We humans kind of need planet Earth to be healthy so that we can all, well, survive. If the planet gets really sick, the only ones who will survive will likely be those hydrothermal vent creatures and super rich who can escape to the moon or Mars. Do you fall into either of those categories? Neither do I. So let’s see what we can do here.
We know the climate is changing in ways that will raise ocean levels (inundating low-lying coastal areas, causing mass migrations), and warm the atmosphere and the oceans (causing more extreme weather, damaging wildlife, melting sea ice, etc.). This has been studied long and hard by governments, institutions, scientists and citizens and it’s a matter of public knowledge, around the world. Thousands upon thousands of studies, reports, websites, and weather reports are available to corroborate the fact of the changing climate. The less we do to address the problem now, the bigger the consequences down the line.
We know the main cause: human activity, mostly burning of fossil fuels. Fossil fuel extraction and utilization causes air pollution, disrupts natural environments, and spews toxic chemicals and greenhouse gasses into the air, among other things, causing harm to public health and the environment. There are natural cycles that contribute to some of the change, as well as things like land use and agriculture. But the exponential growth in human-caused greenhouse gasses (GHG) in the atmosphere, mostly from burning of fossil fuels, provide for the bulk of the changes (here’s the graphs of GHG growth, and the corresponding hockey stick graph of temperature change). Even fossil fuel companies have known this for decades, although like cigarette companies of yore, they tried to hide the evidence and obfuscate the truth. But now, everyone knows the truth, and now we can take responsibility and make better and smarter decisions to advance health and prosperity for all on the planet.
Besides fossil fuels, other human activities such as consumption, waste, land use and agriculture also contribute to climate problems. But now human ingenuity has developed better ways to do things, that cause a fraction of the impact on the environment and public health than fossil fuels, use natural resources smarter, and create all kinds of new economic opportunities. That’s where the climate economy comes in.
- A lot of energy and heat can be saved through building and efficiency improvements. This is actually the first thing that needs to be done to ensure the best outcomes.
- Solar and wind can replace much of our electricity from fossil fuels with far less environmental and human impact and even at lower cost overall. Nowadays solar is cheaper than pretty much everything else for utility-scale installations, and soon for smaller community and residential as well. Wind also is killing it, and is also the biggest job-growth sector for the moment. Solar and wind do have the drawback of intermittency, but with energy storage and smart grid coming online, these challenges will be overcome. Using less fossil fuel (and when we do, using it cleanly) while increasing renewable energy will be beneficial to future generations, and to today’s economy and public health.
- Industry is a big source of greenhouse gasses. Many companies are saving billions by making changes to their businesses, such as clean energy and energy efficiency, that help the environment and improve their bottom line.
- Cars and trucks with the traditional internal combustion engines cause a huge amount of pollution and release of greenhouse gases; in some cities thousands die every year, have to walk around wearing masks, and can only drive on certain days. Electric vehicles are on the rise, and there’s already a competition on in heavy-duty trucks between fuel cells and electric. There’s no shortage of people trying. Keep in mind that the increase in electric vehicles needs to go hand-in-hand with an increase in clean electricity in order to make the maximum impact.
- Our waste is getting out of hand, with thousands of landfills across the country spewing methane gas. Instead of buying something with a ton of packaging (waste) then throwing it out when we’re done (waste), we figure out a way to build it in the first place with recyclable materials, or make it last longer, or something else. Then there’s food waste, which causes literally tons of methane to be released in the air at landfills; methane is also being wasted into the atmosphere at oil and gas wells and refinery sites (thankfully the government is responding to that). Or how about waste to energy? There are things we can do here.
- Agriculture and land use both impact climate change and both can be big parts of the solution.
- Studies talk of huge costs for future generations for not tackling the environmental issues now, and the fact that there’s no reason to believe we have to sacrifice economic growth to tackle environmental issues; quite the contrary. We can save billions while making the world a better place for all.
There are lots of ways we can do things that improve our lives, create economic opportunity, and in doing so protect the environment for future generations. The sources I have linked to here are just a drop in the bucket; many of these topics will be covered in additional posts on TheClimateEconomy.com. There are many things humans can improve upon to improve the environment. We don’t have to sacrifice our lifestyles and give up all our favorite things to do it. We just have to be smarter. The next generation is counting on us!
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