“It is our best understanding that, if we bring carbon dioxide [emissions] down to net zero, the warming will level off. The climate will stabilize within a decade or two. There will be very little to no additional warming. Or best estimate is zero [additional warming].”
Dr. Joeri Rogelj of the Grantham Institute in London, and a lead author of the Sixth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made this historic statement in December 2020. It represents a remarkable change in scientific consensus, which for decades has been telling us that even if we stop our carbon emissions, the momentum of warming would continue for centuries.
THAT WAS WRONG!
The climate science is now very clear: catastrophic global warming will quickly recede immediately after we achieve zero carbon emissions.
And that is the global goal: cut emissions in half by 2030, then in half again by 2040, and achieve zero by 2050. At the latest.
Not doing so is not an option. Changes in atmospheric temperature, ocean currents, and melting polar ice caps are already causing loss of life, hardship and immense adaptation expense, but worse, could trigger a series of irreversible tipping points causing a runaway, escalating climate crisis resulting in true global catastrophe. It is not possible to over state the importance of this. The continued melting of the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica alone would cause a three-foot rise in sea levels.
If we do not take focused and concerted action on a global scale (and in our own lifestyles), all of this will happen. It has already begun.
The global amount of carbon emitting fossil fuels consumed is astonishing. Every day, the world burns 100 million barrels of oil, 47 billion pounds of coal, and 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas. Together they emit 34 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year.
As famous climate journalist Bill McKibben has put it, “The first principle of fighting the climate crisis was simple: stop lighting coal, oil, gas, and trees on fire, as soon as possible." Today, I offer a second ground rule, corollary to the first: definitely don’t build anything new that connects to a flame.
The studies are done. Electrifying everything in the United States with renewables will result in a 60% reduction in overall energy consumption. Why? The energy needed for exploration, mining, drilling, extracting, pumping, refining and transportation of carbon fuels are eliminated with renewables, not to mention the hidden costs of environmental cleanup, pollution and health.
Renewables like solar and wind are just more efficient, explaining why their costs continue to fall, and their widespread adoption continues to rise, the only energy sources doing so.
Electrifying cars, trucks and trains saves even more energy. With an internal combustion engine, 80% of the energy in the fuel goes to wasted heat and internal friction, so that only 20% of the energy reaches the wheels. In an electric car, 90% of the energy goes directly to the wheels.
But if we continue to be wasteful and absurdly consumptive like we are today, the switch to electricity supplied by renewables can be overwhelmed by increased mindless consumption. Driving a 2,000-kilogram EV 20 kilometres to pick up a pizza for supper is clearly a waste of energy, even if it’s solar energy.
BETTER THAN BEFORE
We have everything we need to do this right now and to do it right. We do not need carbon sequestration. We do not need tiny nuclear reactors. We can still have our cars and lawn mowers, but they must be electric. All energy from the grid must be renewable. Cost for energy, and therefore all goods, will come down. Skies will clear. Cities will be quieter, health care costs will decline, and homes will be more comfortable in both summer and winter. Life will go on, but better than before.
And the estimated 20 million jobs created in the first decade of this transformation will give millions of families permanent income from new jobs in the clean energy economy.
Eliminate carbon emissions by 2050, and climate change will pass into history, all in just one generation. Let that generation be us.
Don Pettit lives and writes in Dawson Creek, and is Executive Director of the Peace Energy Cooperative.