The Urgency of Climate Change and How to Address It With Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency

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There is overwhelming evidence that human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels, are causing a rapid change in the Earth's climate. The evidence comes in three forms: studies of the paleoclimate data, much-improved computer models, and the latest field observations. The carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere is now at 387 parts per million--much higher than it has been in the last 800,000 years--and rising at a rate of 2 ppm per year. It has been projected that the accelerating ice loss now being observed will lead to a rise in sea level by 2100 of 1 meter or more. Regional climate models indicate widespread human hardship and exorbitant economic costs. In the face of climate change politicization and widespread misinformation, society must find the will to quickly address this mounting environmental and economic crisis. Climate change is primarily an energy problem and there are many potential energy solutions. In January 2007 the American Solar Energy Society released a 200-page report (posted on the web site) evaluating the U.S. potential for energy efficiency and a range of renewable energy technologies that are available for immediate deployment. The results showed that efficiency measures can level out U.S. CO2 emissions, while a range of renewable energy technologies can put us on the path for CO2 reductions by mid-century of between 60 and 80% below 2006 levels. A recent study of the Earth's climate history has upped the stakes by concluding that the atmospheric CO2 must be brought back to less than 350 ppm to reverse loss of the ice sheets. This means even more rapid reductions are needed. Because of the enormous current and potential future carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants, reducing these emissions is an important element of a climate change mitigation strategy. A workshop was held on November 3, 2009 to review all the technologies that can potentially reduce coal emissions. These included efficiency, renewables, carbon capture and storage, and nuclear power. A paper describing the pros and cons of these technologies is posted on the web site.