There is a consensus among virtually all scientists that humans, by burning fossil fuels, are contributing to global warming and thus changing the climate. The climate has changed many times over the billions of years of earth’s existence, so what if we are changing it, why does it matter?
It matters because we are changing the climate on a timescale never seen before; hundreds, even thousands of times faster than any naturally occurring climate change. We are changing the climate at a rate which can cause massive extinctions as plants and animals fail to adapt.
The only viable solution is to stop burning fossil fuels. Coal, oil and natural gas represent carbon that was removed from the atmosphere over hundreds of millions of year. We are burning up these fuels at a prodigious rate, returning all that carbon to the atmosphere over a couple of hundred years. This has resulted in much, much higher concentrations of heat trapping gases and particulates in the atmosphere. Additionally we are making the oceans much more acidic.
We have to stop! We have to decarbonize as quickly as possible. We have started but only by baby steps. The fastest growing carbon free alternative for producing electricity in the US is wind power, which has increases by thirty per cent over the last five years. That’s the good news, the bad news is that that represents less than three percent of our total production.
Our solar electric production has increased by a phenomenal five hundred per cent, but has further to go with only a tiny fraction of one per cent of total electric production. We have a long, long way to go. And there are impediments. One argument against abandoning fossil fuels is that we will be at a competitive disadvantage with other countries that continue to rely on fossil fuels.
So what are our economic competitors doing? What about China? If the objective is to limit carbon release to the atmosphere but China isn’t why should we? And India, if India is still polluting, why do we have to stop? You know in some childish, schoolyard way I guess that makes sense. But we need to be adults about this. We need to provide the global leadership to show the world how it can and should be done.
The US consumes close to one quarter of the world’s resources, yet we constitute a bare five per cent of the global population. It shouldn’t be a matter of what others are doing, but what we need to do to get our house in order.
Actually the “what about China” question is an UH-OH. China is already the world leader in wind power; growing by leaps and bounds, twice as fast as the US over the past five years. How about wind generation as a fraction of total energy production?Denmark beats us by an order of magnitude, with over twenty per cent of total electric production from wind.
We still have the largest economy in the world and if we were to invest in renewables we could be a world leader in preparing for a carbon-free future. Think American Exceptionalism.