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The White House has reportedly put under consideration a plan floated by climate activist and author Bill McKibben for the U.S. to mass-produce heat pumps to be sent to Europe to lessen its reliance on Russian fossil fuels while also addressing the planetary emergency.
“We can and should do this.”
“Heat pumps for peace! So cool to see this idea picking up such momentum!” tweeted Jamie Henn, director of Fossil Free Media and co-founder along with McKibben of 350.org.
Henn’s post came in response to new reporting by the Washington Post that the administration “is seriously considering” the proposal that McKibben laid out February 27 in his newsletter The Crucial Years.
“President Biden should immediately invoke the Defense Production Act to get American manufacturers to start producing electric heat pumps in quantity, so we can ship them to Europe where they can be installed in time to dramatically lessen [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s power,” McKibben wrote just days after Russia launched its deadly invasion of Ukraine.
In a Wednesday interview with the Post‘s “The Climate 202,” McKibben acknowledged that he discussed the plan for heat pumps—electricity-run devices that both cool and heat—with the White House and told the outlet that the idea gaining traction was probably “less because of the brilliance of my prose and more because it’s a really natural idea. It follows exactly what happened the last time there was a land war in Europe.”
“Now is the moment to leverage all the policy options available to us, by encouraging the U.S. Congress to enact the energy investments necessary to drive the deployment and adoption of clean technologies.”
Those comments followed Tuesday reporting by the Post, citing three people with knowledge of the matter, that White House aides have studied plans to ramp up heat pump production in the U.S. to send the units to Europe, weighing whether to do so under the Defense Production Act, as McKibben called for, or via procurement programs at the Defense Department.
“Some advocates close to the effort have compared the idea to the Lend-Lease Act program through which the United States sent critical supplies to the Allied nations that had been invaded by Germany in World War II,” according to the Post.
In a Thursday tweet responding to the Post‘s reporting, electrification advocacy group Rewiring America called the heat pump proposal “a serious plan for serious times. We can and should do this.”
The group’s CEO Ari Matusiak wrote in a newsletter last week that a transition to renewable energy system including by electrifying homes with heat pumps “is arguably the most important one to make in the immediate term because it’s where Putin’s political power lies.” He continued:
If Russia, which is responsible for 40% of E.U. gas, chokes supply and the cost of living goes up for European families, Putin has European leaders in a headlock. But every time a heat pump is installed, his political power is reduced. And the planet breathes a little easier, too.
Addressing these interwoven crises requires nothing short of a wartime mobilization by manufacturers to produce the clean tech that will help wean us all off Putin’s dirty oil and gas. This is how we ramped up manufacturing to win WWII for the Allies. We can help the E.U. break up with gas, while also spurring our own transition from fossil fuels. There are myriad pathways for the U.S. to catalyze this transformation, including establishing incentives such as a significant procurement order by the U.S. Department of Defense, utilizing Loan Program Office capacity, and invoking the Defense Production Act to pump out pumps. We should do them all.
In a statement to Common Dreams, Matusiak said that “we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to solve multiple crises by getting off fossil fuels.” He touted his organization’s “Electrify for Peace Policy Plan” as a blueprint for showing “how we can help Europe break free from the shackles of Russian gas, create thousands of skilled jobs, charge up our own manufacturing, save families money, and tackle the climate crisis.”
“Now is the moment to leverage all the policy options available to us, by encouraging the U.S. Congress to enact the energy investments necessary to drive the deployment and adoption of clean technologies,” said Matusiak. “There is simply no reason not to do this.”
Over 200 groups this week also urged the president to invoke the DPA to rapidly scale up heat pump production as one of a number of necessary steps in the wake of the administration’s ban on U.S. imports of Russian fossil fuels.
“You can deploy your executive powers to weaken the geopolitical power of fossil fuels, address the climate emergency, and prevent further mass suffering,” the groups—including Stand.earth and the Sunrise Movement—wrote to the president.
The Los Angeles Times editorial board similarly wrote Wednesday that Biden’s ban on imports of Russian fuels “should make it clearer than ever how urgently we need to accelerate renewable energy and hasten the end of fossil fuels that empower autocrats and are incompatible with a safe and secure planet.”
“Everything should be on the table” to achieve a clean energy transition, the board wrote, “including use of the Defense Production Act—the law that President Trump and Biden used to increase production of ventilators and protective equipment to combat the Covid-19 pandemic—to launch a swift and massive deployment of heat pumps.”