After decades of slow walking and fractious talking about the climate crisis, we see a notable consensus forming across society that climate change poses a real and significant risk. President Biden’s Climate Summit last week underscored both the need for a big and coordinated effort and the difficulties of doing so on a global scale.
It’s important to note that the business community and economists are pushing Biden to be aggressive – recognizing the potentially crushing economic losses ahead if we do not act quickly and forcefully enough. Republicans have rolled out their own climate platform, and legacy players from oil giant ExxonMobil [paywall] to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia are adding their voices to the concerned climate change chorus.
We applaud the movement, but also ask: What next? Recent news (highlighted below) gives us a hint to the answer as we race to develop new technologies and understand the changes we are triggering in the natural world.
Understanding “What next?” makes our mission – to build the consensus across party lines needed for bold action – all the more critical.
The C-Change Conversations Team
“We are at the point where climate change means systems change – and almost every system will change. That understanding is long overdue, but I don’t think we know exactly what it means yet. It’s a moment of maximum hope; it’s also a moment of high risk.”
Rachel Kyte, Dean
Fletcher School of Business at Tufts University
The first mass-produced car that runs on sunlight puts to bed any ideas that non-emitting cars need be dull and fusty: it seems solar batmobiles [paywall] may be the vehicle of the future.
And while watching cement dry may be no one’s idea of excitement, this turned our heads: a new recipe for low-carbon concrete that permanently absorbs and traps greenhouse gases. This is a “Eureka” moment, and something academics thought impossible. Nearly 9% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions come from concrete production already, and with the projected growth of megacities we will need a lot more concrete in the future. This breakthrough provides new hope.
News of Concern
If anybody still needs convincing that we may be losing our race against time, consider this: scientists believe climate change could literally be causing the earth to tilt on its axis. A new study concludes that glacial melt on a massive scale caused by global warming explains why the position of the poles has moved about four meters since the 1980s. Read the plain language summary here.
New research also shows that global warming is weakening planetary ocean currents that affect climate on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. The changes are expected to cause rising sea levels and change weather patterns across the globe.
Not surprisingly, such galactic shifts could have devastating economic consequences. Nearly three-quarters of economists agree that “immediate and drastic action” is needed to curb emissions. A 300-strong group of major corporate leaders urged Biden to “go big” on emission reductions. Adding to the chorus, a new report by insurance giant Swiss Re warns that $23 trillion could be lost from the global economy by 2050 and concludes starkly: “Climate change poses the biggest long-term risk to the global economy. No action is not an option.”
It is therefore deeply concerning to see that global demand for coal [paywall] – the dirtiest fossil fuel – is set to rise by 4.5% as the pandemic recedes. China saw a major increase in coal generation last year.
News of Hope
The growing consensus noted earlier has resulted in tectonic shifts in Washington and beyond. The new administration this month pledged to cut U.S. emissions by 50-52% by 2050 – and there are viable scenarios to achieve that target. A big part of the answer is embedded in the $2 trillion clean infrastructure plan [paywall] that the president’s team unveiled a few weeks earlier.
One incredibly promising sidebar for all this comes from the coal miners’ union. The United Mine Workers announced this month it will back the push to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources if their jobs can be guaranteed.
We continue to be encouraged by analyses that show that is possible – as well as by technological breakthroughs may help lead the way. The cost of solar energy, for example, has plummeted since the early 2000s. And the Department of Energy has announced targets to cut costs of utility-scale solar by more than half again by 2030.
And, after decades of unrealized promise: wave power may be on the horizon. The federal government recently approved the first full-scale, utility grid-connected wave energy test site in the U.S. We also note with pleasure a burgeoning ‘carbon market gold rush’ (or should we say ‘green rush?’) in America’s agriculture industry, as large firms sell “carbon credits” when farmers adopt practices that reduce emissions.
Here’s a good visual for understanding the growing consensus around climate change. While the U.S. is making progress on coming together around this issue, we are still an outlier to other countries.
Solar is the cheapest energy in history, and the Department of Energy aims to make it cheaper.