Aug. 26, 2017

Real Solutions to Climate Change

I often read Yahoo climate change stories and I must be a masochist because I always scroll down to the comments. The climate change deniers really hone in on stories having anything to do with climate change in their titles. Often, one can infer that the poster has not even actually read the article by the ignorance or generalizations of their posts. I often wonder how many of them are actually petrol-chemical industry trolls. One of the common threads is some insult about liberals followed by a tirade that climate change is a hoax designed to increase taxes, hurt the American economy and restrict our freedoms. The thing is, the real solution is to move towards sustainable energy production, which in the long run saves money, enhances the economy and expands our freedoms, as well increases our energy self-reliance.

Historically the vast majority of energy subsidies have gone to developing fossil fuel resources and reserves. Until 2008 most energy subsidies went to the fossil fuel industry as a way to encourage more domestic energy production. The fossil fuel industry has been entrenched in getting political favors for decades, from tariffs on foreign coal and petroleum to subsidies for exploration and refining. A hurdle for developers of renewable energy sources is strong opposition from these entrenched, competitive industries because money is driving energy policy.

What does the fossil fuel industry cost the taxpayer? Figures from Oil Change International in 2014, put U. S. subsidies at $37.5 billion annually, including $21 billion in production and exploration subsidies. Fossil fuel subsidies in the United States also include massive military expenditures to acquire and defend fossil fuel interests around the globe, and infrastructure spending and related maintenance based on an antiquated energy system built on large, remote power plants. These figures do not include costs borne by taxpayers related to the climate or local environmental and health impacts of the fossil fuel industry. 

So, it seems to me, the argument that dealing with climate change is costly avoids a discussion about real solutions. Depending on fossil fuels is expensive to taxpayers too! Anyone who has the opportunity to install a couple of solar panel knows that once the panels are paid for, electric bills are reduced and there is limited maintenance involved in upkeep of the panels. So, in the long run, renewable energy can save money. I know battery technology needs to improve for increased viability of solar and wind energy, but if we can put a man on the moon, surely we can develop better batteries.

And there have been many innovative energy technologies developments recently. I have seen a kinetic light- a LED light that works similarly to the old cuckoo clocks. I have seen mini hydroelectric turbines that can run in a stream. I have seen solar gatherers in all manner of geometric shapes that increase energy output. I have seen a merry-go-round used to turn a turbine to pump up underground water. Many underdeveloped areas are benefiting from renewable energy and avoiding the expensive infrastructure required for traditional coal or gas power plant and the wires needed to deliver the energy.

And I just don’t see how the self-reliance of renewable energy will restrict our freedoms. It could actually free us from the political influence of the petrol-chemical, fossil fuel and maybe even utility companies. Most environmental regulations are designed to protect the commons, our air, water, soil, food and oceans. But the industries are very good at disseminating propaganda regarding regulations. Regulations cost them money so regulations are bad. A news story emerged this week regarding the propaganda released by Exxon that encouraged doubt even though they knew the science of anthropogenic climate change was reliable.

In discussing real solutions, I would be remise if I didn’t discuss the problem of our polarized political climate. Studies have shown that a person’s opinion on anthropogenic climate change is highly correlated to their political leanings. So many people live in a political bubble and are not hearing diverse views. If facts and evidence do not align with one’s beliefs, these are disregarded as fake news. In the case of climate change, it is dismissed as liberal, as if science was a liberal thing rather than evidence-based. And there is a preponderance and convergence of evidence supporting that mankind is adding carbon dioxide at a rate faster than global systems can adapt.

We also have the issue of scientifically literate leadership. During a recent rally our own president was extolling the virtues of ‘clean coal.’ Have you seen coal or what miners look like when they emerge from the mine?? Are you aware of the rates of black lung disease in coal mining areas, not just in the coal miners, but also in others that live in these communities? From his statements, one might wonder if he actually believes the coal miners clean the coal. Of course, clean coal refers to coal sequestration, which is too expensive to merit investment with today’s technology. Coal drove our economy for decades, but there are better ways to produce electricity today. 

There are other solutions to reducing carbon: planting trees, recycling, eating locally, reducing waste, changing agricultural practices and providing job training and educational opportunities. Real solutions to reducing carbon in our environment pave the way to a brigher future.