Recent polls show the public is becoming more obstinate and unyielding about its views on climate change. We all hear it, whether it is from the friend at the gym, parroting the latest talk-show mockery or the evening news, with a new science warning on climate. As these views harden, we move further and further away from solutions to climate change. We become so focused on finger-pointing that we push ourselves into a disastrous public paralysis on mitigating the damages of climate change.
It is time to stop bickering about the causes of climate change and instead begin a journey of compromise, developing ideas to counter the effects changing climate will have on our planet. It no longer matters why our ice sheets are melting or why the polar jet stream is becoming more chaotic, sucking arctic weather south, exacerbating droughts and other extreme weather. What matters is that we come together and instead of being swallowed by the arguments over why this happening, start a worldwide effort to respond to the damages of climate change.
Most of us can agree that our biggest climate problem is the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. It has steadily increased to levels not seen for 3 million years, generating more heat in both our atmosphere and oceans, creating havoc with our weather and presenting a host of other threats to all life on our planet. Again, it does not matter if it is anthropogenic or not, what we need to do is look at what we can do to reduce it. Since we can do little to control naturally occurring CO2, we are left with figuring out how to reduce what is produced by our use of fossil fuels. This is a monumental task and will require sacrifices from everyone.
We need to make huge investments in renewable energies. Despite negative reports we see on renewable energy, it is a viable alternative. We only need to look at Portugal’s efforts. It generated almost 60 percent of its electricity from renewables in 2013. It combines wind and hydropower by using nighttime winds to pump water uphill and sending the water back through generators to produce power the next day. Portuguese solar farms have panels six feet off the ground to allow for grazing to continue. Portugal has the second-highest wind power mix contribution in the world. It is a successful model we can build on.
The U.S. lags many parts of the world in using or at least planning to use wave and tidal power for energy. Experts say the total potential off the coast of the United States is 252 million megawatt-hours a year. That is almost enough electricity for an entire year for all of California. It is supposed to be much more predictable than solar or wind, but we lag the world in developing this source of energy.
Green diesel is another renewable that is underused in both ground and air transportation. Made from recycled animal fat, inedible corn oil and used cooking oil, it is not on any environmentalist’s wish list. Still, it has only half the carbon emissions of fossil fuels and this is one of the many compromises we will have to make to address climate change. We may even have to reconsider Generation IV nuclear reactors. Every possible source of energy must be considered, despite public revulsion or opinion.
We also need to agree that we need to discourage the use of fossil fuels by making them more expensive. Whether we do this with import license fees to tax foreign countries or tightening our own belts with carbon taxes, this is a painful step we need to accept in order to move forward. Unless we can find a common ground and pressure our politicians to get on board, there may be no way forward at all.
Elected officials will have to see our willingness to tear down our walls of dissent and mistrust before they will act. It will alert them, in no uncertain terms, that their political careers are on the line and that action on climate change is a public mandate. Only then will we create the political will to address this crisis.