As we continue to see unprecedented storms, fires, heat waves, and other natural disasters, it’s easy to just resign and think that climate change is inevitable and nothing we do can change these devastating outcomes. This year alone we’ve seen historic flooding in places like Pakistan, record-breaking heat waves and drought across China, the US, and western Europe this year that have dried rivers, fueled wildfires, harmed food and energy production and destructive hurricanes in the tropics.
Carbon Emissions are at an All Time Low
People are feeling the traumatic impacts of climate change now and that should be recognized, grieved, and addressed. However, behind the urgent headlines and news stories on natural disasters, something else is happening. Carbon dioxide emissions in the United States are still 5 percent lower than pre-pandemic levels (in 2019) and 19 percent lower than the 2007 historical peak. That means we’re at the lowest we have been since the 1960’s, which is monumental.
This is in large part due to the continued reduction in coal production since 2005. When it comes to energy sources, coal is the biggest producer of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and the U.S. is responsible for 28 percent of global carbon emissions. Of the remaining operating coal-fired power plants, at least 28 percent plan to retire by 2035. And power companies have installed new wind turbines and solar panels at a record pace over the past two years.
Renewables are now the Cheapest form of Energy
Renewable energy is also becoming so much cheaper than fossil fuels. In just 10 years the cost of solar energy has decreased by about 90 percent, making it the cheapest form of energy to produce in history. Investments by the government and industry into clean energy have grown by 12 percent each year since 2020, and this is in large part due to the push by people, communities and other groups, for sustainability. New renewable energy power grids and storage account for more than 80 percent of the total power sector investments. Researchers estimate that spending on solar, batteries and electric vehicles is now growing at a rate consistent with reaching global net zero emissions by 2050. Most of the world lives in places where renewable energy sources are cheaper than dirty energy. The more the U.S. and other wealthier countries invest in renewables the more affordable these technologies will be making them easier to be adopted worldwide to meet increasing energy demands.
We are Heading in the Right Direction
All of this is a great starting point. As a country and a planet, we are heading slowly in the right direction, but we must move more swiftly. At the same time, we must also remember to celebrate our wins so that we can continue to press forward. Slightly over half of all cumulative global CO2 emissions in human history have occurred since 1990, the year of the first IPCC Assessment Report. This is such a short period of time and reminds us that we can also reverse it in a short period of time. This is not an excuse to backslide but rather an activation.
To mitigate climate change impacts and reduce overall emissions it will require action at all levels. The Federal government has recently passed major climate change legislation such as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and others with the potential cut emissions by 50 percent this decade and sets the stage to make larger cuts within reach. States and local governments must take advantage of these opportunities as well. However, people and local communities are what push the envelope and where the real change starts. Coal production in this country decreased due to the increasing demand for cleaner air, waters, and environments to live within by people rallying together for change. Renewable energy is cheaper because citizens have pushed congress to fund more research into them.
Everyone can be a fighter against climate change, we just have to take a stand. We all have very specific and important roles to play, whether it’s with protests in the streets, political action such as voting or speaking with your representative, or even advocating for your school or job to implement more sustainable practices. Project Drawdown released a report on the role of all types of jobs in fighting climate change and actions you can take. Every job is a climate job, it’s all hands on deck from here on out. We must all work together to think globally and act locally to create the future we know is possible.