We learn about climate change so we can solve it.
Solutions to climate change must span across every part of the world.
Electric cars are not very widespread, mainly because of the lack of innovation incentives. Car companies make substantial profits with combustion vehicles, so they have no incentive to spend money on research and development programs for electric cars. That is a common issue with acting on climate change: corporations and officials think mostly about money and the short term instead of about the future climate.
Federal mandates for electric cars and company tax incentives can help force companies to innovate because they will not only jump at the chance to save tax dollars but will no longer be many reasons to not innovate.
Both commercial and residential buildings require a lot of electricity for lighting; 11% of total building energy. Commercial buildings, in particular, have to light large spaces and for long periods of time. The most common lightbulb—particularly prevalent in commercial buildings—is the standard incandescent bulb. These lightbulbs are inefficient; 99% of the electricity they use is wasted as heat energy. Owners are forced to use more electricity for lighting. However, compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are more efficient than incandescent lightbulbs. LEDs last 28.83 times longer than an incandescent bulb and require 85.83% less electricity. CFLs last 8.3 times longer than an incandescent bulb and require 76.6% less energy. These lightbulbs, therefore, use less electricity and are more efficient, cutting down on electricity requirements.
A carbon or emissions tax charges corporations for their emissions. It gives industries incentives to innovate their processes. Putting a tax on emissions also shows the world that the government is committed to fighting climate change. The private sector has notoriously under-invested in innovation, mainly because their established methods are churning in profit. A carbon tax forces companies to invest in this innovation. In other words, a carbon tax is a way to promote private sector innovation to combat climate change.
Emissions Efficiency: Process Emissions
Emissions efficiency is the act of reducing emissions intensity—the emissions that arise from the operations themselves. Process emissions are emissions that come from operations not necessarily involving energy usage, such as methane leaks.
Oil and gas mining operations are the United States' largest source of methane, which is the second-biggest driver of climate change. Methane can leak from pipelines or can be intentionally vented into the atmosphere to get rid of it. In 2016, to effectively monitor and prevent leakage, the Obama Administration published a set of rules for the EPA and for companies, collectively referred to as the methane rules. The methane rules required operators of mining projects to survey their equipment for leakage and then fix those leaks. It also required operators to capture methane that came from gas wells, as well as limit these emissions by using newly improved pneumatic pumps. The Trump Administration EPA worked to remove these regulations in 2019, so it is imperative to institute them again, as they are the first step to greater emissions efficiency.
Concentrated Solar Power
Concentrated solar power (CSP) is similar to solar PV energy except it uses the sun's heat rather than its light energy. CSP systems are made up of two parts: a reflector, a mirror, directs the sunlight to the receiver, which takes in the energy directed from the reflector and converts it into usable electricity.
CSP is a relatively new technology and therefore is not widely developed. However, there are four main types of CSP, the two most prominent being the parabolic trough system and the central receiver system. The parabolic trough system has u-shaped reflectors that move with the sun, allowing for maximum concentration all day. The central receiver system can concentrate the sun's energy up to 1,500 times more than its normal intensity. In this system, there is a field of reflectors that all concentrate energy onto a single tower receiver.
Hydroelectricity uses the flowing movement of a river to generate electricity by building a dam on the river. This dam has gates called "sluice gates" which can open and close on demand. When they are closed, the water builds up behind the dam. When they are open, the water falls through the dam at very high speeds, turning turbines at the bottom.
Hydroelectricity is one of the most prevalent forms of renewable energy today. Because there are so many rivers across the world, it has enormous potential. However, there are some negative effects of hydroelectricity that should be mentioned, including flooding caused by the dams and disruptions to fish and other river life.
Geothermal energy uses the earth's natural heat for electricity and home heating/cooling. Due to these two different uses, there are two types of geothermal energy: geothermal power plants and geothermal heat pumps.
Geothermal power plants use drilling to fracture rock and extract hot water and steam. These fluids then turn turbines to generate electricity. Geothermal heat pumps are more small-scale and simple. Fluid travels through a system of pumps extending a few hundred feet underground, where the temperature is constant year-round. During the summer, it cools the fluid, which is then used to cool the house, and during the winter, it warms the fluid to warm the house.
While geothermal energy is an enormous and untapped energy resource, it is a controversial energy source because it relies on fracturing rock, which can release greenhouse gas emissions, make the ground unstable, and contaminate water supplies.
Wind energy is one of the most promising forms of renewable energy. Although large and complex, they are prevalent across the world. In its most basic form, a wind turbine consists of three blades which, when propelled by the wind, rotate, powering a motor that generates electricity.
There is also another type of wind turbine, called a vertical axis wind turbine. These can turn when the wind is going in any direction and are position so that the blades are vertical rather than horizontal. It is still a scientific debate as to if these vertical turbines are more efficient than the traditional horizontal models.
Despite wind energy's many benefits, it also can have some negative environmental impacts that scientists are working on fixing, such as damage to habitats and bird migrations. In addition, because wind turbines take up so much land, it is difficult to find large swaths of land to put wind farms on.
Eat Local Foods
Big factory farmers like Monsanto are causing large-scale deforestation as they need large amounts of land to function. Small, local farms do not require this. Factory farms are also very energy-intensive, meaning that they require a lot of energy for their processes. Beyond carbon, factory farming is a huge producer of methane and nitrous oxide; methane from livestock, and nitrous oxide from fertilizers. A 2006 study estimates that livestock farming produced 37% and 65% of the world's methane and nitrous oxide emissions respectively. Organic, local farmers do not have these effects, or at least not as much. Not only is it good to support local businesses, but they are also imperative in the fight against climate change.
Water is a complex issue. Bottled water has taken over society and they have serious economic implications. Besides the ocean pollution and wildlife damage that plastic bottles do, the production of plastic water bottles produces greenhouse gas emissions. In the production of one 500-milliliter plastic water bottle (after the production of the plastic), 82.8 grams of carbon dioxide are produced. Water utilities also cause emissions themselves. The direct and indirect emissions involved in the U.S. water industry—including moving, treating and heating water—amount to at least 290 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to over 62 coal power plants. Climate change is also increasing the water industry's carbon footprint as freshwater becomes more scarce.
How You Can Help
Firstly, using reusable bottles is key to solving both climate change and other environmental issues. In addition, in order to cut down on the water industry's CO2 emissions, you should not waste water. This can be achieved by maximizing laundry and dishwasher loads, taking shorter showers, and turning off the water when brushing your teeth. Another important part of water management is reducing the amount of hot water you use because hot water has a greater carbon footprint.
Eat Less Meat
Livestock both directly and indirectly produce greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock represents 75% of a farm's energy use through feed and care, producing indirect greenhouse gas emissions. Farming also represents 37% of the world's methane emissions, according to a 2006 study, which comes mainly from livestock. Both of these effects can be reduced by eating less meat, which will lessen the amount of livestock in use.
Elevating Electrical Infrastructure
With hurricanes and other types of extreme weather worsening, they are more and more frequently hitting cities. Therefore, electrical infrastructure, which is expensive to repair and more expensive to replace, is being damaged and destroyed more and more. By elevating this electrical infrastructure, we can mostly keep it safe from hurricanes.
Lack of Charging Stations
Because electric cars are not very widespread, there are not many charging stations. Charging stations are controversial because in some places they do not cost money to charge. This is great for the owner of electric cars but expensive for car companies and possibly not sustainable for the development of electric cars. On the plus side, it provides an incentive for electric cars.
However, in order for electric cars to be deployed on a large scale, there need to be more charging stations because of their low range on a full battery. In addition, electric cars take a long time to charge, so some electric car companies are working on solutions that replace the batteries instead of charging them.
Eventually, charging stations will have to become pay stations. As annoying as that may seem, gasoline is very expensive now. In fact, it may also provide less of a reason for corporations to say no developing to electric cars.
Doesn't Eliminate Fossil Fuels
As great as electric cars are, they will not be zero-emissions until the electricity that they use comes from clean energy. While this is easily fixed, it is an example of how one solution will not solve the climate crisis: it has to be a combination of all the solutions.
Insulation is a simple concept yet incredibly important for energy efficiency. Insulating residential and commercial buildings allows for significantly less energy to be used. One area in particular where insulation is essential is in windows. To make windows more insulated and efficient, designers are attempting to lower the rate at which energy passes through the window. This rate directly translates into insulation and greater efficiency.
Because manufacturing and the industrial sectors in general use so much energy, simply making energy usage more efficient can go a long way. In manufacturing, energy efficiency is reducing the energy intensity, the total amount of energy used.
In particular, the glass industry is a prime example of where emissions can be cut using new technologies. Some of these technologies are surprisingly simple; using high-power microwaves for heating saves energy and can even be powered with clean electricity. Other technologies, such as oscillating combustion are more innovative. Oscillating combustion involves moving fuel rapidly back and forth in a particular manner to preserve the heat for longer, therefore requiring less fuel.
Emissions Efficiency: Output Emissions
Output emissions are the direct, on-site emissions that arise due to industrial processes, such as generators, equipment, and chemical reactions, among others. They are different from process emissions because output emissions come directly from the equipment, instead of leakages.
Steel and cement are the largest producers of output emissions. Steel production relies largely on coke, a type of coal that releases the most greenhouse gas emissions of any fossil fuel. As a result, steel production releases 7% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. To combat the steel emissions, some companies are looking to develop a hydrogen-based manufacturing system. This hydrogen system would allow for a no-carbon future for steel.
Cement also accounts for a large percentage of the world's emissions. The key component of cement, called clinker, releases greenhouse gas emissions during production. Unlike steel production, the technology already exists to halve the emissions from clinker. However, low innovation investments from powerful cement companies have prohibited the spread of these technologies. To reduce cement emissions, these companies must be willing to adopt new technologies.
Nuclear energy is a type of energy created by splitting apart uranium atoms. It does not produce greenhouse emissions; however, it is not technically renewable since we could use up all of the element uranium one day. Uranium must be mined and milled before being used to create nuclear energy. After that, it must be disposed of safely.
Nuclear energy is helpful because it can constantly produce energy, unlike other sources which rely on wind or solar conditions. Although it is not renewable, it doesn’t pollute, so it does not contribute to climate change. It currently makes up 19.7% of America’s energy, about the same as the total energy we get from renewable sources. However, we have to be conscious of safety when using nuclear energy, as the dangerous waste it produces can be harmful or even catastrophic if it leaks.
Tidal energy is a type of renewable energy where we harness the power of the tides to power turbines. There are three types of tidal energy: a tidal barrage, tidal turbines, and a tidal lagoon. Each of these methods are slightly different.
In the tidal barrage system, gates open and close to fill a tidal basin on high tide and empty the basin through a system of turbines when the tide goes back out. A tidal turbine system operates more simply, where the general movement of water simply turns the blades of turbines placed in the water. Finally, the tidal lagoon system is very similar to the tidal barrage system, except it uses a natural lagoon rather than a human-made basin.
Tidal energy is very promising because it has enormous potential for electrical generation while taking up much less room than other forms of renewable energy. The problem with tidal energy, however, is that it can be damaging to the surrounding environment, including emitting poisonous electronic waves in the water and altering water levels.
Solar PV Energy
This type of renewable energy uses solar panels to take the sun's light and transfer it to electricity. In solar energy, there is a solar panel made up a solar cells. Each of these solar cells is specially designed with silicon to let go of an electron (a very small particle which is the basis of electricity) when hit by the sun's energy. Then wires recieve the electron, converting it to renewable energy.
One of the biggest advantages of solar PV energy is that the prices are rapidly dropping at the same time that investment in them is dramatically increasing! This combination holds promising futures for the solar industry. However, solar panels require a lot of space, which can be troubling to find, and potentially damaging to local environments.
Divest from Fossil Fuels
The fossil fuel industry is one of the leading industries in the world. Fossil fuels corporations have powerful lobbyists that work to make sure that their views are heard. However, as with any public business, their funds rely on stockholder shares. Something that you can do personally is to divest your funds from fossil fuel companies. In February 2017, I, along with teachers from across New York City, urged the New York City Teacher's Pension Fund Board of Directors to divest their funds from fossil fuels, which they did in December 2017. This was a very important step, and it's important that you do it in your personal finances as well.
"Reduce, reuse, recycle" is one of the most common phrases that you will hear with sustainability because it is one of the most important solutions. Recycling is the process of reprocessing a material, primarily paper or plastic, so that new material does not have to be made. Recycling cuts down on the amount of new material needed. The drawback of recycled products is that they are most expensive because they have to be processed a second time.
Reducing the amount of material that you use is a harder but more effective way of cutting down on your carbon footprint. Simply put, if you reduce the number of goods that you purchase, then less will be manufactured. Reusing materials is basically the same thing; it is a method of reducing. If you reuse a product, then you don't have to go and by it again, thereby reducing your consumption.
Bike or Walk
Instead of driving, biking and walking are carbon-free ways to travel. Many people have the option to bike or walk to work or to school, but drive or take a taxi instead. This is a key way to cut down on transportation emissions, the leading sector in causing climate change. In fact, taxis and ride-hailing services have "deadheading" emissions, meaning that they produce 69% more emissions than normal driving. In short, it is important to save emissions and bike or walk when possible.
Trees act as a natural carbon sink, meaning that they take in some of the carbon dioxide emissions that humans emit, therefore mitigating climate change. Trees, according to a World Resources Institute report, can provide 23% of the climate mitigation necessary to meet the Paris Climate Agreement. However, trees and forests have been disappearing at an alarming rate due to deforestation. Deforestation is the process of destroying forests to make paper or to clear land, among other reasons. In the past 50 years, the Amazon has lost 17% of its forest.
There are three main actions that you can take to help stop deforestation: cut your paper usage, plant a tree, and support sustainable companies. First, cutting your paper usage is a simple way but clearly effective way to fight deforestation. If people like you across the world cut their paper usage in half, then logging companies would be forced to limit their operations and cut down fewer trees. In addition, planting trees is a great way to combat the harm deforestation has already done to the planet. While it is difficult to plant many trees on your own, you can also donate to organizations that plant millions or billions of trees a year. Finally, and most importantly, supporting sustainable companies takes money away from other companies that are supporting deforestation and other climate change-related activities.