So many solutions to global warming have been proposed that we can’t see the forest for the trees. Confusion over how to approach the growing threat abounds in all quarters, from those of government policy makers to the scientific establishment to the thousands of environmentalists confronting the problem.
This is to be expected, because the scope and complexity of the challenge is unprecedented. Left unabated, global warming — which is ubiquitous and without borders — threatens to disrupt the global economy and even the stability of the ecosphere (see “Relevant Reading,” below).
It’s no wonder then, that there is confusion about the appropriate responses to the developing crisis. Global warming will affect everyone; therefore almost everyone has an idea about what should be done.
But few coherent, systemic solutions have been proposed. Instead, there is a hodgepodge of disconnected ideas, often half-formulated, often contradicting each other, either because of a lack of understanding of the dimensions of the problem or the failure to take an overview of its myriad aspects. Or, because of conflicting agendas between, say, developed and developing nations or vested interests and the public good.
The numerous partial global warming solutions include proposals for abandoning fossil fuels and adopting new energy sources ranging from solar, wind, geothermal and wave energy to nuclear energy; assorted plans for limiting greenhouse gas emissions including taxing “carbon” and burning “clean coal”; dubious schemes for atmospheric geoengineering; manufacturing more electric cars; increasing rail service; deploying artificial trees; burying biochar; and on and on.
Given enough time, humanity might have the luxury of allowing these proposals to develop, compete, evolve and coalesce into (pardon the phrase) a new world order that addresses global warming and its underlying socioeconomic causes in a pervasive, beneficial fashion. But we don’t have the luxury of allowing such “creative destruction” to act out for the century or more that would be needed to yield tangible results.
A Comprehensive Global Warming Solution
We need to formulate a comprehensive global warming solution now that will address the problem within the next 20 years, while we still have a chance of curbing its worst effects or, ideally, reversing warming to some extent. We should start by laying out the parameters for a realistic plan that could ultimately meet with success.
The objective is straightforward enough: to reduce the causes and curb the effects of global warming by means that can be implemented with affordable, existing, appropriate technology; are scalable and therefore “democratic”; can work with or without government support; are environmentally nurturing and regenerative; and will advance a relatively smooth transition to sustainable economic and cultural institutions worldwide.
That’s a mouthful, but it’s not necessarily an impossibly tall order. If you look at some of the key concepts — affordable, appropriate, scalable, regenerative, smooth — you’ll see that it’s a minimalist approach to the problem, seeking to do the most with the least.
For example, Ecotecture’s three part proposal for curbing global warming, to be elaborated upon in subsequent articles, involves: 1) energy conservation, 2) biostorage of greenhouse gases (growing trees and conserving forests, revitalizing prairies, transforming agriculture and cultivating algae for fuel and sequestration) and, 3) adopting regionally appropriate, minimal-investment energy technologies to displace our current unsustainable energy regime.
Note that there is no call for “developing new energy sources to meet our growing needs” in developed countries. That’s because numerous studies have shown that energy conservation and efficiency measures can reduce U.S. energy consumption by 20 percent or more, without even counting the transportation sector. The reductions can save us over a trillion dollars, generate hundreds of thousands of jobs and obviate the need for new energy development in the near future. Since it takes energy to get energy, we need to conserve the energy we have as our first priority, while simultaneously converting to renewable energy sources.
The “scalable and therefore ‘democratic’” parameter means that the measures can be undertaken by individuals or communities or scaled upward to national or multi-national efforts. A homeowner can choose to insulate her house, a state can mandate stringent “green” building codes; the world’s nations can agree to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Working with or without government means that individuals, NGOs or companies can initiate projects — massive tree plantings, for example — when government help is restricted by funding or the inability to formulate policy.
Everyone can join the fight against global warming.
A modified version of this article was originally written as syndicated newspaper column, published in various locations around the U.S. in February, 2012.
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Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast, David Archer
(Note, David Archer, the teacher of a popular course on global warming for non-scientists at the University of Chicago, now offers a version, “Open Climate 101” — online and for free. If you complete the online course, he’ll send you a signed certificate. Read a good review of Online 101 on the NY Times Dot Earth environmental blog.)
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