Sunday, April 27, 2014

Coping With Climate Change

Debating whether or not climate change is man made or not is a waste of time.  It wastes time because it doesn't solve the problem.  Either way, the global climate is changing and we are going to have to deal with it.  One way we are not going to deal with it is by radically changing our lifestyles.  For all the calls for renewables and energy conservation, the population of the world is simply not going to accept radically more expensive energy costs or living a greatly reduced quality of life.  People will not give up their cars in favor of public transportation.  They aren't going to be cold in the winter or hot in the summer.  They aren't going to give up their videogames, computers, and air conditioning.  No amount of guilt about future generations is going to change that.  For the Indians and the Chinese, cries from the West to reduce air pollution sounds as smug, paternalistic, and racist.  Why should the average Indian or Chinese person not get to enjoy the fruits of modern technology and comforts as those in Europe or the U.S.?  If renewables like wind, solar, and geothermal could meet our energy needs at the same cost as fossil fuels, we would all be using these technologies now and the matter would be moot.  The problem is cost.  Renewables are still not cost effective for most of the world.

The climate change deniers pose an untenable position as well.  They claim that global warming is a natural thing and that we should simply keep using fossil fuels as we need them.  The problem with this position is that it is unscientific and not based on facts.  The consensus amongst scientists is that climate change is real and that real consequences will follow if we fail to make changes regarding our energy usage.

My position is twofold.  First, solar power will meet 100% of our energy needs within the next 20 years.  Solar power technology is growing exponentially.  Within this time solar power will be much cheaper than fossil fuels.  A distributive energy grid based on everyone having their own solar panels will become commonplace.  We will have a smart energy grid that operates like the global web.  Energy production will become decentralized and locally grown. 

Until this time, however, we must deal with climate change and prepare for it.  Instead of yammering on about it being the end of the world or denying it altogether, we must realistically predict how much the climate is going to change between now and 20 years.  Once we can predict the scope of damage, we can plan ahead to adjust to this new reality.  This may mean relocating people on coastal cities.  It may mean preparing for shifts in agricultural production and new weather patterns.  Adapting to climate change within the next 20 years is the only adult response that will work.  Asking the Chinese to accept a lower standard of living is not going to work because they are not going to do it. 

Discouraging the use of energy also limits technological and human progress.  Google, Facebook, and the Internet in general require massive amounts of energy.  Computing and transportation require energy.  Living in caves is not going to be our salvation.  Improvements in solar technology will. 

Republicans who threw a hissy fit when Solyndra failed were being myopic.  Innovation and new businesses sometimes fail.  Risk is part of creating new things.  The Germans and the Chinese governments directly subsidize their solar power industries because they know that this is the future.  They know that these technologies will dominate.  The market has a hard time supporting these industries now.  But the future will be different.  It is like the Kodak company.  They invented the digital camera but instead of going with it, they buried it away because they were making absurd sums on their film sales.  Management failed to understand that the future was digital.  Now Kodak is bankrupt.  The United States must not make the same mistakes.

We must use creativity to solve the problem of climate change.  Innovation and new ideas will save us.  We were wrong predicting that overpopulation would cause mass starvation by now.  Norman Borlaug and his Green Revolution improved crop yields and saved us.  The same will happen with climate change, so long as we don't have Republicans throwing fits when the government chooses to help solar companies make some progress.