Thoughts on Creating a Viable Clean Energy Strategy for a Sustainable Future
We recently hosted a fascinating interview with leading climate scientist Dr. Heidi Cullen. As Chief Climatologist for Climate Central and former Climate Expert at The Weather Channel, Cullen has firsthand insight into the changes that are taking place in our environment and how those changes will affect our lives.
During the interview, Green Builder Coalition executive director Mike Collignon had a frank discussion with Cullen about climate change. In no uncertain terms, Cullen articulated that the evidence is clear: climate change is real; it’s caused primarily by human activity (she admits that part of the planet’s warming is natural, but it has been expedited and exacerbated by us); it’s a serious threat; and, fortunately, we have time to fix it.
Many Americans still think that climate change is an issue that affects faraway people in distant lands in uncertain timeframes. However, according to Cullen, public sentiment is changing and there is a growing level of concern about the topic, as evidenced by the 6 Americans Survey conducted recently by Yale and George Mason universities, which studied Americans’ perspectives on climate change. The survey uncovered that 16% of respondents reported that they are alarmed about climate change, 29% are concerned, 25% are cautious, and only 8% are dismissive.
Cullen says that this growing concern can’t come fast enough, since the longer we wait to deal with climate change, the tougher it is to fix. As it is, scientists are simply unable to predict future climate conditions, as those conditions will be determined by carbon emission levels, which are a direct function of the choices that our global society makes today.
According to Cullen, there are enough fossil fuels to serve our energy needs for the foreseeable future, but by using that traditional source of energy, we inevitably lock ourselves into the risks and disturbances that accompany a warmer planet.
According to Cullen, unless we make a dramatic mid-course correction, we’ll be facing a radically different climate by the end of the century. That transformed climate will undoubtedly bring recurring and extended periods of extreme heat, increased heavy precipitation events, exacerbated drought, increased flooding, decreased soil productivity and crop yield, habitat and biodiversity loss, and infrastructure problems (such as sewage overflows.)
This bleak image of the future begs the question: will we need to actually experience such global environmental degradation in order to believe in its viability? Or will we have the foresight and wisdom to make decisions now that will protect us from dystopia?
Clearly, creating clean energy strategies is not a single nation issue—it’s a global one—but it’s of paramount importance that every country moves closer towards sustainable solutions. In the US, the wind belt from Texas to the Dakotas and solar belt in the Southwest have enough power potential to satisfy our country’s energy needs. If Germany, which has less sun than Seattle, can become the largest solar market in world, why can’t the US, with all its entrepreneurship and natural resources, create a viable strategy for a clean, sustainable future?
Cullen asserts that most expedient way for the US and countries around the globe to fight climate change is to increase energy efficiency in the built environment. She also advocates for creating stronger standards for existing power plants, eliminating hydrofluorocarbons in refrigerators and HVAC systems, and limiting methane emissions from the natural gas supply.
It’s time for the climate change discussion to evolve from verification to adaptation. We need to begin asking ourselves how we can viably manage long-term risks, how we can make optimized decisions about where we should build (and rebuild), and how we can develop appropriate adaptation strategies.
After all, as Professor Sherwood Rowland at UC Irvine says, “what’s the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions, if in the end, all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?”
For more information about US based climate science and impacts, check out the Federal Advisory Committee’s National Climate Assessment (currently available in draft form).
Sara is the Co-Founder and CEO of Green Builder Media. An experienced entrepreneur, investor, and sustainability consultant, Sara specializes in developing companies that are simultaneously sustainable and profitable. Sara is a former venture capitalist and has participated in a portion of the life cycle (from funding to exit) of over 20 companies. Sara graduated Cum Laude from Dartmouth College and holds an MBA in entrepreneurship and finance from the University of Colorado. This article was reprinted with permission from Green Builder Media.
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