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Shedding the burden of fossil-fuel addiction

Two Associated Press articles recently dealt with ongoing or planned construction projects along our coasts. One revealed the U.S. military building “living shoreline” oyster reefs along naval and other military installations. The other announced President Trump’s directive to open nearly all U.S. coastlines to offshore oil and gas drilling.

These developments have diametrically opposed consequences. The bases and surrounding communities will receive significant protection through the reefs, from storms and flooding to which they are increasingly affected under the changing climate. Vast additional fossil-fuel extraction, however, as intended in the drilling proposal, is likely to worsen the damage from extreme-weather disasters.

As has been known and was reconfirmed by the International Energy Agency in 2016, the world’s carbon budget is being exceeded even now. If all existing fuel were to be burned, from current coal mines, oil and gas fields and those already leased by the fossil fuel companies, the agency concluded, increased carbon in the atmosphere would “push the world beyond the threshold for catastrophic climate change.” Contrary to opening up further fossil-fuel reserves, energy saving and change-over to non-carbon sources are called for.

Fortunately, much progress is being made toward these goals. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has reported a likely doubling of wind and solar electric energy by 2020, at which point energy from these sources may reach more than ten times the combined, total energy capacity of the TVA. And clean-electricity jobs, its “2017 U.S. Energy and Employment Report” shows, outstrip those in the fossil-fuel sector by more than five to one, with good outlook for strong, further growth. In three more years, FERC anticipates renewable sources to account for more than a quarter of the nation’s installed electricity generation capacity.

Developments country-wide seem to justify the optimistic projection. From small communities like Michigan’s Traverse City to large metropolises like Atlanta, a raft of U.S. cities have resolved and are taking action toward 100 percent clean power, for electricity or all municipal operations including transportation, over roughly the coming two decades. Additionally or related to 100 percent renewables goals, many cities, utilities and states are showing much progress on energy efficiency, thus achieving cost savings and further reducing the climate harm from fossil fuels. Employment in the energy-efficiency sector reportedly provides good-paying jobs for 2.2 million Americans at this time, already.

In a film titled “The Burden,” officials from many different Armed Forces units tell of cost and other problems for the U.S. military from our addiction to fossil fuels. For example, as a general explains, oil being a commodity whose price is set by the global market, each $1 increase in the price of a barrel costs the military $130 million. Far worse than cost is the danger to and loss of soldiers along IED-infested supply lines, as half of all convey loads now must carry fuel.

For many commonsense reasons, the U.S. military is developing and deploying alternative, clean energy sources. Along these lines lies hope for a safe climate future.

The government should support and strengthen rather than counteract such efforts.