Three points are worth considering:
#1 Sierra Clubs SSC writes: "Through the Sierra Student Coalition’s [SSC's] Seize the Grid Campaign, students nationwide are calling on their campus administrations to demand 100% clean energy from their energy providers and to invest directly in renewable energy by 2030."
#2 If you examine the municipal pledge results from Sierra Club's national campaign called "Is Your City #ReadyFor100?" you will find that many cities have legislated a target set to 2030, most others at 2035, and the entire state of Hawaii at 2045. Many of the 100% goals set for 2030 are limited to meeting demands for electricity, with total energy use set for later dates ranging from 2035 to 2045. But, that still does not tell you why!
#3 So, here's one persuasive answer. The much celebrated and periodically attacked Mark Jacobson/Stanford group prepared "Roadmaps for 139 Countries and the 50 United States to Transition to 100%Clean, Renewable Wind, Water, and Solar (WWS) Power for all Purposes by 2050 and 80% by 2030." These have been examined and affirmed in collaboration with colleagues around the world. Personally, I also looked at the work of Jacobson's critics and found a few interesting points that are something of a wash when taken together. For example, some argue that Jacobson's analysis proves that we have the technology to meet the COP21 goals but meeting those goals is not sufficient to assert we will "eliminate global warming and its costs." On the other hand, the Stanford Roadmaps remain a necessary series of steps with a focus on substantial progress by 2030. Moving faster where possible reduces the risks, but it also becomes more difficult as one talks about goals encompassing entire states and/or all energy sectors. Regardless, I saw nothing to overturn the entire body of work by Jacobson, et al. nor cause one to ignore what looks like acceptance by the majority of the academic science community publishing in journals with respect to the feasibility of substantial progress by 2030 as an intermediate step towards achieving the goals of the Paris Accords.
My sense is that a pivotal point exists in the assertion that the overarching goal of
100% clean, renewable energy sourcing
is scientifically feasible with current technology
for the purpose of meeting all energy needs by 2050.
Jacobson, et al. have established that the barriers to achieving the overarching goal are not based in science, technology, nor even economics. In the body of work by Jacobson, et al. and those citing them, the consensus seems to be that there is a cost but there also exist substantial benefits outweighing these costs. Various economic tradeoffs are appended below if you want to impress your friends!
The problems come when disaggregating benefits to offset specific costs for specific people, communities, or [if you will pardon the expression] classes of investors. For example, Jacobson wrote: "A 100% conversion will create over 20 million more 35-year construction plus operation jobs worldwide than it costs. In the U.S., it will create over 2 million more jobs than it costs." That is not very comforting to someone who really wants to go down the mineshaft to harvest coal. On the other hand, what makes it so attractive to chase after black lung disease as a way of avoiding retraining in computer science, solar panel installation, or wind turbine maintenance? Regardless, Peabody Energy was unlikely to avoid chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2016 by converting their untimely purchase of $5.2 billion worth of Australian coal mines into internet cafes even if filled with unemployed coal miners.
Anyway, what remains after the Jacobson, et al. analysis is that the only real barriers to achieving the global goal are social and political.
These start with the considerable investment by special interests in climate denial as a means of avoiding bankruptcy. Then there are factors as mundane as institutional inertia, lack of political will, general paralysis, and forces as vague as wanting to make America great again by reopening coal mines while shutting coal minds.
The kicker is [to get to 100% by 2050 globally and in all sectors] we need to commit to substantial progress [reaching 80% conversion by 2030] AND the 80% cannot be spread out evenly across sectors & continents. Those that have the resources and the capacity need to strategically move faster to get to 80% rather soon, like 2030 as a goal for the electric grid. That is why some cities in the Ready for 100% campaign have committed to an electrical grid that is 100% WWS by 2025, 2020, and even 2018. I suspect that the ultra-rapid conversions by 2018 are where one is more likely to find work-a-round like buying offsets but these too have a place in breaking logjams.
The Jacobson group's published papers assert that which he summarized in written testimony to the United States House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, Democratic Forum on Climate Change, November 19, 2015: "These roadmaps should give confidence to leaders at COP 21 in Paris that their countries can obtain 100% clean, renewable WWS energy by 2050 with substantial conversion by 2030, and that a commitment to a 100% by 2050 goal is scientifically based." Below I have appended some of the key summary observations in Jacobson's testimony. These are taken from the attachment that has references, which in turn lead to a vast body of work in their references. My belief is that if PSR's statement focuses on the electrical power sector, then the 100% goal needs to target 2030 in the United States. Widening the scope of the statement to include other energy sectors or other nations would justify having a more distant target date. Questioning whether the Paris Accords are sufficient to maintain a safe margin of error against "unacceptable losses" [or questioning what constitutes acceptable losses] would argue for acting on a faster timeline than the 2030 target.
If you want to drill down, keep reading!
- Synopsis -
of Jacobson's written testimony to the United States House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, Democratic Forum on Climate Change, November 19, 2015: