The IPCC was formed in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program to evaluate the risk of climate change brought on by humans. The panel accepts research done by scientists from around the world. They are open to accepting scientific research from any scientist who will allow their research and findings to undergo peer review. For the most recent report hundreds of lead and supporting scientists from around the world submitted their work and were reviewed by over two thousand others within their fields. The results were collected and a final report was written. The information that made its way into the report had to be agreed to by all the 113 participating nations. One could say, therefore, that if the report erred, it did so on the side of caution.
We find ourselves in a period in history where we are being told that our activities are threatening our way of life. The predictions of the impacts of global warming, or “climate collapse” include the flooding of many of our coastal cities, where most of our population lives; the end of the ski industry; increased droughts peppered with more frequent storms of greater intensity; destruction of habitat for many species of wildlife; loss of many species; economic impacts from mass exodus of millions of individuals from lost cities; impacts on food production as local climates change causing losses of farm land in some areas and increase of the same in others.
To do nothing in the face of this situation is the most grievous offense imaginable against all life on Earth. And yet there are more demands to build coal-fired power plants, the largest source of carbon emissions, than ever before in our history. Some 55 new power plants are projected for completion in the U.S. by 2010 representing 80 thousand megawatts of capacity. Coincidentally, the federal government emission standards for power plants are scheduled to be strengthened this year, and any plants approved before that date will not be tested against those standards. The generators of electricity are telling us that the demand for electricity from their end-users (that means you and me) is ever- increasing. So, we, the consumers, continue to ask for more electricity, its generators are required to provide the electricity for which we ask. The cheapest, most reliable way to produce that energy is with fossil fuel (at least that is what we are told). All of this causes carbon to be emitted into the atmosphere at ever growing rates and, therefore, our climate slowly crumbles into collapse. Something has got to give.
The process of thermodynamic production of power using fossil fuels as the fuel source worked well for a very long time. When we began using this process (in the late 1890s) we had 1.5 billion people on the planet and the process worked well at that level of population. It worked well when we had 2 billion people (1930). It worked less well when we had 4 billion people (1975). And now that we have 6.5 billion people the benefits of this process fail to exceed its impacts.
We have always operated this electrical system of ours with coal or natural gas as the primary fuel source. Only recently have we allowed conservation measures and renewable energy to back-up these “base-load” resources. It is appropriate; indeed, it is necessary, now, to reverse the order of implementation of the components of our energy portfolio. It is time to have conservation be our most favored method of determining how large or small our energy demand will be. Next we should rely on renewable energy to the greatest degree it is available to us. And only then should we use our traditional energy sources to supply the remaining power we require.
This plan will reduce our carbon impacts, lengthen the life of our fossil fuel reserves, and stimulate our economy by invigorating the growing renewable energy industry. By following such an arrangement, utilities would be able to hold down the rates that they charge their customers by saving money in two ways. First, conservation is the cheapest way to meet demand. It is cheaper to conserve a megawatt of energy than it is to build a megawatt of energy. Every megawatt conserved would reduce the need for a megawatt to be built. Utilities around the country have proven this repeatedly. Second, the utility would not have to invest in the infrastructure to deliver the renewable energy that they would bring online. Private developers are prepared to deliver electricity at competitive prices from clean power plants. The developers would gladly build, operate and maintain these plants with no capital outlay from the utility.
Another method of conserving our use of energy and reducing carbon emissions is to invest in the research and implementation of energy efficiency measures. Several methods of energy conversion that have greater efficiencies than what is currently being used are waiting for development and testing. The implementation of these measures could be accelerated with increased investments from private, industrial, and government sources of funding.
And last, what part do each of us have in this matter? After all, we are the source of the increasing demand. One way to answer that question is to acknowledge that we hold the key to the only energy policy that will definitely work; the one that we create for ourselves and the one we make work by adhering to it willingly. The State of Colorado is implementing a standard that will require electric utilities in the state to supply up to 20 percent of their energy from renewable resources by the year 2015. A good start for each of us on a personal energy policy would be to commit to a similar standard of conservation for ourselves in our lives.
We can all take the time to educate ourselves on the pertinent topics of climate collapse and energy efficiency. If you attend a meeting or lecture on these subjects, you will become more conversant on their complexity. You will also be better-prepared to make personal decisions regarding how you wish to address the concerns that the majority of the scientific community holds on the impacts of global warming. You could then offer input to your local utility and elected officials on what action you would like them to follow. In doing so, you will become involved in an important process whose outcome will affect all life on Earth far into the future. As always, every challenge is full of opportunities for those who choose to act.