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It's All Come Down to This


February 4, 2013 - It's great to be back. There's a lot going on: lots of good science finally coming to fruition ,a president who knows what needs to be done who, now that he's been re-elected; will finally do what needs to be done; most of the continent of Australia either on fire or flooding; much of eastern China - including Beijing - more and more frequently swathed in enough pollution to shorten lives significantly. A mixed bag, that's for sure.

It does seem as though there's a distinct possibility the United States may finally begin taking its environmental responsibilities seriously. Too little, too late? Only time will tell. But the nice people at Bloomberg New Energy Finance tell us that CO2 emissions have fallen by 13% in the past five years here in the U.S., putting them at their lowest levels since 1994. This has been accomplished through the application of energy-saving technologies, and a doubling in the use of renewable energy. According to Lisa Jacobson, of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, none of this has caused economic slowing. In fact, emissions declined even as GDP increased, putting the lie to conservative arguments to the contrary.

Meanwhile, coal has fallen to 18.1% of America's total energy output, down from 22.5% in 2007. Oil burning has also declined. Natural gas, because of fracking, has increased to 31% of total energy output. This fact, viewed optimistically by some, quite negatively by others, is unlikely to hold sway for all that long. Fracked wells play out very quickly, producing a need for more and more fracking. Because methane is released both at the point of origin and during burning at the power plant, the advantage of natural gas with regard to greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) may be small, indeed.

The expansion of wind, solar, hydro and geothermal sources of energy makes them the fastest growing of any source in the United States. Even better, total energy consumption has fallen by 6.4% since 2007 in the U.S. Most of this is due to more efficient heating and cooling systems in commercial buildings. Not to be overlooked, half a million hybrid and plug-in vehicles were purchased in the U.S. last year. Finally: the signs, it would seem, are all pointing in the right direction.

The timing couldn't be better, particularly in light of the findings at the University of Reading's (U.K.) Walker Institute.

Their research indicates that rigorously limiting GHGE could save tens of millions of people from suffering and an early demise. If emissions were to peak no later than 2016,and decline at 5% a year after that, much of the expected drought and flooding could be curtailed, resulting in 20 - 65% of climate change's damaging effects being avoided between now and the year 2100. Indeed, the Institute's studies reveal that 200 million people - or more - would benefit by addressing GHGE with great urgency.

Of the impacts of climate change studied, stable crop productivity, a reduction in flooding, and sufficient energy for cooling are the likeliest benefits of a dramatic reduction in emissions. We at last know the quantifiable results of limiting the global temperature increase to 2 degrees centigrade. The vital importance of adhering to and continuing with UN climate negotiations, and the immediate beneficial effects of doing so, have never been clearer. That means the choice has never been clearer, the need for action never more immediate. Now we know.

With thanks to Climate Progress, theaustralian.com, and The Guardian (UK).

 

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