, November 29, 2022

The US Supreme Court: enemy of the planet or just a bunch of Luddites?


  •   2 min reads
The US Supreme Court: enemy of the planet or just a bunch of Luddites?

In the US, the Supreme Court could be about to make a ruling that could dramatically diminish the US government's ability to regulate CO2 emissions.

This story began when Donald Trump was president, and the balance of power on the US Supreme Court shifted in favour of Republicans. We have already seen one major ramification— a major shift in abortion rights. (Controversial opinion; abortion rights should be solely decided by women: if judges side against abortion, that is okay for as long as the judges are women — men are not qualified to have an opinion on this matter.)

Now the Supreme Court is set to rule on a case involving the State of West Virginia, which seeks to limit the US  Environmental Protection Agency's  (EPA) power to regulate the electric power system across the US.

If the court finds in favour of West Virginia, then the US government's ability to encourage a shift away from coal will be severely limited.

The Hill quoted Robert Glicksman, an environmental law professor at George Washington University, saying: "The more tools the court takes away from the EPA, under the Clean Air Act to address greenhouse gas emissions, the harder it's going to be for the United States to do an effective job of contributing to the world's efforts to limit climate change."

Celebrated climate change scientist Michael E Mann tweeted: "This supreme court is at war with both the citizens of this nation and the planet."

The professor makes a good point.

There is another argument. The cost of energy generated from renewables relative to coal is now so cheap, and getting getting cheaper, that the Supreme Court decision may be reduced to irrelevancy. It won't be so much an enemy of the planet as a bunch of has been Luddites totally failing to hold back progress.

Mind you, the request from Germany to the G7 to cut back on commitments to increase funding overseas fossil fuel projects is a tad concerning too.  Is the new German government also a new enemy of the planet, or should we make a better effort to understand nuance? A draft text produced by the German government requests that the G7; "acknowledge that publicly supported investment in the gas sector is necessary as a temporary response to the current energy crisis." Well, maybe. It is not the same as the US Supreme Court's intentions.

But the detail will tell us more.

Generally, developing new renewable projects from scratch is much faster than developing equivalent gas or coal projects and the risks of an external party turning down the wind, sun or tides is nil. Given that the current economic trench we find ourselves in has been largely instigated by a lack of oil and gas, and a war that severely limits the supply of said energy sources,  some risk mitigation seems a sensible consideration, especially when the answer is on your doorstep.

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