We must take action now to stop global warming if we want our children to have a future | Opinion
By John Sigle
Most people agree that making good decisions often means giving up instant gratification for a much bigger payoff at a later date. We save money to buy a house instead of wasting it on vacation in Vegas. We put money into retirement accounts.
I hear a lot of political talk about the energy policies of the Biden administration. They are blamed for the current high price of gas, the loss of jobs in the fossil fuel industry, and our inability to suck every ounce of fossil fuels out of the ground as fast as possible.
Strangely, these critics, like former Chester County state senator Earl Baker, rarely mention climate change. It’s as if they had never heard of it, didn’t believe it was real or didn’t think it was a serious problem. And in the rare cases where it is mentioned, it is portrayed as a problem in the distant future that we can take our precious time to solve. They want energy, jobs and profits now, and to hell with the future.
Let’s be clear. There is nothing we can do to flip the switch and fix this problem overnight. We’re not going to stop flying planes or eating steaks. We won’t eliminate all gasoline-powered cars by 2030. Again and again. We, and the rest of the world, will not severely sacrifice our standard of living to solve this problem. It just won’t happen. The solution will require concerted global action by governments and entrepreneurs, as well as individuals, and will take decades.
But understanding that it will take decades to solve this problem is NOT an excuse to delay. If we don’t make serious, sometimes difficult decisions NOW, we (and our children) will substantially pay for our delay. Even with the best-case scenario, many costly and difficult mitigation measures will be required. The longer we wait to act, the more traumatic the results will be and the more costly and difficult it will be to manage.
For the sake of solidarity action, the objective of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 is frequently put forward. Of course, there is nothing magical about this particular year. It simply represents a reasonable, if somewhat optimistic, timeline for a pragmatic attack on the problem. A great read on this is Bill Gates”How to avoid climate catastrophe: the solutions we have and the breakthroughs we need”
This will likely involve the development of cap and trade systems for greenhouse gases. It will also involve substantial support for R&D for technologies that take us away from activities that produce greenhouse gases, particularly in transport, steel and concrete production, and agriculture, as well as in capture and sequestration of atmospheric carbon. This will require the support of current sustainable energy technologies as well as the development of new technologies. It will probably include the use of new nuclear reactor designs. The United States should, must lead the way.
In case you missed it, here are the basics: Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most important greenhouse gas, although methane (essentially natural gas) is a second important one. They stay in the upper atmosphere and trap heat, preventing it from spreading out into space. The more greenhouse gases there are, the warmer the earth gets.
Although over the 4.5 billion years of Earth’s history there have been many very significant climate changes, we have had a very well balanced climate over the past 12,000 years in which all of human civilization has happened. We would have expected the climate to continue until the next ice age, probably several hundred thousand years from now, except that the industrial revolution (and other human activities) have changed the (sensitive) balance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that have kept us “just the right heat.
“Global warming” causes “climate change”, which means more extreme weather events, more droughts and deserts, rising sea levels, etc.
The fossil fuel industry has an inherent interest in delaying the fossil fuel transition. Most of these companies have finally admitted publicly that climate change is real, but they are still maneuvering (sometimes surreptitiously) to delay the transition to sustainable energy.
Their proxies often use talking points such as:
- “Science is not settled.” Well yes, it is. The trends are clear. Don’t expect models to predict perfectly.
- Climate change has happened many times in Earth’s history, yes, but it has absolutely nothing to do with it.
- Only God can change the climate. Wrong! We already have. And think what 5000 nukes would do?
- The messengers of climate change are alarmists. OK, there have been, but the science is clear, and we need to act now.
Very recently, a 460 square mile ice shelf almost the size of Cumberland County collapsed in East Antarctica. While climatologists have observed major declines in ice extent in the Arctic, Greenland and West Antarctica, this collapse in East Antarctica signals that climate change is happening faster than expected.
We expect individuals to choose greater, long-term benefits over instant gratification. As a society, are we smart enough to do the same? I ask for our children.
John Sigle, a former professor at Dickinson College, writes from Carlisle.