One of the most impressive aspects of the Paris climate talks is who’s talking. More than 150 world leaders have turned out for the two-week environmental summit. The sheer number testifies to how global warming has at last sparked a global conversation.
But beyond the array of world leaders, it is also significant that the talks have drawn officials from all levels of government along with scientists and environmental advocates. For while international agreements will set goals, the solution to global warming also will require a mosaic of actions taken at the state and local levels.
In that regard, it matters how seriously North Carolina’s state and local governments take the issue and what actions that concern produces. Generally, North Carolina is more part of the solution than the problem of global warming. The state has been a leader in encouraging renewable energy, especially solar energy, and some of its cities and towns have promoted the use of renewable energy in homes and required it in public buildings.
But that positive record is being clouded by the rise of climate-change skeptics in the General Assembly and the administration of Gov. Pat McCrory. Not only has state government lost a sense of urgency or even obligation about addressing global warming, it also has begun rolling back earlier efforts and thwarting current ones.
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Last session, the General Assembly allowed a renewable energy tax cut to expire, undermining the state’s booming solar power industry. Meanwhile, some lawmakers are continuing to seek an end to mandates requiring utilities to produce a rising percentage of their electricity from renewable sources. The legislature has backed fracking in North Carolina despite its tendency to leak methane from drill sites. The McCrory administration opposes the EPA’s new Clean Power Plan, which calls for reductions in carbon emissions from power plants. And the governor is leading a regional push to allow off-shore drilling.
Dave Rogers, head of the advocacy group Environment North Carolina, said, “We started to clean up our power grid, but now I’m concerned that steps we’ve taken in the last few years have worked to undo some of the momentum.”
Molly Diggins, state director of the Sierra Club’s North Carolina chapter, said the state’s backpedaling on carbon limits contrasts with states like Oregon and California that have made pledges in Paris to seek steep reductions in their carbon emissions.
Fortunately, an oil and natural gas glut has slowed North Carolina’s movement into fracking and may make off-shore drilling not worth the effort. And the gains of earlier years are still having an effect in growing solar and wind power. But in a race against global warming in which time is essential and governments at all levels must contribute, North Carolina’s state government has chosen to run backward.