The overwhelming majority of scientific evidence points to the fact that the Earth is warming up, and human activity is the main culprit. Agriculture productivity, biodiversity, and sea levels could be seriously affected – and not in a good way – if this problem isn’t taken care of soon. While countries and private organizations are trying to implement green energy solutions to halt global warming, this isn’t enough. What we need is more imagination and outside-the-box solutions, because the current way of doing things is unsustainable.
The idea that the natural environment is a resource that we should exploit has its roots in Enlightenment philosophy. Prior to this, people had a much more respectful relationship with nature. It’s no coincidence that the start of the industrial revolution, with all its pollution, followed closely on the heels of the Age of Enlightenment. Today, we’re still thinking about the Earth in outmoded terms from hundreds of years ago, but the planet can’t wait indefinitely for us to get our act together.
Governments have rightly pushed for the development of renewable, clean forms of electricity, and they have implemented rebate and tax credit schemes to that end. However, these policies only reward technologies that have already come to market – they do little or nothing to advance the current state of the art. At the same time, the regulations relating to carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions are flawed and seem, at times, to reward clever legerdemain in hewing closely to the letter of the law while violating its spirit.
Current wind turbine and solar photovoltaic solutions are a great start, and they have increased in efficiency and affordability over the past couple of decades. However, The International Energy Agency predicts that renewables will represent only 26 percent of energy production by 2020: nowhere near high enough for us to shift away from burning fossil fuels. The world may wish to reconsider its skittishness regarding nuclear energy in light of the fact that the alternative seems to be the wholesale consumption of coal and oil, which emit harmful pollutants into the atmosphere.
In order to overcome the issue of insufficient clean energy production, we’ll need big ideas and dreams. Merely making incremental improvements won’t suffice especially with China, India and other developing economies forecast to require substantial quantities of energy. The recently concluded COP21 talks in Paris have drawn protests from groups that feel that the negotiations are just basically window dressing. Activists from the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination are planning acts of civil disobedience and nonviolent protests to send a message that current agreements and treaties aren’t sufficient.
A way to remove ourselves from old-fashioned thinking and actions may come from an unexpected direction. Bill Gates, Elon Musk and other billionaires have committed themselves to finding ways of shaking up the current energy paradigm. Gates has founded the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a group of wealthy individuals who are funding the development clean energy to the tune of billions of dollars. This coalition is expected to make significant contributions to the advancement and expansion of nuclear power. Musk is making solar energy cheaper with his Solar City firm, and he’s also replacing gasoline-powered vehicles with electric models from his Tesla Motors company. They, with their untold wealth and many successes, don’t fear the occasional failure as so many of us do. It’s important to set aside this fear and proceed with risky ventures because there’s always a chance of failure when trying out new things.
Meanwhile, suave, charismatic communicators, like astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, are explaining some of the latest scientific discoveries in ways that fire up the imaginations of a new generation that’s just coming of age. Perhaps Tyson will entice bright, young students to enter scientific fields just as he himself was lured into astronomy by Carl Sagan. It is from the new generation that we can expect bold, unorthodox lines of thinking.
A report from Vectren Energy identifies fossil fuel consumption as the generator of 5,157.7 million metric tons of CO2 emissions in the United States in 2013, out of a total of 5,502.2 million metric tons. This means that the burning of these toxic fuels was responsible for more than 90 percent of carbon emissions during the year. It’s clear that we need to do something about our patterns of energy use fast or else the problem will spiral out of control.
Unless we alter our behavior to become more cognizant of its impact on Mother Nature, the future could be very grim indeed. Minor cutbacks won’t forestall disaster. What we need are radical, new models of energy production and usage. While Bill Gates, Elon Musk and other big names serve as worthy role models, they’ll need the cooperation of millions of regular people to turn their visions into reality.