Humans already have the tools to combat climate change but we lack leadership | New Zealand


When it comes to the political will and leadership wanted to drive the world in direction of a sustainable future, I’m a pessimist. Time and time once more, I’ve heard rhetoric from politicians specializing in short-term targets at the expense of planning for the future. In 2021, the mainstream media promote accountable journalism and take a tough line with climate deniers. Many journalists maintain governments to account over climate change targets. Nevertheless, onerous scientific knowledge is commonly nonetheless manipulated and cherrypicked by politicians. I’ve spoken to many and liken the expertise to strolling via treacle.

Does their bland decision-making have to do with the construction of democracy itself, with its brief electoral phrases and lack of incentives for incumbent politicians to make onerous and binding choices for the many years forward?

As I go searching and see New Zealand’s highways, jammed with large diesel vans and ever-increasing numbers of petrol-powered SUVs and automobiles, I really feel dread. It doesn’t have to be this manner. What’s it about residing on a finite planet that people both don’t or gained’t perceive, in any case the research and warnings present that persevering with on this manner leads to the inevitable collapse of the planet’s ecosystems?

While you have a look at the true price of the harm to the ambiance, politicians’ claims that motion on carbon discount is simply too costly grow to be weird. When we burn fossil fuels, we’ve by no means factored in the final price of the harm to the ambiance attributable to extra CO2. In lots of nations, when you pollute a waterway, you have to clear it up or pay a considerable payment for the harm – that price has to be factored in to the price of operating your small business. In the case of emitting CO2 into the ambiance, you are able to do that for little or no upfront and rapid price. Are we offended by individuals polluting waterways as a result of it’s actually in your face whereas CO2 is a clear gasoline?

For many of the previous few many years I have been disenchanted with the lack of motion on carbon emissions reductions by politicians. But on the different hand, I’m very optimistic when it comes to the extraordinary ingenuity of human beings. We already have the tools to combat climate change. The final twenty years have seen huge advances in renewable power electrical energy era to the level the place these sources are now cheaper than equivalent coal-burning power plants, even earlier than the price of injury to the ambiance is taken into consideration. The Worldwide Vitality Company (IEA) reported that, in 2019, nearly 30% of OECD electrical energy was met by renewable sources together with hydro, photo voltaic, wind, biomass and geothermal.

Essential to the pressing transition in direction of a low carbon future might be the abilities and expertise of engineers. Over the years I’ve spoken to many teams of engineers, together with oil and gasoline engineers, about climate change. You’d assume {that a} climate scientist speaking to a gasoline engineer would lead to an argument, but that has not been my expertise.

Those self same gasoline and different engineers who have been so maligned by the inexperienced motion have the very important abilities wanted in a brand new sustainable economic system.

Their abilities are transferable to an economic system making widescale use of “inexperienced hydrogen”, for instance. Inexperienced hydrogen, produced by electrolysis of water utilizing extra electrical energy derived from wind and different renewable power sources, is already being utilized in steelmaking, power storage and transport in Germany and numerous different nations.

Once I speak to individuals about this expertise and its potentialities, they’re astonished. They marvel why they have by no means heard of it. Hydrogen gasoline cell expertise has been round a very long time – I keep in mind first seeing it many years in the past. Why hasn’t it been used? A number of causes come to thoughts, together with conspiracy theories about the oil firms, but to me there’s a easy reply. It’s as a result of merchandise comprised of fossil fuels seem to be a lot cheaper than sustainable options; the true price of the climate emergency is rarely factored in when the merchandise are offered to clients.

So what’s the true price of the harm to the ambiance if you emit a few tonnes of CO2 into it, maybe throughout a longhaul flight between Auckland and London or by operating a diesel-powered SUV for a 12 months? There are a whole lot of completely different solutions to that query relying on whether or not you ask an economist, politician, engineer or a climate scientist.

In case you ask a chemist how, and the way a lot it could price, to take away a tonne of CO2 from the ambiance, they’d most likely throw up their fingers in horror, give you a determine of NZ$1,000 per tonne and a really complicated equipment. A climate scientist would reply to the query with one other, like, “How a lot do you assume the 2020 wildfires in Australia, California, Colorado, Siberia and the Arctic price?” And a New Zealand economist would quote the present carbon worth on the New Zealand emissions buying and selling scheme web site, which in early 2021 was about NZ$37 per tonne. To me that sounds ridiculously low-cost, measuring in crude financial phrases the price of the harm by carbon emissions into our solely ambiance.

We’ve been blinkered into considering that there aren’t any options to fossil fuels for operating an economic system and society. But engineers and economists can level to a number of options, and we want to undertake the ones that present a sustainable future on this decade. A brand new subject has emerged which has come to be generally known as “transition engineering”, the place engineering and scientific ideas are used to present techniques which don’t compromise the ecological, societal and financial techniques that future generations will depend upon.

The Alarmist: Fifty Years Measuring Climate Change by Dave Lowe {Photograph}: Provided

Engineering options might be particularly priceless in tackling the quickly rising emissions from transport. Worldwide, liquid fuels like petrol and diesel for automobiles and vans, jet gasoline for aviation and bunker fuels for transport accounted for greater than 20% of complete CO2 emissions in 2016. Rising at a sooner charge than another sector, transport poses a significant problem to lowering emissions in keeping with the Paris Settlement. To maintain international temperature rise inside a spread that averts the worst climate impacts, IPCC and different climate modelling present transport emissions must decline. Transitioning to zero-emission transport is essential. Options embrace clear fuels, improved car effectivity, modifications to how we transfer individuals and items, and constructing sustainable cities.

Electrification eliminates tailpipe emissions of CO2 and particles that harm our lungs. It harnesses the potential to decarbonise the energy grid.

There is no such thing as a doubt that lowering carbon emissions to avert disastrous impacts of climate change might be a huge enterprise. No single resolution to this drawback exists. It would require concerted effort from all components of society, above all governments, but additionally engineers, scientists, economists, academics and farmers. We are able to really feel optimistic of the quickly rising applied sciences accessible to assist scale back carbon emissions, amongst them hydrogen era and storage from surplus electrical energy, synthesis of sugars from CO2 and water, info and nanotechnology, bioengineering and academic science to title a couple of. The challenges forward are formidable but I really imagine that, given the will and with concerted motion, human beings are greater than able to constructing a sustainable future.

  • Dave Lowe is an atmospheric chemist and a lead writer of the 2007 Nobel Prize-winning IPCC Fourth Evaluation Report on climate change. This essay is an edited extract from his guide The Alarmist: Fifty Years Measuring Climate Change (VUP, NZ$40)

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