Why have coal-mining communities continued to white-knuckle their interests in coal long after it was clear the industry was well into decline and would never come back? How were politicians able to misdirect blame toward a “War on Coal” narrative rather than economic factors?
In this episode, Jamie Van Nostrand, a longtime lawyer who has worked both for utility regulators and utility companies, sheds light on these questions. In addition to his current role as a regulator, Jamie has served as a professor of utility law and regulation in several states, including West Virginia, the poster child of coal-industry denial about the energy transition. In Jamie’s 2022 book, The Coal Trap: How West Virginia Was Left Behind in the Clean Energy Revolution, he explains how the politics of West Virginia, and the actions of coal industry proponents and lobbyists, contributed to a culture of denial about the need for a clean energy transition. This denial has come at a great cost to West Virginians, who have missed out on energy transition during a ‘lost decade’ and are now facing unnecessarily high grid power costs for many years ahead. Jamie shares his insights in this episode and explains how the situation in West Virginia can serve as a cautionary tale for other communities facing similar challenges. It’s a fascinating book, and Jamie’s explanations in this extra-long episode are illuminating.
We have seen numerous models showing how a mostly- or fully-decarbonized energy system can work, but how do we actually plot a path from where we are now to a deeply decarbonized energy system in the future? What are the specific policy pathways that we need to follow? And how can we make sure that we’re making the right moves now to put ourselves on those paths?
In this episode, we speak with renowned economist Dr. Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University about why deep decarbonization must be our goal for the global economy, as well as some of the main pathways to that goal. Based on numerous studies, including the output of the multi-country Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project, as well as several major papers which are in the process of being published under the auspices of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), we discuss how energy transition is actually very affordable and practical, and will ultimately deliver a better world on numerous fronts. Dr. Sachs shares with us not only his vision for a global energy transition, but some deep insights, based on his 40 years of study, about the importance of strong leadership in achieving it, and some of the interesting parallels between this moment and the Great Depression.
When it comes to energy transition solutions, wind and solar and big battery projects regularly make headlines, but we don’t often hear much about the hard-to-decarbonize sectors, like aviation, shipping, trucking, cement manufacturing, and steelmaking. Reducing emissions from these sectors is challenging for a number of reasons, but we must find ways to do it, because they account for about a third of global carbon emissions. And fortunately, there is a great deal of effort now being focused on these sectors, through an array of partnerships between governments, non-governmental organizations, and private industry. In this episode, we speak with the CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a clean energy “think and do tank” founded by energy luminary Amory Lovins which has been working on energy transition for the better part of four decades, about some of the ways that we can decarbonize these sectors.