The transition to a greener earth and fighting climate change
Updated: Mar 15, 2020
On the 8th of October 2018, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report detailing the severity of climate change at its most recent state. The study was conducted over several years and involved 91 scientists from 40 different countries who analysed more than 6,000 scientific studies. They came to the dire conclusion that the world climate is on the verge of a tipping point which once passed would result in no turning back. Because of climate change many adverse effects which were be
lieved to occur far out in the future could become a reality as soon as 2040 and at far lower temperatures than previously expected. As such, findings from the report strongly suggest that instead of attempting to inhibit a temperature rise of 2°C for this century above pre-industrial levels we realistically need to keep it at 1.5°C or lower. This is imperative as the adverse effects of climate change such as rising sea levels and fluctuating temperatures would be exorbitantly exacerbated at 2°C. Whilst this is an even more ambitious goal, it would be a small price to pay in order to keep our beloved planet from deteriorating.
Comparison of adverse effects as a result of climate change between 1.5°C and 2°C
In terms of emissions, in order to keep the earth warming at 1.5°C scientists have said greenhouse gases must decrease by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and 100% by 2050. Coal is the most polluting fossil fuel. Scientists have recommended that the worlds reliance on coal to generate electricity must decrease from its present 40% to 1 - 7% by the year 2050. These reductions all sound very daunting but many scientists believe that with a collective effort from governments, individuals and organizations they could be achieved. Not only would doing so benefit our planet and mankind as a whole but also the world’s economy. Global warming of 1.5°C or 2°C is projected to cost the world 54 and 69 trillion U.S. dollars respectively in damages over time. Whereas one could probably invest far less money on finding a working solution. The question is how do we get to this solution and what will it take?
Two companies are working hard on what they believe will help in mitigating climate change. These are Solar City and Tesla. Tesla is the most well-known electric car manufacturer in the world under the ambitious leadership of Elon Musk who acquired Solar City to further its cause. Tesla has completely disrupted the petroleum powered car industry. Which in turn has caused many other large car manufacturers to gradually transition to electric vehicles. Which is exactly what Elon had hoped for. Electric cars can play a big role in mitigating greenhouse emissions as they don’t emit any emissions. They are also ten times more efficient in energy utilization than their counterparts. They cost less to maintain and electricity is much cheaper than gas. Elon has tried to speed up that transition.
Moreover, Tesla intends to make an electric vehicle that would be affordable and sold to the masses. However, in order to do so it must first gain enough capital with its more luxurious models and finish upscaling the production of its vehicles to bring down the manufacturing cost. Once this is achieved more and more electric vehicles will find their way onto the streets. With the help of Solar City Tesla wants not only to sell electric vehicles to people but to create an entire ecosystem revolving around renewable energy. They now offer solar-panel installations which can be connected to a Tesla “Supercharger” at your house that charges your Tesla vehicle. Through this system the only emissions produced would be from the manufacturing of the vehicle. Overall, Tesla’s fleet of electric cars has reportedly saved 3.5 million tons of CO2 from escaping into the atmosphere. Whereas Solar City provides 2300 megawatts of power to citizens in the United States on a daily basis. This is roughly equivalent to saving 17 million tons of emissions annually. To put that into perspective the emissions saved by Tesla and Solar City are roughly equivalent to the emissions of 5 coal-fired power plants and 44 million barrels of oil. Whilst this already may sound impressive it’s merely a good start and a lot more must be done.
This is where governments come into play. They are pivotal in the fight against climate change because they have the legal power to facilitate the transition to renewable energy and electric vehicles. Through the taxation of carbon and fossil fuels and the implementation of incentives such as tax breaks for emerging renewable energy technologies. At the moment, more and more countries are considering or have implemented a carbon tax in an attempt to curb emissions. As the name implies taxes are imposed on a household or company relative to their carbon emissions. This tax is then applied on electricity and fossil fuels. The reasoning behind the tax is based on the economic principle of “negative externalities”. Externalities are costs or benefits generated by the production of goods and services. Negative externalities are therefore costs that are not paid for. When we consume fossil fuels there will be a societal cost. Everyone suffers from pollution. As such, if this is the case and you’re polluting to someone else’s detriment you should pay for it. Setting stringent carbon taxes would encourage both, consumers and producers to find alternatives to using fossil fuels such as using electric vehicles or investing money towards advancing renewable energy technologies. Moreover, the revenue obtained could be spend towards climate change mitigation and adaptation, education, healthcare, or to cut taxes for businesses.
On the other hand, governments can also work together with corporations to implement technologies that could reduce emissions drastically without the need to completely remove fossil fuels or decrease their use as drastically. For instance, economists and energy researchers have concluded that higher boosted tax credits could finally make carbon capture and carbon sequestering a viable option for coal factories and gas refineries. As this trend continues and is scaled up the cost of these technologies will drop and become more readily available. In the long run this could have a profound effect on the greenhouse gas emissions. Lastly, organisations advocating for climate change mitigation can aid in facilitating government’s decisions on carbon tax or climate change legislation. This is what Boston-Based Organization Climate Xchange was able to accomplish. Led by a team of determined climate change advocating citizens a bill implementing a carbon tax by the Boston Senate was unanimously passed this year. They are now focusing their efforts on other states across the United States that are looking to support carbon pricing efforts and research into this legislation.
It’s a relieving thought that these companies, organizations and some governments are at the forefront of fighting climate change and pioneering the transition to clean renewable energies. However, if we are serious about saving the planet for both our sake and for those in the coming generations mankind will have to take a united stand. Otherwise, even our best efforts will prove futile.