Who Will Repower the American West?

San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge disappearing in air pollution and fire smoke, 2018. Photo: Evaggelos Vallianatos

Car Storms

Around eight o’clock in the morning, the streets of Claremont, California flood with cars. Claremont is a relatively small, beautiful, and attractive town. However, a few highway-like roads disrupt the green quiet of the place. Claremont has something like 23,000 trees.

When the school season starts in late August, the flood of cars becomes a storm, the small town suddenly exhibits the maladies and madness of Los Angeles, our megalopolis neighbor.

The car machines look increasingly ominous. They are large and leave no doubt they are the civilian siblings of military vehicles.

Some of them may be electric. But the vast majority are powered by the century-old “internal combustion” engine. According to the Trump US EPA, in 2018, a “typical passenger vehicle emits 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.” Such a car would be designed to burn a gallon of gas every 22 miles and drive about 11,500 miles per year. In addition to CO2, this typical car also emits other global warming gases like methane, CH4, nitrous oxide, N2O, and hydrofluorocarbons from leaking air conditioners. These car tailpipe gases are smaller in quantities than CO2 but last longer in the atmosphere.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, describes the impact of a car on climate change this way:

“Our personal vehicles are a major cause of global warming. Collectively, cars and trucks account for nearly one-fifth of all US emissions, emitting around 24 pounds of carbon dioxide and other global-warming gases for every gallon of gas. About five pounds comes from the extraction, production, and delivery of the fuel, while the great bulk of heat-trapping emissions—more than 19 pounds per gallon—comes right out of a car’s tailpipe.”

I have known of this car pollution for a very long time, so I never felt comfortable driving a car, which I no longer do. I prefer bicycles for going around and buses and trains for travel.

But my daily confrontation with this dangerous artifact of civilization, the car or typical passenger vehicle, is telling about how serious Americans are about climate change.

Americans love their cars. They are not serious about climate change, especially their leaders, including newspapers and television stations. They know, as the New York Times put it, “Transportation is the nation’s top source of planet-warming greenhouse-gas emissions.” Yet they prefer cheerleading than revealing unpleasant facts.

Inconvenient Truths

All of them keep busy with the trivia and dangerous political activities of former President Trump. Trump led a coup, but he is still free in Florida. He even stole secret government papers, which the FBI found in his Florida home. These Trump adventures keep televisions and newspapers busy. Add to this disempowering confusion, Russia’s war in Ukraine, and you eliminate climate chaos from the public imagination. Americans also know and encourage Biden’s hazardous funding and arming the Ukrainians against the nuclear-armed Russians. This way they don’t have to face inconvenient truths about our future and the future of the planet.

This national tragedy is played out in California. Fires are becoming “normal.” Television and newspaper reporters speak of fire seasons. They are right in their predictions. Fires do incinerate public forests and, sometimes, towns. This annual prediction of forest fires leaves out the vast ecocides of fires. That invisible death does not seem to bother city folk too much unless the fires get close to them. Then smoke and flames mix with the atmosphere and the air people breathe.

[T]he dark orange panoramas of the 2020 [fire] season [became] the ready picture of the burning West, the color almost matching the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge and the shades of flickering fires in the distance but held aloft above America’s city of the future, as though the sky itself were in flames and ready to be breathed — indeed, as though there were nothing else to breathe,” wrote David Wallace-Wells of the New York Times.

Despite this existential threat, neither California, nor the United States act as they should in the existing 2022 dangerous conditions. California says it will outlaw gasoline cars and trucks in 2035.

Moreover, California legislators approved $54 billion in climate spending, including “a measure to prevent the state’s last nuclear power plant from closing.” California added “sharp new restrictions on oil and gas drilling.” But like in the case of the car reign in California, the new mandate would bring the carbon dioxide era to an end in 2045.

However, 2035 and 2045 are five and fifteen years too late. Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General, and UN climate scientists have been warning that we must eliminate at least fifty percent of fossil fuels this decade.

This is an opportunity for Gavin Newsome, Governor of California, to correct these errors. Order the car companies to stop making petroleum cars. At least those petroleum cars would be outlawed in California, even before 2030. Fund electric cars, buses, and trains.

Don’t Accept Gifts From Billionaires

California is also secretly hoping that a couple of billionaires would succeed in bringing Southern California green electricity all the way from Wyoming – more than 700 miles away.

Sammy Roth and several reporters of the Los Angeles Times wrote a long article on Repowering the West.

“The American West is on the cusp of immense change. A region long defined by wide-open vistas is in the early stages of a clean energy boom that could fundamentally alter its look and feel. On your next Western road trip, watch for wind turbines in the backcountry. Drive through the desert and prepare for dark seas of shimmering solar panels,” wrote Roth.

“The billionaire owner of the Coachella music festival [Philip Frederick Anschutz] is building a stunningly large wind farm in Wyoming — and a 700-mile power line to carry the electricity to Southern California,” wrote the Los Angeles Times. The disturbing part of this enthusiastic statement and the newspaper’s lengthy report by Sammy Roth is the delusion that a Wyoming wind farm “could save California.”

But why expect a soulless billionaire to save California by destroying what is wildlife habitat in Wyoming?

California has countless thousands of acres of roof space (over homes, public and private buildings, storage buildings, shopping malls, elementary schools and high schools, colleges, universities, churches, abandoned mines, wrecked, or poisoned agricultural land, parking lots, athletic stadiums, cemeteries, military bases). Put solar panels over these spaces and you don’t need a billionaire to bring you ill-gotten energy from massive wind turbines destined to weaken and perhaps destroy the remaining eagles and other endangered birds, including the beautiful but extremely threatened Sage Grouse.

Why is Governor Newsom waiting for an out-of-state savior? Is it because he is lazy? Or because he is fearful of the opposition of the industry manufacturing those bird-killing and nature-defacing colossal wind turbines?

Solar Panels on Every Roof

Californians should reject the electrical gifts of out-of-state billionaires. Use roof space to bring the light and electricity of the immortal Sun. Avoid the ecocidal machines of wind turbines. Those giant towers of bird-slaughtering blades don’t fit in repowering California and the United States. They are the remnants of the machine age that brought us climate chaos, ecocide, and pandemics.

Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of seven books, including the latest book, The Antikythera Mechanism.