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Changing Climate, Changing World

May 9, 2011 – A very important report was issued by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) today. The 2200 member scientists of the U.N.-sponsored organization have found renewable energy sources to hold the key to the future. (We might actually have one if we use them!) The report targets 450 ppm of greenhouse gases as the upper limit, beyond which life as we know it would not be sustainable. This level of GHG concentration exceeds the more ideal level of 350 ppm considerably, perhaps a tacit admission on the part of the report’s authors that they no longer think the lower concentration is achievable.
The IPCC believes that 80% of the world’s energy needs can be met by renewable energy sources, and that the financial investment required would amount to only 1% of GDP, or approximately five trillion dollars over the next decade. The very plain implication of such numbers is that failure to make the small investment needed would be nothing short of criminal. The lack of foresight thus far demonstrated by the governments of wealthier nations, particularly the United States, tells us that a policy of “all for one, one for all” doesn’t hold a candle when compared to policies that allow corporate pillaging of the world’s fossil fuel reserves. How to convince American lawmakers of the need for environmentally-friendly policies and legislation, up to and including a climate treaty, is still one of the major, unresolved issues.
The opportunity that exists for countries not yet part of the electrical grid is unique. Wind and solar power are of particular interest to the IPCC. Their capacity for localization makes them especially attractive for these non-electrified areas of the world, home to two billion people. The first step toward recognizing and taking advantage of this opportunity is designing national policies conducive to developing renewable sources of electricity. It is possible that the policies designed by these electrification newcomers could well serve as a template to those slower off the mark. The need for us to learn from each other at this juncture is very great.
The need for haste is similarly great. Production of renewable energy will have to increase by as much as 20 times in order to avert climate catastrophe. The IPCC report predicts that renewables will play a greater role in reducing GHGE than either nuclear or carbon capture and storage by 2050. Surprisingly, 13% of the world’s electricity was derived from renewable energy in 2008. The flip side of this coin is that much of this alternative energy resulted from the burning of biomass. This leads to deforestation, and to the deposition of soot, which – particularly in the Arctic – drives climate change. It is hoped that wind power, a far cleaner option, will supply 20% of the world’s energy needs by 2050.
Solar power, the production of which entails using rare metals and a hyper-clean environment, is still looked to by the IPCC as a major future player. If a method of production could be developed that eliminates the need for either or both of these restrictive conditions, solar could well move to the forefront in meeting our future energy needs. While neither wind nor solar will remove conservation from the long list of new habits people will need to develop, they could lead us in the direction of living sustainable lives. That would be a change for the better, for the future.

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