It Is Time To Act On Global Warming

It seems like you can’t pick up a newspaper or magazine today without seeing more alarming news about global warming. Global warming isn’t just something that’s going to happen. It’s something that already is happening. While it’s too late to prevent all environmental damage, it’s not too late to avoid the worst consequences if we begin to act now. The question is, “What exactly can we do about it?"

We know that carbon dioxide emitted by the burning of fossil fuels is the main cause of global warming and that we need to drastically reduce those emissions. Of the technologies that can accomplish this, energy efficiency and renewable energy are the most benign and sustainable. They can also be implemented the fastest. But can they do the job?

To answer that question, a year-and-a-half ago the American Solar Energy Society recruited a team of volunteer energy experts. We did not give them any targets to aim for. We merely asked them to estimate how much their technologies could reduce carbon emissions by the year 2030 if they were deployed as part of a highly aggressive national effort to combat global warming.

The experts produced a series of nine papers. Three of them examined the potential carbon emissions reductions from energy efficiency opportunities in buildings, transportation, and industry. The other six covered renewable energy technologies: biofuels in the form of cellulosic ethanol to replace gasoline, and electric power production from wind, concentrating solar, roof-mounted photovoltaics, biomass, and geothermal.

The 200-page report released two days ago—Tackling Climate Change in the U.S—is the culmination of this effort. The results show that we have a variety of promising means available to battle global warming. They indicate that energy efficiency measures can prevent our carbon emissions from growing over the next 23 years, even as our economy grows. The six renewable technologies have the potential to make the kind of deep cuts needed in our carbon emissions. Of the total carbon reductions possible, 57% are due to energy efficiency and 43% are from renewables.

Because it is currently the least expensive carbon-free option, wind is the largest renewable contributor supplying a little over one-third of the renewable energy. The rest of the renewable energy reductions are spread about evenly among the other technologies. Taken together, these studies show that efficiency and renewables can provide most, if not all, of the carbon reductions scientists say will be needed.

The experts assumed that ongoing R&D will continue to reduce costs and that relatively modest policy measures will also continue, helping to make renewables cost-competitive with other carbon reduction options. The report shows not only how much each technology can provide, but also where it can provide it. U.S. maps show where the resources are as well as expected deployment locations. The report also gives cost ranges for each technology.

In his film, An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore states that when it comes to the issue of global warming, many people jump from denial right to despair. We hope this work will convince policymakers that although global warming is a challenging problem, we needn’t despair. The United States is blessed with an abundance of world-class renewable energy resources distributed throughout our country. When these are harnessed along with energy efficiency opportunities, we have the capability to tackle the global warming challenge head on. All we need is a national commitment to do it. And the courage to act now.

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