Opinion: TVA is blowing earth's 50-50 chance to slow climate disaster

Time's a-wasting. "Earth given 50-50 chance of hitting key temperature mark by 2026," screams Tuesday's headline at the top of Page A5 in the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

In case you've lost your calendar, that's three years and eight months away.

Below that headline, the story is more muted. It states the world is "creeping" closer to the warming threshold international agreements are trying to prevent - a yearly average of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels of the late 1800s.

That average would be - will be - "a bright red signal in climate change" that a team of 11 different forecast centers predicted for the World Meteorological Organization late Monday.

"Bright red signal" also would seem to be something of an understatement.

Cornell University climate scientist Natalie Mahowald, who wasn't part of the forecast teams, was more direct when she told The Associated Press: "This is a warning of what will be just average in a few years."

What does it mean for Chattanooga, for Tennessee and for Georgia? The same thing it means worldwide - hotter will mean more extremes and higher prices for food and fuel and you name it.

As we have noted many times, all politics - and all things climate - are local.

Georgetown Law professor David Super wrote in The Hill on Monday that the way to fight inflation is to focus on climate change.

"Largely ignored as an inflationary driver, however, has been climate change," he wrote, noting that shifting weather patterns and extreme events have pushed up costs of sugar, coffee, wheat and soy while wood and other building materials no longer grow well in many places, jacking up home costs. Meanwhile floods, fires and tornadoes are driving up insurance costs.

"Like the pandemic, climate change is a global problem manifesting itself in countless ways, many well-hidden. Unlike the pandemic, it will get worse, not better, for the foreseeable future," Super wrote. "If we wish to control inflation, we must address climate change now."

Just last week we questioned why TVA, as the economy and power demand rebounded from pandemic levels, turned more to the burning fossil fuels rather than embracing alternative fuels - especially solar power - using either the construction of solar farms or by helping all of us outfit our homes with solar panels to help power our sunny, Southern towns and cities.

The answer isn't just a lack of technical imagination and determination. It's also money. And we don't just mean TVA's construction money.

Here's an example from Vermont that we could easily transplant to Tennessee or Georgia - if our lawmakers had the political willpower.

Last week, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, vetoed a major climate bill passed by that state's lawmakers - The Clean Heat Standard, which aims to disincentivize fossil fuels for home heating because those fossil fuels make up between 30% and 40% of our greenhouse gasses.

Why would he veto this? Follow the fossil fuel money. On Monday, in an annual meeting of more than 200 Vermont businesses specializing in gas, propane and home heating fuels, industry insiders talked about what the state's climate bill could mean for their bottom lines and their customers'.

"It's a performance standard in which heating oil and propane companies and their customers will pay more [than] other companies that do things the government wants them to do - weatherization, wood pellets, biodiesel," said Matt Cota of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association.

Well, yeah. Don't let government tell you what to heat with by making it cheaper for you to use greener fuels. And by all means, don't weatherize; because if you do propane companies can't sell you as much of their more expensive fuel.

Gov. Scott's reasoning for the veto was that the new law "gives the regulatory Public Utility Commission too much rulemaking authority."

Vermont's lawmakers are looking to override the veto because many of its members think we are no longer in a world where we get to choose between climate action and the status quo.

Here's the thing: Yes, there will be winners and losers. Some fuel dealers and utilities will be big enough to change to more eco-friendly forms of home heating, while smaller ones may be forced out of business.

This is true with any change. When Henry Ford began moving the Model T's off the assembly line, he was a winner. Buggy whip manufacturers were the losers - unless they adapted and began making fan belts or the like.

The Tennessee Valley Authority, which serves customers in an 80,000-square-mile spread in Tennessee and seven other Southern states, needs to get a clue. Climate change is going to make COVID-19 look like a walk in the park.

During 2020 when COVID-19 limited economic activity and power demand shrank, TVA's carbon output was down 63% from the levels in 2005 when the Paris Climate Agreement was negotiated. But last year as power demand rebounded, TVA's return to fossil fuels grew its carbon output 57%. The country's largest government-owned electricity provider is going in the wrong direction.

And the really sad fact is that it's a planned error. TVA is aiming only for an 80% reduction in its use of fossil fuels by 2035.

That's a lot longer than three years and 8 months from now - 2026.

TVA is running out of time. And so are we.

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