Climate Change: Bad News and Good News

Marietta Times 10/14/2018 Viewpoint by George Banziger

First the bad news about climate change. This past week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) raised the alarm with their new report, which stated that global warming needs to be limited at or below 1.5 degrees Centigrade. If not, there will continue to be–at increasing frequency–mass wild fires, food shortages, and dying coral reefs by 2040. We are also likely to see an increase of massive storms in frequency and intensity, such as hurricanes Harvey, Maria, and Florence. Climate scientists can now with “attribution models” specifically ascribe the increase in intensity of these storms to climate change. Climate change caused by human activity also can lead to rising sea levels, which will soon be evidenced in the flooding of fishing communities on the Chesapeake Bay and regular inundation of streets in Miami Beach. It is also likely that climate change will lead to an increase in terrorism due to new migration patterns, water, and food shortages. This report, however, has landed on Donald Trump’s desk with a thud, as he ignores or denies this information provided by an organization composed of 235 scientists from 57 countries and a report reviewed by 2,000+ experts and based on 9,000+ peer-reviewed documents; he has withdrawn  U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord, which was signed by 194 other countries. Following his model, Brazil may also withdraw. Other warning signs–there have been record droughts in South Africa and Australia, accelerated warming in the Arctic, and 87 degrees on October 9 in the Mid-Ohio Valley!

Amidst this “carbon cloud” of gloom there is some good news. Bottom-up constructive reaction to climate change is occurring in states like California, New York, and Massachusetts in the form of support for technological innovation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Solar technology is accelerating  increasing the longevity and efficiency and lowering the costs of solar panels. Jobs in the solar area (360,000 nationally) exceed those in coal and nuclear combined. In our region AEP-Ohio has announced a solar generating hub in Highland County. In this historic commitment to renewable energy last month AEP-Ohio filed a proposal with the Public Utilities Commission to develop this 400 megawatt solar facility  and 500 mw of wind power. In a survey conducted by AEP-Ohio last summer 89% of residential customers and 75% of commercial customers at least moderately supported a shift to renewable energy. The long-term savings for this shift to renewables will result in $200 million savings for its customers. Despite Trump’s attempt to resurrect the coal industry, energy companies themselves are opting to close coal-fired power plants. Government-supported welfare for coal will not bring back coal jobs nor rejuvenate this dying industry.

Some critics of renewable energy have mentioned that fossil-fuel based energy is needed when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow. This issue is being addressed by some amazing recent innovations in battery technology, which can store both solar and wind energy for future use. Among these innovations are: the large lithium-ion battery being developed in Australia by Tesla; the zinc-air batteries that can be used to capture solar energy in microgrids in places like Africa and Asia; and the mountain water plants in Austria which pump water up to higher elevations when renewable power is in excess and then send the water downhill to generator turbines when power is needed. In another piece of good news the Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded to Paul Romer and William Nordhaus, who have helped identify the costs of climate change in terms of crop failures, flooding, and expenses for storm recovery. These Nobel winners have advanced our thinking concerning the costs of inaction and the benefits of action to address climate change.

We have also seen innovation to address climate change locally in the form of the installation of solar panels on the Municipal Court Building in Marietta and on the roof of the sanctuary building of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Marietta. There are also dedicated volunteers and groups in our area working to conduct education about climate change and how to constructively respond to the challenges it represents. Most active among these groups is Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action, which has an active presence on Facebook.

* George Banziger, Ph..D., was a faculty member at Marietta College and an academic dean at three other colleges. Now retired, he is a volunteer for the Devola MultiUse Trail Committee, Mid-Ohio Valley Interfaith, and Harvest of Hope. He is a member of the Green Sanctuary Committee of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Marietta, and of the Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action group.