The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) Applauds the Newly Announced Board Selected to Lead the Foundation for Energy Security and Innovation (FESI)

FAS eager to see the Board set an ambitious agenda that aligns with the potential scale of FESI’s impact

Washington, D.C. – May 9, 2024 – Earlier today Secretary of Energy Granholm took the first official step to stand up the Department of Energy-affiliated non-profit Foundation for Energy Security and Innovation (FESI) by appointing its inaugural board. Today the “Friends of FESI” Initiative of the nonpartisan, non-profit Federation of American Scientists (FAS) steps forward to applaud the Secretary, congratulate the new board members, and wish FESI well as it officially begins its first year. The Inaugural FESI Board consists of 13 accomplished members whose backgrounds span the nation’s regions and communities and who have deep experience in innovation, national security, philanthropy, business, science, and other sectors. It includes:

Since the CHIPS and Science Act authorized FESI in 2022, FAS, along with many allies and supporters who collectively comprise the “Friends of FESI,” have been working to enable FESI to achieve its full potential as a major contributor to the achievement of DOE’s vital goals. “Friends of FESI” has been seeking projects and activities that the foundation could take on that would advance the DOE mission through collaboration with private sector and philanthropic partners.

“FAS enthusiastically celebrates this FESI milestone because, as one of the country’s oldest science and technology-focused public interest organizations, we recognize the scale of the energy transition challenge and the urgency to broker new collaborations and models to move new energy technology from lab to market,” says Dan Correa, CEO of FAS. “As a ‘Friend of FESI’ FAS continues our outreach amongst our diverse network of experts to surface the best ideas for FESI to consider implementing.” The federation is soliciting ideas at fas.org/fesi, underway since FESI’s authorization.

FESI has great potential to foster the public-private partnerships necessary to accelerate the innovation and commercialization of technologies that will power the transition to clean energy. Gathering this diverse group of accomplished board members is the first step. The next is for the FESI Board to pursue projects set to make real impact. Given FESI’s bipartisan support in the CHIPS & Science Act, FAS hopes the board is joined by Congress, industry leaders and others to continue to support FESI in its initial years. 

“FESI’s establishment is a vital initial step, but its value will depend on what happens next,” says David M. Hart, a professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government and leader of the “Friends of FESI” initiative at FAS. “FESI’s new Board of Directors should take immediate actions that have immediate impact, but more importantly, put the foundation on a path to expand that impact exponentially in the coming years. That means thinking big from the start, identifying unique high-leverage opportunities, and systematically building the capacity to realize them.”


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ABOUT FAS

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) works to advance progress on a broad suite of contemporary issues where science, technology, and innovation policy can deliver dramatic progress, and seeks to ensure that scientific and technical expertise have a seat at the policymaking table. Established in 1945 by scientists in response to the atomic bomb, FAS continues to work on behalf of a safer, more equitable, and more peaceful world. More information at fas.org.


Resources

Building a Firm Foundation for the DOE Foundation: It All Starts with a Solid Board
https://fas.org/publication/fesi-board-launch/

FAS use case criteria:
https://fas.org/publication/fesi-priority-use-cases/

FAS open call for FESI ideas:
https://fas.org/publication/share-an-idea-for-what-fesi-can-do-to-advance-does-mission/

DOE announcing FESI board:
https://www.energy.gov/articles/doe-appoints-inaugural-board-directors-groundbreaking-new-foundation

DOE release announcing FESI:
https://www.energy.gov/articles/doe-launches-foundation-energy-security-and-innovation



Climate Change Challenges and Solutions in Forestry & Agriculture

Climate change is already impacting agriculture and forestry production in the U.S. However, these sectors also hold the key to adaptation and mitigation. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is at the forefront of addressing these challenges and developing solutions. Understanding the implications of climate change in agriculture and forestry is crucial for our nation to forge ahead with effective strategies and outcomes, ensuring our food and shelter resources remain secure.

Currently, the atmosphere contains more key greenhouse gasses (nitrous oxides, carbon dioxide, methane) than ever in history thanks to human activities. Industrial, agricultural, and deforestation practices add to the abundance of these critical gasses that are warming our planet. This has become more noticeable through more frequent severe weather and natural disasters with record heat waves, droughts, tornadoes, and rainfall. In 2023, global climate records of temperatures were broken and hit the highest in the last 174 years. Ocean temperatures are reaching record levels, along with major melts in ice sheets. All these changes will affect forestry and agriculture in profound ways. Crop damaging insects and diseases, along with other stresses caused by extreme changes, will also have cascading effects.

Adjustments or adaptations in response to climate change have progressed globally, with planning and implementation across multiple sectors and regions. While much attention is being paid to reforestation and reducing deforestation, gaps still exist and will need continued attention and financial input to address current and future challenges. Agriculture and forestry are two sectors worth exploring as they can open up climate adaptation and mitigation solutions that have positive cascading benefits across regions.

Challenges in the Agriculture and Forestry Sector

Agriculture contributes to greenhouse gas emissions through several activities, such as burning crop residues, soil management and fertilization, animal manure management, and rice cultivation. In addition, agriculture requires significant amounts of energy for vehicles, tractors, harvest, and irrigation equipment. Agriculture involves complex systems that include inputs of fertilizers and chemicals, management decisions, social factors, and interactions between climate and soil.

Most agriculture operations need fertilizers to produce goods, but the management and specific use of fertilizers need further focus. According to the Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks, agriculture contributes 9.4% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

Agriculture is particularly vulnerable to climate change because many operations are exposed to climatic changes in the natural landscape. There has been widespread economic damage in agriculture due to climate change. Individuals and farms have been affected by flooding, tornadoes, extreme wildfires, droughts, and excessive rains. Loss of property and income, human health, and food security is real for agriculture producers. Adverse impacts will continue to be felt in agricultural systems, particularly in crop production, water availability, animal health, and pests and diseases.

Forestry is a major industry in the U.S. and plays a key role in regulating the climate by transferring carbon within ecosystems and the atmosphere.. Forests remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and store it in trees and soils. Forestry has seen a decline in the last few decades due to development and cropland expansion. The decline in forestry acres affects essential services such as air purification, regulating water quantity and quality, wood products for shelter, outdoor recreation, medicines, and wildlife habitat. Many Indigenous people and Tribal Nations depend on forest ecosystems for food, timber, culture, and traditions. Effective forest management is crucial for human well-being and is influenced by social and economic factors.

Land cover types and distribution of the United States. Forest lands have decreased in the last two decades. (Source: Fifth National Climate Assessment)

Forests are affected by climate change on local or regional levels based on climate conditions such as rainfall and temperature. The West has been significantly affected, with higher temperatures and drought leading to more wildfires. Higher temperatures come with higher evaporation rates, leading to drier forests that are susceptible to fires. The greater amount of dry wood causes extensive fires that burn more intensely. Fire activity is projected to increase with further warming and less rain. Since 1990, these extensive fires have produced greater greenhouse gas emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2). Other regions of the country with forests that typically receive more rain, like the southeast and northeast, are challenging to predict fire hazards. Other climate change effects include insects, diseases, and invasive species, which change forest ecosystems’ growth, death, and regeneration. Various degrees of disruption can impact a forest’s dynamics.

Current Adaptation Approaches in Agriculture and Forestry

Since agriculture’s largest contribution to greenhouse gas emissions is agriculture soil management, emphasis is being placed on reducing emissions from this process. Farmers are tilling less and using cover crops to keep the ground covered, which helps soils perform the important function of carbon storage. These techniques can also help lower soil temperatures and conserve moisture. In addition, those working in the agriculture sector are taking measures to adapt to the changing climate by developing crops that can withstand higher temperatures and water stress. Ecosystem-based solutions such as wetland restoration to reduce flooding have also been effective. Another potential solution is agroforestry, in which trees are planted, and other agricultural products are grown between the trees or livestock is grazed within a forestry system. This system provides shade to the animals and enhances biodiversity. It protects water bodies by keeping the soil covered with vegetation throughout the year. The perennial vegetation also stores carbon in above-ground vegetation and below-ground roots.

In the forestry space, land managers and owners are developing plans to adapt to climate challenges by building adaptations in key areas such as relationships and connections of land stewardship, research teamwork, and education curriculum. Several guides, assessments, and frameworks have been designed to help private forest owners, Tribal lands, and federally managed forests. Tribal adaptation plans also include Tribal values and cultural considerations for forests. The coasts will be adapting to more frequent flooding, and relocation of recreation areas in vulnerable areas is being planned. In major forestry production areas in the West, forestry agencies are developing plans for prescribed burning to keep dead wood lower, eliminate invasive species, and enable fire-adapted ecosystems to thrive, all while reducing severe wildfires. Thinning forests and fuel removal also help with reducing wildfire risk.      

While both sectors have made progress in quickly adjusting their practices, much more needs to be done to ensure that land managers and affected communities are better prepared for both the short-term and long-term effects of climate change. The federal government, through USDA, can drive adaptation efforts to help these communities.

Current Policy

The USDA created the Climate Adaptation and Resilience Plan in response to Executive Order 14008, Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, which requires all federal agencies to develop climate adaptation plans in all public service aspects, including management, operations, missions, and programs. 

The adaptation plan focuses on key threats to agriculture and forestry, such as:

Many USDA agencies have developed actions to address the impacts of climate change in different mission areas of USDA. These adaptation plans provide information for farmers, ranchers, forest owners, rural communities, trade and foreign affairs on ways to address the impact of climate change that affects them the most. For example, farm and ranch managers can use COMET Farm, a user-friendly online tool co-developed by Colorado State University and USDA that helps compare land management practices and account for carbon and greenhouse gas emissions.

USDA has invested $3.1 billion in Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities, encompassing 141 projects that involve small and underserved producers. The diverse projects are matched financially with non-federal funds and include over 20 tribal projects, 100 universities, including 30 minority-serving institutions, and others. The goals of the federal and private sector funding include:

The USDA Forest Service has also developed its own Climate Adaptation Plan that comprehensively incorporates climate adaptation into its mission and operations. The Forest Service has cultivated partnerships with the Northwest Climate Hub, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, University of Washington, and the Climate Impacts Group to develop tools and data to help with decision-making, evaluations, and developing plans for implementation. One notable example is the Sustainability and Climate website, which provides information on adaptation, vulnerability assessments, carbon, and other aspects of land management. 

Conclusion

While sustained government incentives can help drive adaptation efforts, it is important for everyone to play a role in adapting to climate change, especially in the agriculture and forestry sectors. Purchasing products that are grown sustainably and in climate-smart ways will help protect natural resources and support these communities. Understanding the significance of resilience against climate changes and disruptions is crucial, both in the short and long term. These challenges require collaborators to work together to creatively solve problems in addressing greenhouse gas contributions. Climate models can help solve complex problems and test different scenarios and solutions. As the Fifth National Climate Assessment of the United States notes, greenhouse gas concentrations are increasing, global warming is on the rise, and climate change is currently happening. The choices we make now can have a significant impact on our future.

The Federation of American Scientists values diversity of thought and believes that a range of perspectives — informed by evidence — is essential for discourse on scientific and societal issues. Contributors allow us to foster a broader and more inclusive conversation. We encourage constructive discussion around the topics we care about.

Enhancing Public Health Preparedness for Climate Change-Related Health Impacts

The escalating frequency and intensity of extreme heat events, exacerbated by climate change, pose a significant and growing threat to public health. This problem is further compounded by the lack of standardized education and preparedness measures within the healthcare system, creating a critical gap in addressing the health impacts of extreme heat. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), especially the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), and the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity (OCCHE) can enhance public health preparedness for the health impacts of climate change. By leveraging funding mechanisms, incentives, and requirements, HHS can strengthen health system preparedness, improve health provider knowledge, and optimize emergency response capabilities. 

By focusing on interagency collaboration and medical education enhancement, strategic measures within HHS, the healthcare system can strengthen its resilience against the health impacts of extreme heat events. This will not only improve coding accuracy, but also enhance healthcare provider knowledge, streamline emergency response efforts, and ultimately mitigate the health disparities arising from climate change-induced extreme heat events. Key recommendations include: establishing dedicated grant programs and incentivizing climate-competent healthcare providers; integrating climate-resilience metrics into quality measurement programs; leveraging the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act to enhance ICD-10 coding education; and collaborating with other federal agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Department of Defense (DoD) to ensure a coordinated response. The implementation of these recommendations will not only address the evolving health impacts of climate change but also promote a more resilient and prepared healthcare system for the future.

Challenge

The escalating frequency and intensity of extreme heat events, exacerbated by climate change, pose a significant and growing threat to public health. The scientific consensus, as documented by reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the National Climate Assessment, reveals that vulnerable populations, such as children, pregnant people, the elderly, and marginalized communities including people of color and Indigenous populations, experience disproportionately higher rates of heat-related illnesses and mortality. The Lancet Countdown’s 2023 U.S. Brief underscores the escalating threat of fossil fuel pollution and climate change to health, highlighting an 88% increase in heat-related mortality among older adults and calling for urgent, equitable climate action to mitigate this public health crisis.

Inadequacies in Current Healthcare System Response

Reports from healthcare institutions and public health agencies highlight how current coding practices contribute to the under-recognition of heat-related health impacts in vulnerable populations, exacerbating existing health disparities. The current inadequacies in ICD-10 coding for extreme heat-related health cases hinder effective healthcare delivery, compromise data accuracy, and impede the development of targeted response strategies. Challenges in coding accuracy are evident in existing studies and reports, emphasizing the difficulties healthcare providers face in accurately documenting extreme heat-related health cases. An analysis of emergency room visits during heat waves further indicates a gap in recognition and coding, pointing to the need for improved medical education and coding practices. Audits of healthcare coding practices reveal inconsistencies and inaccuracies that stem from a lack of standardized medical education and preparedness measures, ultimately leading to underreporting and misclassification of extreme heat cases. Comparative analyses of health data from regions with robust coding practices and those without highlight the disparities in data accuracy, emphasizing the urgent need for standardized coding protocols.

There is a crucial opportunity to enhance public health preparedness by addressing the challenges associated with accurate ICD-10 coding in extreme heat-related health cases. Reports from government agencies and economic research institutions underscore the economic toll of extreme heat events on healthcare systems, including increased healthcare costs, emergency room visits, and lost productivity due to heat-related illnesses. Data from social vulnerability indices and community-level assessments emphasize the disproportionate impact of extreme heat on socially vulnerable populations, highlighting the urgent need for targeted policies to address health disparities.

Opportunity

As Medicare is the largest federal source of Graduate Medical Education (GME) funding (Figure 1), the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) play a critical role in developing coding guidelines. Thus, it is essential for HHS, CMS, and other pertinent coordinating agencies to be involved in the process for developing climate change-informed graduate medical curricula.

By focusing on medical education enhancement, strategic measures within HHS, and fostering interagency collaboration, the healthcare system can strengthen its resilience against the health impacts of extreme heat events. Improving coding accuracy, enhancing healthcare provider knowledge, streamlining emergency response efforts, and mitigating health disparities related to extreme heat events will ultimately strengthen the healthcare system and foster more effective, inclusive, and equitable climate and health policies. Improving the knowledge and training of healthcare providers empowers them to respond more effectively to extreme heat-related health cases. This immediate response capability contributes to the overarching goal of reducing morbidity and mortality rates associated with extreme heat events and creates a public health system that is more resilient and prepared for emerging challenges. 

The inclusion of ICD-10 coding education into graduate medical education funded by CMS aligns with the precedent set by the Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA), emphasizing the importance of preparedness and response to public health emergencies. Similarly, drawing inspiration from the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act), which promotes the adoption of electronic health records (EHR) systems, presents an opportunity to modernize medical education and ensure the seamless integration of climate-related health considerations. This collaborative and forward-thinking approach recognizes the interconnectedness of health and climate, offering a model that can be applied to various health challenges. Integrating mandates from PAHPA and the HITECH Act serves as a policy precedent, guiding the healthcare system toward a more adaptive and proactive stance in addressing climate change impacts on health.

Conversely, the consequences of inaction on the health impacts of extreme heat extend beyond immediate health concerns. They permeate through the fabric of society, widening health disparities, compromising the accuracy of health data, and undermining emergency response preparedness. Addressing these challenges requires a proactive and comprehensive approach to ensure the well-being of communities, especially those most vulnerable to the effects of extreme heat.

Plan of Action

The following recommendations aim to facilitate public health preparedness for extreme heat events through enhancements in medical education, strategic measures within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and fostering interagency collaboration.

Recommendation 1a. Integrate extreme heat training into the GME curriculum. 

Integrating modules on extreme heat-related health impacts and accurate ICD-10 coding into medical education curricula is essential for preparing future healthcare professionals to address the challenges posed by climate change. This initiative will ensure that medical students receive comprehensive training on identifying, treating, and documenting extreme heat-related health cases. Sec. 304. Core Education and Training of the PAHPA provides policy precedent to develop foundational health and medical response curricula and training materials by modifying relevant existing programs to enhance responses to public health emergencies. Given the prominence of Medicare in funding medical residency training, policies that alter Medicare GME can affect the future physician supply and can be used to address identified healthcare workforce priorities related to extreme heat (Figure 2).

Figure 2: A model for comprehensive climate and medical education (adapted from Jowell et al. 2023)

Recommendation 1b. Collaborate with Veterans Health Administration Training Programs. 

Partnering with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to extend climate-related health coding education to Veterans Health Administration (VHA) training programs will enhance the preparedness of healthcare professionals within the VHA system to manage and document extreme heat-related health cases among veteran populations.

Implementation plan
Agency/Department InvolvementAction StepsEvaluation
HHS; CMS, NCHS, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Office of Climate Change and Health Equity (OCCHE): Coordinates efforts to integrate extreme heat training into medical education.Needs Assessment: OCCHE within HHS collaborates with VA to assess climate-related health coding education needs within VHA and GME training programs.Curriculum Integration: Assess the extent to which modules on extreme heat-related health impacts and ICD-10 coding are integrated into medical school curricula.
VA: Implements climate-related health coding education initiatives within VHA.Curriculum Development: OCCHE, CMS, NCHS, HRSA collaborate with medical accrediting bodies and subject matter experts to develop modules on extreme heat health impacts and ICD-10 coding for inclusion in medical education curricula.Student Performance: Evaluate medical students’ performance on assessments related to extreme heat-related health impacts and coding practices.
VHA: Participates in training programs and integrates education into its curriculum.Accreditation Standards Integration: Accrediting bodies revise accreditation standards to include requirements for teaching extreme heat-related health topics and coding practices. Work with CMS to update Conditions of Participation to include climate mitigation and resilience. Training Participation: Monitor the number of healthcare professionals, including those in the VHA, participating in climate-related health coding education and assess their level of engagement.
The Joint Commission (TJC); Healthcare Facilities Accreditation Program (HFAP): Accrediting bodies responsible for setting standards for climate competent healthcare facility accreditation.Faculty Training: HHS supports faculty training programs to ensure educators have the necessary knowledge and skills to teach extreme heat topics effectively. VHA incorporates climate-related health coding education into existing training programs for healthcare professionals, including physicians, nurses, and other staff.Faculty Feedback:
Solicit feedback on the effectiveness of training and support provided for delivering the new curriculum.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Department of Homeland Security (FEMA), Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR): Provide subject matter expertise on extreme heat and support curriculum development.Funding: Titles VII and VIII of the Public Health Service Act (PHSA) provide funding for programs to improve the healthcare workforce and support public health initiatives.Impact on Patient Care: Assess the impact of enhanced climate-related health coding education on patient care outcomes within participating hospitals and within the VHA system.
Title VII: Health Professions Education Programs can be used to support medical education programs focused on climate-related health impacts, including curriculum development, faculty training, and student scholarships or stipends.
Title VIII: Nursing Workforce Development Programs can support the integration of climate-related health content into nursing education programs, including undergraduate, graduate, and continuing education initiatives.
Evaluation and Feedback: Continuous evaluation of curriculum integration and feedback mechanisms are established to assess the effectiveness of training and make improvements as needed. Research funding provided through PHSA Titles VII and VIII can support studies evaluating the effectiveness of educational interventions on climate-related health knowledge and practice behaviors among healthcare providers.

Recommendation 2. Collaborate with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) 

Establishing a collaborative research initiative with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) will facilitate the in-depth exploration of accurate ICD-10 coding for extreme heat-related health cases. This should be accomplished through the following measures:

Establish joint task forces. CMS, NCHS, and AHRQ should establish joint research initiatives focused on improving ICD-10 coding accuracy for extreme heat-related health cases. This collaboration will involve identifying key research areas, allocating resources, and coordinating research activities. Personnel from each agency, including subject matter experts and researchers from the EPA, NOAA, and FEMA, will work together to conduct studies, analyze data, and publish findings. By conducting systematic reviews, developing standardized coding algorithms, and disseminating findings through AHRQ’s established communication channels, this initiative will improve coding practices and enhance healthcare system preparedness for extreme heat events.

Develop standardized coding algorithms. AHRQ, in collaboration with CMS and NCHS, will lead efforts to develop standardized coding algorithms for extreme heat-related health outcomes. This involves reviewing existing coding practices, identifying gaps and inconsistencies, and developing standardized algorithms to ensure consistent and accurate coding across healthcare settings. AHRQ researchers and coding experts will work closely with personnel from CMS and NCHS to draft, validate, and disseminate these algorithms.

Integrate into Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) programs. Establish collaborative partnerships between the VA and other federal healthcare agencies, including CMS, HRSA, and DoD, to integrate education on ICD-10 coding for extreme heat-related health outcomes into CQI programs. Regularly assess the effectiveness of training initiatives and adjust based on feedback from healthcare providers. For example, CMS currently requires physicians to screen for the social determinants of health and could include level of climate and/or heat risk within that screening assessment.

Allocate resources. Each agency will allocate financial resources, staff time, and technical expertise to support collaborative activities. Budget allocations will be based on the scope and scale of specific initiatives, with funds earmarked for research, training, data sharing, and evaluation efforts. Additionally, research funding provided through PHSA Titles VII and VIII can support studies evaluating the effectiveness of educational interventions on climate-related health knowledge and practice behaviors among healthcare providers.

Recommendation 3. Leverage the HITECH Act and EHR.

Agency/Department InvolvementAction StepsEvaluation
HHS: Coordinates efforts to integrate climate-related health coding education into HITECH Act programs.Integrate ICD-10 Coding Training in EHR Adoption Programs: HHS, NCHS and CMS coordinate with ONC to include specific modules or training components related to ICD-10 coding for extreme heat-related health outcomes within the educational programs facilitated under HITECH Act incentives. This ensures that healthcare professionals adopting EHR systems receive comprehensive training on coding practices relevant to climate-related health challenges.Integration Success: HHS regularly evaluates the extent to which ICD-10 coding education and climate-related health data collection are integrated into CMS-funded GME programs and EHR systems.
CMS: Implements incentives and requirements for EHR integration and coding education.Customize EHR Templates: ONC provides guidance to EHR vendors and developers to create customized templates or modules within EHR systems that facilitate accurate documentation of extreme heat-related health cases.Coding Accuracy: Assess the accuracy of ICD-10 coding for extreme heat-related health outcomes in electronic health records and reporting systems.
Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC): Provides technical assistance and guidance on EHR integration.Incorporation into Meaningful Use Criteria: CMS and ONS to oversee the integration of the accurate coding of climate-related health outcomes into the Meaningful Use/Promoting Interoperability Programs criteria outlined by the HITECH Act.Provider Feedback: Solicit feedback from healthcare providers on the effectiveness of training modules and EHR integration efforts.
Establish Reporting Requirements: Use the HITECH Act to establish reporting requirements for climate-related health data, encouraging the inclusion of ICD-10 codes for extreme heat-related health outcomes in electronic reporting systems supported by EHRs.
Incentives for Climate-Ready EHR Implementation:
Expanding incentives within the HITECH Act to healthcare providers integrating climate-related health coding into HER systems could enhance healthcare management. The 2009 program allocated $27 billion to promote EHR adoption. Aligning incentives with climate-related coding fosters a more comprehensive approach. This incentivizes EHR and climate-related ICD-10 coding practices, advancing the capacity to address climate-related health challenges.

Recommendation 4. Establish climate-resilient health system grants to incentivize state-level climate preparedness initiatives

HHS and OCCHE should create competitive grants for states that demonstrate proactive climate change adaptation efforts in healthcare. These agencies can encourage states to integrate climate considerations into their health plans by providing additional funding to states that prioritize climate resilience.

Within CMS, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) could help create and administer these grants related to climate preparedness initiatives. Given its focus on innovation and testing new approaches, CMMI could design grant programs aimed at incentivizing state-level climate resilience efforts in healthcare. Given its focus on addressing health disparities and promoting preventive care, the Bureau of Primary Health Care (BPHC) within HRSA could oversee grants aimed at integrating climate considerations into primary care settings and enhancing resilience among vulnerable populations.

Conclusion

These recommendations provide a comprehensive framework for HHS — particularly CMS, HRSA, and OCCHE— to bolster public health preparedness for the health impacts of extreme heat events. By leveraging funding mechanisms, incentives, and requirements, HHS can enhance health system preparedness, improve health provider knowledge, and optimize emergency response capabilities. These strategic measures encompass a range of actions, including establishing dedicated grant programs, incentivizing climate-competent healthcare providers, integrating climate-resilience metrics into quality measurement programs, and leveraging the HITECH Act to enhance ICD-10 coding education. Collaboration with other federal agencies further strengthens the coordinated response to the growing challenges posed by climate change-induced extreme heat events. By implementing these policy recommendations, HHS can effectively address the evolving landscape of climate change impacts on health and promote a more resilient and prepared healthcare system for the future.

This idea of merit originated from our Extreme Heat Ideas Challenge. Scientific and technical experts across disciplines worked with FAS to develop potential solutions in various realms: infrastructure and the built environment, workforce safety and development, public health, food security and resilience, emergency planning and response, and data indices. Review ideas to combat extreme heat here.

Frequently Asked Questions
What are the expected outcomes of these recommended policy actions?

  1. Improved Accuracy in ICD-10 Coding: Healthcare providers consistently apply accurate ICD-10 coding for extreme heat-related health cases.

  2. Enhanced Healthcare Provider Knowledge: Healthcare professionals possess comprehensive knowledge on extreme heat-related health impacts, improving patient care and response strategies.

  3. Strengthened Public Health Response: A coordinated effort results in a more effective and equitable public health response to extreme heat events, reducing health disparities.

  4. Improved Public Health Resilience:

    1. Short-Term Outcome: Healthcare providers, armed with enhanced knowledge and training, respond more effectively to extreme heat-related health cases.

    2. Long-Term Outcome: Reduced morbidity and mortality rates associated with extreme heat events lead to a more resilient and prepared public health system.



  5. Enhanced Data Accuracy and Surveillance:

    1. Short-Term Outcome: Improved accuracy in ICD-10 coding facilitates more precise tracking and surveillance of extreme heat-related health outcomes.

    2. Long-Term Outcome: Comprehensive and accurate data contribute to better-informed public health policies, targeted interventions, and long-term trend analysis.



  6. Reduced Health Disparities:

    1. Short-Term Outcome: Incentives and education programs ensure that healthcare providers prioritize accurate coding, reducing disparities in the diagnosis and treatment of extreme heat-related illnesses.

    2. Long-Term Outcome: Health outcomes become more equitable across diverse populations, mitigating the disproportionate impact of extreme heat on vulnerable communities.



  7. Increased Public Awareness and Education:

    1. Short-Term Outcome: Public health campaigns and educational initiatives raise awareness about the health risks associated with extreme heat events.

    2. Long-Term Outcome: Informed communities adopt preventive measures, reducing the overall burden on healthcare systems and fostering a culture of proactive health management.



  8. Streamlined Emergency Response and Preparedness:

    1. Short-Term Outcome: Integrating extreme heat preparedness into emergency response plans results in more efficient and coordinated efforts during heatwaves.

    2. Long-Term Outcome: Improved community resilience, reduced strain on emergency services, and better protection for vulnerable populations during extreme heat events.



  9. Increased Collaboration Across Agencies:

    1. Short-Term Outcome: Collaborative efforts between OCCHE, CMS, HRSA, AHRQ, FEMA, DoD, and the Department of the Interior result in streamlined information sharing and joint initiatives.

    2. Long-Term Outcome: Enhanced cross-agency collaboration establishes a model for addressing complex public health challenges, fostering a more integrated and responsive government approach.



  10. Empowered Healthcare Workforce:

    1. Short-Term Outcome: Incentives for accurate coding and targeted education empower healthcare professionals to address the unique challenges posed by extreme heat.

    2. Long-Term Outcome: A more resilient and adaptive healthcare workforce is equipped to handle emerging health threats, contributing to overall workforce well-being and satisfaction.



  11. Informed Policy Decision-Making:

    1. Short-Term Outcome: Policymakers utilize accurate data and insights to make informed decisions related to extreme heat adaptation and mitigation strategies.

    2. Long-Term Outcome: The integration of health data into broader climate and policy discussions leads to more effective, evidence-based policies at local, regional, and national levels.



Combating Extreme Heat with a National Moonshot

Extreme heat is the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the United States and has been for the past 30 years. Low-income communities and many other vulnerable populations are disproportionately affected by heat risk. As the climate continues to warm, the threat to public health will correspondingly increase. Through a presidential directive, the White House Climate Policy Office (WHCPO) should establish the National Moonshot to Combat Extreme Heat, an all-of-government program to harmonize and accelerate federal efforts to reduce heat risk and heat illness, save lives, and improve the cost-effectiveness of federal expenditures. 

The goals of the Moonshot are to:

  1. Reduce heat deaths by 20% by 2030, 40% by 2035, and 60% by 2050. 
  2. Build 150 heat-resilient communities by 2030 by facilitating access to funding and uplifting social infrastructure actions prioritizing at-risk, vulnerable populations.
  3. Increase visibility and awareness of federal efforts to protect residents from extreme heat. 

The Moonshot will be overseen by a new, high-level appointee at WHCPO to serve as the Executive Officer of the White House Interagency Work Group on Extreme Heat (WHIWG). 

Challenge and Opportunity

The threat to public health and safety from extreme heat is serious, expansive, and increasing as the planet continues to warm. According to Heat.gov, “Extreme heat has been the greatest weather-related cause of death in the U.S. for the past 30 years — more than hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding or extreme cold.” The number of deaths from extreme heat is difficult to accurately determine and is frequently undercounted. More recently, during the Heat Dome of 2021, the state of Washington reported 1,231 heat deaths in just one month. Further, heat-related illness includes a broad spectrum of diseases, from mild heat cramps to life-threatening heat stroke. Heat exposures have been linked to mental health illnesses and adverse birth outcomes, such as preterm births and low birth weights. Extreme heat disproportionately impacts marginalized people, including those that are low-income, BIPOC, seniors, veterans, children, the unhoused, and those with compromised health status, among others. All heat illnesses and deaths are considered preventable.

Extreme heat is an all-of-society problem that requires an all-of-government response. As the frequency, intensity, duration, and breadth of heat waves have increased dramatically over the past four years, officials and leaders at all levels have begun taking action. 

The federal government has launched new programs for addressing extreme heat over the last few years as heat waves have become a front-page issue. Recent programs initiated by the Biden Administration are providing a variety of resources and increasing awareness of this threat. Key examples are:

Actions are needed to remedy the deficit in attention to extreme heat by uplifting the role of extreme heat in the federal response to climate impacts and give greater emphasis to social infrastructure actions. 

Several bills to address extreme heat through federal legislation have been introduced in Congress, though none have advanced. Most notable are:

  1. S. 2645: Senator Edward Markey’s Preventing HEAT Illness and Deaths Act of 2023 would authorize NIHHIS to prescribe actions and provide funding. 
  2. HR 3965: Representative Ruben Gallego’s “Extreme Heat Emergency Act of 2023” would amend the Stafford Act by adding “extreme heat” as a natural disaster for which response aid is authorized.
  3. H.R. 2945: Representative Ruben Gallego’s Excess Urban Heat Mitigation Act of 2023” would require the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to establish a grant program to fund activities to mitigate or manage heat in urban areas. The Senate version of this bill, S. 1379, is led by Senator Sherrod Brown.

Even with this momentum, actions are dispersed across many departments and agencies. Plus, many local and state governments tend to apply for federal funding on a program-by-program, agency-by-agency basis and must navigate a complicated landscape with limited funding explicitly earmarked for heat resilience. Further, most “infrastructure” and capacity-building funding is based on mitigating or restoring economic loss of property, leading to financial relief that has gone primarily to built infrastructure and natural infrastructure projects. Communities need social infrastructure: social cohesion, policy and governance, public health, communications and alerts, planning, etc., to respond to extreme heat. This requires a pathway for communities to access funds to combat extreme heat in a comprehensive and coordinated way and bring social infrastructure actions up to a level equal to built and natural infrastructure interventions. 

There is a need to improve the coordination of heat actions across the federal government, align heat resilience activities with Justice40 mandates, and promote community-based interventions to reduce heat deaths. A National Moonshot to Combat Extreme Heat can do this by leveraging several new community-focused programs to accelerate the protection of at-risk populations from heat-related death and illness. The challenge, and therefore the opportunity, for the Moonshot is to identify, integrate, and accelerate existing resources in a human-centric framework to reduce preventable deaths, promote cool and healthy communities, and deliver value nationwide. 

Plan of Action 

The WHCPO should appoint a new Deputy Director for Heat to serve as the Executive Officer of the WHIWG and coordinate the National Moonshot to Combat Extreme Heat – an all-of-government program to accelerate federal actions to address extreme heat. The goals of the Moonshot are to:

  1. Reduce heat deaths by 20% by 2030, 40% by 2035, and 60% by 2050; 
  2. Build 150 heat-resilient communities by 2030 by facilitating access to funding and uplifting social infrastructure actions prioritizing at-risk, vulnerable populations. Social infrastructure encompasses a variety of actions in four categories: social cohesion, policy, communications, and planning.  Social infrastructure centers the needs of people in resilience.  This target aligns with the U.S. goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030. 
  3. Improve visibility and awareness of federal efforts to protect residents from extreme heat.

The Moonshot will capitalize on existing policies, programs, and funding and establish a human-centric approach to climate resilience by uplifting extreme heat. The Moonshot will identify and evaluate existing federal activities and available funding, including funds from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), as well as agency budgets, including Federal Emergency Management Agency’s funding for the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) and the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). The Moonshot will integrate actions among the many existing programs dispersed across the government into a well-coordinated, integrated inter-agency initiative that maximizes results and will support cool, safe, and healthy communities

Recommendation 1. Enhance the visibility, responsibility, and capacity of the WHIWG. 

Signaling high-level support through a presidential directive, the WHCPO should appoint a Deputy Director for Heat as the Executive Officer of the WHIWG to lead the Moonshot. Two additional staff positions will be established to support the assessment, stakeholder engagement, and planning processes. The WHIWG and the Deputy Director will design and implement the Moonshot working with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Climate Change and Health Equity. A lead contact will be designated in each agency and department participating in the NIHHIS program. 

Recommendation 2. Assess and report current status. 

The Moonshot should identify, evaluate, and report on existing programs addressing heat across the federal government, including those recently launched by the White House, to establish a current baseline, identify gaps, and catalog opportunities for integration within the federal government. The Moonshot will generate a database of existing programs and a budget cross-cut analysis to identify current funding levels. The report will incorporate the NIHHIS Extreme Heat Strategy and identify existing funding opportunities, including those in the IRA, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and agency programs. The Moonshot will also work with CDC and NIHHIS to develop a method to identify heat deaths to establish a baseline for tracking progress on the goals. 

Recommendation 3. Build broad community support.

The Moonshot should convene conversations and conduct regional extreme heat workshops with state, local, and tribal government personnel; external experts and stakeholders; Justice40 community leaders; professional associations; private sector representatives; and philanthropies. Topics should span the spectrum of social infrastructure, including social cohesion, public health, insurance, infrastructure, communications, and more. Based on input, the Moonshot will establish an advisory committee of non-government participants and develop pathways to connect stakeholders with federal community-focused climate resilience programs, including the White House’s Justice 40 program, EPA’s Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Centers Program, and the Department of Transportation’s Thriving Communities Network, and other relevant federal programs identified in Recommendation 2. The Moonshot would add extreme heat as a covered issue area in these programs.

Recommendation 4. Make a plan.

The Moonshot should expand upon the NIHHIS Extreme Heat Strategy and make a heat action plan uplifting human health and community access to harness the potential of federal heat programs. The plan would assign roles, responsibilities, and deadlines and establish a process to track and report progress annually. In addition, the Moonshot would expand the NCR Framework to include an implementation plan and establish a human-centric approach. The Moonshot will evaluate co-benefits from heat reduction strategies, including the role cool surfaces play in protecting public health while also decreasing smog, reducing energy use, and solar radiation management. And, consistent with the Biden Administration’s 2025 priorities, the Moonshot will support research and development on emerging technologies such as microfiber fabrics that keep people cool during heat waves, temperature-sensitive coatings, and high-albedo reflective materials that can reduce the need for mechanical air-conditioning. Innovation is especially needed related to resurfacing the nation’s aging roadways.

The Moonshot will also include a communications plan to increase awareness of federal programs and funding opportunities to combat extreme heat. This should all be in place in nine months to prepare for the FY 2026 budget. The NIHHIS and CDC will develop an enhanced method for improving the accuracy of tracking heat deaths. 

Recommendation 5. Connect with people and communities.

The Moonshot should emphasize social infrastructure projects and facilitate access to funding by establishing a centralized portal for comprehensive local heat action planning and programs. The Moonshot will help build cool, safe, healthy communities by integrating heat into federal climate equity programs and supporting local heat plans and projects that reflect community input and priorities. Local heat plans should be comprehensive and integrate a suite of actions that emphasize social infrastructure and include built infrastructure and natural infrastructure. 

Recommendation 6. Initiate all-of-government action.

The Moonshot will catalyze the implementation of the plan across the government, including all the agencies and departments identified in Recommendation 1. It will establish the grant portal to enhance access to federal resources for heat-related projects for state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, and community groups. It will launch a communications plan targeting press, social media, public employees at all levels of government, stakeholders, and more. 

Recommendation 7. Support legislation to secure long-term success 

In coordination with the White House Office of Legislative Affairs and Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Moonshot should work with Congress to draft and support federal legislation and appropriations addressing extreme heat. Congressional authority is needed to firmly establish this human-centric approach to extreme heat. The Moonshot may recommend Congressional hearings on legislation or a Congressional commission to review the Administration’s work on heat. For example, the passage of S. 2645 would enshrine the position of NIHHIS in law. The Moonshot will help Congress fulfill its role in the all-of-government response and help empower local action. 

Costs

Using information gathered in Recommendation 2, the Moonshot will focus on capturing and directing existing federal funding, including from the IRA, BIL, agency budgets, and grant programs to uplift actions addressing extreme heat and implementing the Moonshot action plan. Initial costs should be minimal: $1 million to hire the Executive Director and two staff and to report on existing programs, funding, and agency budgets. The Moonshot will produce a budget cross-cut initially and annually thereafter and assemble a budget proposal for the WHIWG on Extreme Heat for the FY 2025 and FY 2026 budget.

The Moonshot recommendation is aligned with the OMB Budget Memo of August 17, 2023, which transmits Guidance for Research and Development Priorities for the FY 2025 Budget. The OMB priorities call for addressing climate change by protecting communities’ health and mitigating its health effects, especially for communities that experience these burdens disproportionately.

Conclusion

Extreme heat is a serious public health problem disproportionately impacting many vulnerable populations, and the threat is increasing tremendously. So far in winter 2023, more than 130 monthly high-temperature records were set across the U.S. 

The federal government has several programs addressing the threat of extreme heat in the U.S., and the WHIWG reflects the all-of-government approach needed to meet the threat. The next step is to capture the full potential of existing programs and funding by launching a focused and intensive National Moonshot to Combat Extreme Heat with quantitative goals to track and reduce heat deaths and build healthy communities. This  effort will enable state and local governments and communities, especially those disproportionately impacted by extreme heat, to more readily access federal funding to develop and implement comprehensive heat action plans. The Moonshot will reduce heat deaths, improve the quality of life in cities, and reduce economic productivity loss while increasing the visibility of federal leadership on this issue. 

With heat season 2024 beginning on April 29th, it’s essential to establish an all-of-government response to address extreme heat at all levels.

This idea of merit originated from our Extreme Heat Ideas Challenge. Scientific and technical experts across disciplines worked with FAS to develop potential solutions in various realms: infrastructure and the built environment, workforce safety and development, public health, food security and resilience, emergency planning and response, and data indices. Review ideas to combat extreme heat here.

Frequently Asked Questions
What entities are partners in NIHHIS?

Federal agencies involved in NIHHIS include: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Administration for Community Living, Administration for Children and Families, Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Transportation, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Department of Veterans Affairs, US Census Bureau, Forest Service, National Park Service, Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and United States Agency for International Development.

Non-federal partners include, but are not limited to: CAPA Strategies, ESRI, Global Cool Cities Alliance, National League of Cities, and Global Heat Health Information Network.

For America to Become Climate Resilient, We Need Innovative Policy Solutions to Address The Extreme Heat Crisis

As 2023 was the hottest year on record, America must start to prepare for even hotter years in the future. To meet this moment, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) has launched the Extreme Heat Policy Sprint, an initiative to accelerate experts’ high-impact policy recommendations to comprehensively address the extreme heat crisis.

The urgency of this initiative is underscored by global average temperatures soaring to a record 2.63°F (1.46°C) increase from pre-industrial levels and heat-related mortalities forecasted to surge 370% within the next three decades. In Maricopa County, Arizona alone, at least 579 people lost their lives to heat last year, with senior citizens accounting for one in three deaths. This staggering number is widely considered an undercount, as heat-related mortalities are difficult to document.

With heat being the top weather-related killer of Americans and the nation having faced the hottest summer on record, the federal government made the largest resourcing of extreme heat mitigation in history last year. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) distributed $1 billion in grants to projects expanding urban tree canopies to reduce average temperatures during extreme heat events, amongst other co-benefits like flood reduction and improved public health outcomes. In addition, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provided $5 million in funding for two centers of excellence to deliver actionable, place-based climate information for community heat resilience. These efforts were complemented by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) distribution of $1.8 billion through two grant programs designed to help communities increase their resilience to the impacts of climate change, including extreme heat. 

Despite these federal programs, the resourcing needs for future extreme heat conditions are growing exponentially, with anticipated exposure to dangerous heat (>125 °F) expected to impact 107.6 million Americans by 2053. Several key U.S. cities are expected to experience risky wet bulb temperatures of +87°F, which would trigger deadly heat stress and stroke in vulnerable populations within just a few years. These conditions would completely suspend safe outdoor operations of the city during the summer months. Further, the exponential growth of cooling technology adoption across the country catalyzes increased demand for energy, thereby increasing fossil fuel emissions and straining electric grids to the point of risky blackouts. 

With such immense risks coming alarmingly soon, there is a need for transformative strategies to protect Americans from the heat where they live, where they work, and in their communities. Resilience to heat must be included in nationwide planning and management. The built environment must be adapted to chronic, sustained heat. Novel resilient cooling technologies need to be brought rapidly to market. Communities need climate services that include heat risk and offer regionally-specific solutions. The full health and economic costs of heat must be accounted for and responded to. All of this requires integrating heat resilience into every part of the federal government and developing new governance models for climate and health, focusing on adaptation-forward, people-centered disaster response approaches.  

Introducing the Participants of the Extreme Heat Policy Sprint

This critical situation sets the stage for the pivotal contributions of the experts in the Extreme Heat Policy Sprint. Each of these professionals offer innovative and impactful policy recommendations, drawing from diverse areas of expertise, including but not limited to climate resilience, health care, public policy, law, and urban planning. This collaboration is essential in shaping effective federal strategies to mitigate the far-reaching impacts of extreme heat on communities nationwide.

Infrastructure and the Built Environment

Workforce Safety and Development

Public Health and Preparedness

Food Security

Planning and Response

Data and Indices

Engaging Coal Communities in Decarbonization Through Nuclear Energy

The United States is committed to the ambitious goal of reaching net-zero emissions globally by 2050, requiring rapid deployment of clean energy domestically and across the world. Reducing emissions while meeting energy demand requires firm power sources that produce energy at any time and in adverse weather conditions, unlike solar or wind energy. Advanced nuclear reactors, the newest generation of nuclear power plants, are firm energy sources that offer potential increases in efficiency and safety compared to traditional nuclear plants. Adding more nuclear power plants will help the United States meet energy demand while reducing emissions. Further, building advanced nuclear plants on the sites of former coal plants could create benefits for struggling coal communities and result in significant cost savings for project developers. Realizing these benefits for our environment, coal communities, and utilities requires coordinating and expanding existing efforts. The Foundation for Energy Security and Innovation (FESI), the US Department of Energy (DOE), and Congress should each take actions to align and strengthen advanced nuclear initiatives and engagement with coal communities in the project development process.

Challenge and Opportunity

Reducing carbon emissions while meeting energy demand will require the continued use of firm power sources. Coal power, once a major source of firm energy for the United States, has declined since 2009, due to federal and state commitments to clean energy and competition with other clean energy sources. Power generated from coal plants is expected to drop to half of current levels by 2050 as upwards of 100 plants retire. The DOE found that sites of retiring coal plants are promising candidates for advanced nuclear plants, considering the similarities in site requirements, the ability to reuse existing infrastructure, and the overlap in workforce needs. Advanced nuclear reactors are the next generation of nuclear technology that includes both small modular reactors (SMRs), which function similar to traditional light-water reactors except on a smaller site, and non-light-water reactors, which are also physically smaller but use different methods to control reactor temperature. However, the DOE’s study and additional analysis from the Bipartisan Policy Center also identified significant challenges to constructing new nuclear power plants, including the risk of cost overrun, licensing timeline uncertainties, and opposition from communities around plant sites. Congress took steps to promote advanced nuclear power in the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS and Science Act, but more coordination is needed. To commercialize advanced nuclear to support our decarbonization goals, the DOE estimates that utilities must commit to deploying at least five advanced nuclear reactors of the same design by 2025. There are currently no agreements to do so. 

The Case for Coal to Nuclear

Coal-dependent communities and the estimated 37,000 people working in coal power plants could benefit from the construction of advanced nuclear reactors. Benefits include the potential addition of more than 650 jobs, about 15% higher pay on average, and the ability for some of the existing workforce to transition without additional experience, training, or certification. Jobs in nuclear energy also experience fewer fatal accidents, minor injuries, and harmful exposures than jobs in coal plants. Advanced nuclear energy could revitalize coal communities, which have suffered labor shocks and population decline since the 1980s. By embracing advanced nuclear power, these communities can reap economic benefits and create a pathway toward a sustainable and prosperous future. For instance, in one case study by the DOE, replacing a 924 MWe coal plant with nuclear increased regional economic activity by $275 million. Before benefits are realized, project developers must partner with local communities and other stakeholders to align interests and gain public support so that they may secure agreements for coal-to-nuclear transition projects.

Communities living near existing nuclear plants tend to view nuclear power more favorably than those who do not, but gaining acceptance to construct new plants in communities less familiar with nuclear energy is challenging. Past efforts using a top-down approach were met with resistance and created a legacy of mistrust between communities and the nuclear industry. Stakeholders can slow or stop nuclear construction through lawsuits and lengthy studies under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and 12 states have restrictions or total bans on new nuclear construction. Absent changes to the licensing and regulatory process, project developers must mitigate this risk through a process of meaningful stakeholder and community engagement. A just transition from coal to nuclear energy production requires developers to listen and respond to local communities’ concerns and needs through the process of planning, siting, licensing, design, construction, and eventual decommissioning. Project developers need guidance and collective learning to update the siting process with more earnest practices of engagement with the public and stakeholders. Coal communities also need support in transitioning a workforce for nuclear reactor operations.

Strengthen and Align Existing Efforts

Nuclear energy companies, utilities, the DOE, and researchers are already exploring community engagement and considering labor transitions for advanced nuclear power plants. NuScale Power, TerraPower, and X-energy are leading in both the technical development of advanced nuclear and in considerations of community benefits and stakeholder management. The Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), which is hosting NuScale’s demonstration SMR, spent decades engaging with communities across 49 utilities over seven states before signing an agreement with NuScale. Their carbon-free power project involved over 200 public meetings, resulting in several member utilities choosing to pursue SMRs. Universities are collaborating with the Idaho National Laboratory to analyze energy markets using a multidisciplinary framework that considers community values, resources, capabilities, and infrastructure. Coordinated efforts by researchers near the TerraPower Natrium demonstration site investigate how local communities view the cost, benefits, procedures, and justice elements of the project. 

The DOE also works to improve stakeholder and community engagement across multiple offices and initiatives. Most notably, the Office of Nuclear Energy is using a consent-based siting process, developed with extensive public input, to select sites for interim storage and disposal of spent nuclear fuel. The office distributed $26 million to universities, nonprofits, and private partners to facilitate engagement with communities considering the costs and benefits of hosting a spent fuel site. DOE requires all recipients of funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, including companies hosting advanced nuclear demonstration projects, to submit community benefits plans outlining community and labor organization engagement. The DOE’s new Commercial Liftoff Reports for advanced nuclear and other clean energy technologies are detailed and actionable policy documents strengthened by the inclusion of critical societal considerations.

Through the CHIPS and Science Act, Congress established or expanded DOE programs that promote both the development of advanced nuclear on sites of former coal plants and the research of public engagement for nuclear energy. The Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP) has funded technical nuclear energy research at universities since 2009. The CHIPS Act expanded the program to include research that supports community engagement, participation, and confidence in nuclear energy. The Act also established, but did not fund, a new advanced nuclear technology development program that prioritizes projects at sites of retiring coal plants and those that include elements of workforce development. An expansion of an existing nuclear energy training program was cut from the final CHIPS Act, but the expansion is proposed again in the Nuclear Fuel Security Act of 2023.

More coordination is required among DOE, the nuclear industry, and utilities. Congress should also take action to fund initiatives authorized by recent legislation that enable the coal-to-nuclear transition.

Plan of Action

Recommendations for Federal Agencies

Recommendation 1. A sizable coordinating body, such as the Foundation for Energy Security and Innovation (FESI) or the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), should support the project developer’s efforts to include community engagement in the siting, planning, design, and construction process of advanced nuclear power plants. 

FESI is a new foundation to help the DOE commercialize energy technology by supporting and coordinating stakeholder groups. ARC is a partnership between the federal government and Appalachian states that supports economic development through grantmaking and conducting research on issues related to the region’s challenges. FESI and ARC are coordinating bodies that can connect disparate efforts by developers, academic experts, and the DOE through various enabling and connecting initiatives. Efforts should leverage existing resources on consent-based siting processes developed by the DOE. While these processes are specific to siting spent nuclear fuel storage facilities, the roadmap and sequencing elements can be replicated for other goals. Stage 1 of the DOE’s planning and capacity-building process focuses on building relationships with communities and stakeholders and engaging in mutual learning about the topic. FESI or ARC can establish programs and activities to support planning and capacity building by utilities and the nuclear industry.

FESI could pursue activities such as: 

ARC could conduct studies such as stakeholder analysis and community interest surveys to determine community needs and concerns across Appalachian coal communities.

Recommendation 2. The DOE should continue expanding the Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP) to fund programs that support nontechnical nuclear research in the social sciences or law that can support community engagement, participation, and confidence in nuclear energy systems, including the navigation of the licensing required for advanced reactor deployment.

Evolving processes to include effective community engagement will require new knowledge in the social sciences and shifting the culture of nuclear education and training. Since 2009, the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy has supported nuclear energy research and equipment upgrades at U.S. colleges and universities through the NEUP. Except for a few recent examples, including the University of Wyoming project cited above, most projects funded were scientific or technical. Congress recognized the importance of supporting research in nontechnical areas by authorizing the expansion of NEUP to include nontechnical nuclear research in the CHIPS and Science Act. DOE should not wait for additional appropriations to expand this program. Further, NEUP should encourage awardees to participate in communities of practice hosted by FESI or other bodies.

Recommendation 3. The DOE Office of Energy Jobs and the Department of Labor (DOL) should collaborate on the creation and dissemination of training standards focused on the nuclear plant jobs for which extensive training, licensing, or experience is required for former coal plant workers.

Sites of former coal plants are promising candidates for advanced nuclear reactors because most job roles are directly transferable. However, an estimated 23% of nuclear plant jobs—operators, senior managers, and some technicians—require extensive licensing from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and direct experience in nuclear roles. It is possible that an experienced coal plant operator and an entry-level nuclear hire would require the same training path to become an NRC-licensed nuclear plant operator. 

Supporting the clean energy workforce transition fits within existing priorities for the DOE’s Office of Energy Jobs and the DOL, as expressed in the memorandum of understanding signed on June 21, 2022. Section V.C. asserts the departments share joint responsibility for “supporting the creation and expansion of high-quality and equitable workforce development programs that connect new, incumbent, and displaced workers with quality energy infrastructure and supply chain jobs.” Job transition pathways and specific training needs will become apparent through additional studies by interested parties and lessons from programs such as the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program and the Clean Energy Demonstration Program on Current and Former Mine Land. The departments should capture and synthesize this knowledge into standards from which industry and utilities can design targeted job transition programs.

Recommendations for Congress

Recommendation 4. Congress should fully appropriate key provisions of the CHIPS and Science Act to support coal communities’ transition to nuclear energy.

Recommendation 5. Congress should expand the Nuclear Energy Graduate Traineeship Subprogram to include workforce development through community colleges, trade schools, apprenticeships, and pre-apprenticeships.

The current Traineeship Subprogram supports workforce development and advanced training through universities only. Expanding this direct funding for job training through community colleges, trade schools, and apprenticeships will support utilities’ and industries’ efforts to transition the coal workforce into advanced nuclear jobs.

Recommendation 6. Congress should amend Section 45U, the Nuclear Production Tax Credit for existing nuclear plants, to require apprenticeship requirements similar to those for future advanced nuclear plants covered under Section 45Y, the Clean Energy Production Tax Credit.

Starting in 2025, new nuclear power plant projects will be eligible for the New Clean Energy Production and Investment Tax Credits if they meet certain apprenticeship requirements. However, plants established before 2025 will not be eligible for these incentives. Congress should add apprenticeship requirements to the Nuclear Production Tax Credit so that activities at existing plants strengthen the total nuclear workforce. Credits should be awarded with priority to companies implementing apprenticeship programs designed for former coal industry workers.

Conclusion

The ambitious goal of reaching net-zero emissions globally requires the rapid deployment of clean energy technologies, in particular firm clean energy such as advanced nuclear power. Since the 1980s, communities around coal power plants have suffered from industry shifts and will continue to accumulate disadvantages without support. Coal-to-nuclear transition projects advance the nation’s decarbonization efforts while creating benefits for developers and revitalizing coal communities. Utilities, the nuclear industry, the DOE, and researchers are advancing community engagement practices and methods, but more effort is required to share best practices and ensure coordination in these emerging practices. FESI or other large coordinating bodies should fill this gap by hosting communities of practice, producing knowledge on community values and attitudes, or providing technical assistance. DOE should continue to promote community engagement research and help articulate workforce development needs. Congress should fully fund initiatives authorized by recent legislation to promote the coal to nuclear transition. Action now will ensure that our clean firm power needs are met and that coal communities benefit from the clean energy transition.

Frequently Asked Questions
What paths are open to coal miners in the coal-to-nuclear transition?

Transitioning coal miners directly into clean energy is challenging considering the difference in skills and labor demand between the sectors. Most attempts to transition coal miners should focus on training in fields with similar skill requirements, such as job training for manufacturing roles within the Appalachian Climate Technology Coalition. Congress could also provide funding for unemployed coal miners to pursue education for other employment.

What are other challenges in transitioning the coal power plant workforce to nuclear energy?

A significant challenge is aligning the construction of advanced nuclear plants with the decommissioning of coal plants. Advanced nuclear project timelines are subject to various delays and uncertainties. For example, the first commercial demonstration of small modular reactor technology in the United States, the TerraPower plant in Wyoming, is delayed due to the high-assay low-enriched uranium supply chain. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s licensing process also creates uncertainty and extends project timelines.

How is radioactive spent fuel from existing nuclear power plants managed?

Methods exist to safely contain radioactive material as it decays to more stable isotopes. The waste is stored on site at the power plant in secure pools in the shorter term and in storage casks capable of containing the material for at least 100 years in the longer term. The DOE must continue pursuing interim consolidated storage solutions as well as a permanent geological repository, but the lack of these facilities should not pose a significant barrier to constructing advanced nuclear power plants. The United States should also continue to pursue recycling spent fuel.

How will the construction of new SMR plants impact spent fuel management?

More analysis is required to better understand these impacts. A study conducted by Argonne National Laboratory found that while the attributes of spent fuel vary by the exact design of reactor, overall there are no unique challenges to managing fuel from advanced reactors compared to fuel from traditional reactors. A separate study found that spent fuel from advanced reactors will contain more fissile nuclides, which makes waste management more challenging. As the DOE continues to identify interim and permanent storage sites through a consent-based process, utilities and public engagement efforts must interrogate the unique waste management challenges when evaluating particular advanced nuclear technology options.

How will the construction of new advanced nuclear plants affect nuclear proliferation?

Similar to waste output, the risk of proliferation from advanced reactors varies on the specific technologies and requires more interrogation. Some advanced reactor designs, such as the TerraPower Natrium reactor, require the use of fuel that is more enriched than the fuel used in traditional designs. However, the safeguards required between the two types of fuel are not significantly different. Other designs, such as the TerraPower TWR, are expected to be able to use depleted or natural uranium sources, and the NuScale VOYGR models use traditional fuel. All reactors have the capacity to produce fissile material, so as the United States expands its nuclear energy capabilities, efforts should be made to expand current safeguards limiting proliferation to fuel as it is prepared for plants and after it has been used.

Leveraging Positive Tipping Points to Accelerate Decarbonization

Summary

The Biden Administration has committed the United States to net-zero emissions by 2050. Meeting this commitment requires drastic decarbonization transitions across all sectors of society at a pace never seen before. This can be made possible by positive tipping points, which demarcate thresholds in decarbonization transitions that, once crossed, ensure rapid progress towards completion. A new generation of economic models enables the analysis of these tipping points and the evaluation of effective policy interventions. 

The Biden Administration should undertake a three-pronged strategy for leveraging the power of positive tipping points to create a larger-than-anticipated return on investment in the transition to a clean energy future. First, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) should evaluate new economic models and make recommendations for how agencies can incorporate such models into their decision-making process. Second, federal agencies should integrate positive tipping points into the research agendas of existing research centers and programs to uncover additional decarbonization opportunities. Finally, federal agencies should develop decarbonization strategies and policies based on insights from this research.

Challenge and Opportunity

Climate change brings us closer each year to triggering negative tipping points, such as the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet or the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation. These negative tipping points, driven by self-reinforcing environmental feedback loops, significantly accelerate the pace of climate change. 

Meeting the Biden Administration’s commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050 will reduce the risk of these negative tipping points but requires the United States to significantly accelerate the current pace of decarbonization. Traditional economic models used by the federal government and organizations such as the International Energy Agency consistently underestimate the progress of zero-emission technologies and the return on investment of policies that enable a faster transition, resulting in the agency’s “largest ever upwards revision” last year. A new school of thought presents “evidence-based hope” for rapidly accelerating the pace of decarbonization transitions. Researchers point out that our society consists of complex and interconnected social, economic, and technological systems that do not change linearly under a transition, as traditional models assume; rather, when a positive tipping point is crossed, changes made to the system can lead to disproportionately large effects. A new generation of economic models has emerged to support policymakers in understanding these complex systems in transition and identifying the best policies for driving cost-effective decarbonization.

At COP26 in 2021, leaders of countries responsible for 73% of world emissions, including the United States, committed to work together to reach positive tipping points under the Breakthrough Agenda. The United Kingdom and other European countries have led the movement thus far, but there is an opportunity for the United States to join as a leader in implementing policies that intentionally leverage positive tipping points and benefit from the shared learnings of other nations. 

Domestically, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) include some of the strongest climate policies that the country has ever seen. The implementation of these policies presents a natural experiment for studying the impact of different policy interventions on progress towards positive tipping points.

How do positive tipping points work?

Figure 1. Diagram of a system and its positive tipping point. The levers for change on the left push the system away from the current high-emission state and towards a new net-zero state. As the system moves away from the current state, the self-reinforcing feedback loops in the system become stronger and accelerate the transition. At the positive tipping point, the feedback loops become strong enough to drive the system towards the new state without further support from the levers for change. Thus, policy interventions for decarbonization transitions are most crucial in the lead up to a positive tipping point. (Adapted from the Green Futures Network.)

Just as negative tipping points in the environment accelerate the pace of climate change, positive tipping points in our social, economic, and technological systems hold the potential to rapidly accelerate the pace of decarbonization (Figure 1). These positive tipping points are driven by feedback loops that generate increasing returns to adoption and make new consumers more likely to adopt (Figure 2):

The right set of policies can harness this phenomenon to realize significantly greater returns on investment and trigger positive tipping points that give zero-emission technologies a serious boost over incumbent fossil-based technologies.

Figure 2. Examples of positive feedback loops: (a) learning by doing, (b) social contagion, and (c) complementary technology reinforcement.

One way of visualizing progress towards a positive tipping point is the S-curve, where the adoption of a new zero-emission technology grows exponentially and then saturates at full adoption. This S-curve behavior is characteristic of many historic energy and infrastructure technologies (Figure 3). From these historic examples, researchers have identified that the positive tipping point occurs between 10% and 40% adoption. Crossing this adoption threshold is difficult to reverse and typically guarantees that a technology will complete the S-curve.

Figure 3. The historic adoption of a sample of infrastructure and energy systems (top) and manufactured goods (bottom). Note that the sharpness of the S-curve can vary significantly. (Source: Systemiq)

For example, over the past two decades, the Norwegian government helped build electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure (complementary technology) and used taxes and subsidies to lower the price of EVs below that of gas vehicles. As a result, consumers began purchasing the cheaper EVs, and over time manufacturers introduced new models of EVs that were cheaper and more appealing than previous models (learning by doing and economies of scale). This led to EVs skyrocketing to 88% of new car sales in 2022. Norway has since announced that it would start easing its subsidies for EVs by introducing two new EV taxes for 2023, yet EV sales have continued to grow, taking up 90% of total sales so far in 2023, demonstrating the difficult-to-reverse nature of positive tipping points. Norway is now on track to reach a second tipping point that will occur when EVs reach price parity with gas vehicles without assistance from taxes or subsidies.

Due to the interconnected nature of social and technological systems, triggering one positive tipping point can potentially increase the odds of another tipping point at a greater scale, resulting in “upward-scaling tipping cascades.” Upward-scaling tipping cascades can occur in two ways: (1) from a smaller system to a larger system (e.g., as more states reach their tipping point for EV adoption, the nation as a whole gets closer to its tipping point) and (2) from one sector to another. For the latter, researchers have identified three super-leverage points that policymakers can use to trigger tipping cascades across multiple sectors:

  1. Light-duty EVs → heavy-duty EVs and renewable energy storage: The development of cheaper batteries for light-duty EVs will enable cheaper heavy-duty EVs and renewable energy storage thanks to shared underlying battery technology. The build-out of charging infrastructure for light-duty EVs will also facilitate the deployment of heavy-duty EVs.
  2. Green ammonia → heavy industries, shipping, and aviation: The production of green ammonia requires green hydrogen as an input, so the growth of the former will spur the growth of the latter. Greater production of green hydrogen and green ammonia will catalyze the decarbonization of the heavy industries, shipping, and aviation sectors, which use these chemicals as fuel inputs.
  3. Traditional and alternative plant proteins → land use: Widespread consumption of traditional and alternative plant proteins over animal protein will reduce pressure on land-use change for agriculture and potentially restore significant amounts of land for conservation and carbon sequestration.

The potential for this multiplier effect makes positive tipping points all the more promising and critical to understand.

Further research to identify positive tipping points and tipping cascades and to improve models for evaluating policy impacts holds great potential for uncovering additional decarbonization opportunities. Policymakers should take full advantage of this growing field of research by integrating its models and insights into the climate policy decision-making process and translating insights from researchers into evidence-based policies. 

Plan of Action

In order for the government to leverage positive tipping points, policymakers must be able to (1) identify positive tipping points and tipping cascades before they occur, (2) understand which policies or sequences of policies may be most cost-effective and impactful in enabling positive tipping points, and (3) integrate that insight into policy decision-making. The following recommendations would create the foundations of this process.

Recommendation 1. Evaluate and adopt new economic models

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) should conduct a joint evaluation of new economic models and case studies to identify where new models have been proven to be more accurate for modeling decarbonization transitions and where there are remaining gaps. They should then issue a report with recommendations on opportunities for funding further research on positive tipping points and new economic models and advise sub agenciessubagencies responsible for modeling and projections, such as the Energy Information Administration within the Department of Energy (DOE), on how to adopt these new economic models.

Recommendation 2. Integrate positive tipping points into the research agenda of federally funded research centers and programs.

There is a growing body of research coming primarily from Europe, led by the Global Systems Institute and the Economics of Energy Innovation and Systems Transition at the University of Exeter and Systemiq, that is investigating global progress towards positive tipping points and different potential policy interventions. The federal government should foster the growth of this research area within the United States in order to study positive tipping points and develop models and forecasts for the U.S. context.

There are several existing government-funded research programs and centers that align well with positive tipping points and would benefit synergistically from adding this to their research agenda:

Recommendation 3. Use insights from positive tipping points research to develop and implement policies to accelerate progress towards positive tipping points

Researchers have already identified three super-leverage points around which the federal government should consider developing and implementing policies. As future research is published, the PCAST should make further recommendations on actions that the federal government can take in leveraging positive tipping points.

Super-Leverage Point #1: Mandating Zero-Emission Vehicles (ZEVs) 

ZEV mandates require car manufacturers to sell a rising proportion of ZEVs within their light duty vehicles sales. Ensuring a growing supply of ZEVs results in falling costs and rising demand. Evidence of the effect of such policies in U.S. states, Canadian provinces, and China and future projections suggest that ZEV mandates are a crucial policy lever for ensuring a full EV transition. Such policies rely on the reallocation of private capital rather than government spending, making it particularly cost-effective. Combined with the investments in EV manufacturing and public charging infrastructure in the IRA and IIJA, a national ZEV mandate could radically boost the EV transition. 

A national ZEV mandate is unlikely to pass Congress anytime soon. However, the recently proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) greenhouse gas emissions standards for passenger cars and trucks would effectively require 67% of car sales to be ZEVs by 2032 in order for car manufacturers to comply with the regulations. The proposed standards would provide regulatory strength behind the Biden Administration’s goal of 50% of new cars sold by 2030 to be ZEVs. The EPA should finalize these standards as soon as possible at or above the currently proposed stringency. 

The proposed EPA standards are projected to result in a 50% reduction in the price of EV batteries by 2035. This will have knock-on effects on the cost of batteries for renewable energy storage and battery electric trucks and other heavy-duty vehicles, which would likely bring forward the cost parity tipping point for these technologies by a number of years.

Super-Leverage Point #2: Mandating Green Ammonia Use in Fertilizer Production 

Ammonia is the primary ingredient for producing nitrogen-based fertilizer and requires hydrogen as an input. Traditionally, this hydrogen is produced from natural gas, and the production of hydrogen for ammonia accounts for 1% of global CO2 emissions. Green hydrogen produced from water and powered by renewable energy would enable the production of green ammonia for nitrogen-based fertilizers.

Based on a DOE tipping point analysis, green ammonia production is one of the most promising areas for initial large-scale deployment of green hydrogen, thanks to its ability to use established ammonia supply chains and economies of scale. Green ammonia production also has one of the lowest green premia in the hydrogen economy. Green ammonia production will enable infrastructure development and cost reductions for green hydrogen to decarbonize other sectors, including shipping, aviation, and heavy industries like steel. 

The Biden Administration should set a target for green ammonia production for domestic fertilizer in the Federal Sustainability Plan similar to India’s draft hydrogen strategy requiring 20% green ammonia production by 2027–2028. The EPA should then propose Clean Air Act carbon emission limits and guidelines for nitrogen-based fertilizer production plants, similar to the recently proposed standards for coal and natural gas power plants, to provide regulatory strength behind that target. These limits would effectively require fertilizer plants to blend a growing percentage of green ammonia into their production line in order to meet emission limits. According to the DOE, the clean hydrogen production tax credit in the IRA has enabled cost parity between green ammonia and fossil-based ammonia, so the EPA should be able to set such limits without increasing food production costs.

Super-Leverage Point #3: Public Procurement to Promote Plant and Alternative Proteins

Shifting protein consumption from meat to plant and alternative proteins can reduce emissions from livestock farming and reduce land use change for meat production. Plant proteins refer to protein-rich plants, such as nuts and legumes, and traditional products made from those plants, such as tofu and tempeh. Alternative proteins currently on the market include plant- and fermentation-based protein products intended to mimic the taste and texture of meat. Studies show that if plant and alternative proteins are able to reach a tipping point of 20% market share, this would ease up 7–15% of land currently used for agriculture to conservation and the restoration of its ability to serve as a carbon sink. 

Public procurement of alternative proteins for federal food programs leverages government spending power to support this nascent market and introduce new consumers to alternative proteins, thus increasing its accessibility and social traction. Last year, the National Defense Authorization Act established a three-year pilot program for the U.S. Navy to offer alternative protein options. The California state legislature also invested $700 million to support schools in procuring more plant-based foods and training staff on how to prepare plant-based meals.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is a major procurer of food through collaboration between the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) and distributes the majority of procured food through the Child Nutrition Programs (CNPs), especially the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Currently, AMS does not procure any traditional or alternative protein products made from plant protein, but USDA guidelines do allow traditional and alternative protein products to fulfill meat/meat alternate requirements for CNPs. The AMS should develop product specifications and requirements for procuring these types of products and assist traditional and alternative protein companies to become USDA food vendors. The FNS should then launch a pilot program spending, for example, 1% of their procurement budget on traditional and alternative protein products. This should be supported by education and training of food service workers at schools that participate in the NSLP on how to prepare meals using traditional and alternative proteins.

Conclusion

The sooner that positive tipping points that accelerate desired transitions are triggered, the sooner that decarbonization transitions will be realized and net-zero goals will be met. Early intervention is crucial for supporting the growth and adoption of new zero-emission technologies. The recommendations above present the foundations of a strategy for leveraging positive tipping points and accelerating climate action.

Acknowledgements

I’d like to acknowledge Erica Goldman for her generous feedback and advice on this piece and for her thought leadership on this topic at FAS.

FAQs about Leveraging Positive Tipping Points to Accelerate Decarbonization
What are the necessary conditions for a positive tipping point?

The key conditions for triggering a positive tipping point are affordability, attractiveness, and accessibility of new zero-emission technologies compared to incumbents. Affordability is often the most crucial condition: achieving price parity with incumbent technologies (with and then without the support of taxes and subsidies) can unlock rapid growth and adoption. Attractiveness refers to consumer preferences about a new technology’s performance, complementary features, or ability to signal social values. Accessibility refers to whether supporting infrastructure or knowledge, such as charging stations for EVs or recipes for cooking alternative proteins, is commonly available to support adoption. Due to the relative nature of these conditions, policymakers can influence them either by making the new technology more affordable, attractive, and accessible or by making the incumbent technology less affordable, attractive, and accessible. Often, a combination of both approaches is required to achieve the optimal effect.

Are federal policymakers the only actors that can trigger positive tipping points? What about state policymakers?

States can cooperate to identify and coordinate policies that activate upward-scaling tipping cascades into other states and eventually the federal government. A promising example of this is the growing adoption of California’s Advanced Clean Cars II EV sales mandate by Vermont, New York, Washington, Oregon, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Maryland, and soon Colorado, Massachusetts, and Delaware.

What about individuals and social movements?

Social contagion, mentioned above, is a powerful type of feedback loop that can drive the spread of not just technology adoption but also new behaviors, opinions, knowledge, and social norms. Through social contagion, social movement can be formed, capable of wielding greater influence than the sum of individuals. That influence can then translate into demands for government and industry action to decarbonize. A prime example is Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future student movement. Another example is the Social Tipping Point Coalition that in 2021 rallied a coalition of over 100 scientists, universities, nongovernmental and grassroots organizations, and other individuals to petition the new Dutch parliament to implement new climate policies.

What about industry stakeholders?

Industry has a direct hand in creating the conditions for a positive tipping point through their business models, technological development, and production. Industries are more likely to invest in adopting and improving low- and zero-carbon technologies and practices if the government clearly signals that it will back the transition, resulting in positive, reinforcing “ambition loops” between government climate policy and industry climate action. Industry coordination is also key to ensuring that new technologies are complementary and that infrastructure supporting a technology is developed alongside the technology itself. For example, coordination between EV companies is necessary to develop compatible charging mechanisms across manufacturers. Coordination between charging companies and EV companies can help charging companies identify which geographies have greatest demand for chargers.

What about international coordination?

International coordination strengthens positive feedback loops and accelerates cost reductions for green technologies. For example, a recent study suggests that if the three largest car markets—the United States, Europe, and China—implement zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) sales mandates (i.e., requirements that an increasing percentage of each car manufacturer’s sales must be EVs), EVs will be able to reach cost parity with gas vehicles five years sooner than in the scenario without those ZEV mandates.

What has the federal government done to identify or accelerate positive tipping points so far?

The U.S. Global Change Research Program’s 2022–2031 Strategic Plan includes tipping points and nonlinear changes in complex systems as two of its research priorities. Specifically, the Strategic Plan highlights the need to investigate “the potential for beneficial tipping points” and incorporate research on nonlinearity in economics-based models to evaluate societal decisions in future National Climate Assessments. However, it will take another four to five years to produce the next National Climate Assessment under this strategic plan. (The fifth National Climate Assessment, which is expected to be published this fall, was drafted before the new strategic plan was published.) Thus, additional executive and agency action is necessary to operationalize positive tipping points in the federal government before the next National Climate Assessment is released.

How can we track progress towards positive tipping points?

The federal government currently collects some data on the sales and adoption rates of the relatively more mature clean energy technologies, such as electric vehicles. A 2022 Bloomberg report attempted to identify “early-stage tipping points” at around 5% adoption for 10 clean energy technologies that reflect when their adoption becomes measurably exponential and compare their adoption curves across countries globally. Beyond adoption rates, a number of additional factors indicate progress towards positive tipping points, such as the number of companies investing in a zero-emission technology or the number of states adopting regulations or incentives that support zero-emission technologies in a sector. Tracking these indicators can help policymakers sense when a system is approaching a positive tipping point. The nonprofit Systems Change Lab currently tracks the adoption of decarbonization technologies and factors that affect decarbonization transitions on a global scale. Philanthropic funding or a public-private partnership with the Systems Change Lab could leverage their existing infrastructure to track tipping point indicators on a national scale for the United States.

What are the risks or potential unintended consequences to consider when crossing a positive tipping point?

Approaching a positive tipping point first requires a system to become destabilized in order to make change possible. Once a positive tipping point is crossed, the system then accelerates towards a new state and begins to restabilize. However, the destabilization during the transition can have unintended consequences due to the rapid shift in how social, economic, and technological systems are organized and how resources are distributed within those systems. Potential risks include economic precarity for people employed in rapidly declining industries and resulting social instability and backlash. This can potentially exacerbate inequality and undesirable social division. As such, policies ensuring a just transition must be implemented alongside policies to accelerate positive tipping points. Research on the interaction between these policies is currently ongoing. It is essential that decisions to develop policies that accelerate movement towards positive tipping points always consider and evaluate the potential for unintended consequences.

Six hot opportunity areas to beat the heat through federal policy

Extreme heat is the number one weather-related killer of Americans, yet receives minimal targeted federal support and dedicated funding for planning, mitigation, and recovery.

This summer, 130 million Americans were placed under some type of heat alert. National records for heat continue to be shattered each month, with July estimated to be the hottest month recorded on Earth. This relentless heat will continue to affect millions of Americans in August and for every summer to come. 

Extreme heat is the number one weather-related killer of Americans, yet receives minimal targeted federal support and dedicated funding for planning, mitigation, and recovery. Unlike other weather-related disasters, the consequences of extreme heat are hard to respond to and challenging to account for under current federal law. For starters, the Stafford Act does not consider extreme heat to be a Major Disaster (Sec. 102), barring sufficient coordinated federal action. Further, extreme heat is not only risky to infrastructure, like our power grids, roads, and homes, but also has devastating direct impacts on public health.

Prolonged exposure to extreme heat increases the risk of developing potentially fatal heat-related illnesses, such as heat stroke where the human body reaches dangerously high internal temperatures. If a person cannot cool down, especially when the nights bring no relief from the heat, this high core temperature can result in organ failure, cognitive damage, and death. These human health impacts are harder to account for in benefit-cost analyses that drive disaster preparedness funding allocations. Extreme heat is a crisis that impacts everyone. However, certain populations are more vulnerable to the increased health risks from heat, including older adults, outdoor workers, those with preexisting health conditions, low income communities, and people experiencing homelessness. 

Extreme heat also creates conditions that increase the likelihood and severity of other natural hazards, such as droughts and wildfires, further threatening public health. These compounding disasters put a major strain on national and global agricultural systems and threaten food security. This is particularly true for low-income communities as “heatflation” makes staple foods more unaffordable. 

We can better prevent, manage, and recover from extreme heat. With increased federal attention towards the effects of extreme heat and climate adaptation and resilience, there is an opportunity to take action. Federal policy can be a powerful lever of systems change, ensuring better coordination across federal agencies, state and local governments, and public and private sectors to beat the heat.

Starting now, the Federation of American Scientists is launching an Open Call for Extreme Heat Policy Ideas to source policy solutions to improve how the federal government coordinates a comprehensive response to heat. FAS is collecting ideas throughout Fall 2023 to prepare effectively for the next heat season. More information can be found by following this link.

FAS has completed a preliminary diagnosis of six opportunity areas for innovative extreme heat policy ideas that can make the most substantial impact on American heat resiliency: Infrastructure, Workforce, Public Health, Food Security, Planning and Management, and Data and Indices.

Infrastructure

Many Americans offset heat through increasing their use of air conditioning. Yet, this creates many issues, including the risk of overloading our electrical grids, equity concerns surrounding who has continuous access to air conditioning, and variance in the effectiveness of different air conditioning units. 1 in 4 Americans experience energy insecurity which puts them at risk of energy shut-offs, and Americans at large hold $19.3 billion in energy debt as of March 2023.

Further, AC units fail to address fundamental issues in infrastructure, such as the poor design of buildings or lack of building codes that specify maximum temperature inside buildings. A study done by CAPA Strategies and the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management on heat in public housing found that even units with AC saw observed temperatures consistently greater than 80℉, putting the health of residents at risk. Even more alarming, research has projected that in the event of a multi-day blackout during a heatwave, the heat-related mortality rate in Phoenix, Atlanta, and Detroit would increase dramatically. In Phoenix, more than 50% of the urban population would require medical attention. This calls into question an AC-only heat mitigation strategy. Rather, how we design and build our infrastructure can make our communities more heat resilient. 

Extreme heat presents multiple challenges to our current infrastructure, including concerns over grid and transportation resilience, lack of building codes for heat, lack of well-researched passive cooling technologies (i.e. non-air conditioning) to combat heat, and urban planning and design to beat the heat. Infrastructure investments, such as increasing grid resilience and creating more urban green space and nature-based solutions, can serve as preventive measures to keep communities cool as temperatures continue to rise. 

With the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, several federal agencies have created programs that could address infrastructure concerns surrounding extreme heat. 

While these programs provide necessary support and funding to address infrastructure concerns, multiple gaps still persist. First, federal agencies may have capital but are not coordinated in their approach to addressing extreme heat and proactively building community resilience to heat. The Equitable Long-Term Recovery and Resilience Interagency Working Group has found difficulties in interagency coordination of notices of funding opportunities, place-based engagement for deployment of funds, direct technical assistance to communities, and maintenance of continuous sources of funding along a project’s timeline (i.e. ensure once infrastructure is built that there are people to upkeep passive infrastructure such as green spaces or people to staff active infrastructure like cooling centers). Without strategy and clarity for how communities should proceed and what they should invest in, there will be no sustainable change in infrastructure across the nation. 

Second, nuances in specific programs and the way grants are chosen through benefit-cost analysis (i.e. greater value to property damage over harder to quantify measures like impacts on human lives) may limit funding that goes to projects specifically focused on extreme heat. For example, while communities have been told that FEMA’s BRIC can fund extreme heat resilience, BRIC grant applications have been repeatedly rejected for extreme heat-related projects, a consequence of the “cost-effective” statute for BRIC. Even if a cooling center is approved, BRIC money cannot staff the center in the event of a disaster. 

Third, many jurisdictions around the country lack building codes that specify a maximum indoor temperature inside buildings as well as required strategies to mitigate extreme heat – contributing to heightened risk for individuals developing heat-related illnesses.  

Workforce

Rising temperatures place many members of the workforce, such as farmworkers and construction workers, at increased risk for heat-related illnesses. Extreme heat also leads to immense losses in workplace productivity, with research estimating a total annual loss of $100 billion to the U.S. economy. Without any measures to address the impacts of extreme heat in the future, this figure could double to $200 billion by 2030 and $500 billion by 2050. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) within the Department of Labor recently released a heat hazard alert which provides information to employers about how they should be protecting employees in extreme heat conditions as well as information on employees’ rights. With recent direction from the White House, OSHA will also increase its inspections and enforcement of violations in industries at higher risk for extreme heat, such as agriculture. Yet, OSHA is historically under-resourced in its ability to effectively carry out inspections and enforcement, with each inspector now responsible for securing the rights of 200,000 workers. 

This under-resourcing extends to OSHA’s ability to create a national standard for protection against extreme heat which is still years off from implementation. This leaves employee protection to state-level standards. Some states, including California and Oregon, have issued heat standards to protect workers. Yet, other states, such as Texas, have eliminated the requirement for employers to provide basic safety measures like water breaks. In this current system, employees are being put at significant risk. Providing employees consistent breaks for water and shade while working in extreme heat conditions is a simple way to mitigate these risks while lowering costs of workers’ compensation for employers in the event of a work-exposure related heat illness. 

Public Health

Each summer, extreme heat can cost the healthcare industry upwards of $1 billion dollars. Exposure to extreme heat, and often accompanying high humidity, can cause multiple heat-related illnesses, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The risks of developing severe symptoms are heightened by social and environmental factors, such as lack of access to air conditioning, shade, or transportation to medical centers. Individual factors, including types of medication being taken, can also increase sensitivity towards heat. Further, rising temperatures exacerbate negative mental health outcomes, such as fatigue and aggression

When patients with a heat-illness are admitted to the hospital, there are numerous limitations with coordination and response. Diagnostic codes, used for insurance claims, exist for heat-related illness. However, physicians may not recognize the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and instead diagnose and assign other related codes, such as dehydration. Therefore, patients may not be properly diagnosed and treated. This also leads to significant underreporting of the effects of extreme heat on health. 

Quick coordination and response by health care professionals is critical in preventing long-term damage. A nationwide survey by Americares found that less than 20% of staff in clinics feel that their clinics are “very resilient” to extreme weather. During the Northwest Heat Dome in 2021, a lack of coordinated public health preparation led to 229 deaths, more than any other disaster that year. In order to increase preparedness and timely response, it is essential for the public health workforce to be educated on best practices in responding to heat-illnesses. For example, after the Northwest Heat Dome, Seattle has begun to implement new plans for hospitals to meet to review best practices if extreme heat is forecasted, including checking whether centers have ice and body bags available. 

Extreme heat can also have unexpected consequences on public health. For instance, extreme heat creates favorable conditions for infectious disease carriers, such as ticks and fungal spores, to exist in areas of the country where they were historically unable to survive. Transmission of disease is also more likely as people congregate in community hubs, such as cooling centers or beaches. 

As heat waves become more frequent and intense across the nation, it’s critical to create standardized coordination efforts. The Office of Climate Change and Health Equity serves as a resource hub, producing a seasonal Climate and Health Outlook and the new Heat-Related Emergency Medical Services Activation Surveillance Dashboard. Yet, they are not federally funded and are therefore limited in their capacity to coordinate heat and health resilience. In terms of public health preparedness resources, the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) Climate Ready States and Cities Initiative can only support nine states, one city, and one county, despite 40 jurisdictions having applied. The Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) found increasing funding from $10 million to $110 million is required to support all states, and improve climate surveillance. 

The threat of extreme heat speaks to a critical need for a funded agency or office to take a leadership role in the following three efforts: 1) strengthening holistic natural disaster resiliency and response efforts within the healthcare and public health sectors through interagency collaboration 2) orchestrating and supporting efforts to close information gaps, synthesize data, and identify practical applications of information on natural disasters and climate threats and 3) coordinate efforts to develop communication and education on climate-related health threats. 

Food Security

Extreme heat and its exacerbation of other natural hazards, including droughts, can have a significant impact on our agricultural productivity and food security. The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the impact of large-scale emergencies on our national and global food supply chains and distribution systems. 

Increases in temperature may directly cause a reduction in crop growth and agricultural yields by affecting plants’ growth cycle. Rising temperatures affect livestock, potentially leading to increased mortality and reduced production of certain products, such as milk and eggs. It also impacts the way food can be stored and transported. Changes in food supply can ultimately increase the costs of certain foods and thus may not be affordable for everyone, particularly low-income populations. 

Extreme heat also contributes to the creation of favorable conditions for droughts, increasing the risk for crop failure. For instance, in Texas and the Midwest, extended droughts are causing farmers to be concerned about their agricultural yields and placing too heavy of a reliance on irrigation systems. Over a thousand communities are currently under disaster designation by the USDA this summer because of extended drought exacerbated by extreme heat.

It is critical for resources to be devoted to the research and development of strategies to improve the heat resilience of crops and livestock given the economic unsustainability of evergreen emergency disaster assistance. A report by the Perry World House Center recommended specific strategies including restorative agriculture practices, diversifying crop production, and learning from indigenous agricultural practices. The US Department of Agriculture’s Climate Hubs provide information on climate resilience to inform decision-making by natural resource and agricultural managers – and would benefit from additional appropriations. Additionally, the USDA’s Partnerships for Climate Smart Commodities is investing $1 billion into financing pilot projects that use climate-smart practices, yet no projects focus explicitly on extreme heat resiliency. 

Planning and Management

Despite its immense impacts, extreme heat is not considered a hazard that can trigger a federal emergency declaration under the Stafford Act. Many agencies, such as the Department of Interior and Housing and Urban Development, are not able to unlock funds without an emergency declaration and supplemental appropriations from Congress, illustrating the need to create more active resilience measures for these agencies to strategically act on extreme heat. 

The lack of specific staff within agencies and overarching federal leadership for heat resilience, response, and recovery limits an effective and coordinated response. Communities need agencies to have the tools, guidance, and technical assistance needed for implementation of extreme heat resilience. Lastly, having no federal office with national responsibility for extreme heat presents a major risk as certain parts of the country reach the upper limits of human habitability despite all resilience efforts triggering potentially destabilizing internal climate migrations.

Within local and state governments, there is often no specific agency or officer responsible for heat. Currently, only a handful of local jurisdictions are beginning to experiment with different organizational structures to address heat, such as the appointment of a designated Chief Heat Officer in Miami-Dade, Florida. On the state and local level, there is a lack of research into which organizational structure is most effective and efficient at extreme heat mitigation and response. In addition, there’s no incentive from the federal government for local jurisdictions to create effective heat response personnel. 

Finally, many states and local jurisdictions fail to plan for heat as a part of their Hazard Mitigation Plans, often required by FEMA to unlock disaster preparedness and recovery investments. Yet, there are currently no best practices on how to plan and respond, beyond high-level, non-specific guidance documents from the CDC and Environmental Protection Agency, leaving each city to create their own plans of action.

Data and Indices

While heat blankets entire regions, its impacts are not felt equitably across the population. Urban heat island effects can make parts of cities far hotter – thus worsening the disaster for people residing in these zones. Further, there is a lack of consensus over how to name, categorize, and communicate the severity of extreme heat events. Heat is very context dependent. Temperature is not the only consideration in determining the severity of heat. Levels of humidity are an integral factor in determining the extent to which the human body can control internal temperature. 

Inadequate data collection can result in underestimating the severity of heat, particularly in urban neighborhoods. Localized factors, including neighborhood design and the infrastructure of individual buildings can exacerbate the severity and consequences of heat. Within one city or local jurisdiction, data for heat can vary by multiple degrees. When these temperatures are not accurately accounted for, it can contribute to lack of efficient planning and emergency management. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Center for Disease Control created the National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS) to provide tools and information on extreme heat. While NIHHIS produces useful information, such as the vulnerability mapping tool and urban heat island mapping campaign with the EPA, there is still a gap in applying this information and connecting localities with useful data and information on which strategies are most effective at combating extreme heat. Since this issue is dependent on context and locality, it’s crucial to have a system that collects nuanced data that tracks all of the impacts of extreme heat. 

Issues in communicating extreme heat’s severity arise because different heat indices use different standards and ultimately communicate output at varying levels of severity. This contributes to confusion surrounding what temperatures should constitute extreme heat. For instance, heat index calculations are a common measurement that take humidity into account. However, the formula assumes that people are resting in the shade. On the other hand, Wet Bulb Globe temperature calculations use direct sunshine measurements and assume people are active. Both of these measurements assume people are healthy. Not only does this create confusion about which index to rely on, it also excludes and may underestimate the severity of heat in certain populations. Naming heat waves is one solution that’s been explored in Spain to make it easier to explain the severity of extreme heat to the public.

Extreme heat presents multiple challenges to our planning, response, and management systems. While the consequences of extreme heat can be deadly, they can be avoided with a coordinated and comprehensive federal response. If you’re feeling inspired to act, submit an idea to our Open Call for Extreme Heat Policy Ideas here.

FAS Unveils 23 Actionable Recommendations for Improving Wildland Fire Policy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Federation of American Scientists unveiled 23 actionable policy proposals developed by expert contributors. These recommendations were developed with the aim of contributing to a holistic, evidence-based approach to managing wildland fire in the United States and in response to the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission’s request for stakeholder input in its work to develop a report for Congress . 

In partnership with COMPASS, the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST), and Conservation X Labs, FAS hosted a Wildland Fire Policy Accelerator to collect, refine, and amplify actionable, evidence-based ideas to improve how we live with fire. 

The recommendations cover issues across the wildland fire policy spectrum, falling into four categories: Landscapes and Communities, Public Health and Infrastructure, Science, Data, and Technology, and Workforce. Contributors come from academia, the private sector, and nonprofits and have expertise in public health, fire intelligence, forestry, cultural burning, and more. 

“The ideas we are presenting showcase how the development of evidence-based policy can be inclusive of more diverse expert input and lead to better results. We are eager to see the final recommendations the Commission ultimately relays to Congress, and how they respond” says FAS Director of Science Policy Erica Goldman.

“These are urgent issues that can only be solved through cross-sectoral, multidisciplinary collaborations. We’re grateful to be at the table and excited to see how these bold ideas can evolve and inform public policy across local and state governments,” says CCST Senior Science Officer Teresa Feo.

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) is a nonprofit policy research and advocacy organization founded in 1945 to meet national security challenges with evidence-based, scientifically-driven, and nonpartisan policy, analysis, and research. The organization works to advance progress on a broad suite of contemporary issues where science, technology, and innovation policy can deliver dramatic progress, and seeks to ensure that scientific and technical expertise have a seat at the policymaking table.

Assessing Agency-Reported Progress on the Justice40 Initiative

Question: What do family game nights and federal government initiatives have in common?

Answer: They’re both much easier to successfully start than to successfully finish.

Coordinating multiple stakeholders—each with their unique interests and perspectives—around a common goal is simply difficult. At FAS, we have yet to figure out how to best tackle family game nights. But we have found that for complex federal initiatives involving many agencies, taking the time to step back and assess progress to date often paves the way for continued future success. We also recognize that unless specifically tasked and resourced, Executive Branch agencies and offices generally lack capacity to do this on their own.

That’s why today, FAS is releasing an independent assessment of agency-reported progress on the Administration’s Justice40 Initiative—a landmark whole-of-government effort to ensure that 40% of the overall benefits of certain federal investments flow to disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution.

The complete assessment is freely available here. A supplemental spreadsheet to the assessment is available here.

The assessment focuses on the 175 Justice40 recommendations issued by the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC) in May 2021. Key takeaways include:

Additional background and insights from the assessment are provided below. 

The WHEJAC and the Justice40 Initiative

President Biden launched the Justice40 Initiative within days of taking office in January 2021. Executive Order (E.O.) 14008, which created the Initiative, also established the first-ever White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC). The WHEJAC comprises two dozen experts in environmental justice, climate change, disaster preparedness, racial inequity, and related fields. 

The WHEJAC’s mission is to provide advice and recommendations to the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council (IAC) “on how to increase the Federal Government’s efforts to address current and historic environmental injustice.” The WHEJAC’s first suite of recommendations, released in May 2021, included 175 specifically focused on the Justice40 Initiative. In May 2022, CEQ delivered a required report to Congress that included responses from the federal agencies named in each of these.

Assessing agency-reported progress on Justice40

To inform the WHEJAC’s future efforts, and to support ongoing implementation of the Justice40 Initiative, we at FAS conducted an independent assessment of the WHEJAC’s Justice40 recommendations and CEQ’s corresponding report. We emphasize that this assessment was scoped to elucidate key insights and trends from agency-reported progress on Justice40, and did not include independent verification of agency responses. The assessment includes five sections:

Read the full assessment:

Countering Climate Change With Renewable Energy Technologies

Renewable energy technologies, such as advanced biofuels for transportation, are key for U.S. efforts to mitigate climate change

Climate change is bringing about rising temperatures, which have significant negative impacts on humans and the environment, and transitioning to renewable energy sources, such as biofuels, can help meet this challenge. One consequence of higher global temperatures is the increasing frequency of extreme weather events that cause massive amounts of harm and damage. As depicted in Figure 1, six of the 10 costliest extreme weather events in the U.S. have occurred in the last 10 years, amounting to over $411 billion in damages (in 2020 dollars and adjusted for inflation). The other four occurred between 2004 and 2008, and the costs of future extreme weather events are expected to keep climbing.

Figure 1

U.S. extreme weather events from 2000 to 2020 resulting in at least $1 billion in damages. Figure adapted from an interactive Center for Climate and Energy Solutions tool.

Moreover, the World Health Organization estimates that, globally, climate change is responsible for over 150,000 deaths per year. This is because in addition to extreme weather events, climate change contributes to the spread of diseases, reduced food production, and many other problems.

Transitioning to renewable energy, and reducing reliance on fossil fuels, is one way to help slow down the effects of climate change. While renewables used to be a more expensive option, new clean energy technologies are lowering costs and helping to move economies away from fossil fuels. For example, solar panel prices decreased 75 to 80 percent between 2009 and 2015. Due to similar trends in other renewables like wind and hydropower, renewable energy generation technology accounts for over half of all new power generation capacity brought online worldwide every year since 2011.

More must be done to ensure that renewable energy technologies are key contributors to the mitigation of climate change. As of 2018, solar and wind accounted for less than 4% of all the energy used in the U.S. (Figure 2). The amount of energy generated by solar panels has increased almost 46-fold since 2008, but still only amounts to about 1% of the total energy generated in the country. Unfortunately, renewables currently provide only a small fraction of the total energy produced, and to counter climate change, this contribution must drastically increase.

Figure 2

Sources of energy used in the U.S. during the year 2000 and the year 2018. Figure reproduced from DeSilver 2020, Pew Research Center.

Nonrenewable sources are still frequently used because they are very dense in energy. In the transportation sector, for example, gas or diesel fuels have about 40 times more energy, pound for pound, than the leading electric battery technologies. In order for an electric car to travel 360 miles, which is the average distance traveled on a full 12.4 gallon tank of gas, the car would need a battery weighing over 1,300 pounds.

To reduce reliance on petroleum-based fuels, particularly for heavy-duty vehicles and airplanes, one potential solution is biofuels. Biofuels are produced by breaking down plant material and converting it into usable fuels, such as ethanol or biodiesel. Corn ethanol is already added to gas to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. However, creating ethanol is not a zero-carbon process, and supplementing with corn ethanol averages just under 40 percent lower carbon emissions than using only gasoline. Corn ethanol also relies on land which could be used for growing other food crops. Researchers are currently studying how to use invasive plants, as well as plants that require little water, fertilizer, or land to grow, to create the next generation of biofuels. Some promising plant feedstock options include hemp, switchgrass, carrizo cane, jatropha shrubs, and algae. New biotechnologies are also being studied to develop more efficient ways to break down biomass into sugars, which microbes then convert into biofuels. There is also ongoing research to create microbes that can directly convert plants to biofuels, and to enable microbes to produce long-chain, energy-dense hydrocarbons that could be used to fuel heavy-duty vehicles and airplanes.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation developed several recommendations which could bolster the implementation of biofuels. These recommendations include:

By improving the efficiency of renewable energy technologies like biofuels, wind, and solar, and further innovating in the renewables space, the U.S. science and technology community can help ensure that renewables are leveraged in the effort to counter the climate crisis.

This CSPI Science and Technology Policy Deep Dive expands upon a scientific exchange between Congressman Bill Foster (D, IL-11) and his new FAS-organized Science Council.

A Carbon Tax to Combat Climate Change and Support Low-Income Households

Summary

Putting a price on carbon is fundamental to achieving U.S. climate goals for 2050. Many options for carbon price-setting exist, and in this policy brief we propose a tax-and-dividend approach that mitigates the challenging impacts that carbon policies have on poor and suburban/rural communities, particularly those in Middle America. Such a plan will be a net gain for low-income households, in contrast to other proposed climate change policies which will adversely affect the poor. Furthermore, it has been shown that even a modest carbon tax can have large benefits in terms of cost-effectiveness.

For that reason, we propose the following: