An Elegant Solution to an Inconvenient Truth

by Eric Grunebaum

Two headlines with nearly opposite impact landed in my mailbox last week and it caused me to reflect back on BASG’s En-ROADS Climate Interactive demonstration event in early June.

The first was from Environmental Defense Fund’s newsletter, titled “A New Action Plan to Stabilize the Climate and Avert Catastrophe.”

Catastrophe. That word hits hard.

The headline for the second one: “The US could shift to 90-percent renewable energy by 2035 at no extra cost: A new report shows dramatic benefits for the environment, economy, and public health.”

Wait, we can shift almost all of our energy systems in 10 years with no extra cost? Why on this good green earth are we waiting?

And another in a similar vein: “Solar’s Future is Insanely Cheap.”  This is not hyperbole when solar contracts are being signed at one-and-half cents per kilowatt hour.

So where are we? Are we on the brink of catastrophe or at the edge of a massive revolution in how we make energy? The answer of course is both and it was beautifully demonstrated that evening by a tour of the elegant, multidimensional modeling tool called En-ROADS that springs out of the MIT Sloan Business School’s Sustainability Initiative and is now operated by Climate Interactive, an independent, not-for-profit think-tank.

As Climate Interactive puts it, “based on a long tradition of system dynamics modeling, our simulations and insights help people see connections, play out scenarios, and see what works to address climate change, inequity, and related issues like energy, health, and food.”

En-ROADS stands for “Energy Rapid Overview and Decision-Support” – invented at an institution filled with brilliant people, but actually it’s very easy to use and helps us to understand which levers we must move to solve the climate challenge. And it’s a lot of levers, far beyond energy systems, digging deep into agriculture, transportation systems, afforestation (planting a trillion trees!), carbon pricing and the pace of breakthrough technology development among other areas.

There are many levers to push and pull in order to get the climate back to a stable place and En-ROADS is a great, interactive way to see the impacts of different policy choices on emissions and global temperature. It’s a supberb way to have better conversations and understand what it will take to bend that other curve – of global temperature – that cannot wait for our full attention.

Best of all, it’s free and open to the public. If you’d like to get a quick tour, you can do no better than to watch the recording of the June 2nd BASG which was expertly guided by the upbeat Curt Newton with support from Karin Blandel, Jillian James, Geoff Berg, and Skuk Jones.

As Holly, my fellow BASG organizer said, “there is no need for decision paralysis – we need to do everything and we need to do it now. Just choose a lane and go!” And do it now. And as Curt put it, “you gotta plant a lot of seeds in the garden to grow it!”

And change we can. Tilly Pick, another BASG organizer, was wowed by Curt’s slide on the history of social movements and just how quickly things can change. Often it’s very slowly for decades and then with breathtaking speed. As the Nelson Mandela quote goes, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

And if you need more evidence than Mandela, just treat yourself to one of these optimistic articles on my favorite area, clean energy, from recent months.

Renewables Are the Only Winners in Historic Decline in Energy Demand

Global emissions will fall by 2.6 billion metric tons in 2020—the largest fall in history.

Southern California Edison Contracts Huge Storage Portfolio to Replace Gas Plants: The California utility’s 770-megawatt battery storage procurement, among the largest ever seen, faces a tough deadline in August 2021.

Renewables surpass coal in US power generation every day in April, making EVs greener

Renewables Surpass Coal in Both the U.S. and U.K. in Historic Firsts

During the pandemic, European consumers are getting paid to use electricity

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