Climate Change: Can we stop the fire?

Last week’s post, Climate Change – 101, included a lot of information about climate change including: what it is, what causes it, and how individuals and governmental regulations impact it.  This week we’ll bore into what can be done to reduce the most serious effects of climate change – more severe storms, more intense heat waves and the accelerated melting of glaciers and ice sheets.

I recently was sent a link (thank you Alex) to a simulation tool which allows a user to assess the impact of various “solutions” to address global warming.  This tool, dubbed En-ROADS, is the product of nine years of development by Climate Interactive, a non-profit think tank.  Bloomburg Green has created a simplified version to let regular people test their solutions – whether individually or in combination – and see the results expressed as both carbon reductions and the global temperature change. 

I encourage you to test your own ideas and solutions. Here’s the link to the model:

The baseline projections within the Climate Interactive simulation model – i.e., a continuation of current trends – forecasts an increase in the global temperature of 4.1 degrees Celsius by the year 2100.  That’s over two degrees higher than the Paris Agreement targeted as the maximum increase in temperature the planet could tolerate to avoid irreversible and catastrophic damage to our environment.  Obviously, based on this model, we’re not in a good position and the future looks bleak!

So what can we do?  There are lots of things discussed to mitigate global warming like having more electric cars or planting more trees, but how much of a difference will these initiatives actually deliver?  Well, the simulation model has a series of “toggle” choices, you can flip to evaluate the effects of an individual initiative, such as significantly increasing the number of electric vehicles, or planting more forests.  

What I found most impressive about this model is that it takes into account the interrelated dynamics of individual initiatives.  For example, assuming rebates and other initiatives could result in electric vehicles displacing conventional vehicles, such that 2/3 of all transportation became electric, the global effect of this initiative would only decrease the 2100 global temperature from 4.10 to 4.00 – not a significant amount.  The reasons for this small impact are that it takes time to build the infrastructure for more electrical vehicles; those electric vehicles will be recharged using fossil-fuel electric generation stations for many more years; and it will take many years for conventional vehicles to wear out and be replaced.  As important as electrical vehicles are, obviously, more is needed!

There are ten policy “solution” options that the simulation model allows you to put into effect – i.e., they can be left “off” or turned “on”:

  1. Build more renewable power
  2. Enact a carbon price
  3. Make buildings and industry more energy efficient
  4. Make transportation more energy efficient
  5. Electrify buildings and industry
  6. Electrify transportation
  7. Curb deforestation
  8. Regrow forests
  9. Cut methane and other pollution from agriculture and industry
  10. Mass-produce CO₂ removal technologies

At first glance, it’s not obvious which thing(s) would have the most significant impact?  If we implemented all of them – (by selecting the “all of the above” toggle on the model) – the result is a forecast of 2Celsius increase in global temperature by the year 2100 as compared to the 4.10 baseline projection.  My conclusion:  we have to implement a lot of changes in order to make a difference – and even then, we’re still going to suffer significance consequences by the year 2100.  But the world we inhabit with a 2Celsius increase is much, much, more survivable than a world with a 4.10 Celsius increase!

Another question: which single initiative would have the most significant impact to reduce global temperature?  Answer: It’s “Enact a Carbon Price” – which results in a 0.7Celsius reduction compared to the baseline.  “Cutting Methane and Other Pollution from Agriculture and Industry” comes in 2nd with a 0.5Celsius reduction. Another takeaway for me is that these individual initiatives, or “solutions” are most effective when working in concert with each other – e.g., more renewable power coupled with more electric vehicles. 

And while individual cities, companies and citizens can all contribute to doing things better, it is also clear to me that government must be the principle leader in order for the necessary changes to be realized.  This conclusion is consistent with our ongoing experience with the COVID-19 pandemic – namely that without wise, science-based government policy directions, individuals will not change their behavior and the results will be catastrophic. 

There is, however, one action all of us can take to address global warming:  we can vote for government leaders that will have the wisdom to follow the science and the courage to make it happen.  Like COVID-19, the steps necessary to safeguard our health involve sacrifices which may be unpopular.  But we must decide, are we willing to make changes necessary to stop crippling effects of global warming – even if it means sacrificing and changing the way we do things?  Jeanette Winter titled her new book about Greta Thunberg’s call to save the planet: “Our House Is on Fire”.  She’s right!  We’ve got to do more to put out the fire!

One thought on “Climate Change: Can we stop the fire?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s