Could action on climate change do more harm than good?
A headline in a New York Times article blared a foreboding message, “Panel’s warning on climate risk – the worst is yet to come.”
The article by Times reporter Justin Gillis, was plenty scary. It discussed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report, which Gillis said, “concluded that ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.”
And that’s not all.
“The oceans are rising at a pace that threatens coastal communities and are becoming more acidic as they absorb some of the carbon dioxide given off by cars and power plants, which is killing some creatures or stunting their growth, the report found.”
The solution says the IPCC, is to stop what we’re doing and start doing something more environmentally friendly. They call it decarbonization.
There is one catch. What is this something else we’re going to do?
Wind power? Solar? Geothermal? Turn exercise bikes into electrical generators?
Not likely. According to an article in Forbes magazine, “between 2009 and 2013, federal revenues lost to wind power developers are estimated to have amounted to about $14 billion, including $6 billion from production tax credits and another $8 billion from an alternative energy subsidy provided in the Obama stimulus package. Wind and solar each receive more than 50 times more subsidy support per megawatt hour than conventional coal, and more than 20 times more in terms of average electricity generated by coal and natural gas. According to a 2008 Energy Information Agency report, the average 2007 subsidy per megawatt hour for wind and solar was about $24, compared with an average $1.65 for all others.”
Despite this, environmental groups and quite a few governments insist that we immediately chunk our current fossil fuel-based energy system for something better. With solar farms and big wind currently able to provide only a small percentage of our total energy needs, and many are not cost-effective either, it would be like jumping out of a perfectly good airplane with only a handkerchief for a parachute.
This dilemma is leading to a fresh look at climate change. It is a perspective born not of denial or alarmism, but of pragmatism and optimism. It is the belief that decarbonization should be the emphasis of future world energy systems. But in the absence of something already mature and proven to replace it on a global scale, it’s better to simply adapt to changes in climate in the short-term. As for long-term, well, we humans have proven many times that we are a resilient lot.