The Paris Climate Change Agreement is the first step on a long journey to wean humanity off a carbon energy diet. A journey unlike any before. One that demands we live simpler, consume less, and consider every action’s impact on personal carbon footprints. Solar energy, wind turbines, distributed energy, demand response, LED lights, geothermal heating, fuel cells, and electric cars will make up the new energy menus, and conservation, sustainable living, urbanization, reforestation, and habitat restoration will be the necessary societal changes. This will be an exciting and challenging opportunity for our global community.
There was a time when the suite of fossil fuels, particularly coal, were iconic in transforming lives and lifestyles for the better. An era when coal smelters powered industry, oil energized transportation, cheap fertilizers fed the globe, and natural gas warmed homes and buildings. Fossil fuels were seen as keys to a better life. A life of efficiencies that removed the burdens of basic chores and elevated possibilities for where and how we lived, commuted, and subsisted. But alas, the realities of climate change have redefined everything, particularly the image of fossil fuels.
Climate change and the demise of fossil fuels should not be surprising. We’ve known about carbon dioxide’s unique properties and risks for over 100 years. John Tyndall in 1859 was the first to discover the heat-trapping capacities of carbon dioxide, and research over the following 156 years has led to this unprecedented Paris Climate Agreement. Milestones to Paris included the 1979 US National Academy of Sciences suggestion that a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels would add 1.5-4.5C warming, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) first report in 1990, stating the world is warming and will continue to do so with increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases. In 2013, the IPCC’s fifth report stated, “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased” p.4
So here we are with the warmest year ever on record coming to a close, and 2016 projected to be warmer yet. Paris is a first step on a very long journey to a carbon free diet. What’s needed now is leadership and action. We can not afford to be tripped up by climate denying politicians, misinforming fossil fuel companies, or ignorance. The stakes are too high, and we have no other choice. Planet Earth is ill, and we know the causes and solutions. Let’s do this.
IPCC, 2013: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.