The Solutions Project—Does It Have All the Answers?

Text excerpted from the book: PROTECTING THE PLANET-Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change (ISBN 978-1-63388-225-6)


Budd Titlow & Mariah Tinger /

Founded in 2011 by Stanford University Professor Mark Z. Jacobson, banker Marco Krapels, documentary filmmaker Josh Fox, and Hollywood actor Mark Ruffalo, “The Solutions Project (TSP)” is an organization with the goal of accelerating the transition to 100 percent renewable energy use in the United States.  TSP defines renewable energy as wind power, water (hydroelectric, wave/tidal, and geothermal) power, and solar power—conveniently abbreviated as WWS.

Based on the results of academic research, TSP maintains that America is capable of meeting its entire energy needs through renewable energy sources, and that this goal can be achieved by the year 2050. Furthermore, the organization claims that the solutions that needed to achieve this objective are primarily social and political—and not technical—as most of the technology necessary to bring about the transition already exists.

TSP has proposed what it calls the “50 States-50 Plans Initiative”.  These are plans developed for each of the 50 United States specifying the precise mix of renewable energy types that—given such factors as local topography and micro-climates—would allow each particular state to receive all of its energy from renewable sources by 2050. The organization also claims that—beyond the issue of environmental sustainability—a number of significant benefits to society would come about if the initiatives in each state are adopted.  These include consumer energy cost savings, health cost savings, and millions of long-term (40 years or more) jobs.

More recently, TSP also created infographics highlighting which future renewable energy mixes will theoretically be the best for achieving the zero-emission targets for each of 139 countries worldwide. By clicking on one of these nations shown on an interactive map, much intriguing information is revealed—such as newly created employment resulting from the switch to renewable energy, current and future energy costs, and health benefits resulting from the proposed transition.

Mark Jacoboson—Innovator / Solver

Our conversation with Mark Jacobson was akin to pinning down a bumblebee. Dr. Jacobson, Director of the Atmosphere and Energy Program and Professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, is positively buzzing with frenetic scientific intensity. Plus, he is truly working at something that is as essential to our human existence as pollination. The professor has compiled decades of research on how to transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050. 

Professor Jacobson, along with twelve peer-reviewed studies, has proven that this switch is economically and technologically viable. In the process, he has debunked the myths that we lack sufficient storage capacity to provide sustained reliable energy and that fossil fuels are cheaper than renewable energy sources.  Not only are renewables 100% viable, transitioning to them will create nearly five million new 40-year construction and operation jobs, avoid nearly $590 billion in annual mortality and illness costs, avert nearly 45,000 air pollution deaths annually and will pay for itself in as little as two years from air pollution and climate cost savings alone. Climate Change problem? What Climate Change problem? Unfortunately, the social and political obstacles are blocking this amazing plan from being implemented—more on that later.

Jacobson’s fascination with air pollution and climate issues started on a visit to Los Angeles as a teenager. The air pollution in the city hit him and he thought, “why should people live like this?” This launched him into decades of detailed research on environmental engineering, aerosol microphysics and chemistry, climate microphysics and chemistry, radiation transfer, and weather and climate on global through urban and local scales. He discovered a key insight that cancelled out many fuel options—black carbon from diesel exhaust, burning biofuel, burning biomass and kerosene burning was the second most important cause of Global Warming after carbon dioxide, ahead of methane. He studied renewable energy options extensively as well, and then began comparing different energy solutions to Global Warming, air pollution and energy security. His conclusions were that wind, water and solar (WWS) are the best solutions to Global Warming, air pollution, and energy security; and that electric vehicles are the best vehicle options.

Scientific American brought Jacobson’s research into the limelight when they published a paper he wrote with Dr. Mark Delucchi, A Plan to Power 100 Percent of the Planet with Renewables. This became the backbone research of The Solutions Project (TSP), providing a plan for one hundred percent WWS for all 50 of the United States and recently 139 countries. 

As part of this analysis, Jacobson looked at job creation, health benefits, climate benefits, policies that could be implemented, land area required—and even the number of devices needed for each type of energy—wind turbines, solar panels and so forth. TSP’s website (, has an interactive map where you can see exactly what the plan is for your state and how you can participate. Sarah Shanley Hope, Executive Director of TSP says, “three years ago, he [Jacobson] got a lot of ‘oh, that is not possible’” when people examined his proposed plans, “But the crystal clarity of his model—that through the technology today for wind, water and sun, along with the energy efficiency upgrades required and the efficiency gained by transferring to clean renewable energy—we can actually power not just our electric grid, but by electrifying that grid we can power our transportation systems, our heating and cooling systems, and our industrial uses of energy. It really is a whole system transition that we have the potential, and it is totally possible…. to achieve over the next thirty-five years.”

Jacobson frequently notes the clear technological and economic feasibility of a transition to 100% renewable energy by 2030, but notes that it is unlikely due to social and political reasons.  The public is on board for the most part—a recent poll showed that seventy percent of people are in favor of wind and solar, while coal and nuclear are way down at the bottom with gas close to the bottom. The bottleneck is in the politics suggests Jacobson, “you have mostly extremists in government that are not necessarily representative of what the public wants. Plus you have some people who have some financial interests who will oppose.”

A lot has gone on that is beneficial toward a transition to renewable energy. Since Dr. Jacobson wrote the Scientific American paper in 2009, there has been a huge drop in the energy cost and electric power prices of renewable energy technologies. “Solar is now in the United States, at the utility scale, cheaper than natural gas. Slightly cheaper, it is almost the same, but slightly cheaper. Wind is now half the cost of natural gas. Since then [2009] we also have more electric vehicles on the road, more choices, longer mileage, and lower cost vehicles available. Heating and cooling is starting to be electrified more. And also more people are talking about it, and more policies put in place to implement clean, renewable energy,” says Jacobson.

Though the science about Climate Change can be dark and the solutions seem far away, Jacobson’s work gives us a light—powered by wind, water, and solar, of course—at the end of the tunnel!

Mark Ruffalo—Actor / Organizer

A meme circulated on the Internet depicts The Incredible Hulk gritting his teeth next to the quote, “The Credible Hulk: You wouldn’t like me when I am angry because I always back up my rage with facts and documented sources.” Mark Ruffalo, the actor who played Bruce Banner (The Hulk) in Marvel’s The Avengers, witnessed injustices that moved him, maybe not quite to the level of a raging hulk, but certainly in a way that he could not turn from.

To learn more about Mark Ruffalo and his work for Climate Change solutions, we spoke with Sarah Shanley Hope, the eloquent and passionate Executive Director of The Solutions Project (TSP), as described above. As a recap,TSP is the non-profit group, which Ruffalo co-founded, dedicated to the transition to 100% renewable energy –wind, water, and solar – ­solutions.

Aug. 10, 2010 – Manhattan, New York, U.S. – Actor MARK RUFFALO speaks as Public Officials, residents and advocates urge a moratorium on gas drilling which could pollute New York City’s drinking water during a press conference and rally on the steps of City Hall. The State Senate passed a bill that suspends the issuance of new permits for the drilling of a well which utilizes hydraulic fracturing, the legislation is awaiting action by the Assembly before it can be sent to the Governor. (Credit Image: © Bryan Smith/

Ms. Hope categorized Ruffalo’s initiation into the cause as forming most strongly at a town hall in Pennsylvania where community members spoke of how terribly fracking was polluting their water. She says for Mark, “being face to face with the dignity and resilience, but also the powerlessness from a political perspective, of these people who were being so immediately affected in life and death consequences … he could not turn away from the inhumanity of the situation. And so he stepped into his humanity. That is the kind of leader he is. He shows up for people. He understands the power of the platform that he is fortunate to have through a successful acting career, and so he is constantly bringing that asset.”

Mark Ruffalo has placed himself deeply into the opposition to fossil fuels in a way unmatched by many celebrities other than Leonardo DiCaprio. He and Leonardo marched with the indigenous, first nations leadership in the New York City climate march two years ago, knowing that their presence would draw much needed media attention to their cause.  Ruffalo used his presence to call attention to Detroit a year and a half ago when the water was shut off in low-income African American communities—one of the only people outside of the state to attend, let alone a celebrity.

The Solutions Project hosts countless pictures, tweets and blog posts of Mark Ruffalo alongside workers, families and community members, fighting for their rights to clean, affordable, healthy communities and resources such as air, water, and energy. “I mean you talk about a leader who is giving 100% for 100%—giving everything he can for this beautiful diversity of people we have in our country—Mark Ruffalo is one of those people doing that…he is a rare celebrity for sure, but also a rare human being in general.”

Using their large social media influence, TSP entreats everyone to give 100% for Climate Change solutions. “How we achieve the transition to 100% [renewable energy] is really about it being led by 100% of people, and is for 100% of people….tapping into engineers, artists, teachers, cooks…everyone has a role to play in this transition.”

TSP employs an ecosystem approach, working across sectors to find solutions. “It is not the people by themselves, it is the people leading the call and bringing that moral clarity, that energy that only parents fighting for their kids, or neighbors fighting for their community, bring to any problem, and then it is matching that people power with the innovation and energy of business and the policy levers and the infrastructure to scale that only government has,” explains Shanley Hope.

According to Ms. Hope, TSP focuses on “positive, attractive, solutions-oriented stories and calls to action that keep us all lifted up, hopeful, and squarely focused on the choice that we actually have right now.” At the individual level, TSP strives to tap into our human energy, spirit of perseverance, resilience, creative thinking and commitment to the safe, healthy, thriving future of our children and children’s children.

And it is working. “If you start to look at those places that are adopting policies, removing those political barriers to transition—people in those states [such as CA, NY, AZ, NV and IA] are starting to have greater access to affordable, clean energy…and so those solutions are being adopted at ever increasing scale and speed.” TSP clearly illustrates that the economic benefits from switching to 100% renewables can be achieved without subsidies or incorporating the externalities from fossil fuels.

Author’s bio: For the past 50 years, professional ecologist and conservationist Budd Titlow has used his pen and camera to capture the awe and wonders of our natural world. His goal has always been to inspire others to both appreciate and enjoy what he sees. Now he has one main question: Can we save humankind’s place — within nature’s beauty — before it’s too late? Budd’s two latest award-winning books are dedicated to answering this perplexing dilemma. PROTECTING THE PLANET: Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change, a non-fiction book, examines whether we still have the environmental heroes among us — harking back to such past heroes as Audubon, Hemenway, Muir, Douglas, Leopold, Brower, Carson, and Meadows — needed to accomplish this goal. Next, using fact-filled and entertaining story-telling, his latest book — COMING FULL CIRCLE: A Sweeping Saga of Conservation Stewardship Across America — provides the answers we all seek and need. Having published five books, more than 500 photo-essays, and 5,000 photographs, Budd Titlow lives with his music educator wife, Debby, in San Diego, California.

Author: Budd Titlow

BS, Biology-Chemistry, Florida State University, 1970 MS, Wildlife Ecology-Fisheries Science, Virginia Tech, 1973 / / For the past 50 years, professional ecologist and conservationist Budd Titlow has used his pen and camera to capture the awe and wonders of our natural world. His goal has always been to inspire others to both appreciate and enjoy what he sees. Now he has one main question: Can we save humankind’s place within nature’s beauty, before it’s too late? Budd’s two latest books are dedicated to answering this perplexing dilemma. Protecting the Planet, a non-fiction book, examines whether we still have the environmental champions among us — harking back to such past heroes as Audubon, Hemenway, Muir, Douglas, Leopold, Brower, Carson, and Meadows — needed to accomplish this goal. Next, using fact-filled and entertaining story-telling, his latest book — Coming Full Circle — provides the answers we all seek and need. Having published five books, more than 500 photo-essays, and 5,000 photographs, Budd Titlow lives with his music educator wife, Debby, in San Diego, California.

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