We can make the shift! Here’s how…

July 1, 2017

People of faith, scientists, and Indigenous Peoples insist that the right to life must be understood in terms of generations.  We owe a right to life to current and future children and generations.  It is immoral to leave our trash and problems to future generations or expect them to solve climate change we have caused.  It is our responsibility and the time is now.  “We have defaulted on our promissory note and now is the time to honor it.”

We cannot wait.  We cannot put off children and the economically poor or those suffering already from increased storms, droughts, hunger, and displacement.  “We cannot wait any longer to resolve the structural causes of poverty in order to cure our society of an illness that can only lead to new crises.”  We are locking in emissions, every time we produce a new fossil-fuel powered vehicle or plant.  In 2011, the International Energy Agency and economist Fatih Birol published analysis of the life cycle of our investments and how they “lock in” additional years of fossil fuel emissions each year we produce petrol/gas and diesel-powered vehicles (assumed 20 yr life), power plants (40 year assumed life), and more.  The IEA said if we continue to build fossil fuel cars and plants as we have, by 2017 we would have built enough to bring us over 2 C if operated for their full intended life cycle.  This made the imperative even clearer to make a rapid shift.

In summary… What is the problem? Why act quickly?

  • Fossil-fuel + biofuel air pollution cause 5-7 million premature air pollution deaths/year worldwide. This costs $20-25 trillion/year already, not to mention the human loss and suffering.
  • Global warming due to world emissions will cost ~$25-30 trillion/year by 2050.
  • Increasing fossil energy use increases energy pricesà economic, social, political instability.
  • Drastic problems require immediate solutions.

What can we do to reduce emissions and global warming? Looking at where our emissions are from, we can see the priorities:

  1. Get our electricity production off fossil fuels (shift to renewables)
  2. Shift transport and as much energy use as possible to clean electricity
  3. Efficiency improvements
  4. Everything else. including scaling back mining and damaging agricultural practices, while turning to long-standing, regenerative practice

Scientists, leaders, and UNEP say we have just three years to limit turn emissions onto a sharp, long-term decline, which is also why former UNFCCC Chair Christiana Figueres and others are pursuing Mission 2020.  The head of UNEP Erik Solheim & Chief Scientist Jacqueline McGlade reported on the emissions gap, saying:

We must take urgent action. If we don’t, we will mourn the loss of biodiversity and natural resources. We will regret the economic fallout. Most of all, we will grieve over the avoidable human tragedy; the growing numbers of climate refugees hit by hunger, poverty, illness and conflict will be a constant reminder of our failure to deliver…This is our wake-up call…

As Figueres has said: “Right now, 60 million people are displaced worldwide, the highest ever seen in recorded history.” And “we will be seeing 100-300 million displaced in their own area or outside and that will be difficult if not impossible to manage” if we don’t turn around now, with climate change and our use of fossil fuels.  “We’ll be condemning the 1 billion still in extreme poverty to perpetual, extreme poverty. The impacts of climate change will grow exponentially both in intensity and in frequency, and that requires investing very scarce resources into rebuilding very basic, scarce infrastructure that then won’t get to devote that to health, education, and well-being.”  We must get off fossil fuels: “Not only would we avert the worst impacts of climate, we would be able to give energy access to 1.3 billion around the world mostly in extreme poverty, improve health worldwide especially in cities, increase food security and create many new jobs. This is a moral responsibility that we all share. That moral responsibility, how are we going to ensure that it is achieved before it is too late for the most vulnerable? We need to align our moral compass…we need to be clear that fossil fuels kill.”  In contrast, we know that renewable energy brings life, health and employment opportunities, though change is never easy or automatic.  We shouldn’t make it more difficult than it has to be by caving to special interests devoted to private profit.

The necessary shift is completely possible. The cost of wind and solar is now comparable to fossil fuels on a utility scale, and wind and solar is much cheaper when health and other costs are included.  Moreover, solar and wind potential are plentiful.  Electric cars use only one third the energy with zero emissions and a third the maintenance cost.  As Jochen Wermuth has noted, by providing electricity (and stabilization) to the grid, a €20 000 electric car can earn €1 000 a year.  He is performing a study for the Vatican on how it can shift to 100% renewable power and 100% emission-free mobility and said, “Today it is no longer just morally right, it is also cheaper to own an electric car compared to a combustion engine car. The Pope is moving from sharing his views on the world via his encyclical Laudato Si care for our common home to implementing the Laudato Si.”  Looking more broadly at the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, Wermuth estimated that due to the ever lower cost of renewables and cheap leverage, as little equity as 600 billion euros, leveraged and recycled over 25 years, could suffice to stop climate change and lift 1 billion people out of poverty.

See google doc with this post and climate background graphics, if desired, on the following

Temperature rise tracks global CO2, which has been measured from Mauna Loa since the 1950s. Scientists first predicted and noticed rising CO2 levels with fossil fuel combustion and industrialization, in the 1800s.  As we have been able to look back further, it is even more plain that world and human evolution occurred within a lower band of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.  People came to flourish this past 8,000 years, when CO2 levels were around 280 ppm nearly that whole time.

Setting the reference point for temperature anomalies relative to 1950-1970, we can see that temperatures have been rising since the mid-1800s.

Other gases produced by developed countries and to feed developed countries (via western style development and agriculture) are also implicated (graph below from USEPA):

In conclusion:

What can we do to reduce emissions and global warming? Looking at where our emissions are from, we can see the priorities are:

  1. Get our electricity production off fossil fuels (shift to renewables)
  2. Shift transport and as much energy use as possible to clean electricity
  3. Efficiency improvements
  4. Everything else

Our top priority is to shift electricity off of fossil fuels and to renewables because this can be done now.  Automobile production can also be shifted off of fossil fuels now. 

If we attend to our other systems of extraction, domination and inequality associated with our current fossil fuel economy at the same time, we can make and have the shifts we need for the dignity of life and well-being.  Dr. Jacobson’s work and analysis of the natural resources and transition pathways for 139 countries (completed ahead of the COP-21 in 2015) found that each country can convert to wind, water, and solar energy by 2050, with considerable cost savings and many benefits, not least avoided climate change.  Efficiencies available with electrical power and more decentralized distribution in some cases can cut usual power demand by an estimated 42.5% while avoiding 4-7 million air pollution deaths per year (~$23 trillion/year) and $27Trillion in annual climate costs.  In addition, each person saves ~$85/year fuel costs and $5,700 annually in health + climate costs by 2050.  Wind, water, and solar energy with storage + demand response management can provide 100% reliability of energy provision at a cost of  ~9.5-12 ¢/kWh and create ~24 million more jobs than are lost by leaving fossil fuels behind.  This will creates distributed power, reducing terrorism/catastrophic risk and energy poverty of up to 4 billion people worldwide up to 2050, while making countries energy independent and reducing international conflict.

For transport, the biggest solutions have to do with switching to EVs and also shared mobility and also improving urban environments for people of all ages to walk and bike.

  • Shift our fleets to electric mobility (and hybrid where necessary < 30%). Incentivize EVs and shared use, via dramatic increase in transit and ride-sharing.  Shared mobility is key to reducing emissions and congestion and increasing access for those who lack the ability to get where they need to go for jobs, health, family or other now. Shifting to shared mobility can massively reduce the number of cars on city streets while maintaining similar service levels as today. They also result in significant reductions of distances travelled, congestion and negative environmental impacts. These door-to-door services also improve access and reduce costs for all users
  • Increase ability, safety, comfort, livability for walking and bicycling (all ages, 8 to 80). Walking, cycling, public transit, and mobility substitutes are resource-efficient: compared with automobile travel they generally have much lower user costs, require less travel and parking space and so reduce road and parking facility costs, consume less fuel, and require less embodied energy(energy used to build vehicles and facilities). Society should be willing to spend at least as much to serve a trip by these modes as it costs to serve an automobile trip, a concept is called least-cost planning.
  • Get price for road space/infrastructure in front of people (daily if possible) in new funding mechanisms to avoid free-riding, especially by people and industries with more resources
  • When AVs become available, cities should restrict to shared use and fleets and limit empty car driving.