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How the Green New Deal Turned this Nurse into a First Responder!

image credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

This morning I am inspired.   I see my job in a whole new light.

I am the CEO of a small software company that specializes in facilitating energy efficiency retrofits.  For the past 15 years, I have had the good fortune to make a good living helping Utilities, State Agencies, and Energy Service Providers identify and implement energy conservation measures that would deliver the most compelling savings investment ratios.  By helping pluck this low hanging fruit, I had felt fulfilled to know that I was serving in some small way to nurse our ailing planet.

Last night that all changed.

Last night I attended a town hall meeting at my son’s high school with our Senator, Ed Markey, the co-author of the Green New Deal.  If you’ve ever heard Senator Markey speak, you know he is a passionate and inspirational champion in the battle against climate change and has been for decades.  And while most all of what we hear coming out of Washington DC these days is disheartening, and Senator Markey’s fervent defense of the Green New Deal restores some measure of faith in our elected officials, what changed my perspective was something else.

The thing that has altered the view of my job as an energy industry professional was the audience.  It was a hot, muggy, late summer night and the auditorium was packed – every seat taken and the aisles filled.  The place was buzzing with energy - with urgency.  As I listened to questions from college students, young Sunrise Movement activists, and even a 5th grade Girl Scout wondering what she and her troop could do to help the cause of the Green New Deal, I realized that climate change had become a climate crisis!  These young people will live to see the impacts of the energy decisions we make and implement in the next ten years.  My sons will live to see half of Boston submerged under 11 feet of rising tide if we continue the status quo.  A generation ago, we fretted over annihilation by nuclear warfare.  Now we face annihilation by our own complacency and willful ignorance.

As energy industry professionals, we are not nurses and care givers for our planet but rather, emergency first responders and front line combatants fighting for our very survival.  President Roosevelt and the politicians of the day didn’t agonize over the cost of confronting the spread of fascism.  Neither should we plod along with five-year utility commission plans and 18 month pilots that attempt to “move the needle” on our carbon footprint and hunt for only the best SIR.  We need to be leaders to shake up the way our industry pursues renewable energy and energy conservation.  We need to champion the same subsidies from our governments that have been afforded the fossil industries for so many decades.  We need to fund R&D to invent technology that will transform energy usage in the next decade the way that the Internet and mobile technology have transformed the last decade.  

We need the Green New Deal!  So, I am inspired to look at my job a whole new way this morning.  I am writing this, my first post on Energy Central, to challenge each of you to reexamine your own role in this fight.   Talk with your friends, your family, your neighbors about what you do.  Get them to engage their political leaders to move the Green New Deal through Congress – ASAP!

 As for me, I’m rethinking how to leverage our software to capture more comprehensive energy efficiency benefit – not just the most economical.  More on that in my next post.  

Lily Li's picture

Thank Lily for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 22, 2019 8:30 pm GMT

Thanks for sharing your personal experience Lily-- hearing about the inspiration Sen. Markey gave you has provided me with a secondary bounceback motivation!

Given your newfound push, I'm curious if you have any thoughts on the climate proposal put out by Sen. Sanders today, especially in light of Gov. Inslee dropping out of the race last night as the go-to climate candidate for President?

Lily Li's picture
Lily Li on Aug 27, 2019 8:51 pm GMT

Thanks for the comment, Matt.  I have mixed feelings about Sen. Sanders $16T proposal.  On the one hand, I am glad to see the environment make its way to center stage with our policy makers.  But the debate around this proposal seems to be focused on the credibility of the cost assessment which, in my opinion, is beside the point. 

We've spent over $5.6T on post 9/11 wars.  No one ever wasted time debating the potential cost of those wars or their potential benefits to our economy.  When it came to a choice over defending the survival of our way of life against what turned out to be a phantom of a threat, cost was not an issue.  Nor should it be the centerpiece of the discussion around creating a green economy and leading the world to energy generation and consumption that is carbon free and repects the only planet we have to sustain us.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 28, 2019 1:38 pm GMT

But the debate around this proposal seems to be focused on the credibility of the cost assessment which, in my opinion, is beside the point. 

Well said, Lily. Thanks for adding your insights to the community!

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 23, 2019 3:41 pm GMT

Lily, I have no doubt energy efficiency and conservancy efforts are helping to "pick the low-hanging fruit" of wasted energy. What's next? Once everyone is using LED light bulbs, double-paned glass, and foamed walls, what's the next target capable of saving more energy than it creates (as far as I know, no one in  the $7 billion U.S. efficiency industry has paused to consider how much CO2 a $7 billion industry itself might create).

Public energy efficiency efforts in the U.S. have only existed for the last 50 years or so, and originally had nothing to do with climate change (in the 1970s CC was largely hypothetical and well-understood by a handful of climate scientists). They were inspired by the fear of running out of energy. After the 1983 OPEC oil embargo, our dependence on Mideast oil and gas hit home with citizens and policymakers, and a slew of energy legislation was signed into law. After 1987, when James Hansen gave his historic briefing to Congress on what consumption of fossil fuels was doing to climate, things took a new turn. Now the call was "Use less energy! We're destroying the environment!"

Using less energy is far easier for the wealthy than the poor - the wealthy are the low hanging fruit. When leaders of less-affluent countries (by U.S. standards) are asked to use less energy, they say "Why? After first-world countries created this problem by using unlimited oil, coal, and gas, they're now expecting us to help clean up their mess for them?". And they have a point.

Instead of forcing everyone to use less energy, why not work toward powering the world with clean, dispatchable nuclear energy? With fuel costs next to nothing, energy efficiency becomes irrelevant. Electricity customers are free to use as much energy as they like without guilt. Because it emits no carbon at all, elaborate Carbon Capture & Sequestration (CCS) schemes are unnecessary. Nuclear, despite public misperceptions, is the safest and the least expensive way to generate dispatchable electricity of all - so if convincing the public of that fact is all that's standing our way, wouldn't that be a simpler, more effective solution?

Lily Li's picture
Lily Li on Aug 27, 2019 8:42 pm GMT

Thanks for the thoughtful comment.  And YES I agree, we need zero carbon energy generation including nuclear as the ultimate longterm solution.  But I think we need to spend less time debating which is a better path and pursue them all  - efficiency, sequestration, clean and renewable generation - at once if we hope to tip the balance in the next decade. 

Regarding nuclear in particular, I might take issue with your cost assessment.  We still haven't solved the waste side of the equation and hence we are unable to do a true Environmental Full Cost Accounting(EFCA).  We risk making the same mistake we are making in our evaluation of the "cost" of fossil energy today by simply ignoring those costs that are too hard to quantify.  And since it takes nearly a decade to site, design, and build a nuclear power plant, I fear it would be too little too late as a sole solution.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 29, 2019 3:28 pm GMT

Thanks for your response Lily. Among the biggest challenges facing implementation of clean nuclear energy solutions are public misperceptions. Re: nuclear waste:

1) How to effectively and safely store it is a problem which has been solved for decades. There have been no deaths or injuries to humans, animals, or plants from spent nuclear fuel, principally because  power reactor manufacturers have taken responsibility for developing safe ways to handle it, transport it, and store it. Contrast that with waste from coal plants, responsible for 13,000 premature deaths each year in the U.S. alone.

2) What does nuclear waste look like? Those who picture dripping, glowing, green goo might be disappointed to see extremely heavy bundles of metal tubes welded together, filled with metal fuel pellets. They'll remain dangerously radioactive not for 2 billion years, or 25,000 years, but about 500 years before they're less radioactive than the soil you walk upon every day.

3) How much waste is there? Nuclear fuel is extremely energy-dense - a pellet the size of the end of your finger contains the same amount of energy as a train car full of coal. And the leftovers are even smaller (if nuclear energy generated all the electricity you used in your lifetime, its waste would fit inside an empty Coke can).

It's a natural human trait to be afraid of what we don't understand. No doubt fire terrified humans of 200,000 years ago until they discovered how useful it could be for cooking meat, preventing disease, and keeping warm. When fires burned out of control, however, they quickly learned the hard way: energy entails responsibliity. Why would I believe humans are capable of overcoming fear of energy we don't at first understand, but which is extremely useful when used with care? We've already done it once.

Gary Hilberg's picture
Gary Hilberg on Aug 28, 2019 9:05 pm GMT

The challenge that I see with all of the "Green New Deal" discussions is the dependence on legislative solution that will seek to end many commercial enterprises and we have no Federal organizations that are structured to manage this implementation.  Assuming that the US remains a free market country we need a free market solution to drive the enterprises to change.  One solution that could be market based and would not force the government to pick the winners and losers is a Carbon Tax.  Implementation would be hard, the process would inherently define some winners and losers, but in the end with the value established, the market would then make decisions on the best solutions without massive government mandates.   The scale of the required transformation requires all parties to be aligned and if the first step is to tell millions of Americans (see that they are out of a job, I suspect that the legislative chances are small - remember that the Clean Power Plan of 2015 was stayed by the Supreme Court and then effectively halted by this administration.   I do realize that new jobs will be created but there will be different skill sets, locations and circumstances so many will be caught in the middle.  

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