But not in California, where the barriers to having a constructive debate about this issue are many. They start with the huge logical gap between the state’s goal to have “eligible” renewable power sources and zero-carbon resources supply 100 percent of California’s electricity retail sales and the electricity used by state agencies by 2045, and how the environmental movement and the Democrats who control Sacramento want to achieve such reductions.
Perhaps unwittingly, a February 2022 California Energy Commission report underscored the incoherence of the state’s approach. It noted that 59 percent of the state’s electricity supply in 2020 came from renewable and zero-carbon sources – a figure that seems to bode well for ambitious long-term emission reduction plans.
But of that supply, only about 75 percent was from “eligible” renewable power sources – solar and wind. The other two-fifths was from hydroelectric and nuclear power.
This is an oblique reminder that while green officials say humanity faces an existential climate emergency – a “code red” in the words of U.N. Secretary General António Guterres – they do not want to respond to this emergency by using the most established, reliable sources of renewable power: nuclear power and hydropower.
The former has long been stigmatized as dirty and dangerous, despite the fact that it has been hugely successful in France. As Bill Gates has said, nuclear energy is obviously one of the best ways to address climate change – at least “if people were rational.”
The latter has been blackballed more quietly by greens who see it as too “industrial” and aesthetically unappealing. Though there are no Chernobyl- or Fukushima-type disasters in hydropower’s past, environmental groups funded (incredibly) by three natural gas companies launched a vitriolic campaign persuading Maine voters in November to reject a $1 billion, 145-mile electricity transmission line from Quebec to the Northeast regional electric grid that would have been funded by Massachusetts ratepayers.
The idea that it is crazy for California to proceed with plans to close down its last nuclear plant – at Diablo Canyon in 2024 and 2025 – is increasingly heard from unexpected sources. Two of President Barack Obama’s energy secretaries – Steven Chu and Ernest Moniz – say it’s urgently important to keep the plant open. Jennifer Granholm, the current energy secretary, believes it is a good idea. Even Gov. Gavin Newsom approved a plan to extend the plant’s life.
But not to worry, say environmentalists: Californians will embrace not just mass transit but walking and bicycling commutes to such an unprecedented degree that taking more practical, coherent steps will be unnecessary.
Across the Golden State, local governments are adopting or considering commitments to climate action plans that anticipate millions of state residents behaving in ways with no parallel to past events.
In San Francisco, a 2017 proposal to have 80 percent of all commuting be transit, biking or walking by 2080 is now seen as insufficiently ambitious, with the Women4Climate group saying that goal can be reached by 2030.
Across Southern California, bike lanes are being installed on thousands of miles of road based on “Field of Dreams”-type logic: If you build them, riders will come. In one case, officials admitted that ridership forecasts that predicted that nearly one-fifth of all commutes near mass transit centers would be on bikes by 2035 were “not based on anything.”
That’s because there is simply no precedent in U.S. history for what California greens confidently assert will come to pass in the Golden State. In the single most bicycle-friendly city in America – Portland, Oreg. – only one in 16 commuters used bikes, according to the most recent data available.
This may be why hard statistics on use of new bikeways in California are hard to come by. It’s human nature for bureaucrats to suppress information that makes them look bad. This results in vague coverage such as a Spectrum News piece from last year that cited the addition of more than 700 miles of bike lanes in the city of Los Angeles since 2010 – then noted that “ambitious goals” for bike use were not close to being met.
And the twist is that there is another factor that is never even considered that further confirms the fantasy of mass bicycle commuting: the rapid aging of the population. The number of people 60 and over in California is expected to increase at least 150 percent by 2060. This will include many millions of aging residents who choose to keep working. The belief that many will use bikes to commute is a religious one – not a realistic one.
Chris Reed is a columnist and opinion writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune. Write to him at [email protected].