Our Last Chance to Save Our Children’s Future
Larry J. Kane
The Nature, Cause and Impacts of Climate Change
Imagine a mid-July, 2060, in Chicago, Illinois, where beleaguered residents, now numbering over 4 million, are sweltering with midsummer heat over 105°F. Such extreme temperatures, unheard of 40 years ago, have become all too common over the past decade. Overloading of the antiquated electric grid from continual operation of residents’ air conditioners and service interruptions from a higher incidence of severe storms have combined to produce frequent brown-outs of electrical service. Over 3,000 lower income Chicagoans have died already this summer as a result of heat exhaustion when brownouts lasted too long. In the evenings your grandchildren watch news reports of wildfires consuming hundreds of millions of acres of forested land in California, Oregon and southern Idaho. The drought conditions in the western U.S. have become so pervasive and routine that millions of people have abandoned their homes and moved to crowded slum-like conditions in the large cities of the Midwest and eastern U.S. Only a paltry fraction of agrarian acreage of the Great Plains states can still support grain farms and cattle confined feeding operations because the last vestiges of the Ogallala aquifer — once considered an inexhaustible source of groundwater — are nearing depletion. As a result, food prices have increased tenfold in the past 20 years. Seafood is affordable for most families only once a month, if available at all, since the once plentiful fisheries of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans have been largely depleted.
The grim fictional future described above may seem farfetched but is supported in concept by climatologists’ projections of the adverse impacts of climate change if effective counter-measures are not initiated promptly to mitigate this manmade catastrophe. Reports raising alarm about impending effects of a changing climate and its serious repercussions for humanity first began to emerge in the early 1980s and have appeared with increasing frequency and urgency in the past twenty years. But we have not been listening! And no meaningful action has been taken at a national level to avert this looming disaster as a result of stark partisan disagreements.
Critical questions need to be confronted: What is “climate change”? Will it actually happen? How and why does it occur? How serious are the implications? Should we really be concerned? This article provides basic information responding to these questions so that you, our readers, can begin to assess the significance this issue holds for you. And, yes, this is important! Our children’s future lies in the balance — actually, it is in our hands.
What Is Climate Change?
First, some terminology needs to be considered. We need to distinguish between “climate” and “weather”. We talk every day about the “weather”, which refers to short term conditions such as how warm or cold it will be tomorrow, whether it will be sunny or overcast, whether it will rain or snow, and whether severe storm events are impending. “Climate,” on the other hand, refers to the long-term trend of weather conditions, usually over a period of 30 years or more. “Climate change,” then, refers to a significant change in the long-term trend.
The core concern over climate change revolves upon predictions of warming of the earth’s surface and lower atmosphere, which leads us to consider the natural phenomenon known as the “Greenhouse Effect”. This term refers to the effect of certain atmospheric gases, including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and water vapor, known popularly as “greenhouse gases” (GHGs), to retain some heat resulting from solar radiation in the lower atmosphere that otherwise would re-radiate back into space.[i] The presence of GHGs in the lower atmosphere acts as a heat trap that prevents escape from the Earth of some heat resulting from solar radiation, thus producing higher surface temperatures than would otherwise exist. Ironically, the Earth would not be warm enough to be inhabitable without this phenomenon as it operates under natural conditions. BUT we are no longer experiencing natural conditions, as explained below, and the greenhouse effect is now threatening to produce temperatures dangerous to earthly life forms, including humans.
If other factors affecting climate remain unchanged, the higher the atmospheric concentrations of GHGs rise, the more pronounced is the warming of the Earth by the greenhouse effect. This relationship becomes of particular concern as we consider the remarkable rise in levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) over the past century.[ii]
[i] More specifically, incoming solar radiation, consisting mainly of visible light, infrared radiation, and ultraviolet radiation, passes through the atmosphere, which is largely transparent to this radiation, to reach the Earth’s surface, where it produces heat. Some of that heat is radiated back into the atmosphere as infrared radiation, which has a much longer wavelength than most of the incoming solar radiation. Greenhouse gases (“GHGs”) are particularly capable of absorbing this infrared radiation, which causes heating of the gas molecules. This increased heat energy results in the re-emission of infrared radiation, some of which is directed back into the lower atmosphere and the earth’s surface, where it causes further warming.
[ii] Atmospheric concentrations of other GHGs such as methane and nitrous oxide have also been increasing over the past century but at considerably slower rates
Is Climate Change Likely?
Atmospheric levels of CO2 remained at or below 280 parts per million (ppm) throughout mankind’s existence until the industrial revolution was well underway in the latter part of the 18th century.[i] Then things began to change.
Empirical data provide cogent evidence that climate change is already happening. Monitoring of atmospheric CO2 shows mean (average) global concentrations of CO2 rose somewhat slowly from 290 ppm in 1880 over the next 80 years to roughly 315 ppm in 1960, and then considerably more rapidly to 390 ppm in 2010. The rate of increase has grown exponentially to 400 ppm in 2016 and then to 415 ppm in May, 2019.[ii] The current level is reported to be the highest in the past 800,000 to a million years.
Under the influence of the greenhouse effect, mean global temperatures on the Earth’s surface have risen on a trajectory similar to that of increasing atmospheric CO2 levels. They have increased about 1.6°F (0.89°C) between 1900 and 2015 (with land regions generally having experienced higher increases in temperature than the mean global temperature increase). Globally, the years from 2014 through 2018 are the five hottest on record. Related impacts that have been observed over the past 30 years include: increasing warming and acidification of ocean waters due to absorption of heat and CO2 from the increasing atmospheric levels; an increasing frequency of violent storms, especially over the past 10 to 15 years; and significant melting of ice cover in the Arctic Ocean and Antarctica, as well as of glaciers in Greenland, the Canadian Rockies, the Alps and the Himalayan Mountains.
Projections of future impacts from climate change will be briefly highlighted below, but first we explore the reasons for the increases in atmospheric levels of CO2 and other GHGs.
Why Is Climate Change Occurring?
Given the compelling evidence that global warming and climate change is already happening, a critical question arises: why is it happening? Most climate scientists have concluded that the current climate change phenomenon is primarily a result of human activities. The chief cause has been identified as the combustion of fossil fuels, particularly coal, although other activities such as deforestation and inefficient generation and use of energy are contributing factors. For example, beginning with its First Assessment Report issued in 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)[iii] concluded with certainty that the increasing emissions of GHGs resulting from human activities such as fossil fuel combustion are causing substantial increases in atmospheric concentrations of GHGs. There is no credible alternative explanation for the inexorable rise in CO2 levels in the atmosphere to a point unprecedented in the past million years of Earth’s existence. The IPCC has further concluded that the increasing atmospheric levels of CO2 are, in turn, producing increased warming of Earth’s surface via the greenhouse effect. In other words, the natural greenhouse effect has been transformed into an “unnatural” weapon that we unwittingly have turned against ourselves and the natural ecosystems of the Earth.
[i] Living in the Environment, p. 497, G. Tyler Miller, et al., 2012 Brooks/Cole.
[ii] The Science Times, May 17, 2019.
[iii] The IPCC is an ancillary body of the United Nations whose responsibility is to assess scientific literature on climate change published by researchers and to prepare periodic consensus summaries of the current state of scientific knowledge. Five assessment reports have been issued, with the most recent published in 2014.
Brief Overview of Potential Future Impacts
Probable adverse impacts of climate change have been projected by researchers for various scenarios based in the degree to which future actions are taken to reduce CO2 emissions. Certain impacts are already “baked in” due to (i) the current inventory of CO2 and other GHGs that have already been emitted into the atmosphere and (ii) the long time required for those impacts to physically appear. For the most part, however, the severity of future impacts is dependent on the responses we make to this challenge. The following summaries are based on the more severe projections for a “business-as-usual” scenario in which mankind continues to ignore current scientific understandings of the impending catastrophe and takes no effective action to reduce emissions of GHGs. These summaries are drawn from the Fourth National Climate Assessment Report (“4th NCA”) of the U.S. Global Change Research Program.[i]
Surface temperatures. Global average temperatures under the “business-as-usual” scenario are projected to increase from 4.2 to 8.5°F (2.4 to 4.7°C) over present temperatures by 2100. In the American Midwest, much higher seasonal extremes are projected. Chicago, for example, is projected to see an increase in annual number of days above 100°F from 0 (at present) to an average of 22 days — and as many as 60 days — by 2100.
Increased precipitation and flooding of some land areas and increased droughts in other areas. Annual average precipitation has increased 4% in the US since 1901. In the Great Plains, the Midwest and Northeast of the U.S., annual precipitation is projected to increase 20% in winter and spring by 2100, with up to 40% increases in precipitation from the highest 1% of severe storm events. Exacerbation of water shortages is expected in areas where droughts are projected to become more frequent and of longer duration, particularly in the American Southwest.
Increased frequency and severity of destructive storms. In the U.S., we already have been offered first- hand experience with this aspect of climate change via Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Florence. Similar superstorms have been battering other portions of the globe in the past few years. Such storms are projected to increase in frequency and severity.
Reductions in farmland productivity. Higher surface temperatures, increased precipitation, and/or increased drought conditions from climate change are expected to contribute to reductions in the productivity of farmlands in many parts of the U.S.
Ocean Ecosystem Impacts. The world’s oceans are reportedly absorbing about 90 percent of the heat resulting from global warming. Surface ocean waters have already warmed 1.3°F since the 1960s and are projected, under the “business-as-usual” scenario, to increase another 4.9°F (2.7°C) by 2100. Also, the oceans are absorbing roughly 25–30% of the rising atmospheric CO2, causing acidification of ocean water that is unprecedented in the last 65 million years. Global average surface ocean acidity is projected to increase by 100% to 150% by 2100. The more acidic and warmer ocean waters will drive many aquatic species to relocate to cooler waters, reduce ocean productivity, and also cause bleaching (and death) of coral reefs, which are key ecosystems contributing to rich marine biodiversity.
Warming of the Arctic. According to the 4th NCA, annual average air temperatures across the Arctic have risen more than twice as fast over the last 50 years as have global average temperatures. The rising temperatures have contributed to loss of glacier ice mass and sea ice mass. Moreover, the rate of loss of ice mass is projected to accelerate over the remainder of this century, in part due to a self-reinforcing process described below that can result in enhanced rates of ice mass loss. By 2050, it is projected that the Arctic Ocean is likely to be nearly free of sea ice in late summer under a “business-as-usual” scenario.
Sea level rise. The 4th NCA reports that global average sea level has already risen between 7 and 8 inches since 1900 (with half of that increase occurring since 1993) and an additional increase of 1 to 4 feet in global average sea level is projected by 2100 under the “business-as-usual” scenario, although it is possible that the additional rise in sea level could reach nearly 8 feet.
Climate change refugees. Out-migration of refugees can be expected from areas hardest hit by these projected impacts that will dwarf the current refugee crisis impacting Europe.
Reduced biodiversity and exacerbated extinctions of natural lifeforms. The rising global temperatures, redistribution of precipitation and drought-affected areas, and other impacts of climate change are already causing stress to wild plant and animal organisms. These stresses are contributing to the highest rate of plant and animal extinctions since the last “great extinction” around 250 million years ago. It was recently estimated that I million species (12% of known species) could become extinct by 2050.[ii]
[ii] Report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, May, 2019.
2 Self-reinforcing processes and Tipping Points
Self-reinforcing processes. This term refers to interactions among related physical processes in which a change in one process positively reinforces a second process so as to speed up or increase the magnitude of the second process. Following are some examples of such self-reinforcing processes that can accelerate or otherwise exacerbate climate change.[i]
· Thawing of Arctic permafrost: permafrost soils in the Arctic are estimated to confine a quantity of methane that is 50 to 60 times the amount of CO2 emitted annually worldwide from the combustion of fossil fuels. As mean global temperatures rise, Arctic temperatures rise even higher and threaten to melt permafrost. To the extent permafrost does melt, methane — a more potent GHG than CO2 — will be released into the atmosphere, contributing to yet higher increases in mean global temperatures.
· Melting of ice and snow. Light-colored snow and ice in the Arctic and Antarctic regions help reduce the amount of surface warming from solar radiation by reflecting the incoming solar radiation back into space. However, as surface temperatures rise as a result of global warming, more ice and snow will melt in the polar regions, revealing darker sea water or soils which have lower reflectivity and thus will absorb more heat from solar radiation. Increased exposure of darker surfaces will accelerate the melting of snow and ice cover and lead to more rapid surface warming. This self-reinforcing process is further amplified by the fact that higher surface temperatures that occur from climate change are not uniformly distributed across the Earth’s surface but are more pronounced in the polar regions.
Tipping Points. A tipping point is a threshold level in a certain self-reinforcing process that, once surpassed, results in a runaway or irreversible reaction or change. The following potential tipping points have been identified by scientists in the context of climate change:[ii]
· A mean atmospheric CO2 concentration of 450 ppm;
· The melting of all Arctic summer sea ice;
· The melting of the entire Greenland ice sheet;
· A massive release of methane from thawing Arctic permafrost;
· Severe reduction or collapse of the Amazon rainforest; and
· Severe ocean acidification, collapse of phytoplankton populations, and a sharp drop in the capability of the oceans to absorb CO2.
Exceedance of any of these thresholds is believed to seriously threaten a rapid acceleration of climate disruption that could not be alleviated for many centuries or longer. There is a further prospect that the triggering of adverse impacts from exceedance of such a tipping point could in turn accelerate the reaching of another tipping point, resulting in cascading tipping points. Clearly then, it must be a critical objective for climate change mitigation strategies to prevent any of these tipping points from being reached.
[i] Living in the Environment, pp. 503–506, G. Tyler Miller, et al., 2012 Brooks/Cole.
[ii] Ibid, pp. 510–511.
3 Climate Change Deniers — Are They a Sufficient Reason for Delay?
The short answer, I suggest, is “No”.
Climate change deniers (“CC deniers”), through their influence on the general public and on the federal and state governments, have already caused too much delay — over 30 years — in initiating comprehensive efforts to extinguish the causes of climate change. This has cost humanity its ability to avert an increase in mean global temperature (MGT) of 1.5°C over that prevailing in 1900. We have roughly only another 30 years to reduce global carbon dioxide (CO2) to net zero levels and keep the MGT from rising 2.0°C. We cannot afford further delay — we must start reductions NOW. The more CO2 emissions that occur, the greater will be the total CO2 loading in the upper reaches of the troposphere that will continue to exert the greenhouse effect.
Moreover, the contentions of CC deniers fly in the face of the accumulating incontrovertible evidence of incipient climate change that is already underway.
But, some may ask, what if the CC deniers are right? Won’t we have wasted vast resources in an unnecessary crusade against climate change? Again, the answer, I propose, is “No, not at all.” Even if deniers might be right, though I firmly believe they are not, there are good reasons discussed below to conclude that a vigorous effort to mitigate climate change will be worth the effort.
Climate change deniers may be placed into one of perhaps three categories: [i]
· Those who assert objections based on nonsensical climate change myths;
· Those who pose objections that superficially may seem plausible but do not withstand scrutiny; and
· Those who “accept” climate change science but argue that the range of projections in the amount of increase in mean global temperatures that may result from climate change is so broad that it cannot be said with any certainty that catastrophe will occur.
A frequently mentioned example of the first category, expressed by President Trump, is the assertion that, based on a week or two of very cold temperatures in a recent winter, we are actually experiencing global cooling. This sentiment is founded on a misunderstanding of the difference between short-term, day-to-day weather conditions and climate, which describes long-term weather patterns. There is no question that mean global temperatures have been climbing inexorably for many decades.
An example of the second category involves contentions that the Earth’s climate has changed before due to naturally occurring cycles, such as past ice ages and subsequent warming periods, and that the current warming trend is simply another iteration of such natural cycles. However, this frequently offered explanation has been carefully examined by climatologists and their emphatic conclusion is that there is no natural cyclic phenomenon that fits the current data, which carry the clear “fingerprints” of greenhouse warming induced by human-caused CO2 emissions.
The third, more subtle approach to CC denial is exemplified by Scott Pruitt, President Trump’s former EPA Administrator, who has remarked that, “the climate is changing, and human activity contributes to that in some manner,” but, “the ability to measure, with precision, the degree of human activity’s impact on the climate is subject to more debate.” [ii]
Another of the third category is Oren Cass, [iii] who asserts that “the central question [surrounding climate change] is ‘climate sensitivity’. . .”, which is a reference to the amount of warming that accompanies each part-per-millon increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration.[iv] Based on what Cass considers a broad range of possible climate change impacts, he opines that “reasonable minds could be allowed to differ on the ultimate question of how well society is likely to cope with the effects of climate change.” [v] He has contended, without elaboration or explanation, that the likely impact of climate change will be “manageable” rather than “catastrophic.”
Neither Pruitt nor Cass is a climate change scientist. Rather, they appear to be apologists for the fossil fuel industry and other conservative groups who seek to deflect efforts at climate change control. Actual climate scientists, recognizing the complexity of the interplay of numerous factors affecting changes in climate, do provide a range of possible outcomes for future climate change. However, the more probable center of that range of projections indicates far worse than merely “manageable” levels of damaging impact for much of humanity over the rest of this century and beyond.
· Proposed Response to CC Deniers
The first two categories of CC deniers can be summarily dismissed. With respect to the third category, the question, it seems, should be, “What rational and prudent social or political policy should be considered in response to the scientific knowledge that has been developed?” Given that there is a range of possible negative outcomes, it seems prudent to choose a policy approach that effectively addresses a reasonable worst case scenario on future climate change, particularly when the potential adverse impacts are so severe.
What are the downsides of moving quickly to transform the world’s energy and transportation sectors to rely predominantly on renewable sources like solar and wind power? There are few, I suggest, while many upsides can be realized even if future climate change were ultimately found to be less severe than projected as probable.
First, we would be using resources that are free and essentially inexhaustible — solar radiation and the wind. Second, the costs of electrical generation from renewable sources are already lower than comparable costs from combustion of coal, so our nation (and the world) will actually save on energy by making the transformation to renewable energy resources. Third, electrical generation from renewable resources avoids the pernicious environmental pollution attendant to the combustion of fossil fuels, as well as the disruption to the physical environment resulting from the extraction of fossil fuels. Fourth, the finite fossil fuel reserves that would not be consumed for baseload electrical generation could be preserved for other purposes that will continue to be in demand, such as the use of crude oil for production of lubricants or the manufacture of plastics or other petroleum-based products.
The only losers, potentially, would appear to be the owners of fossil fuel reserves (especially coal) who wish to cash in quickly through utilization of those reserves. And, it is not a coincidence that the fossil fuel industry that has been the most vociferous and persistent in promoting denial of climate change. But such changes in fortune have frequently occurred in the history of technological advances and are almost impossible to resist in the long run.
[i] The Skeptical Science website (skepticalscience.com) contains a much more extensive list of climate change myths and objections (197 total). Those discussed here are intended only as illustrative. All though tend to fall within one of the three categories listed here and none fare better than those listed.
[ii] “Climate-Change Activists Are the Real Science Deniers,” O. Cass, National Review, May 1, 2017. [Cass]
[iii] Cass, an attorney, is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, who describes himself as promoting “conservative policy approaches on poverty, climate change, environmental regulation, and international trade.”
[iv] Cass, National Review, May 1, 2017.
4 What Must We Do to Avert Climate Disaster?
Given that serious impacts are already occurring from climate disruption, that disastrous impacts are projected to occur over the next 80 years if climate change is allowed to continue unchecked, and that the predominant cause of these climate change impacts is the huge volume of emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) resulting from human activities, can there be any question but that we need to act NOW with aggressive measures to reduce CO2 emissions?
Massive Reductions in GHG Emissions Are Necessary
Climate scientists have recently projected that the most aggressive goal considered feasible for limiting the impacts of climate change is to confine global warming to an increase in global mean surface temperature of 2.7°F (1.5°C) since 1900. Since the global mean surface temperature has already increased approximately 1.6°F (0.9°C) above 1900 levels, as of 2010, future increases in global warming will need to be constrained to no more than about 1.1°F (0.6°C) to meet this goal.[i]
It is further projected by climate scientists that achievement of this goal will require the net amount of global CO2 emissions to be reduced about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and to reach zero by 2050. (Net emissions are the sum of positive emissions from sources of CO2 and negative emissions resulting from actions that consume or absorb CO2, such as the reforestation of areas where trees had been clear-cut in the past.) These are drastic reductions, especially considering an overall timeframe of only 30 years. But failure to act will, in all probability, bring drastic negative consequences.
Key Actions Needed to Reduce GHG Emissions
Regardless of the details of various possible scenarios for reducing GHG emissions, it is clear that major transformative changes are needed to the energy sector of the U.S. and world economies, along with numerous other secondary changes. The primary changes that appear to be initially needed to the energy sector in the U.S. can be summed up as follows:
· Replace fossil fuel-based electricity generation with renewable electricity generation, which primarily means solar cell and wind turbine generation.
· Expand and enhance transmission grids for electricity to a truly national “smart grid” that can shift among solar cell farms and wind turbine farms throughout the country as generation sources to meet electricity demand.[ii]
· Importantly, there is enough electricity generation potential from wind power alone in the continental U.S. to meet several multiples of the current U.S. energy demand.[iii]
· Retain a minimal number of natural gas-fired power plants (or expand nuclear power facilities) to meet temporary shortfalls in electricity generation that may arise.
· Replace the U.S. fleet of passenger and transport vehicles with electric-powered vehicles.
· Establish a carbon tax as an essential governmental policy initiative to support achievement of the foregoing measures.
· Eliminate federal subsidies for fossil fuel extraction.
There are other initiatives related to fossil fuel combustion that need to be implemented as well, such as converting industrial energy usage to renewable sources as much as feasible, establishing upgraded building energy efficiency standards for commercial and residential heating and AC, establishing a program for enhanced reforestation, etc., but the bulleted items seem to be the core changes needed here and abroad to provide the majority of needed reductions in GHG emissions in the short term.
Importantly, the technology already exists to support the implementation of most aspects of these key action items. All that is required is the collective national will to make it happen. Research on items such as better energy storage devices to supply electricity to the grid during evening hours and temporary windless periods will be helpful for the long haul but do not need to be an impediment to taking action now. We are already very late in engaging this crisis.
There is also a critical need for a foreign policy component in which the U.S. reaffirms its participation in the 2015 Paris climate agreement and vigorously promotes action by other major emitters of GHG to promptly undertake similar national programs for drastic reduction of GHG emissions. U.S. GHG emissions represent roughly only 14% of the overall worldwide total emissions as of 2018. Thus, U.S. actions to reduce GHG emissions, even if they meet the needed national goals, will not, on their own, forestall the dire consequences of climate disruption that are likely under a “business-as-usual” scenario. Prompt, coordinated measures by all major GHG emitting nations are imperative. U.S. leadership is essential — something sadly missing at present.
The time frame is challenging for such major changes. We have dallied decades already and the reductions discussed above need to be in place by 2050 or earlier. A firm target for midterm progress should be established for 2030 or 2035 to assure reductions are on track for the final 2050 goal. While challenging, the timeframe is not an impossible one. As an example, consider the mobilization of the U.S. to a war economy in the early 1940s. Much of the country’s industrial sector was redirected to armament production. This occurred in a matter of two to three years and is roughly comparable to the scale of effort now needed to combat climate disruption.
What Do Each of Us Need to Do?
Obviously, accomplishment of the essential actions to constrain climate change will require a central role by the federal government in organizing and promoting the plan, establishing critical legislation to support it, and tracking and assuring its effective implementation, including the undertaking of the crucial foreign policy initiatives.
What then can individual citizens do? There are some things you, as an individual, can and should consider to help reduce your and your family’s carbon footprint. However, the most critical thing you can do is to individually and collectively demand prompt action by our federal and state governments, as well as business and industrial sectors, to formulate and diligently coordinate and implement an effective plan — involving measures such as outlined above — to restrain further global warming and climate disruption to the lowest degree feasible.
To this end, it is extremely important for you to contact your Congressional Representatives and Senators to demand that immediate action be initiated on legislative measures that are essential for the establishment and implementation of such a plan. If your Representatives or Senators are not committed to this course of action, then you are urged to vote for alternative candidates in the next election who will make this commitment. Similarly, it is critical that you vote for a presidential candidate in the next election who will commit to a forceful and prompt course of action to do accomplish this. This needs to be at the top of the agenda for the President and the Congress. Join in informal groups with other like-minded persons to multiply and coordinate pressure on the federal government to take action. A grassroots effort of the first order is needed to push for real and effective action by our government.
Do not be daunted. Consider the power of one person to effect change by inspiring action by many others, as illustrated by a Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg. Last August, Greta became so frustrated with the inaction of her government in addressing climate change that she staged a one-person protest, sitting on the steps of the Swedish Parliament instead of going to school. Her action quickly grew into a worldwide phenomenon — a “school strike for climate.”
Yes, individuals do have the power to spark action by many. The time for action is NOW. If we fail to act, the words of Greta Thunberg will haunt current generations for decades to come: what will we say to our grandchildren when they ask, “Why did you do nothing while there was still time to act?”
[i] Even with this ambitious goal, there would be some worsening of climate change impacts due to the continuing accumulation of GHGs in the atmosphere over the next 30 years. See, Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“IPCC Special Report”) (2018).
[ii] China has already begun construction of such a transmission grid. See “China’s Giant Transmission Grid . . .”, MIT Technology Review, November 8, 2018.
[iii]Scientists have estimated that the wind power potential of the continental U.S. amounts to 16 to 22 times the nation’s current electricity demand. See Living in the Environment, p. 417.