Summing Up

It is now too late to avoid global warming and ocean acidification. The oceans are measurably more acidic and and the climate has warmed. However, climate scientists say that by acting now, the worst effects can be avoided. Thus far, most governmental action has been directed at emergency relief for climate related damage such as storms and wildfires. States have been more active in reducing damage by building sea walls and restoring wetlands. 1 Rather than fund short-term efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change, the Foundation funds projects addressing the cause of climate change.

If effective action is not taken the predicted result will be mass migration away from vast areas that are flooded, damaged by storms and wildfires, impacted by prolonged drought, or suffer starvation due to collapse of fisheries and agriculture. The Trustees recognize that powerful interests resist change. Rather than shrinking from the difficulty of the task, the Foundation Trustees choose to address climate change head on.

Coal workers are disadvantaged more than most by the transition to clean energy. A Foundation project is looking at how a tax on carbon could fund their medical care, pensions, and transition coal workers and their communities to a more sustainable future.

The Foundation is also funding organizations promoting investment in clean energy technology, and the protection of critical ecosystems threatened by climate change and ocean acidification.

So what are the three most important steps needed to address global warming?

The Foundation is giving priority to:
  1. A science-based reduction in emissions through court action enforcing Constitutional protections for life, liberty, and property.
  2. Ending fossil fuel subsidies and putting a price on pollution through a carbon tax that starts low and rises briskly.
  3. Increasing federal support of clean energy research and deployment, including nuclear energy.
Reviewers of this position paper have not objected to a science-based reduction in emissions, or using markets to put a price on pollution through a carbon tax. However, experience shows that passing a carbon tax that is both effective and equitable is politically challenging. For example, voters in Washington State rejected two ballot initiatives to levy a $15/ton tax on carbon emissions (equivalent to a 15 cent increase in the price of gasoline). Protests in France caused the government to roll back its carbon tax, reportedly due to the resulting increase in gasoline and diesel prices. That is why the Foundation supports court action requiring a science-based reduction in emissions. Politicians will likely respond by passing a tax on carbon as the most effective and least costly solution if they are forced to act.

But isn’t the Walker Foundation taking a big risk putting so much support behind court action, while failing to build political support? The Trustees have been building political support over the years by quietly funding informational meetings where members of both parties can learn about the latest research and discuss ways to cooperate out of the public spotlight. This is the Foundation’s approach to overcoming the partisan divide in Washington. The Foundation does not support organizations whose primary purpose is lobbying. If you wish to promote political action, Citizen’s Climate Lobby has chapters in all congressional districts and is working to promote a carbon tax with 100% of revenue returned directly to citizens through a dividend.

The biggest objection has been expanding nuclear power. Reviewers accept evidence that closed nuclear plants have been replaced by natural gas, so they agree we should provide incentives to keep existing plants open until their licenses expire. However, they correctly point out that even if nuclear power is safe, it now takes so long to license and build a new plant, that utilities can not finance new construction.

So why not go all in on renewables? The case study (described earlier in this paper) comparing Germany’s investment in renewables to neighboring France’s investment in nuclear power shows that continued deployment of renewables did not reduce emissions. German emissions are at approximately the same level as they were in 2009. German electricity was nearly 10 times dirtier than France’s. Why? Intermittent solar and wind had to be backed up by more reliable gas, coal & dirty biofuel. It's true that renewable deployment initially reduced emissions, but the grid could only absorb a limited amount of intermittent renewable power. Closures of nuclear power plants wiped out emission reductions from less coal power. 2 German electricity is now almost double the cost in France.

Further confirmation of the limited role that renewables can play in reducing emissions comes from a study by Environmental Progress. “France has increasingly done what Germany wants. According to the Commision de Regulation de L’Energie, €29 billion (US$33) billion was used to purchase wind and solar electricity in mainland France between 2009 and 2018. But the money spent on renewables did not lead to cleaner electricity.”…“In fact, the carbon-intensity of French electricity has increased. After years of subsidies for solar and wind.”… “The reason? Record-breaking wind and solar production did not make up for falling nuclear energy output and higher natural gas consumption. And now, the high cost of renewable electricity is showing up in French household electricity bills.” The study concludes that “France could have completely decarbonized its electricity sector had it spent $32 billion on new nuclear plants rather than on renewables like solar and wind.” 3

Considering the high cost of building new nuclear plants, doesn't it make sense to build renewables here in the U.S. when the cost of solar and wind is so low? Although the cost of installing a unit of solar and wind power has declined, as intermittent solar and wind become a larger percentage of our electricity, their value declines. Because electricity from renewables can not be affordably stored for more than a brief period, reliable back-up power is needed. Thus far additional backup power has come from fossil fuels, primarily natural gas. The alternative is to vastly overbuild renewables, transmission lines, and electricity storage using banks of batteries, or pumped-storage hydropower. This approach dramatically raises the cost of electricity and risks power outages. Power outages will force hospitals, building elevators, and other essential services to run on inefficient and polluting back-up generators. (For a more detailed discussion see: Technology Innovation & Economics, by Environmental Progress - a Walker Foundation grantee 4) Pricing damage costs through a tax on carbon pollution will make existing nuclear plants competitive. But, replacing fossil fuel plants that provide reliable baseload power with nuclear will undoubtedly require federal support and loan guarantees. Federal support is needed to scale up nuclear quickly, because further delay will result in climate damage costs that shrink the economy.

One last thing — didn't the Fukushima nuclear explosion kill thousands? No, it didn’t. The widely televised explosion was a chemical, not a nuclear explosion. There were approximately 16,000 confirmed deaths from the 2011 tsunami. 5 However, despite radiation from the nuclear plant accident exceeding safety guidelines, there were no deaths from acute radiation exposure. Furthermore, “Studies by the World Health Organization and Tokyo University have shown that no discernible increase in the rate of cancer deaths is expected.”  6 Thirty-four early deaths were attributed to the forced evacuation, not radiation exposure. “The mental or physical burden of the forced move from their homes because of the Fukushima accident was the cause of 34 early deaths, said a report from Japan's Reconstruction Agency” 7 The evacuation was an ill-advised, over-reaction to exaggerated fears of nuclear energy. 8

The U.S. Constitution protects fundamental rights including life, liberty, and property. The federal government’s support of fossil fuel companies through subsidies, delegation of eminent domain authority, and leasing of land for fossil fuel development violates the U.S. Constitution’s protection of fundamental rights. Fossil fuel emissions causing global warming are responsible for sea level rise that is predicted to accelerate and flood valuable coastal property, including homes, roads, airports, cities and coastal wetlands that buffer inland areas from storm damage. Climate suits supported by the Foundation ask the courts to enforce the Constitution and public trust doctrine by requiring a sciencebase reduction in emissions.

The goal of the Walker Foundation is to maintain a healthy, productive economy that generates wealth and jobs so the country can afford to make investments sufficient to address climate change.

The Walker Foundation is a small family foundation with a global mission.
  1.  Along the Coasts, Communities Gird for Rising Seas, Jennifer Levitz and Cameron McWhirter, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 3, 2019.
  2. Germany, Environmental Progress, April 9, 2018.
  3. Summary from this study: IF Saving the Climate Requires Making Energy So Expensive, Why is French Electricity So Cheap? by Michael Shellenberger, Forbes, Feb. 5, 2019.
  4. Technology Innovation & Economics, Environmental Progress - a Walker Foundation grantee.
  5. Japan Earthquake & Tsunami of 2011: Facts and Information, by Becky Oskin, Live Science, Sept. 13, 2017.
  6. Wikipedia article titled "Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster casualties.”
  7. The health effects of Fukushima, World Nuclear News, Aug. 28, 2012.
  8. Evacuating a nuclear disaster areas is (usually) a waste of time and money, says study, The Conversation, Nov. 20, 2017.


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