehicular transportation (the automobile) is inherently more energy intensive compared to public transit and non-motorized alternatives. The building and widening of highways must come to a halt, and the bulk of federal transportation funding must be transferred to support mass transit, electrification, and non-motorized infrastructure and services. Meanwhile, existing private automobiles must be put to use more efficiently through carpooling, car-sharing, and ride-sharing networks.
CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards must be substantially increased and we must revitalize and expand rail transport. (See Transportation section for more on CAFE standards)
Jet air travel is extremely fuel intensive and the most damaging of all per passenger mile traveled to the global climate. While some air travel is likely to persist well into the transition, its cost will rise and the airline industry will contract. The Green Party supports the development of a national high-speed rail system between major cities of the U.S.
7. Requirements for Energy Transition
Investment: Enormous amounts of investment capital will be needed to accomplish the energy transition. The promise of $150 billion to be spent on renewable energy over the next ten ears is a welcome beginning, but it is a mere fraction of what is needed to fund the entire transition program. Much of the needed investment can eventually come from the private sector, but since the private sector is currently contracting economically this puts the onus back on government.
Coordination: The energy transition will be complex and comprehensive, and its various strategies will be mutually impacting. For example, efforts to redirect transport away from highways and toward rail service will need to be coordinated with manufacturers, farmers, retailers, and employers. An Energy Transition Office, tied to no existing agency, should be specifically tasked with tracking and managing the transition and with helping existing agencies work together toward the common goal.
Policy: Worldwide, there has already been much discussion of, and some experimentation with, policies to discourage fossil fuel use and encourage the transition to renewable energy sources (For more, see section on Climate Change).
Education: The energy transition will create many millions of new jobs, which will require new skill sets. Community colleges could play a central role in preparing workers for new opportunities in sustainable food production, renewable energy installation, grid rebuilding, rail expansion, public transport construction, and home energy retrofitting. Teacher training and curriculum development on a grand scale will be needed. Grade school curriculum should be reoriented beginning with gardening programs in all schools and increased emphasis on topics related to energy and conservation.
Public Messaging & Goal Setting: Our leaders need to instill in the nation a sense of collective struggle and of a long journey toward a clear goal. The success of a project of this scope will require public buy-in at every stage and level, and this in turn will depend upon the use of language and images to continually underscore what is at stake, to focus attention on immediate and long-range goals, and to foster a spirit of cooperation and willing sacrifice.
As in the New Deal and World War II, business leaders, advertising agencies and even Hollywood must be enlisted in the effort. This should be seen as a quid pro quo for the Federal government’s enormous efforts to salvage the economy by bailing out banks and corporations. Tax breaks could be offered to groups that develop personal action teams. Grassroots initiatives, such as the Transition Towns movement, could lead the way toward voluntary community efforts to end fossil fuel dependency. A sophisticated, interactive, web-based program would inspire individual and group action by providing tools and resources. Ratepayers should get full disclosure of the specific electric generating facilities used to produce their electricity.
A series of challenging yet feasible annual and four-year targets should be set at the beginning of the transition process, with the ultimate goal – complete freedom from fossil fuel dependency – to be achieved by 2050. The federal government should take the lead by setting targets for all federal buildings, departments, and employees. Achievement of annual targets should be cause for public celebration, mutual congratulation, and a refocusing of effort on the long-term goal.