Resolving the climate crisis is a challenge — but not for lack of solutions. What’s needed is political will and public support.
Considerable research shows existing methods and technologies could quickly shift the world away from fossil fuels — even without accounting for rapidly advancing renewable energy and storage technologies.
As Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson told the Guardian, “We have wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, electric cars. We have batteries, heat pumps, energy efficiency. We have 95% of the technologies right now that we need to solve the problem,” adding that the remaining five per cent “is for long-distance aircraft and ships…for which hydrogen-powered fuel cells can be developed.”
In his forthcoming book No Miracles Needed, Jacobson lists other benefits, including reducing pollution and related health care costs and deaths, lowering energy prices and improving energy efficiency (much of the energy from fossil fuels is lost as heat).
David Suzuki Foundation research shows that by prioritizing wind, solar, energy storage, energy efficiency and interprovincial transmission, Canada could reach zero-emissions electricity by 2035 “without relying on expensive and sometimes unproven and dangerous technologies like nuclear or fossil gas with carbon capture and storage.”
Although Jacobson sees a possible role for “direct air capture” technologies that remove CO2 from the air, he’s skeptical about carbon capture and storage, new nuclear, biofuels and blue hydrogen (which requires fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage to produce).
“Carbon capture and storage is solely designed to keep the fossil fuel industry in business,” Jacobson told the Guardian. As many, including me, have pointed out, nuclear is expensive and takes a long time to build, while renewable energy is readily available at far lower costs. Biofuels still pollute and often require lots of land.
As for the oft-repeated claim that mining for renewable energy materials is too destructive, Jacobson says the mining required for wind and solar is about one per cent of that required for the fossil fuel system in terms of the mass of materials. (That doesn’t mean we should dismiss mining-related issues.)
Not everyone shares Jacobson’s optimism, but he makes compelling arguments and backs them with substantial research. Why wouldn’t we employ all available solutions, when failing to do so will lead to catastrophe?
Much of the pushback is from oil, gas and coal interests and the short-sighted politicians, “dark money” groups and media that support them — as has been the case for the many decades we’ve known burning fossil fuels and destroying natural systems that store carbon are causing the world to heat to levels inhospitable to humans and many other beings.
Plenty of industry propaganda is misleading and disingenuous, and counts on widespread lack of awareness among the public, especially older people who tend to vote more often. For example, arguments that Canada’s oilsands industry is cleaning up its act and reducing emissions fail to mention this only refers to operations emissions and not the far more serious problems caused by burning the fuels in countries we export to.
Although the fossil fuel industry is responsible for significant misinformation, promoters of other large-scale power sources are also digging in, as it’s easier under current economic systems to profit from these often-monopolized sources.
As one small example, a racketeering trial just got underway in Ohio against top Republican lawmakers accused of taking $60 million in bribes — mostly funnelled through a secretive, tax-exempt dark money group called Generation Now — to bail out ailing nuclear power plants by adding a surcharge to customers’ energy bills.
A Guardian article notes the case follows similar scandals in Arizona, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida. Money was also channelled through Generation Now to subsidize ailing coal plants by raising prices. Along with lobbying to increase solar costs, these moves increase prices for customers and slow or prevent cleaner energy from coming online.
Governments worldwide are finally realizing we don’t have time to waste in shifting to cleaner energy and that doing so comes with many benefits beyond those for climate — especially if they ensure affected workers and marginalized people and communities are looked after in the transition.
Politicians are accountable to the people they serve, not to wealthy corporate interests, so it’s important for all of us to demand action, through petitions, letters, calls, demonstrations and voting. People have the power!
David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Writer and Editor Ian Hanington.
Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.