Climate change is a complex multi-dimensional problem, however, there is a solution. If we understand what causes the problem the solution becomes obvious. Fossil fuels are responsible for deadly air pollution and climate change. As the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuels is at the core of the crisis. We know that we must radically reduce the amount of carbon we emit into the atmosphere but such reductions are impossible as long as we continue to burn fossil fuels.
We will never be able to stave off climate change until we deal with the fact that fossil fuels still power 80 percent of the world’s economy. We are facing a life and death struggle and yet we continue to extract more dirty energy than the climate can possibly bear.
Led by the fossil fuel industry 100 companies are responsible for 71 percent of global emissions. Despite their culpability, or perhaps because of it, people who are in the dirty energy industry are not receptive to science-based discussion. No one knows this better than Canadian climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University. She recently said, “the toughest groups I’ve spoken to have been the executive leadership board of an oil and gas company”.
As revealed by a summary of salient findings, carbon emissions from fossil fuels have created a climate emergency. The physics of climate change are incontrovertible and recent research convincingly demonstrates that ending fossil fuels is the solution.
According to a recent modeling study published in the journal Nature Communications* phasing out fossil fuels could keep temperatures within the upper threshold limit of 1.5 C. According to this study, there is a 64-66 percent chance of staying below 1.5C above pre-industrial levels if we immediately phased out of all fossil fuel infrastructure (ie replace fossil fuel power plants, factories, vehicles, ships, and planes with zero-carbon alternatives). However, the study warns that the longer we wait the harder it will be. If we wait until 2030 to start phasing out fossil fuels our chances of staying within the upper threshold limit would decline to 33 percent.
Another study published in Nature Geoscience corroborates the notion that we can curb climate change if we act now.
The fossil fuel industry realized the problem more than 40 years ago. American Petroleum Institute president Frank Ikard acknowledged this in 1964 when he conceded that the obvious solution would be to find alternatives to fossil fuels. Quoting from a report by Lyndon Johnson’s Science Advisory Committee, Ikard said, “… the pollution from internal combustion engines is so serious and is growing so fast, that an alternative nonpolluting means of powering automobiles, buses, and trucks is likely to become a national necessity.”
Failing to quickly transition away from fossil fuels will cost us dearly. Anyone who says we cannot afford it has not reviewed the math. The truth is we cannot afford not to.
*Current fossil fuel infrastructure does not yet commit us to 1.5 °C warming, Christopher J. Smith, Piers M. Forster, Myles Allen, Jan Fuglestvedt, Richard J. Millar, Joeri Rogelj & Kirsten Zickfel, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-07999-w
**Emission budgets and pathways consistent with limiting warming to 1.5 °C, Richard J. Millar, Jan S. Fuglestvedt, Pierre Friedlingstein, Joeri Rogelj, Michael J. Grubb, H. Damon Matthews, Ragnhild B. Skeie, Piers M. Forster, David J. Frame & Myles R. Allen, https://www.nature.com/articles/ngeo3031
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