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The Concrete Truth: Fighting For A Climate-Resilient Future

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2023 might become the first year a tornado kills someone in California, ever. In the last 20 years, an average of 7.5 tornadoes have touched down in the state per year, four times higher than the average between 1950 and 1970. Tornadoes, hail, and 60 mph winds are all byproducts of the massive “atmospheric rivers” that have been battering the state since Christmas. Like hurricanes, these storms have been strengthened by warming waters in the Pacific Ocean. 

Sixteen inches of rain fell in two days. This rain strikes land that has been parched by historic drought and destabilized by massive wildfires, causing massive floods and mudslides. A rare, full “ground stop” was issued at LAX, the second-largest airport in the country in a state whose economy is the fifth largest of any nation in the world. So far, 17 Californians have been killed and 220,000 people don’t have power. 

What’s happening in California is confirmed by a new report issued by a non-partisan research group highlighting that U.S. carbon emissions actually increased 1.3% in 2022. It highlighted a sobering reality that “we are essentially on the same trajectory that we’ve been on since the mid-2000s,” meaning for the last fifteen years, including two periods where Democrats controlled the White House and Congress, government policy has barely made a dent.

In fact, capitalism is doubling down on its own insanity. Last year’s COP27 conference in Egypt featured oil and gas companies on the official agenda. This year’s COP28 conference will be led by the head of Abu Dhabi’s state oil company. The International Energy Agency reported the world will burn more oil in 2022 than ever before, and Goldman Sachs predicts a two percent increase in use this year. Saudi Arabia, which already produces 10% of the world’s oil, aims to double production by 2030.

There is no time to waste building a movement to fight for a real, socialist Green New Deal that can create millions of union jobs.

Still On Course for Disaster

It’s true that over this time emissions have gradually decreased, but at a rate that charts a path toward irreversible environmental destruction. Furthermore, reports from institutions like the Rhodium Group highlight facts in a misleading way. For example, it’s true that the U.S. is now producing more energy from renewables than it is from coal, but this is mainly because coal is being replaced by natural gas, which uses less CO2 but releases more ozone-destroying methane.

After 50 years of talk about renewable energy, the U.S. has only managed to produce 22% of its energy from renewable sources. Waiting another 50 years to potentially hit 40% or 50% is a recipe for the worst case scenario for climate change. The report outlines that current policy offers no path to cutting CO2 by 50% by 2050, which is what Biden has promised.

Trade wars with China, which are an increasing feature of the new Era of Disorder, will make things worse. China produces 600 gigawatts worth of solar panels every year. The U.S. produces 9 gigawatts. U.S. solar panel installation actually fell 23% in 2022. This has prompted the U.S. government to finance domestic solar production, subsidizing a South Korean company to build a $2.5 billion factory in Georgia – an investment pale in comparison to the recent arms shipments for the war in Ukraine.

Moving to 100% renewable energy production would immediately reduce 32% of CO2 emissions in the U.S., and there is no way to imagine a sustainable future without taking these steps. But what about the other 66% of CO2 emissions? The report outlined that nothing short of a top-to-bottom overhaul of the economy, especially in transportation and construction, can actually slow down (and reverse) global warming.

Rebuilding for People and the Planet

Thirty percent of total carbon emissions comes from industry, and the production of concrete is among the worst offenders. If the global cement industry was a country, it would be the third largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world, according to a study by Chatham House. It is responsible for 8% of the world’s CO2.

Concrete is the single most widely used material in the world. It represents industrialization, and its use is only increasing. Since 2003, China has poured more cement every three years than the U.S. managed in the entire 20th century. By 2050, concrete use is predicted to reach four times the 1990 level.

Making large amounts of concrete requires lots of electricity, and transitioning to a fully renewable power grid would reduce emissions by half. The rest of CO2 emissions come from the chemical process to make it. There is no “green concrete,” but it’s possible to use it much more efficiently.

Building mass transit and expanding small parks could reduce concrete use by a third, while also reducing damage from flooding and storms. Designing buildings using principles inspired by the vaulted ceilings of Gothic cathedrals can reduce concrete usage by 70%. Finally, rather than building cheap buildings designed to last 50 years, building high-quality structures to last 120 years reduces overall building materials costs by another 44%.

A similar pattern follows other building materials. For example, producing a pound of steel from iron ore requires the same amount of energy needed to power three to five homes. Producing steel from recycled steel is three times more efficient. Transitioning to fully renewable energy would reduce steel production emissions by an additional 40%.

The task of designing higher quality housing and more efficient infrastructure not only addresses a massive chunk of carbon waste, but it also provides thousands of good, union engineering and construction jobs. Actually carrying out the task of building it could provide millions more. Furthermore, a genuine green infrastructure program could be aimed at goals like eradicating homelessness, building more schools and libraries, transit, and more!

Expand Buses and Rail – Make Them Free

Another third of CO2 emissions comes from transportation. The report outlined CO2 emissions from transportation also increased 1.3% since 2021, mostly coming from increased demand for jet fuel. Air travel is notoriously inefficient. About 2% of all CO2 emissions come from airplanes. Freight trains by comparison account for 0.3% of CO2 emissions, even though they carry 28% of all freight in the US.

In some cases, air travel is the only option. However, the top 20 busiest air routes in the world are all domestic flights. The busiest air corridor in the U.S. is not New York to Los Angeles, it’s Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Los Angeles to San Francisco is the sixth busiest air corridor in the country. Many of these short flights could easily be replaced with high-speed rail. In fact, half of all flights globally are less than 500 miles, a two-hour trip on a state of the art high-speed rail.  

Replacing busy, short-haul flights with high-speed rail would dramatically reduce CO2 emissions, and create millions of good jobs in the process. Transportation groups estimate every billion dollars invested into rail creates 24,000 jobs. Furthermore, it would dramatically reduce costs for consumers. A two-hour, 500-mile round trip ticket on China’s latest high-speed rail line costs $89.

Linking high-speed rail to an expanded bus system reduces personal transportation CO2 emissions by an additional 45%. This reduction can be multiplied exponentially if the transit system is electrified by renewable energy. Numerous studies show the best way to increase ridership, which also makes transit much safer, is to expand routes and service and also make the bus free. Finally it wouldn’t cost that much. Elon Musk has enough money to personally triple federal funding for mass transit.

Once-in-a-lifetime weather events happening year after year is a clear indication that climate change is real, and report after report confirms things are getting worse. However, corporate politicians on both sides of the aisle refuse to act, because a sustainable future is not good for their short-term profits and their shareholders. The type of top-to-bottom overhaul that is necessary to reduce CO2 emissions to safe levels is only possible on a socialist basis, where working class people have power to reshape the economy around the needs of people and the planet.

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