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Fossil fuel free

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Can you imagine a world without fossil fuels? How reachable does it feel? It turns out that the correct answers should be ‘yes’ and ‘right at our fingertips.’

In a recent article for Vox, David Roberts looked at a new report by Saul Griffith and Rewiring America about the potential of transitioning our economy away from fossil fuels. The Rewiring America report describes a transition based on electrification and renewable infrastructure development. The report shows not only that such a transition is possible by 2035, but that enacting it would cut the country’s energy demand in half, get us 70 percent of the way toward carbon neutrality, and save Americans an average of $1,000-$2,000 per year, not to mention creating millions of jobs.

Even while explicitly leaving out important parts of any future fossil fuel-free economy like improving energy efficiency, Griffith’s plan is ambitious. It would require an enormous mobilization of the economy, with the U.S. government investing around $3 trillion over the next ten years, and private companies investing another $20 trillion. Griffith describes five years of manufacturing capacity building, followed by a huge push to replace every internal combustion engine and natural gas system with an electric alternative, rebuild the electric grid to be much more connected and based on renewable power generation, and to get mass adoption of rooftop solar with battery storage, among other methods of transitioning away from fossil fuels.

Griffith’s is the latest in a long series of findings showing that the transition away from fossil fuels is not only technologically possible, but would also bring a whole host of environmental benefits, health and safety improvements, and cost reductions for consumers.

Undoubtedly there are plenty of obstacles to this transition – including the oil and gas industry’s stranglehold on Congress and state legislatures. But at this point there’s no longer any doubt that we have the capability.

What we need is legislative willpower. As Roberts says in his Vox piece, “we can have clean air, clean energy, a prosperous economy, and a stable climate, all the things we want, if we’re just willing to do the work.” Americans seem ready to make the effort. Pew Research surveys have found that most Americans feel the impacts of climate change at home, think we should be prioritizing renewable energy development, think the government should be doing more to protect the environment, and think protecting the environment and climate change should be top priorities for Congress.

With COVID-19 pushing millions onto unemployment and into poverty, and with the effects of climate change devastating Louisiana and burning California and Colorado, we need our government to step up and act decisively with bold, concrete steps to protect the environment, fight climate change, and give Americans better health and a brighter future.

The wide variety of plans out there to transition America away from fossil fuels create a sense of hope that it can be done. The broad support among Americans for our government to take action on climate change, and the rising number of pledges to act by states and cities across the country provide reason to hope that it will.

Photo credit: Rob Williams / NREL