We must be realistic when drafting climate change plans

by Miles Streicek, Staff Writer

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Both our nation and the world have recently been rocked by large scale protests against perceived inaction on the subject of greenhouse gas emissions leading to climate change. 

This movement has largely been spearheaded by a 16-year-old girl from Sweden named Greta Thunberg. She recently spoke passionately about the existential threat to humanity at the United Nations Climate Change Conference. These demonstrations and Thunberg’s activism are certainly well intentioned and bringup genuine issues, without a doubt.

However, the issue with the current state of climate advocacy is that there is a lack of practical, serious or realistic plans that address the issue from multiple sides. At most, you will see many catchphrases on posters at protests and a lot of Democratic party activists talking about how we need new leadership in the White House. If you hear any actual proposals made, it will likely have to do with passing the “Green New Deal,” going vegan or stopping the use of fossil fuels virtually overnight. 

These are not serious ideas, these are ideas from people in a state of desperation thinking emotionally instead of logically. Even the United Nations Sustainable Development plan isn’t serious. This is people getting excited about the problem and not any real solution.

Here in the United States, what we can do as a nation is tackle the issue from three different angles, as opposed to one. The first being to continue the expansion and subsidization of American manufactured green energy technologies. This includes solar, wind and hydro, which make up 11%  percent of our current energy production in total, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency

One of the main limitations to solar energy in particular is that it only generates power during the day, so to solve this issue battery technology must advance through public and private sector collaboration. The goal should be to see a large increase in the portion of our energy produced from renewable methods year after year.

The second angle to take is the development of new technology. Some projects currently in the works include fusion energy and carbon removal. Fusion power is a form of nuclear power, but instead of splitting atoms apart, it puts two hydrogen atoms together to make one helium. This generates a virtually unfathomable amount of energy, is much safer than fission, does not create nuclear waste and is virtually unlimited as hydrogen is the most abundant substance in the universe. 

Aside from that, the technology already exists to pull carbon out of the air using fans and suspending it in liquid containing carbon capturing chemicals where it will then be used to create synthetic fuels. Right now, unfortunately, it is far too expensive for widespread commercial use at around $600 per ton of CO2. But in the future, if scientists say the price could drop below $100, which would make it cheap enough for widespread use. These two technologies alone could help to solve the climate issues once and for all if implemented.

The final angle is to decrease the emissions of our pollution-generating industries. The simple reality is, we do not have the ability to stop burning fossil fuel in the near future. 

Over 60% of our electricity is currently generated by coal, natural gas and oil. So unless you are okay with giving up electricity and modern society and going back to the stone age after a descent into chaos, shutting down coal plants and stopping the utilization of oil and natural gas isn’t a serious solution or idea. Yet there is an immense amount we can do, and are doing already, to reduce our carbon footprint in heavy industry and electricity. 

The most major part is the transfer from oil and coal towards natural gas, which, although still producing carbon dioxide, is far cleaner. For this reason, and largely this reason alone, our country has seen a decrease of 12% in total carbon emissions and nearly 20% on a per capita basis between 2005 and 2017, while China and India have doubled theirs in the same time frame. 

While coal is on the decline for energy use, it will not be fully eliminated because it is used in the manufacturing of solar panels and carbon sequestering concrete. It would make sense to implement “clean coal” technologies which reduce the total carbon footprint per unit of power generated by up to 70% as well as massive reductions in other pollutants. This is done through a large engine that compresses the CO2 once burnt from the coal into essentially more coal that is then burnt, thus generating more power for the same amount of coal while also sequestering carbon in a similar liquid used in carbon harnessing fans. 

These are our best ways of cutting emissions in the short term, while simultaneously working on longer term solutions. However, ironically, people protest against clean coal and natural gas technologies, ignorantly insisting they are part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

With a clear head, steadfast leadership, market incentives, cooperation between scientists, government and corporations, we can get past this issue.

Miles Streicek is a junior studying finance and is a member of College Republicans on campus.

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