ENVIRONMENTAL PROGRESS

 

Summary

• California can have cheap and abundant clean energy, fresh water, and wild nature.

• We must end discrimination against our largest and most affordable source of clean energy, nuclear power.

• We should embrace a bold new wilderness agenda that includes “re-wilding.”

 
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Problem

California has made little progress on air pollution over the last 10 years. We still have seven of the 10 most polluted cities in the U.S. We have the worst smog. Over nine out of 10 Californians live in counties with unhealthy air.

Carbon emissions rose between 2011 and 2015 even as they declined in the rest of the nation. In 2016, emissions from electricity produced within California decreased mostly because of more hydro-electricity from the state’s dams due to rain, not policies.

The kind of drought California suffered between 2012 to 2017 may become frequent, and yet California is not spending its water bond money to increase storage, as noted in chapter four.

California’s cap and trade system is not significantly reducing emissions. Instead, it is primarily used as a way to raise money for the proposed train and other programs. A better use of resources would be to create high-speed “hyperlanes” for autonomous vehicles, and rail connections in places of high population density.

Closing California’s nuclear plants increases carbon emissions and air pollution. When both San Onofre and Diablo Canyon plants were operating, they constituted about 40 percent of in-state electricity from clean energy. Emissions rose between 2011 and 2015 after the closure of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. California’s power sector produces 250 percent more emissions than if the state had kept open, and built, planned nuclear plants.

California’s greatest climate challenge comes from transportation, not electricity, which accounts for 39 percent of California’s emissions. Eliminating those emissions requires moving to electric vehicles (EVs) and fuel cell vehicles (FCVs).

California lacks ambition when it comes to wilderness protection. The state favors farms and cattle ranches, which reduce biodiversity and prevent the regeneration of oak woodlands, over human communities and wilderness alike.

 
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Solution

AVs create an opportunity to move to EVs and FCVs. That’s because AVs could solve the main problem with EVs, which is their short range and high cost. Fleets of AV EVs could allow for some percentage of vehicles to be charging while others roam.

Electrifying transportation would require replacing most petroleum use in California and would require at least a one- third larger electricity sector and likely more, given longer miles traveled with AVs.

Nuclear is the safest way to produce electricity, according to major scientific surveys. Natural gas accidents kill an order of magnitude more members of the public than nuclear accidents. Pollution from natural gas kills 54 times more people and injures 136 times more than nuclear does. As a result, replacing California’s Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, the state’s last, with natural gas and renewables could increase deaths.

Protecting the air and land requires using nuclear energy. That starts with Diablo Canyon and San Onofre nuclear plants, which should be used to electrify transportation, desalinate, and recycle wastewater.

Five million EVs would require the same amount of electricity produced annually by Diablo Canyon. Five Diablo Canyon-sized plants could generate enough power for 24 million EVs.

Nuclear produces more power on less land. Diablo Canyon, for example, produces 15 times as much electricity as Topaz Solar farm — but on 4 percent of the land.

We should end the discrimination against nuclear energy by including it in the state’s renewable portfolio standard. Doing so would prevent Diablo Canyon from closing and create a fair incentive to restart San Onofre.

California should be a leader in testing advanced nuclear fuels. Nuclear plants in other parts of the country will soon test accident-tolerant fuels, which could dramatically improve the economic efficiency of nuclear energy by as much as 30 percent, making nuclear more competitive with natural gas. Diablo Canyon and San Onofre should be test plants for the new fuels.

We should “re-wild” California by re-introducing the grizzly bear, the state animal. Some amount of California’s oak woodlands, or Sierras, should be used to gradually reintroduce the grizzly, perhaps within fenced protected areas, as in African game parks.