Climate change because of deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels is the existential crisis of our times. The amount of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere has gone from 280 parts per million to 410 parts per million since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and almost all of the buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere has taken place in the last 70 years.
Atmospheric scientists say the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is the same as in various periods in the distant past that were significantly warmer than today and had sea levels as much as 20 meters higher than we do today. We have not yet hit some of the higher temperatures because CO2 in the atmosphere has an additive effect. It bounces infrared radiation back to Earth and bounces some of the rebounding radiation as well, which builds up through time with a greater percentage bounced back to Earth as the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere increases. In other words, there is more heating of the planet baked in with the pollution we have already spewed, and we’ll feel it down the road.
Every time we add additional fossil fuel facilities — power plants and pipelines, mostly — the amount of fossil fuels burned increases, making it less likely that we can stop the warming trend before it sets off civilization-breaking catastrophes.
A recent study done by
Christopher J. Smith, Oiers M. Forster, Myles Allen, Jan Fuglesvedt, Richard J. Millar, Joeri Rogelj and Kirsten Zickfeld titled “Current fossil fuel infrastructure does not yet commit us to 1.5 degree celcius warming” made it rather clear that the best climate models we have say that if we stop building any new fossil fuel facilities and wind down current fossil fuel facilities as we create more and more clean power, we have a 2/3 chance of avoiding the worst effects of climate change. If we continue to build new facilities, however, we have no chance to avoid out-of-control rising temperatures and the catastrophes that brings.
So we have to do something meaningful right now if the planet is to stay livable, and the most meaningful thing we can do is stop all expansion of the fossil fuel industries, stop mining new coal seams, stop drilling new oil fields and stop building pipelines and power plants. New England, in addition to many other places, has more than enough capacity with current fuel sources, to maintain our lifestyles — heat our houses, get us around the neighborhood and power the electric grid. Not building new facilities will not change our current lifestyles; it would take years before we noticed, and by then all the wind farms and solar arrays, the insulating and electrifying of buildings and the expansion of the electric car markets will mean that we can make a pretty seamless transition to clean power.
Yes it will be expensive, but billion dollar power plants that overheat the planet are pretty expensive, too. And construction jobs in renewable power, insulation and efficiency will keep the bottom from falling out of the economy just as well as dirty power plants can.
Why would anyone insist that we build more useless junk that will become white elephants as our society burns down? We can stop climate change in its tracks if we stop building new fossil fuel facilities, and we can do it in ways that help our communities become more prosperous and just. It is time.