I read lots of articles these days pointing to the rapid expansion of renewable energy as a reason to be hopeful about our unfolding climate crisis. Unfortunately, the climate doesn't care how many solar panels and wind farms we build.
At the People’s Climate March back last spring, all along that vast river of people, the atmosphere was electric. But many of the signs and banners were far too focused on electricity. Yes, here and there were solid “System Change, Not Climate Change”-themed signs and banners. But far too many of the slogans on display asserted or implied that ending the climate emergency and avoiding climatic catastrophes like those that would occur months later — hurricanes Harvey and Irma and the mega-wildfires in the U.S.
THIS year has seen renewable records smashed in the UK. On 21 April, the country went a whole day without using coal to generate electricity – the first such day for 135 years. Then on 7 June, particularly sunny and windy conditions meant that renewable sources supplied more than half the UK’s electricity.
Achievements like these make it sound like the green revolution is well under way. Many think the growth of renewables is now unstoppable, and that clean energy will entirely replace fossil fuels in the not-too-distant future.
As record-breaking rainfall and unprecedented flooding continue to batter the greater Houston area and along the Gulf coast on Tuesday, energy watchdogs groups are warning of "a credible threat of a severe accident" at two nuclear reactors still operating at full capacity in nearby Bay City, Texas.
In July,UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon highlighted the role of hydropower in boosting the use of renewable energy globally, when he visited a nonprofit institute in China that helps emerging nations develop and build hydropower plants. Many countries consider hydroelectricity a clean source of power because it doesn’t involve burning dirty fossil fuels. But that’s far from true. Hydropower is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions: a new study shows that the world’s hydroelectric dams are responsible for as much methane emissions as Canada.
Nearly 50 years ago, the U.S. electric utility industry was warned about potential risks posed by climate change if it continued to rely on fossil fuels. Rather than heed those warnings, the industry spent the following decades instilling public doubt and making substantial investments in fossil fuels—according to a report released Tuesday by the Energy and Policy Institute (EPI).
Mayors across the country have vowed to deliver on the goals of the Paris climate accord in defiance of President Trump’s decision to back out. But how can they, realistically, when the national government is questioning climate science and promoting coal, fracking, and pipelines?
"When a local economy is dominated by enterprises that work to extract value for Wall Street banks or corporations controlled by absentee owners, communities are drained of their common wealth."
PNAS published a paper today by nuclear and fossil fuel supporters, which is replete with false information for the sole purpose of criticizing a 2015 paper colleagues and I published in the same journal on the potential for the U.S.
March 20, 2017 — At the COP 21 climate change convention in Paris at the end of 2015, leaders from 194 nations agreed to pursue actions that will cut greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming within 1.5 °C (2.7 °F) above pre-industrial conditions. Meeting this goal will avoid continued and increasing harm to people and ecosystems around the world caused by a changing climate, and it is also a great opportunity to turn the world into a place that embodies our collective and pluralistic values for the future. Nevertheless, there remains a notable gap between current trajectories of global GHG emissions and the reductions necessary to see COP 21’s goals realized.
Numerous technological and economic strategies for bridging that gap are currently being discussed, including transitions to renewable energy and/or nuclear power, carbon capture and storage, and cap and trade. However, many overlook the fundamental social issues that drive climate change: overconsumption, poverty, industrial agriculture and population growth. As such, even if these strategies succeed in mitigating CO2 emissions — renewable energies, for instance, seem to have achieved irreversible momentum— they leave unaddressed a second gap, a sustainability gap, in that they allow issues of ecological overshoot and social injustice to persist. We argue that there is an opportunity to reverse climate change by attending to these sustainability issues, but it requires that we reject the convenience of technological optimism and put aside our fears of the world’s “big” social problems.
In 2004, Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow wrote in Sciencethat it is possible to address climate change by breaking the larger problem of CO2 emissions down into a series of more manageable “wedges.” They offer 15 different solutions based on existing technology, including nuclear energy, coal carbon capture and storage, energy efficiency, and increased adoption of conservation tillage, for mitigating climate change one wedge at a time. Their pragmatic approach to the problem has been popularly received, as evidenced by the thousands of citations that the paper has received. However, their approach can also be critiqued for glossing over the immense costs involved and for its piecemeal and top-down nature. In other words, they assume that this complex global environmental problem can be fixed with a handful of standardized solutions.
Climate change is just one of many related sustainability problems that the world faces. In addition to rising atmospheric CO2, we are approaching or have already exceeded multiple other planetary boundaries — such as fresh water, nitrogen, phosphorus and biodiversity loss — that CO2-mitigating technologies cannot solve. Solving climate change on its own would require immense investments but leave too many other problems unaddressed. That is not to say that these technological innovations are irrelevant; Pacala and Socolow’s desire to break down the challenge into manageable pieces is both valid and appreciable. What’s missing from their assessment is the fact that the world is a complex system, and systemic problems require systemic solutions.