Climate Change at a Crossroads
September 26, 2017 by Denis Pombriant
Recent storm activity in the Atlantic and Caribbean as well as extreme hot weather and forest fires in the northwest have brought renewed attention to the topic of climate change. We may be at a tipping point where it’s no longer possible to sidestep human responsibility for the growing crisis but more importantly we are also at a point where we need to begin discussing solutions.
Continual focus on the problem without acknowledging that there are already good and viable solutions that can be employed in dealing with a changing global climate, only serves to heighten the sense of anxiety and helplessness that ultimately causes many people to disengage or to traffic in conspiracy theories as coping mechanisms. None of this is helpful.
Until fairly recently there were few potential solutions to the climate problem other than conservation—use less and pollute less. But such solutions never work against a backdrop of increasing demand and looming scarcity. Increasing demand comes from population increase and upward economic mobility. Richer people make greater demands for energy in a variety of ways such as more and better food, consumer goods, and transportation. Looming scarcity is an absolute fact. We shouldn’t look at an oil company’s or a nation’s proven oil reserves as anything more than a non-renewable and diminishing source of petroleum. Proven reserves are also somewhat aspirational since simply knowing there’s oil in a well doesn’t guarantee its recoverable or recoverable at a reasonable cost. According to experts we haven’t found net new oil on the planet since 2003. xxx
At the same time, emissions continue to poison the planet at an alarming rate. The EIA estimates human activity annually puts in excess of 35 billion tons of carbon into an atmosphere already holding trillions of tons more. There’s already too much carbon in the atmosphere and oceans and reducing the rate of adding to the problem will not provide a workable answer. Our imperative is manifold: significantly reducing emissions but also finding ways to capture atmospheric carbon and importantly switching to a new energy paradigm based on electricity generated from non-polluting sources.
All of this will cost money but it will also generate new jobs and new industries that host these jobs, which will be a boon to the global economy. The free market is already developing solutions to many of the challenges we face, including weaning civilization from fuels that pollute and actively removing carbon from the atmosphere. There are approaches coming to market for developing much greater electricity generating capacity which will replace fossil fuels in many applications and greater public awareness would do much to hasten their ascent to a dominant position in the energy paradigm.
For example, electric utilities are buying industrial grade solar farms after a decade of exponential improvements in solar panel design that have significantly boosted their output. Publicly traded companies already generate electricity with non-polluting geothermal capacity and scholarly reports from academia, the US Department of Energy, and elsewhere say we can harvest heat energy from the earth’s crust to meet all of our energy needs for a very long time.
What’s interesting and hopeful about these and many other free market developments is that they are by their nature unstoppable by climate deniers, even those in government. Free market forces enabled Tesla to become a successful car company without assistance or impedance from government and in the face of the challenge of bringing new products into an already tight market.
Contrary to the doom and gloom we hear about climate catastrophe staring us in the face, we should be evaluating positive solutions available today that can not only mitigate the problem but also generate new economic activity, industries, and jobs. Discussing solutions in a calm, rational way will also enable us to discuss humanity as the source of a solution rather than the problem’s creator and bring more people into the conversation while helping to allay concerns that stem from feeling helpless.