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Fighting climate change with innovation

Amid school strikes, climate marches, and international summits, there is little debate over whether the climate is changing. This week, Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah) made a statement by beginning a weekly series on his Twitter account called #CurtisClimateChat

This move by a prominent Republican further signals that those on both sides of the political aisle have accepted the science behind climate change. Discussions have moved on, and if you’re arguing with leading research centers, universities, the Department of Defense, and a thermometer, you’re behind the times. 

Environmental conversations, like Curtis’ new series, are no longer about whether the climate is changing, but which solutions are best suited to confront the challenges we face head-on. While big-government proposals and economic takeovers often dominate the headlines, the truth is that any consequential plan to address climate change must include a strong commitment to innovation-based policy and global deployment.

Statistically speaking, the United States accounts for just 15 percent of global carbon emissions. While there are a plethora of ways to reduce emissions here in the U.S., our focus must go beyond only 15 percent of total emissions. 

Reducing emissions with domestic policy and implementing tight regulation will do little beyond compromising our economic strength while other nations continue to pollute. This is why we must lead with exportable-innovation over-regulation, as this approach will provide the global solution that climate change demands. 

It’s no coincidence that strong capitalist economies have done the best job of addressing climate change. While capitalist economies lead the world in innovation and emissions reductions, socialist and communist countries struggle with pollution and environmental mismanagement. An innovation-based approach to climate change is everything that sweeping regulation is not: politically popular, economically sound, and environmentally positive.

Technologies such as carbon capture, battery storage, and advanced nuclear power hold the key to reducing emissions while fostering a healthy and growing economy. After all, a strong economy is what allows us to invest in innovation, scale technologies, and deploy them globally. 

Investing in research and development accelerates the deployment of cutting-edge technology, which ultimately makes fossil fuels cleaner and renewables more competitive. Further developments in battery storage technology, for example, will make solar and wind more reliable, allowing those clean sources to play a more significant role in a diverse and reliable energy portfolio.

While promising clean energy technologies continue to scale, the demand for fossil fuel still exists. While some 2020 presidential candidates have pledged to ban these fuels in the United States, this approach will not result in global emissions reduction. 

There’s no getting around it: because of innovation, The United States’ energy exports are cleaner and safer than other countries’. This reality means we must look to developing technology such as carbon capture and storage, which will remove carbon dioxide from the air and make fossil fuels more sustainable. 

While CCS may be still in developmental stages, we can lean into natural solutions like carbon sinks and forestation for now. One thing is clear: To lower current levels of carbon; we must deploy these and other negative-carbon technologies, not just reduce our emission levels as they stand. It is innovations such as these that will ultimately move us forward towards a cleaner, brighter future.

A climate plan that prioritizes innovation will leverage the minds of entrepreneurs and innovators who make this country so great. Given our successful track record of addressing global challenges and introducing new technology to the world, the United States should seize the opportunity these solutions present to address climate change. 

While the Democratic base and party may be divided on a Green New Deal-style plan, support for an innovation-based approach is widespread, and members of Congress in both parties are warming up to the idea of investing in innovation as a critical solution to climate change. Instead of promoting big-government policies, bipartisan groups of legislators have introduced bills to leverage innovation to reduce emissions and strengthen America’s economic future. 

These bills include the USE IT Act, NELA, and the BEST Act, all of which prioritize innovation and can pass with bipartisan support and begin making a difference in emissions immediately. Passing these bills would serve as an ideal starting point for Republicans and Democrats wanting to pursue tangible climate change solutions. While starting conversations about climate change is essential, it’s time to take real action, and leading with innovation is a surefire way to do so. 

Danielle Butcher is the chief operating officer for the American Conservation Coalition.


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