This piece was submitted by Rachel Tam, an Intern of CALPIRG Students, and co-authored by Manu Agni, UCSD AS President.
Earth Day this year has been exceptionally remarkable on the full-out transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy: A strong kickoff has been made by President Joe Biden, setting the ambitious goal of cutting down at least half of US greenhouse gas emission by 2030. On the same day, student activism group CALPIRG Students organized the California Climate Action Summit, pushing the state to dedicate that target. Over 30 speakers ranging from state leaders and elected officials to scientists, hundreds of climate activists and students from over 25 campuses across the country gathered at the summit to demonstrate support and the need for 100% clean energy by the end of the decade to build a better future.
A fossil-fuel-dependent economy has tolled heavily on people and the planet’s health and welfare: oceanic ecosystems are exposed to toxins from oil spills, and communities, especially those of color and low-income, are suffering from rolling blackouts, heat waves, and the carbon-polluted water and air from energy production and severe wildfires. Due to the delayed warming effect, temperature rise and its impacts will still occur albeit ceasing greenhouse gas emissions now. With energy intercepting three major problems – air pollution, climate change, and energy instability, the transition to 100% clean renewable energy is fundamental to reach the carbon emission goal on time. In her opening notes at the 100 Percent Clean Energy Panel, Laura Deehan, State Director of Environment, highlighted the unique leading role that California has: As the world’s fifth largest economy and an innovation and cultural hub, it can influence other states to mimic our policies. Considering possible slowdowns, the golden state has no time for delay in speeding up the clean renewable energy timeline by 2030.
As a leader of the 100 percent renewable energy movement and member of the civil and environmental engineering faculty at Stanford University, Professor Mark Jacobson noted in the opening speech at the Summit, 100 percent renewable clean energy is already doable in the near future. In his 2021 infographic on California’s ability to go full renewable, it is demonstrated that the total wind-water-solar energy supply can fully meet the end-use demand including the transmission and distribution losses in the two-year simulation, at low cost, no matter if California is interconnected with the WECC grid or works as an isolated grid. As confirmed by the California Independent System Operator, California has hit over 80 percent renewable energy a couple times this year, even as high as nearly 95 percent. Furthermore, new technologies and resources are tapped into to supplement present clean renewables, like offshore winds along the California Coast (AB525), which as Assemblymember David Chiu said, “[is]an incredible potential to meet clean energy goals, combat climate change, and to provide a ton of good paid jobs.” With the hardwares already available, formulating policy is the jumpstarter for getting more renewable projects on the table.
“We are very good at setting climate goals … but those goals are not self-executing. We have to fill it in with the actual tangible steps to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels … where we are less good,” noted State Senator Scott Weiner, resonating with San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria’s experience in both creating the Climate Action Plan and implementing policies at city level. Challenging the status quo and making political choices are crucial yet hard, therefore the continuous conversation of pushing renewables and cutting down fossil fuels is needed.
College students have an immense ability to act as trailblazers when it comes to sustainability, and influencing policy decisions. For instance, UC San Diego students organized to create the U-Pass program in 2014, building on the student-centered unlimited transit program started in 1969. “Having among the highest transit-usage rates in the region, UCSD students contributed to reducing fossil fuel dependence through the all-inclusive, free public transit program, which is among the first of its kind in the state,” said Associated Students President Manu Agni. Another example is the Senate Bill 100, where CALPIRG Students collected over 25,000 petitions, submitted resolutions to student governments, collected over 100 sign-ons from California Community leaders, and held lobby meetings with officials, contributing to the passing. Students’ voices play the key role in communicating with local officials: Reflecting the need and support of transitioning to renewable energy. This way, state officials can thus make the best decisions through the effective teamwork and collaboration of all levels. As Assemblymember Buffy Wicks echoed, “My colleagues need to hear from you on these issues. You need to hold our feet to the fire, and don’t ever stop.”
This is a generation that is the first to experience climate change, and also the last to change before everything becomes unstoppable. Students not only hold the power of change in the future, but also now; it is our call to influence decisions and make impacts for a 100 percent clean renewable society, and build the desirable world for our generation and the next one to live in.