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Dan Rodricks

A new Operation Warp Speed is needed, this time for climate change | COMMENTARY

Ikea's solar car park in White Marsh is the company's first in the United States. Another, at the Ikea in College Park, is nearing completion.

Just about every day I see things that prompt me to ask, “What’s taking so long?” This happens a lot with regard to climate change. The clock is ticking, and ticking louder, as the planet gets warmer, and we human beings — supposedly the most advanced form of life on the planet — still fail to come up with solutions.

Check that: We come up with solutions, or know what they are; we just don’t bring them to scale fast enough. And we’re cheap when it comes to paying for them.

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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we have already inflicted so much damage on the atmosphere that global warming is a certainty over the next 30 years and we only have a narrow window to change our ways to avoid leaving our kids a thoroughly hellish future. And yet, we’re still taking our time.

We still have huge lawns and vast stretches of open space when we could fill those areas with more carbon-sequestering trees. I recently traveled along Interstate 95, through the maddening Northeast corridor, and noticed a long, wide stretch of grassy median that could use about 50,000 trees.

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I see ugly power lines hanging from wooden poles along roads and wonder why, with more extreme weather and power outages a certainty, we haven’t buried them all.

I wonder why we don’t have more trains and more accessible rail service throughout the country.

I wonder why electric cars aren’t more affordable and commonplace by now. According to the Pew Research Center, only 7% of American adults own an electric or hybrid vehicle. The clock is ticking. What is taking so long?

Another fact: Solar supplied less than 3% of the nation’s electricity in 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Why is the big solar breakout taking so long?

Recently, I went to one of the 48 Walmart stores in Maryland. There was a sprawling parking lot that I’m sure could be seen from some billionaire’s spaceship. I look at this sprawling, impermeable and pathetically underused parking lot, baking in the summer sun for hours every day, and I say: “Walton family, why don’t you turn every one of your godforsaken parking lots into a solar park?”

Ikea has done this at its store in White Marsh. When I pulled into the parking lot this summer, for the first time in at least a year, it was no longer just a parking lot, but a full solar park. The entire area was covered with a series of carports, and atop each carport were solar cells that power the huge store and keep the Swedish meatballs warm.

“Initial results have exceeded expectations,” Ikea reported on its website earlier this year as it touted the completion of the project. “The Baltimore location has seen an 84% decrease in the amount of energy needed to be purchased between September and December 2020, equating to a 57% energy cost savings for the store.”

Ikea has a goal of being powered 100% by renewable energy by 2025. The White Marsh parking lot is the first of eight nationwide that will be turned into solar parks, including the Ikea in College Park.

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Walmart, with a big commitment to being fully powered by renewable sources by 2035, has built a few solar parks in California. But imagine if the retail giant did this everywhere. (There are 52 Ikea stores in the U.S., but nearly 100 times as many Walmarts across the country and 200 times as many worldwide.)

Ikea has been into solar for a while. Seven years ago, the company converted the massive roof of its 1.7 million-square-foot distribution center warehouse in Perryville, in Cecil County, into a solar field.

In Hunt Valley, McCormick & Co. has been in the solar field even longer. Its efforts toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions have been recognized by a watchdog organization that tracks climate actions by corporations and governments.

“To offset our greenhouse gas emissions, we’ve announced a new partnership with the Skipjack Solar Center to provide renewable electricity to power 100 percent of our current Maryland and New Jersey facilities,” McCormick reports on its corporate website. (Skipjack is a large new solar plant in Virginia developed by Constellation and Exelon.)

So I look at Ikea, Walmart and McCormick, and I see so many other opportunities to harness the sun across the country, and I ask: What’s taking so long? Why don’t we see more parking lots — supermarkets, stadiums — converted into solar parks? Why are we still at 3%?

The Biden administration is pushing for more tax credits for renewable energy projects with the ambition of using the sun to generate 40% of the nation’s electricity by 2035. No one in Congress should oppose those incentives.

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And more corporations need to do more on their own.

We are way beyond the point where commitment to solar is symbolic, something a corporation does to impress the greenish part of its customer base. We’re in the realm of survival now. For the sake of the planet — not to mention future retail sales — Ikea, Walmart, McCormick and other companies know we have to break away from fossil fuels completely and that a financial dividend awaits those who invest in renewables now.

So, worried about the climate clock, I wonder why all these carbon-reducing measures are taking so long. We had a public-private partnership called Operation Warp Speed for the coronavirus vaccines. We need one for climate change.


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