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PWS 180: Section 4

What can we do about it?
The worksheets, slides, and other materials for this section can be found in the Box folder (link in syllabus).

For the rest of the class, we will be focusing on how to solve climate change! Over the following weeks, we will carefully consider several proposals made by climate change policy leaders, including researchers, engineers, and organizers. This is a rapidly evolving field, and your creativity, passion, and knowledge will be central to making this part of the class as up-to-date and relevant as possible. Like always, be curious, skeptical, courageous, and charitable as you interact with the information below and your peers.
  • This week, we are going to do a deep dive into global-scale solutions to climate change. We are focusing on Project Drawdown's proposal of how to solve climate change while improving the quality of life of all humans. As always, take your time and ask questions in and out of class:

    1. Watching: (1 hour 7 minutes) Summary of the Drawdown Review by Dr. Jonathan Foley, executive director of Project Drawdown.
    2. Reading: The Drawdown Review by outlines a comprehensive global plan for reducing emissions while elevating human society and conserving the ecosystems we all depend on. You can download the review from the Project Drawdown website or access the pdf in the shared folder. The report is 104 pages, but it is largely photos and figures.

    We also have a guest speaker this Friday. Dr. Clark Pixton from the Marriott School is a specialist in global supply chains and business. He asked us to read the following short articles:

    • Reading: Walmart’s newest sustainability initiative: CEO article and infographic
    • Reading: Summary of a Harvard Business School conference on roadblocks to sustainability: article

    Bonus readings:

    Questions to guide (or at least to start) your reading:

    1. What is Project Drawdown (who started it, what are their goals)?
    2. What is meant by “drawdown”?
    3. What values does this proposal contain (what explicit or implicit moral positions do they make)?
    4. What is the general approach they are proposing?
    5. How do they view technological innovation (e.g. is it emphasized, de-emphasized, ignored)?
    6. They use the phrases “Reduce sources,” “Support sinks,” and “Improve society.” How would you describe each of these overarching goals?
    7. What are the most important technological, societal, and ecological changes they propose?
    8. How much of a difference could these proposals make?
    9. What is the timeline of this proposal (e.g. when do things need to get done)?
    10. What are the costs of implementing the changes they propose?
    11. What are the benefits of the changes they propose?
    12. What political changes (e.g. governance, regulation, treaties) would need to take place to make this a reality?
    13. How does this proposal make you feel?
    14. Based on your reading of the proposal, how would you characterize the environmental ethic of Project Drawdown?
    15. What parts of the proposal were most surprising to you?
    16. Do you disagree with any of the proposals?
    17. How justified do you find the scientific and political parts of this proposal?
  • There are no readings this week because we have the second midterm. On Monday, I will go over the final material for the midterm, Wednesday will be the test review, and you can take the test on Learning Suite anytime from Wednesday at 11am (right after class) until Friday night at 11:59.

    It's not required, but if you want to stay up to date on the COP26 negotiations, here are some resources:

  • This week, we are going to read one national and one global plan for how to replace all fossil fuels with clean electricity, plus a foreign policy analysis of how this could alter U.S.-China relations. Saul Griffith’s new handbook “Rewiring America” is one of the most comprehensive national plans to stop all greenhouse gas emissions from the United States. The second reading is a peer-reviewed article that Christian Breyer’s team published in early 2021 about global defossilization (removal of all fossil fuels). It starts with electricity production (the largest greenhouse gas source globally) but goes through all aspects of the economy, including transportation, heating, desalinization, and creation of synthetic fuels for heavy industry.

    I find these reports especially important (and exciting) because of three factors. First, they are technologically realistic; these “no miracle” solutions are based on already existing machines. Second, they are financially feasible; they integrate economics and financing in their considerations. Third, they are largely non-ideological, which could make them more broadly appealing in our polarized country. Who doesn’t want cleaner air and more high-quality jobs? Consequently, these are very broad-ranging reports that integrates technical knowledge of finances, economics, and power production, transmission, and storage. They are both quite readable, but it is helpful to listen to the podcast first and review with some of the bonus articles and video afterward.

    There are few topics that spark more pseudoscience and misinformation than renewable energy. People have really strong opinions about many of these topics, though I find that a lot of those opinions are ideologically driven. That said, there are plenty of questions left to resolve, so don’t be afraid to ask questions and disagree. As always, take your time and ask questions in and out of class.

    1. Listening: (67 minutes) How to decarbonize America—and create 25 million jobs. This interview with Saul Griffith of Otherlab on the Ezra Klein Show provides an overview of Griffith’s analysis and proposal.
    2. Reading: Rewiring America Handbook by Griffith. This is the actual 145-page handbook. Pay special attention to the figures and summaries of each section.
    3. Reading: This article is an updated global view of energy transitions. It is much shorter and more technical than Rewiring America.
    4. Reading: This Foreign Policy article Beijing is Winning the Clean Energy Race explores some of the political ramifications of the renewable energy revolution.

    Bonus readings:

    Questions to start or stimulate your thinking:

    • What are the most common criticisms you’ve heard of renewable energy?
    • What is Griffith proposing to do?
    • According to Griffith, how long do we have to halve our emissions to stay on a 1.5C warming trajectory?
    • What are “committed emissions”?
    • What are “negative emissions,” and why does Griffith not include them in his proposal?
    • How does Griffith view energy efficiency and conservation?
    • What are the major machines that we will need to decarbonize the economy?
    • How much would this decarbonization cost relative to the U.S. GDP? How much does that translate to per household or per capita?
    • What would be the economic impacts of this transformation?
    • How much more electricity would we need to make to achieve this goal?
    • How many and what kinds of jobs would this proposal destroy or displace? Where are those jobs located?
    • How many and what kinds of jobs would this proposal create? Where are those jobs located?
    • How many jobs per kilowatt hour does renewable energy create compared to fossil fuels?
    • What does Griffith propose to do with fossil fuel companies and their workers?
    • What aspects of this proposal do you find most feasible and likely to be implemented?
    • What aspects of this proposal do you find most far-fetched and unlikely to see the light of day?
    • What weaknesses or blind spots do you see in this proposal?
    • Based on his plan, what do you conclude about Griffith’s environmental ethic?
    • What differences are there between the plan for the U.S. and the plan for the globe?
    • What energy storage options are there, and how much storage do you need to provide grid-stable electricity?
    • How is the renewable revolution affecting U.S.-China relations?
    • What ideological conflicts could renewable energy bring to the surface in the U.S. and abroad?
    • How does clean electrification affect the global electricity and primary energy demand?
  • This week is super short because of Thanksgiving (yay for gratitude!). Consequently, we just have one reading and one watching this week. The reading is a paper that I have been working on with a group of BYU undergrads and some colleagues from LUT University in Finland and across the US. We try to summarize all the material we’ve gone over this semester into a short-format article (just 7 pages). Because this paper isn’t yet submitted, I ask you to keep it confidential (don’t go posting on Tiktok or Scrimscram or whatever the cool kids are using these days). Also, if you have input on any aspect of the paper, please share it with me, and I will revise before we submit. The watching is a short video on the renewables revolution. There are so many garbage videos online of random people or celebrities spouting their opinions about how renewables aren’t ready or how they are actually worse than fossil fuels (both of those statements are false). This video interviews actual researchers and engineers working in energy (imagine that!). As always, take your time and ask questions in and out of class.

    1. Reading (7 pages): Back to the Holocene
    2. Watching (8 minutes): How solar energy got so cheap, and why it’s not everywhere (yet)

    Bonus readings

    Questions to stimulate thinking:

    1. It seems like climate activists are always wanting more. First, they said we needed to stay below 2°C of warming, and now they have raised the bar to 1.5°C. Why do climate targets keep changing?
    2. Why isn’t 1.5°C a good climate target?
    3. Are there any alternatives to temperature-based climate targets? If so, what are the pros and cons?
    4. What are some tipping elements in the Earth system that might be triggered by warming? How would they affect human society and other life on Earth?
    5. With so much uncertainty in where tipping points are located, how can we best conceptualize risk regarding climate change?
    6. What is a gigaton-year and what is it used for?
    7. What is the levelized cost of energy, and why is it used to compare across different energy sources?
    8. How much has the cost of solar PV, wind, and lithium-ion batteries decreased in the past decade?
    9. What were the factors that helped renewables and batteries decrease so rapidly in cost?
    10. What are some ways to further decrease the environmental footprint of the renewable revolution?
    11. Is it possible to truly restore a pre-industrial climate?
    12. How could we accelerate the rollout of renewable energy? What political, financial, cultural, and technological tools could we use?
    13. How will clean electrification affect energy prices? How will it affect reliability of energy?
    14. How much more electricity will we need to produce by 2050?
    15. How many solar gigafactories would it take to decarbonize the global economy by 2040?
    16. How do the readings this week make you feel?
  • You are now experts in global ecology and climate change. I have been deeply impressed by your mastery of such diverse content (atmospheric chemistry to behavioral economics!) and more importantly by your application of this learning in compassionate and Christlike ways. I wanted to end the class with practical and inspiring readings. I finally settled on the choices below, from leaders in environmental stewardship and humanitarian service. These readings cultivate hope in creating a community where we are less lonely and anxious. Our Heavenly Parents have commanded us to create a Zion society where we live according to the Celestial Law of the Earth to cherish and lift up all creation. Each of you has unique and sacred gifts that you can develop and share as you work toward this goal. Let us all prepare and work diligently while being careful not to run faster than we have strength. We are not alone. Indeed, those with us are more numerous and powerful than those against us. May we all cultivate affection and love for one another as we work toward a bright future.

    1. Reading (19 pages): Wendell Berry’s 2012 Jefferson Lecture for the National Endowment for the Humanities entitled It all turns on affection. I felt the Spirit so profoundly as I read this essay, and I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and reactions. I added an afterward at the end of the PDF in our shared folder.
    2. Reading (9 pages): Leah Stokes’ chapter from the book All We Can Save, entitled “A Field Guide for Transformation.” I really like how Dr. Stokes brings together the practical, personal, and political power we each have to combat climate change. A PDF of the chapter is accessible in our shared folder.
    3. Watching (75 minutes): President Sharon Eubanks’ address and forum discussion at the LDS Earth Stewardship fall forum in 2020. President Eubanks brings her incredible spirituality, wisdom, and uplifting perspective to environmental stewardship. Additional insights from environmental leaders in the LDS community from around the world.

    Bonus readings


    1. Who have been examples of sustainable living and Christlike love to you? How did they influence you, and what characteristics did they have?
    2. Why do you think we so often use our wealth (our time, influence, and resources) for personal satisfaction rather than communal good? How can we change that tendency?
    3. What is the difference between “boomers” and “stickers” in Berry’s essay? Which of these groups is dominant now and do you see a trend toward one or the other?
    4. According to Stokes, how do personal action and policy interact?
    5. How can we expand our hearts to encompass all the human family and all creation?
    6. How do moral responsibility and affection interact to create or undermine an environmental ethic?
    7. How can we, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints work together to reduce inequality and encourage sustainability?
    8. What does Klein mean by “sacrifice zones” and how can we eliminate them?
    9. In the face of such immense problems, how can we make a meaningful difference without getting overwhelmed?
    10. What are you feeling inspired to do today to begin magnifying your environmental stewardship?