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Climate Change and the Need for Renewable Energy

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Climate Change and the Need for Renewable Energy

Climate change is an immediate and very real threat to our planet, and all life inhabiting it.  Just look around and you will see that climate change is no longer something that is going to happen, it is something that has already begun, with impacts rapidly intensifying.  As the overall temperature of the earth rises, so do the sea levels, as glaciers in the Arctic melt at an alarming rate - And while ice in the Arctic may seem far away to most of us, the domino effect that plays out can be seen right in your own backyard.

For coastal regions, climate change can be seen in the changing weather patterns, with increasing intensity, duration and frequency of hurricanes and weather events. For many parts of the globe, average temperatures have been rising to levels that are simply unlivable. In fact, 19 out of the 20 hottest years ever measured with instruments have occurred since 2001, and in Miami, Florida, the hottest week ever recorded was just this summer (June 29, 2020 – source: Washington Post). This heat does not only affect humans; it affects all walks of life and parts of our environment, including animals, crops and weather patterns.  From droughts and fires to flooding and extreme weather, the increase in global temperature directly correlates with the increase of catastrophic and life-threatening conditions.

Financial Impact

The impacts of such disastrous events are putting life and the economy at grave risk.  From a financial perspective, the last two years rank among the top 10 most expensive for overall disaster losses, with over USD $160 billion in losses in 2018 and $140 billion in 2019.  Additionally, the World Economic Forum has recognized climate change as the number one threat to the global economy.

Health Impact

From a health perspective, infectious diseases, heat stress, air pollution and waterborne diseases are all influenced by climate changes in a way that is unfortunately not in our favor.  In the 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change, Professor Hugh Montgomery (Co-Chair) stated, “Climate change is a medical emergency.”  This has already proven to be evident with tropical diseases such as Zika, as the virus incubates faster and mosquitos breed more and transmit longer in warmer temperatures.

Carbon Emissions

As a global community, we are putting 152 million tons of manmade global warming pollution into the atmosphere every single day (source: UN Environment Programme).  To get an idea of what that actually means, it was described best by James Hansen, Former Director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, when he noted that the energy that is trapped by man-made global warming pollution is now “equivalent to 500,000 first generation atomic bombs per day, 365 days per year.” While there are many sources of global warming pollution (agricultural practices, forest burning, transportation, etc.), the main source and cause of the rising global temperatures we are experiencing today is the burning of fossil fuels. 

So, with all of the grim news about the state of our planet, what can we do to make a difference?  The answer is simple – decrease carbon emissions.  One of the most effective ways to decrease carbon emissions is by adopting renewable energy.  Although more than 80 percent of the world’s energy is still provided by fossil fuels, recently there has been a shift and a good sign of improvement.  In the last few years, more countries have been committing to renewable energy.

Benefits of Solar Energy

Renewable energy provides promising solutions, and capacity for sustainable energy is growing as more people are realizing the potential for energy and financial savings.  When it comes to solar, the current capacity has far exceeded previous projections.  Eighteen years ago, the best projection was that one gigawatt of solar energy capacity per year would be installed by 2010.  By 2010, we exceeded that goal by 17 times, and in 2019, we exceeded the goal by 121 times (source: Fresh-energy; Bloomberg NEF).  The recent rise in solar capacity has correlated with the cost of solar dropping, continued government support and technological innovation.  In some regions, solar energy is less than half the cost of electricity from burning coal, and as of 2019, wind and solar are the cheapest sources of electricity generation for people across more than two-thirds of the world. (source: Bloomberg)  Additionally, in many countries where there’s no universal electricity grid, consumers and businesses are leaping directly to solar and installing panels in places that have long been denied access to electricity.

Countries that have successfully demonstrated how solar power can be harnessed effectively include Germany, Portugal and the UK.  Already in 2019, renewables provided more power in Germany than coal, and this year both Portugal and the UK have gone without coal-fired electricity for 59 days and 67 days respectively. (source: BBC).  Major players in greenhouse gas emissions are also getting on board with solar; China, the United States, and India are all taking the lead in installing large-scale solar.  By the end of 2019, at least 39 countries had 1 GW or more of solar capacity, up from 31 in 2018. Additionally, the market for off-grid solar systems grew 13 percent in 2019 – the highest growth of the past five years. (source: REN)

Solar is an extremely attractive option as the source for energy is abundant and limitless.  Every hour, the earth receives as much energy from the sun as we need to run the entire global economy for a year; it’s a mind-blowing concept when you really take a moment to think about the potential.  If we harness even a fraction of this energy, we can make tremendous progress towards solving the climate crisis and helping the global economy simultaneously.