The Declaration of Arjun Makhijani, in support of the Atmospheric Trust Litigation Plaintiff’s Climate Change Suit Against Federal Agencies  (September 26, 2011; Filed November 21, 2011)

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Find more at: Our Children’s Trust.

This declaration is based in large measure on my book, Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy, as well as on research that I have done since that time up to the time of preparing this declaration.  My main conclusions are:

  1. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel use are responsible for almost 80 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. It is necessary to eliminate these emissions, or nearly so, to protect the climate; it is also highly desirable, since that will produce many other collateral benefits for society such as reduced air pollution and respiratory diseases, reduced casualties in the military for transporting and using petroleum, and reduced conflict over Middle Eastern oil resources.  Fortunately, with the right policies, it is also technically and economically feasible to transition to an energy system that is fully renewable or nearly so (more than 90 percent renewable) by 2050 and to do so at reasonable cost.  This means that CO2 emissions from energy use can be reduced at an exponential rate of about 6 percent per year.  A workable solution and a roadmap to get there is detailed in my book, Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free; A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy, first published in 2007.  My research since that time has led me to conclude that a faster rate of reduction of energy-related CO2 emissions and an earlier achievement of a 90 percent (or better) renewable energy system, by about 2040 is feasible with determined and sound public policy.
  2. Energy efficiency is central to a sound energy policy and to a transition to non-fossil fuel energy sources in a reasonable time (30 to 40 years).  A reduction of the energy footprint of about 50 percent for existing buildings and 70 percent for new building energy footprints through the proper use of efficiency technologies is economically feasible and reasonable.
  3. Current military investments and technological developments demonstrate the feasibility of an economical transition to displacing well over 50 percent of petroleum use by 2025 by increases in efficiency and a partial transition to electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. That is, a rate of reduction of CO2 emissions of more than 6 percent per year can be achieved in the vehicular transportation sector. A far faster rate is set to be achieved in some parts of the defense sector.  But the commercial market will require a suitable set of carbon and efficiency policies and targets to ensure successful reductions in time and to achieve the greatest benefits at lowest cost.
  4. The technical feasibility of replacing jet fuel in commercial and military aircraft with biofuels has been established.  Algal biofuels are the most productive per unit of land and can bring many other benefits, since they do not require fresh water for feedstock production and can even be cultivated in wastewater as an ancillary service provided in wastewater treatment.  The technological and economic developments of the last three years, the U.S. military’s push to reduce costs and casualties associated with petroleum fuel, and the European goals for reducing CO2 emissions from aircraft starting in 2012 are among the main driving forces of rapid change.  Companies are planning large increases in biofuel production, including from algae, in the next two to three years; large oil companies are also investing in or purchasing companies that are in the biofuels business.  The main missing element is a U.S. policy for reducing carbon emissions from commercial aircraft.
  5. The industrial sector possesses much more fuel flexibility than the aircraft sector. There is no inherent barrier technically since biofuels and/or hydrogen from renewable sources can directly substitute for fossil fuels in almost all energy intensive industrial uses.  Further, electricity in industry, like that in other sectors, can be derived completely or almost completely from renewable sources.  What is needed from the federal government is a steadily declining cap on carbon emissions from large industrial sources, which would provide the maximum flexibility to industry to phase out the use of fossil fuels.
  6. The United States possesses far greater wind and solar energy resources than could be used under any foreseeable scenario for the long term.  The cost of wind-generated electricity in the best areas is already at the low end of fossil fuel (coal or natural gas) generated electricity; solar energy costs are headed in the same direction.  Just as in the case of using plug-in hybrids and replacing petroleum fuels with algal and other biofuels, the Department of Defense is investing greatly, both to reduce costs and casualties, in going to renewable electricity.  Moreover, when efficiency is combined with renewable electricity, the total bills for electricity should be about the same, since the lower costs for efficiency and the higher cost per kilowatt hour for generation will balance each other out.
  7. The federal government will not have to bear significant costs to effect this transition.  Its main responsibilities are to put its own house in order in regards to efficiency and renewable energy and to put in place a set of policies that will provide the framework for a transition for the U.S. economy as a whole.  On the contrary, there will be a significant benefit in terms of reduced military expenditures and casualties that have been incurred in the quest for security of foreign oil supplies.
  8. The transition to a renewable energy system can be accomplished with the typical fraction of Gross Domestic Product devoted to energy (about 8 percent) in the United States.
  9. There will be immense overall direct and indirect benefits, though some sections of the country and population, such as coal mining areas, would be adversely affected.  This is no more than the kind of difficulty normally experienced by the economy in any major transition, such as from a rural to urban economy or from whale oil and horses to petroleum, electricity, tractors, and cars.
  10. The hardship can be mitigated by appropriate public policies, such as a carbon tax whose proceeds can be used to offset any regressive income impacts, create employment in the affected areas, encourage new energy infrastructure in the affected areas, and so on.
  11. There are immense direct and indirect public benefits in transitioning to an efficient renewable energy system in terms of reduced incidence of diseases such as asthma, freeing up of most of the supplies of water that are now used for thermal electricity generation (and hence reduced conflict over water), reduced air, water, and soil pollution that accompanies fossil fuel production, processing and use, and greatly improved prospects of avoiding the worst consequences of climate change.

The main policies needed to make a transition are:

  • A renewable portfolio standard for electricity that ramps up to 90 or 95 percent by 2050 at the latest with an option to increase the speed of phase out to 2040.
  • A carbon tax whose proceeds are refunded to lower income groups and used to offset damage in areas and populations that would otherwise be negatively affected.  Some of the funds would also be used for research and development of new efficiency and renewable energy technologies.
  • A carbon-neutral federal government by 2030 that would create a market for renewable energy and reduce government expenditures on fuels and electricity in the medium and long term.
  • Building, appliance, and vehicle efficiency standards, including all motor vehicles, ships, and aircraft.
  • CO2 emission targets per mile travelled for the transportation sector.
  • A steadily declining cap on emissions from large, energy intensive industries to 10 percent or less of 1990 emissions by 2050.