ABOUT US: False Solutions
Why we don’t support some things that other folks do support
Real solutions to the climate crisis require rapidly phasing out fossil fuels and stopping dirty pipelines and projects; respecting Indigenous sovereignty; and holding polluters accountable for devastating frontline communities. Trying to solve the crisis while continuing to burn fossil fuels is like trying to use sandbags to try to stop the tide.
But it’s more than that. We also can’t permit the climate crisis to serve as an excuse to continue to sacrifice communities for corporate profit, and we will not support any policies or technologies that create false tensions between democratic and ecological flourishing.
We need transformative action (like a Green New Deal) that will mitigate climate change and provide millions of family-sustaining jobs in the infrastructure that transformation requires—while prioritizing workers, frontline and BIPOC communities, and young people.
We can make America into a country that respects human dignity and civil liberties, meets basic human needs, and puts the wellbeing of people and planet first.
So what solutions are false, or not ready for prime time?
- In general, we should move away from all combustion, whether from fossil or biological sources, because it releases CO2. Bio-sourced CO2 will trap heat until recaptured in plant growth. That could take years or decades, and often involves additional fossil CO2 releases, such as to operate farm equipment. This pushes us closer to climate tipping points.
- Bioenergy sources often have a worse carbon footprint than fossil fuels, and accelerate the impacts of climate change. For example, the combustion of wood pellets releases 50% more carbon than coal.
- While it is possible to derive liquid biofuels from sustainable sources, such as wastes or perennial grasses that increase soil storage, most biofuels are produced from corn or sugar that results in carbon-releasing cropland expansion, and drives food prices up for everyone, affecting poor people the worst.
- Bioenergy has the same air pollution issues as fossil fuels—and just as coal plants are disportionately located in low-income BIPOC communities, bioenergy plants would likely perpetuate environmental racism.
- Carbon markets are easily manipulated and often end up concentrating pollution in marginalized communities; instead of shutting down, a coal plant may just buy trees somewhere and continue polluting. California’s cap and trade system has failed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and has allowed polluters to continue to harm overburdened communities.
- Direct regulation of polluters is a more effective way of reducing greenhouse gases and co-pollutants.
- Carbon trading allows continued reliance on fossil fuels and significantly delays our transition towards renewable energy.
- Cap and Invest programs, like California’s, have failed to meaningfully reduce emissions. Instead they allow polluters to buy time to continue polluting.
- Carbon markets don’t necessarily lower emissions of greenhouse gases. For example, a low price on carbon can end up replacing coal with methane-leaking gas—and methane is 86x as powerful a greenhouse gas in its first decades.
Carbon Offsetting (often part of carbon trading)
- Offsetting doesn’t achieve climate goals.
- In fact, it can add millions of pounds of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
- Offsetting carbon pollution rather than eliminating it is yet another way for major economies and polluters to shirk their responsibility for the climate crisis and push it onto the Global South and poorer countries.
- It allows major economies to continue to prop up the fossil fuel industry while other countries take on the burden of offsetting their emissions.
- Carbon offsets often don’t address the need for investment in clean transportation and renewable energy.
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)
- Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) aims to reduce the impact of burning fossil fuels, and is a fossil fuel company-backed technology to capture and store carbon dioxide.
- CCS and direct CO2 removal are unproven technologies, still very far from scalability and economic feasibility.
- CCS won’t significantly contribute to reducing our emissions until at least the 2030s. Global operational CCS capacity is currently equivalent to 0.1% of annual emissions from fossil fuels.
- CCS risks extending the life of the failing fossil fuel industry, which is why the industry is advocating for it. In some cases, captured carbon is injected into oil fields in order to boost oil production.
- Eighty-one percent of carbon captured to date has been used to extract more oil from existing wells by pumping the captured carbon into the ground to force out more oil.
- Electricity produced by coal-fired plants using CCS technology is several times the cost of other existing carbon-free technologies.
- Why let sequestration technology and its attendant costs prolong the life of the coal, oil, and gas industries when they’re already increasingly uncompetitive relative to wind?
Fracked Gas / “Natural” Gas
- Fracking is a health hazard for people, other animals, and the planet. From gas flaring to methane leakage, and toxic wastewater to injection, fracking disproportionately poisons BIPOC communities.
- In Colorado, the state found a benzene level above health standards at a fracking site situated next to a school. The state took little action to address the harmful impacts of fracking on thousands of Coloradans.
- In Kern County, California, fracking takes place next to food workers and production, and fracking wastewater is used on food areas in times of drought.
- Over 118,000 people lost their jobs in the oil and gas industry during the COVID-19 pandemic, and markets are divesting from fossil fuels. Meanwhile, fossil fuel executives declare bankruptcy, and get bailed out from the US government.
- Methane is a significant contributor to climate change—86x as powerful a greenhouse gas as CO2 in its first decades. Using fracked gas is worse than burning coal.
- No geoengineering technique has proven effective or safe. Geoengineering carries large risks for wildlife, forests, and water resources.
- Geoengineering is a tech fix that excuses continued carbon gluttony in major economies.
Nuclear energy has no place in a safe, clean, sustainable future.
- Nuclear energy is expensive, Wall Street firm Lazard estimates that it costs approximately $160/MWh rather than the $40/MWh that solar and wind cost; the difference more than pays for needed solutions to intermittency.
- Nuclear energy is dangerous, and the “safer” small, modular reactors (SMRs) are untested for both safety and reliability.
- Nuclear energy isn’t ready—even if prototype safety testing is skipped, as proponents are suggesting, commercialization would be unlikely before the 2030’s. To reduce emissions at scale, we need clean power today.
- Nuclear energy still creates radioactive waste, and there is still no place to safely put it. Almost every past and present nuclear plant in the U.S. is a nuclear waste dump, and nuclear plants themselves are running out of ways to store highly radioactive waste on site. Such wastes will be deadly to biological life for hundreds of thousands of years.
- Nuclear plants promote nuclear proliferation. The process for enriching uranium for fuel can be applied to making bomb-grade material. Plutonium, a basic element of nuclear weapons, can be derived from the waste. SMRs increase proliferation hazards by using uranium fuel more enriched than large nuclear reactors, or plutonium.
- Nuclear energy sites are at risk of a terrorist attack; if attacked, people and the environment are at risk for millennia.
- Major nuclear accidents such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, and many lesser known close calls, have been caused by operator error or engineering flaws. Humans make mistakes. We need to use technologies that do not have catastrophic consequences when errors are made.
Net-Zero Emissions Targets
Emissions targets are good, but….
- “Net Zero” plans allow governments and multinational corporations to rely on some of the above tactics (e.g., offsets, sequestration) instead of actually cutting emissions; this means they evade their responsibilities and continue polluting.
- By putting the burden for carbon sequestration onto land and tree plantations in global south countries, most net zero climate targets drive a form of carbon colonialism.
- Goals that require no action for decades and technologies that likely won’t work at scale allow governments and companies to delay real climate action for another 30 years.
And then there’s….Carbon Taxes
Carbon taxes aren’t a false solution, but they are seldom designed in a way that maximizes their usefulness and makes them have progressive impacts.
- To reduce emissions meaningfully, a carbon tax will have to be very high.
- Fossil fuels companies often support a carbon tax when proposed legislation includes liability waivers, which would let them off the hook for their role in the climate crisis. Uh, no.
- The way that most carbon taxes are designed is somewhat regressive; they hit the poor harder than the rich because the poor spend a larger percentage of their income on energy services.
- Carbon taxes can also generate a lot of revenue, but in practice, political resistance has kept carbon taxes too low everywhere they exist.
- At best, a carbon tax is one solution among many. Carbon prices must fall on major polluters, not taxpayers and communities paying the costs of climate destruction.
* Thank you to 350.org for some of the content in this document.