COP21 was arguably one of the most epic meetings in the history of humanity. In a spirit of mutual cooperation, the international community agreed to finally begin to turn away from a fossil fuel-powered economy toward a clean, sustainable future.
While it may be important to make general commitments to cut CO2 and methane emissions, and to keep under a certain temperature increase, what it comes down to in the end is making practical changes in how we live our lives and run our societies.
There are four giant keys for unlocking a safer future with a balanced and livable climate. To ignore any of these is a great risk, and to implement a few of them in just a half-hearted way or with too much delay would be tragic.
Our homes, offices, government buildings, shops, and the majority of our electricity needs need to be powered with clean, renewable energy. Some might say “clean energy” and include nuclear energy under that label, but nuclear energy is tremendously expensive and slow to install. It’s also relatively inflexible and comes with great health/safety risk. For any of those reasons, I’d say it’s not a logical choice for our energy future, but combining them all, no intelligent person should be taking it seriously.
Wind power, solar power, and hydropower have been improving for years, and they are typically now the cheapest options for electricity production — thus, they’re growing fast, even in some surprising places. But there are some places where natural gas is competitive or old coal power plants remain competitive, so governments and companies need to work to make renewable energy an even more obvious choice via various mandates, incentives, and education campaigns.
Electrification of transport
Another huge piece of the global warming pollution pie comes from transportation emissions — specifically, the burning of oil. To tackle global warming, we need tackle this beast. Luckily, we again have an option that is cost-competitive and comes with other advantages.
Like with renewable energy, electric vehicles will make our air cleaner, our water cleaner, and our lives better. All of the cancer, asthma, heart problems, and general suffering that come from burning fossil fuels to push large boxes of metal and plastic forward can be avoided. Furthermore, we can skip annoying trips to the gas station (the large majority of EV charging is done at home while the owners are sleeping, eating dinner, chilling out, etc) and enjoy quieter, smoother, funner drives.
Switching to electric transport would result in a massive improvement in energy efficiency since electric motors are about 3 to 4 times more efficient than internal combustion engines (i.e., gas car engines). However, we still need to make our energy use much more efficient in order to meet the CO2 reduction targets we need to meet. Even clean energy doesn’t match greater efficiency when it comes to quickly cutting CO2 emissions and generating new jobs. There’s a tremendous amount of potential to more efficiently use energy, and this should be realized via our individual initiative, government policies, and corporate commonsense.
Less meat & dairy
Among these four areas of improvement, the diet side of things is probably the least discussed among policymakers, business people, and organizations pushing for strong global action to stop catastrophic global warming and climate change. But it shouldn’t be ignored. Meat and dairy account for anywhere from about 18 percent to 51 percent of global warming emissions, depending on which study and assumptions you trust.
Aside from production-side policies to lessen deforestation and livestock pollution, I’m not sure how much governments can do on this front, but it’s certainly a matter for them, corporations, and individuals to consider.
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