Technology can help us beat global warming
By Doug Wingier • Guest Columnist
We American consumers are richer than most in the world, and as voters more powerful. Yet as one wave of technological change after another washes over us, we tend to accept each as inevitable and out of control, and feel helpless to prevent the coming catastrophe presaged by Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.”
Despite the many choices that these technologies deliver, they have made us almost totally dependent on three carbon-based fossil fuels: petroleum, gas and coal. Fossil-fueled agriculture has generated a six-fold increase in the world’s population over the past 150 years, while carbon waste has slowly but surely altered Earth’s climate. We now face rising sea levels, weather disasters, disease pandemics and other cataclysmic effects of global warming (Call it “climate change” if you wish; it’s the same deadly process.)
At the same time, we have nearly reached the halfway point in our consumption of Earth’s petroleum reserves, known as Peak Oil. The remaining oil is more difficult and costly to extract, leading in the near future to fuel shortages, rising prices of everything manufactured or transported with petroleum, and more wars such as the current nightmare in Iraq. Iran? God forbid!
As these twin crises of global warming and Peak Oil intersect, the extinction of many species with whom we share the planet — and of the human population as well — becomes an increasingly predictable prospect. Yet it isn’t the sheer numbers of our human population that threatens us; Earth is still capable of feeding all six billion plus of us. It’s our lifestyle.
We must not leave the future to chance. It’s time to make a choice. Only a deliberate about-face in our personal habits — and our national lifestyle — can save us from unplanned, chaotic, potentially fatal callamity. If we wait for our neighbors or society at large to change first, we’re just as short-sighted as the corporate executives, squeezing all we can out of the Earth while there’s still time. Unlike the CEO of ExxonMobil, however, no $400 million retirement cushion awaits us.
If we wait for our Neanderthal Administration to act, we are doomed. Scientists are united in saying we have a ten-year window in which to start putting current climate-saving technologies to work on a significant scale. It’s all doable, using technologies currently available. Here are some changes scientists suggest:
• Doubling the fuel economy of the world’s cars, from 30 to 60 mpg.
• Decreasing car travel for 2 billion 30-mpg cars from 10,000 to 5,000 miles per year.
• Cutting CO2 emissions by one-fourth in buildings and appliances from now until 2054.
• Increasing wind electricity capacity by 50 times.
• Replacing 1,400 coal-fired electric plants with natural gas facilities.
• Installing 700 times the current capacity for solar electricity.
• Halting tropical deforestation and doubling the rate of new forest planting.
Efforts currently underway include the following:
Individuals and families installing energy-efficient light bulbs, doing more walking, biking, and carpooling, buying hybrid cars, putting solar panels on roofs and water-heating systems, cutting down on air travel.
Businesses making their offices and factories more efficient, promoting telecommuting and teleconferencing to cut down on travel.
Communities launching farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture programs to reduce the fuel used to ship food, creating biodiesel filling stations, providing tax credits for green building improvements, mandating that cities or states increase the amount of electricity generated from renewable sources.
These are things we can do, choices we can make, changes we can initiate that will begin to halt our mindless march toward extinction. When enough of us recognize the truth, we will change our lifestyle and demand that politicians in both parties act. Let’s raise the issue of sustainability in our communities, media, and political forums. And most importantly, let’s personally reduce our consumption of energy, buy local, eat organic, and thereby do our bit to conserve the home we’ve been given to dwell in. It’s the only home we’ve got, and our grandchildren might appreciate the chance to live in it too!
Doug Wingeier lives in Waynesville.