COP26 was not a moment of fist-in-the-air, nor was it the victory over climate change that humanity had been counting on. Unfortunately, politics and commerce put an extreme ambiguity into the procedures, which limited the possible actions. Commitments to “phasing down” coal, rather than a firm pledge to eliminate it completely, show how far we still have to go. But the event also helped highlight how much more needs to be done if humanity is to survive the next century.
One of the “victories” from this event was the belief that guaranteeing global warming at 1.5 degrees is still feasible. However, it should be noted that 1.5 degrees is not so much a target that must be met as an acceptance of impending disaster. In October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change explained that such an increase in temperatures would lead to a significant increase in the frequency of intense heat waves, monsoon-like rains, and widespread drought. Extreme weather events that may have occurred once every 50 years a few centuries ago can become a regular and fatal occurrence.
All the while, the facts of the matter haven’t changed: humanity needs to avoid adding new carbon emissions while also addressing the ones we’ve already released. This means a drastic reduction in all human-made carbon emissions everywhere on Earth, the overhaul of agriculture and the unprecedented introduction of carbon capture and storage technology. Ideally, that process should have started in the better part of what it was two decades ago.
There are many depressing facts about the world, but the hard truth is the fact that coal plants are Still Being lit in green. Global Energy Monitor data contains plants currently permitted or under construction in China, India, Indonesia, Turkey, Mongolia, Vietnam, Singapore, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Greece, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Poland, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Brazil and Mexico. as Reuters Each plant is expected to run for at least 40 years, he says, seriously damaging efforts to eliminate negative carbon. Not only is it in everyone’s interest not to get these plants online, but wealthier nations have a moral obligation to help provide funding to help at least some of these names move toward clean energy.
The problem is that electricity will be the most important resource of the 21st century, especially if we are to tackle climate change. Several major technologies, such as transportation, will phase out fossil fuels in favor of electricity as the primary fuel source. The world’s demand for energy will increase, and we will need to generate that energy in a clean way. The US Center for Climate and Energy Solutions believes that by 2050, the world’s energy needs will jump 24 percent. So where are we going to get all this clean energy?
Fusion has, for good, been taken as a magic bullet that will completely eliminate our fears about power generation. Unlike nuclear fission, it produces little waste, requires little raw fuel and cannot produce a fast reaction. Unfortunately, Fusion is still as elusive as the arms of Venus de Milo or a good new Duke Nukem Game. The internationally funded ITER experimental reactor made in France won’t be completed until 2025 at the earliest, and remains just a test station. If we succeed – and this is a big step – we are still a decade away from serious progress being made, at which point large-scale decarbonization will actually be necessary.
This means that any energy to decarbonize must come from the renewable technology available to us today. Nuclear, wind, solar, geothermal, and tidal power must be ramped up to bridge the gap, but the scale of the task in the United States alone is staggering. According to the EIA, the US produced less than 2,500 billion kWh using fossil fuels in 2020. If you wanted, for example, to replace all that with nuclear power, you would need to build anything in the area of 300 reactors, or increase the number of solar panels installed In the US it’s almost 100 percent – and that’s before we talk about intermittentness.
However, there is one thing we can do, and that is reduce our demand for energy to reduce the need for such a dramatic shift. This could be, for example, as easy as better insulating your home (in cold climates) or improving the efficiency of air conditioning systems (in warmer climates). Another smart move is to ditch the car in favor of public transportation, walk or ride your bike. There is evidence that e-bike adoption is becoming a huge problem, with Forbes Saying that sales are expected to grow from just under 4 million per year in 2020 to nearly 17 million by 2030.
However, none of this will be of much importance unless we also find a way to pay off the debts that humanity has accumulated over the past century. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change believes that we need to extract up to a trillion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the near future. This can be done with massive tree planting work, more of which needs to be done, but this process may also need a little help.
That’s why a number of start-ups are working on industrial processes to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. At the moment, such an operation is very expensive, but it is hoped that the cost will begin to decrease as the technology improves. There is also a concern, of course, that such ongoing programs will give polluting companies and countries a free license to avoid reform.
As much as we hope this technology matures quickly, the rate of progress needs to be a lot faster, uh, Much Faster. For example, Orca from Climeworks, its new carbon capture plant in Iceland, will extract 4,000 tons of CO2 per year. If we are to get to the point where we can avoid a climate catastrophe using extraction alone, we will need to increase this capacity by about a hundred million times.
The point of this, in general, is to determine how much more sharply our attitudes toward climate need to be changed. If we are to succeed in defeating climate change, we will need to move forward on the kind of foundations of war – where resources are devoted to anything but crisis resolution – that few can imagine doing. But, as most resources point out, the only way to stave off damage after dragging our feet for so long is to do our best in looking for a solution.
All products recommended by Engadget are handpicked by our editorial team, independently of the parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.