The Keystone XL pipeline represents America’s past – a past where people were chained to fossil fuels.
The new House of Representatives and Senate endorse this symbol of the fossil-fuel industry, and while it might produce a few jobs in the United States during construction, it’s much more of a financial boon to the developers of Alberta’s tar sands, who need a way to get their product down to the Gulf of Mexico and into world markets.
But if Keystone and fossil fuels are our past, California – specifically the University of California – is the country’s future.
California is committed to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, which stem largely from burning fossil fuels. The Central Valley region, with UC Merced’s research and the natural resources that are so abundant here – sun and biomass – will be an important player in providing affordable renewable energy from alternative-energy sources.
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Appropriate and sustainable solar energy production and biomass use are important real steps in combating climate warming.
Our region and nation need positive steps and public symbols of moving to more renewable energy and away from fossil-carbon-intensive energy. The clearest way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow human-caused climate warming is to leave fossil carbon in the ground.
That means either reducing our energy use or shifting to renewable sources, or some balance in between.
California is committed to reducing energy use and de-carbonizing our energy supply. Data from the California Air Resources Board show that in recent years, the state’s economic growth has been accompanied by a small reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a steady decline in emissions per unit of gross domestic product. The board also identified pathways by which the state can go well beyond current clean air requirements.
But it’s going to take innovation, partnerships, collective vision and – most of all – committed action.
Many of the innovative approaches to solving alternative-energy challenges are going to come from the UC, which leads the state. As California goes, so goes much of the nation. And that means UC Merced, with its climate-change and solar energy research, is poised at the front of this new charge.
A push toward sustainable energy can help us develop attractive jobs in the near-term and achieve a better future for our children in a renewable-energy economy in the long term.
Some investments are taking place, but we need more.
As members of the university community in the San Joaquin Valley, we are proud that our campus is working to meet UC President Janet Napolitano’s pledge that all UC campuses will be carbon neutral by 2025.
But that’s only one piece of a very large puzzle.
First, Californians must take a collective step away from fossil fuels and shale oils, and then maintain that distance.
The stakes are high and sizable investments by the coal, oil and gas industries in the political process have become part of the cost of doing business.
Just as the university can achieve its 2025 goals, so can California if we all embrace the vision of a future free from oil and cooperate in planning and achieving that goal.
It’s time for California to step forward as a leader and show the rest of the country how we’re going to create our sustainable energy future.
Professors Bales and Winston are founding faculty members with the School of Engineering, University of California, Merced.