Monday, April 8, 2024

Q&A with John J. Berger




John J. Berger is the author of the new book Solving the Climate Crisis: Frontline Reports from the Race to Save the Earth. An environmental science and policy specialist, he lives in El Cerrito, California.


Q: What inspired you to write Solving the Climate Crisis?


A: I wanted to accelerate the transition to clean energy out of my intense concern over the catastrophic consequences of climate change. From my studies of renewable energy technologies and natural climate solutions, I saw some opportunities that I felt were not being pursued with sufficient vigor and seriousness.


By building a powerful case for accelerating America’s transition to a clean energy economy, and showing not only how it could be done with readily available technologies but also how we could easily pay for it, I hoped that readers would come away fully convinced that we can solve the climate crisis and do so profitably.


Q: What do you think are some of the most common perceptions and misconceptions about climate change?


A: Many people believe that the climate is always changing, and half of all Americans are not convinced that humans are responsible for altering it.


That’s actually not too surprising when you learn that maybe a quarter of Americans think that the sun revolves around the Earth, according to a 2012 National Science Foundation survey, and three-quarters don’t know what the atmosphere is made of.


I doubt that an average person on the street could tell you what CO2 is, where it comes from, and what its role is in climate change, although it’s the most important greenhouse gas.


Network news coverage is partially to blame, as only 12 percent of its climate coverage mentions fossil fuels. Plus, there’s a lot of deliberate misinformation put forward by the fossil fuel industry about climate change.


Another critically important misunderstanding is the idea that addressing the crisis is too expensive and that we’re already spending far too much to slow climate change and create a clean-energy transition. That’s actually not the case.


First of all, the nature of clean and fuel-free energy sources is that whereas upfront capital investment is necessary to pay for the infrastructure—the solar or wind farm or the geothermal or hydropower or the transmission lines -- the fuel is then free (sun, wind, water).  


Further, the systems are incredibly efficient, and they not only pencil out profitably on a life-cycle cost basis, but they have lots of co-benefits and avoid enormous public health, environmental damage, and climate costs.


Yet, because of a lot of misinformation and opposition from the fossil fuel industry and its allies, America’s clean energy transition is stuck in a much lower gear than necessary even as, simultaneously, we’re jamming the gas pedal to the floor in terms of fossil fuel production and consumption. (The U.S. is the world’s largest producer and consumer of oil and natural gas.)


So, while flooring the gas pedal, we’re also driving in darkness, because we don’t know exactly where climate tipping points are nor when we’re about to speed irreversibly over a climate cliff and destroy civilization as we know it.


Another set of misunderstandings that we don’t have space to rebut here is the mistaken idea that renewable technology is somehow not reliable enough or sufficient enough or cheap enough to meet all of our energy needs. I dispel all of those concerns in Solving the Climate Crisis.

Q: How did you research the book, and what do you hope readers take away from it?


A: I’ve studied renewable energy resources and technology over a period of 50 years and have continued to read a lot of journalistic accounts of advances in renewable energy and climate developments.


In addition to studying books and articles, I traveled around the country and internationally to interview governors, mayors, scientists, engineers, business leaders, energy experts, and financiers, as well as congressional representatives, and two U.S. Secretaries of Energy.


I also talked to ordinary but highly motivated and committed people—carbon farmers, carbon ranchers, forest protectors, nonprofit leaders, and activists.


What I’d really like people to take away from the book is that we could profitably solve the ever-worsening climate crisis in a way that unlocks trillions of dollars in savings, creates millions of new, good-paying jobs, literally saves millions of live and species, while at the same time, protects public health, our democracy, and the environment.


I want people to understand that the U.S. can create trillions in net consumer and business savings by 2050 just through energy efficiency. The investments I advocate will pay for themselves many times over, putting money in Americans’ pockets while protecting our health and future.


The message of Solving the Climate Crisis is that this is a time for hopeful, inspired action rather than wasting time in anxiety and grief.


Finally, I want people to take away the fact that clean, eternal sources of energy from the sun, wind, Earth, flowing water, plants, and oceans are the best, cleanest, safest, and most economical answer to the world’s energy needs.


In addition, that we can safely and cost-effectively recapture greenhouse gas in the atmosphere through regenerative agriculture and building materials like concrete that can absorb CO2 and synthesize all the chemicals we need today from nonfossil-fuel biological sources,


Q: What do you see looking ahead when it comes to climate policy in the United States?


A: I can’t predict what will happen but I can tell you what I think ought to happen. We need the following climate policies, some of which are easier to implement and hence more imminent than others:

a National Climate Action and Prosperity Plan

a national carbon fee-and-dividend

a halt to all fossil fuel subsidies

a moratorium on new fossil fuel development

a planned phase-out of all coal and natural gas power in the electricity sector

an International Fossil Fuel Nonproliferation Treaty

an International Atmospheric Administration

a national Climate Emergency declaration

a national clean-energy bank

tighter regulation of the banking sector

a new clean-energy finance corporation

new clean-energy Treasury bonds

a national program to electrify all railroads

a national program too provide adequate numbers of EV charging stations

a national program to retrofit the nation’s building stock

national clean energy adoption timetables in each economic sector

a greatly expanded investment in natural climate solutions (in the forestry and agricultural sectors)


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m in the early stages of working on a climate solutions briefing for policymakers and a climate solutions conference, and I’m available to give talks and keynotes and to consult to foundations, investors, entrepreneurs, energy companies, educational institutions, and nonprofit organizations. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: It would be a mistake to think that all is already lost—that it’s too late to do anything to stop global warming, that we should just concentrate all our efforts on adapting to it. This kind of doomerism and defeatism is often an excuse for inaction. Now is the time for action.  


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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