The climate crisis is already affecting all of us, but in different ways. If you live in a coastal area, you’ve probably noticed rising sea levels. If you live in a dry climate, like I do, you’re probably hearing a lot about drought and forest fires. There is no doubt that human-caused climate change is a threat--97% of scientists agree on that fact. Now, we’ve waited so long to make a change that it has become an immediate existential threat, and it is estimated that we only have 10 years to make a 50% reduction in our carbon emissions before we permanently lose some ecosystems.
The climate crisis is a nonpartisan issue--because it affects everyone--and we can’t deal with it unless we recognize that. The only thing stopping the two political parties from working together to beat this crisis is misunderstandings about the benefits and costs of the proposed solutions. I’m going to address some of the main concerns expressed about the best solution: transitioning to renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydroelectric power.
Renewables will be more expensive than fossil fuels. Actually, renewables are cheaper than fossil fuels, as outlined in this report by Forbes. Think about it--a fracking site, for example, requires a lot of infrastructure, and will eventually run out of gas to extract. When it does, that infrastructure is no longer useful. This cycle continues every time a new fracking site is built. It's an unsustainable, expensive cycle. Renewables can break this cycle. Take solar, for example. In order to collect and store solar energy, you need a solar panel and a battery; solar panels last for at least 30-50 years, batteries last for 10-20 years, and, best of all, energy from the sun will never run out. Even though solar panels are a larger investment up front, they reliably and steadily pay for themselves and are much less expensive than fossil fuels long-term. In addition, the environmental damage related to fossil fuel extraction and pollution results in significant long-term economic costs.
We’re going to lose all of the fossil fuel industry jobs. Yes, it’s true that transitioning to renewables will kill the fossil fuel industry’s jobs. The increase in available technology for extracting fossil fuels has been depleting fossil fuel jobs for decades, so those jobs would go away even without the movement away from fossil fuels. Renewables already offer twice as many jobs as the fossil fuel industry, and they are expected to grow 13 times faster than jobs in other industries.
We’ve been hearing about the climate crisis for decades. How do we know that this is for real? It’s true that scientists have known about the climate crisis since before the 50s, and they knew that it was a threat back then. What’s changed is the level of agreement among scientists, the level of public awareness, and the urgency of the issue. If we had dealt with the climate crisis in the 50s, we would have had more time to transition to renewables and we could have prevented the decades of environmental inaction that have cost our planet millions of species of flora and fauna.
Is it really that urgent? According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is the most trusted group of climate scientists and part of the United Nations, we need to make a 45% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 or we will be on a trajectory to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels. That point is when ecosystems will start to collapse. The IPCC also lays out targets to remain below 2 degrees Celsius of warming, which involves a 25% reduction by 2030; exceeding 2 degrees Celsius of warming would mean even more irreparable damage to our planet. According to the IPCC, the financial costs of adaptation to a 2-degree increase are greater than those of a 1.5-degree increase. This means that, even if we don't have to make a 50% reduction by tomorrow, it’s cheaper to transition to renewables now rather than in 5 or 10 years.
What about carbon capture technology? As the name suggests, carbon capture technology is a method of capturing the carbon emissions of fossil fuel plants. As much as I wish it would happen, we’re not going to have a completely renewable economy by 2030. That means that carbon capture technology will be extremely important in meeting reduction targets. But we’re going to have to transition to renewables sooner or later, and doing it sooner will be cheaper than using carbon capture technology for 10 or 20 years and then transitioning.
Why should we put in this much effort if China is still polluting? China has committed to carbon neutrality by 2060, which is more than the U.S. has committed to, especially after pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord. Even if China doesn’t meet its target, for any reason, that’s not an excuse for the U.S. to avoid dealing with the climate crisis. If someone in a workplace isn’t doing his/her/their job, would it be acceptable for everyone else to stop working, too? In the same way, just because another country isn’t doing its part to solve the climate crisis, that doesn’t mean the U.S. should refuse to contribute to the solution. And as the world’s second-largest consumer of energy, our contribution can have a significant impact.
The far left is spreading “extremist” beliefs. Climate action is not “extremist;” it’s necessary for our survival. President-elect Joe Biden is not what you would call “radical” or “far left,” but he supports the aggressive climate action that we need to get through this crisis.
I hope that this article can start a productive dialogue that will help us overcome the partisan divide over the climate crisis. Please contact me with any questions by email, with a direct message, or by commenting on this article. The bottom line is this: the climate crisis is an existential threat affecting all of us, and it will continue to worsen until we change. It’s time to put aside politics and take collective action for our lives.