Cutting greenhouse gas emissions to keep the world from heating to catastrophic levels is entirely possible and would save money. Although emissions continue to rise, there’s still time to reverse course. Ways to slash them by more than half over the next seven years are readily available and cost-effective – and necessary to keep the global average temperature from rising more than 1.5 C.
The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report includes a chart that shows how. Compiled by the world’s top scientists using the most up-to-date research, it illustrates potential emissions reductions and costs of various methods.
At the top are wind and solar power, followed by energy efficiency, stopping deforestation and reducing methane emissions. Nuclear energy, carbon capture and storage and biofuels bring much poorer results for a lot more money.
Wind and solar together can cut eight billion tons of emissions annually – “equivalent to the combined emissions of the US and European Union today” and “at lower cost than just continuing with today’s electricity systems,” the Guardian reports.
Nuclear power and carbon capture and storage each deliver only 10 percent of the results of wind and solar at far higher costs. It’s telling that those less effective, more expensive pathways are the ones touted most often by government, industry and media people who are determined to keep fossil fuels burning or are resistant to power sources that offer greater energy independence.
Making buildings, industry, lighting and appliances more energy efficient could cut 4.5 billion tons of emissions a year by 2030 – and there’s no doubt that simply reducing energy consumption could add to that.
Because forests, wetlands and other green spaces sequester carbon, stopping deforestation could cut four billion tons a year by 2030, almost “double the fossil fuel emissions from the whole of Africa and South America today,” the Guardian reports.
Cutting methane emissions, especially those that leak from fossil fuel operations, could cut three billion tons. This is especially important because methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over the short term. It also shows that fracking for fossil gas and production of so-called “liquefied natural gas” are not viable solutions.
Other ways to lower emissions include switching to sustainable diets, such as eating less meat (1.7 billion tons), shifting toward public transit and active transportation (which has more potential than electric cars) and better agricultural methods.
We’re constantly told that quickly transitioning from coal, oil and gas is not realistic and that renewables aren’t ready to replace them, and that we need expensive, often unproven or dangerous methods like nuclear and carbon capture and storage. But those claims ignore the rapid pace at which renewable energy and storage technologies have been advancing – and dropping in price.
Excerpted: ‘There’s Still Time to Avoid