In a report issued earlier this week, the International Energy Agency listed multiple steps that all advanced nations must take to bring CO2 emissions to “net zero” by 2050 and thereby avoid irreversible damage to the Earth.

The science behind the IEA’s recommendations is convincing and irrefutable, but that doesn’t mean much. For the world to survive and thrive in the second half of the 21st century, China, Russia, the United States and every other developed nation will have to act in concert, and take the following steps:

• Stop approving new coal-fired power plants in 2021 and ban the development of new oil and gas fields.

• By 2025, ban the sale of oil or gas furnaces to heat buildings.

• By 2035, shut down all carbon-emitting power plants and replace them with solar, wind, nuclear and/or hydrogen.

• Accelerate the retirement of gas-powered vehicles and take steps to assure that 60 percent of new car sales are electric by 2030. By 2050, virtually every vehicle will be powered by batteries or hydrogen.

Are these plans technologically feasible? Nope — we’ll have to invest trillions in research and development and hope for multiple breakthroughs. More to the point, are they economically or politically feasible?

Instead of grandiose speculation about the fate of the Earth, let’s look at the impact of such measures on our city and our lives. Present plans call for Colorado Springs Utilities to phase out both of its coal-fired power plants by 2030, but to rely upon natural gas to provide 42 percent of its electric generation mix in 2035.

By 2050, that share is projected to drop to about 10 percent. Complying with the IEA’s plan would be possible, but the accelerated timeline would be expensive. Electrifying transportation and heating would require building more carbon-free power plants — and such plants aren’t cheap. At some point, consumers would have to pay more for transportation, heating and air conditioning, as well as losing the choice, convenience and competitive pricing of gas- or diesel-powered vehicles. 

Historically, Colorado Springs residents haven’t supported governmental economic mandates of any kind, much less a decades-long program that would affect every voter. Ours is a city focused on growth, prosperity and happiness — not disruptive change. Consider the “key strategies” that drive the city’s comprehensive economic plan.

• Nurture cornerstone institutions, target industries, spinoffs, startups and entrepreneurship

• Expand high-quality infrastructure and technology

• Create amenities to attract new business and residents

It doesn’t say “Phase out and replace much of the city’s energy delivery infrastructure for uncertain benefits.” It does say “This Plan allows us to grow and adapt to a future that is predictable in some cases and uncertain in others. Our Plan should be used to support and not to restrain the market, private initiative, strategic public investment, and innovation.”

It looks like the IEA’s recommendations wouldn’t fly in Colorado Springs, and probably not in the rest of the country. So what do we do? Maybe it would make more sense to spend money on measures to protect and insulate the United States from the ravages of climate change. It may seem coldly self-interested to go our own way, to make America an island of prosperity and stability in a world of misery, but that’s the choice we face. 

And if we’ve learned anything from the pandemic, it’s that competent governments take measures that protect their citizens and their economies. New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern was widely applauded for isolating her island nation from the world, rather than trusting other governments to deal effectively with COVID.

And suppose every nation executes the IEA’s plan, and the planet warms anyway? The money would have been better spent on mitigation and on helping poorer nations deal with climate disasters.

Locally we’ll deal with drought in the Colorado River Basin, fires in the wildland/urban interface, crumbling transportation infrastructure and lack of housing. We have enough work to do — don’t ask us to solve the world’s problems.  Yet President Joe Biden’s recent take on the pandemic might apply to climate change, as could Nahum 1:3.

“We know America will never be fully safe until the pandemic that’s raging globally is under control,” he said. “No ocean’s wide enough, no wall’s high enough, to keep us safe.” 

The Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm...

John Hazlehurst, whose great-grandfather came to Colorado in 1859, is a Colorado Springs native. He has worked as a reporter/columnist for the Indy since 1997 and the Business Journal since 2006.