(The Center Square) – An expert says that immediately slashing use of fossil fuels to reduce carbon emissions would challenge everyday convenience and quality of life.
But Minnesota Auditor Julie Blaha says humans have a duty to reduce our carbon footprint.
“We are all going to feel the effects of climate change, and young people will feel them most deeply,” Blaha told The Center Square in an email.
The state investment fund has committed to supporting the goals of the Paris Climate Accord, and Blaha has eyed another climate change investor’s group, Net Zero Investment Framework.
So what are the challenges?
Robert L. Bradley, Jr, the CEO and founder of the D.C- based Institute for Energy Research, asked The Center Square: does divesting from fossil fuels compromise Blaha’s fiduciary duty to 115,000 retired Minnesotans depending on the state’s roughly $102 billion investment?
Blaha believes that people will change behavior and demand regulations.
”That will change the market, and our fiduciary duty compels us to respond to that change,” Blaha said. “Positive climate action is increasingly not just good science, but a good investment.”
Bradley argued divestment could raise consumers’ fuel costs, ranging from electricity to gasoline to flights and cruises.
“What Minnesota and other states are doing, it’s symbolic and it has unintended consequences, and to me, it hurts the very people [it’s meant to help],” Bradley said.
In 2019, five countries accounted for 51% of the world’s crude oil production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
- U.S: 15%
- Russia: 13%
- Saudi Arabia: 12%
- Iraq: 6%
- Canada: 5%
“It’s going to take time to replace these uses where fossil fuels are hardest to replace,” Samantha Gross, the director of Energy Security and Climate Initiative for the Brookings Institution, told The Center Square.
“We aren’t going to be completely out of fossil fuels for a while,” Gross said, citing one of the greatest challenges is replacing jet fuel with renewable energy.
Some argue Americans should switch from using fossil fuels to green renewable energy, but it’s not that simple.
“It’s going to take time to replace these uses where fossil fuels are hardest to replace,” Gross said.
“The idea that we could stop using fossil fuels right now means that the economy comes to a screeching halt, and we don’t really want that,” Gross said.
“The idea is to halt climate change for people so that we can continue to have the kind of lives that we’re accustomed to, and leave this environment that we enjoy to our kids and our grandkids. Halting the economy isn’t the way to do that.”
Fossil fuels made up 62.7% of U.S. electricity generation in 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
This breaks down as follows:
- Natural gas: 38.4%
- Coal: 23.5%
- Other petroleum and gasses: .8%
- Hydropower: 6.6%
- Wind: 7.3%
- Solar: 1.8%
- Biomass: 1.4% and others less than 1%
Petrochemical products range from generating fuel, heating, electricity, and inputs in plastics, synthetic materials, asphalt, and road oil.
In 2019, the U.S consumed roughly 7.5 billion barrels of petroleum: 45% was finished motor gasoline, 20% was distillate fuel, 27% was other petroleum products, and 8% was jet fuel, according to EIA.
Gross said intermittency is a challenge with renewable energy – you need a backup source – either stored energy or fossil fuels.
“Pound for pound, gasoline or diesel fuel contain about 40 times as much energy as a state-of-the-art battery,” Gross wrote.
Gross admits another challenge is widespread infrastructure to distribute renewable energy, such as power lines, but she’s optimistic for the future.