As bad as the Situation is, you should not lose hope yet. There are solutions. And here is one of them.
Did you know that in only one century, the Earth’s average temperature has risen by over 1°C? To understand how catastrophic this is, you should consider that 20 000 years ago, this temperature was only 3 degrees lower than in the 1900s. Also, at that time, Europe was covered in a kilometre-thick layer of ice. We have seen a lot of other causes for climate change in this series. So now, it’s time to make a change. But, where to start? And how? This question has been bothering climate scientists for quite a while now. The solution explained in this article goes back to Volker Quaschning, a climate scientist, and many other scientists who’ve made similar statements.
Firstly, what’s climate change due to? This is a simple question to answer: greenhouse gasses. To lower the amount of these gasses in the atmosphere, we could either compensate them (by planting trees, etc.) or reduce their emissions. For the latter, we’d need to stop burning things like fossil fuels. So, this means that we must either lower the energy consumed or find sustainable ways to produce it. Often, both are considered simultaneously, which frightens many companies who think they might be restricted in their activities. These companies therefore often use lobbying (influencing the political votes using their economic authority) to stop laws about reducing emissions coming into force. However, by replacing fossil fuels with green power, the problem would be solved.
The first advantage of this solution is that it’s effective, without harming the economy. Indeed, it doesn’t ask us to sacrifice our comfort by lowering our consumption. It will only mean we will have to adjust the powering methods. For example, fuel motors will have to be replaced by electric motors. But as electric motors are more efficient anyways, it’d be beneficial for companies on the long term. In fact, an electric car could drive approximately 3 times further than a fuel one with the same input of energy. This brings us to the second advantage of this solution: we have the technologies to power almost everything by electricity. For example, the heat pump would be an electric alternative to gas heating. Finally, a global power network could give a better and more precise overview of emissions. Then, the energy production would be centralised, whereas now, every car is an individual energy generator. Thus, the only possible emission source would be the power production itself, which we could then focus on making carbon emission free. It’s like turning off one big tap instead of trying to turn off thousands of small taps at a time.
Now we know that replacing fossil fuels by electricity would be a good solution. However, we’d have to find ways to produce an enormous amount of power with renewable energies, and we’re already late. We have been shoving climate change under other problems like the pandemic, so how do we begin? Take Germany: the amount of green energy produced there is less than 20%. But ideally, it should be 100%! Some people might claim nuclear power is the solution. Trust me, it’s not. To power everything with it, at the very least 15 nuclear reactors would have to be built in Germany. However, nobody would like to have a huge, ugly, radioactive concrete giant in their backyard, so where would we build them? Also, building a reactor costs over 15 billion euros. Moreover, do we have the time to write and read long expert’s reports, debate about the locations, argue with the locals, argue with environmentalists to then spend a decade on the building itself? To add to this, the German Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources estimates we’ve only got 30 years left of uranium, at current consumption, that’s to say. So, it isn’t a sustainable solution anyway.
However, we now have other ways of producing power with almost no carbon emission. Volker Quaschning, who I mentioned in the beginning, believes that wind turbines and solar panels will be the most useful solution in the process of turning energy green. Not only are they relatively quick to build, but better designs have also allowed the windmills to produce more and more electricity over the years. Solar panels have also become very efficient and durable. Now, they can last over 30 years. The good thing about solar panels is that, unlike wind turbines, nobody complains about having them on their roof. So, there’s still plenty of space for them! There are also possibilities to incorporate them on highways, fields, etc.
However, it’s much easier to reduce our consumption than to try to match it with green energy. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce our consumption that do not result in a loss of comfort. For example, a lot of buildings don’t have sufficient isolation. Only 12 centimetres of insulation would keep 75% of the heat that usually heats the street outside your house inside! Or we could reduce the number of cars per inhabitant in cities and extend public transport and promote bicycles instead. I don’t know about you, but personally, I always feel sarcastically sorry when I ride past cars stuck in the traffic jam. Remaining cars could also be replaced by electric ones. These are simple possibilities, but there’s an even simpler one, yet it seems very hard to understand for some people. Honestly, just stop buying all the crap you won’t ever really need! Our wardrobes are already full! And what’s the point of buying the newest phone of company XY every year, when your old one is perfectly fine! The worst is, people, and I include myself, do not even feel guilty about it anymore! What I mean, is that especially we, who can afford it, should look on quality rather than price. Fast fashion was already discussed in this series; I won’t get into it again. But this is essential. It should be on our mind wherever we go. You could go quite far in philosophical thoughts about the necessity of the material world if you want to, actually.
But there’s one problem when wanting to make energy greener: most renewable energies don’t produce power continuously. For example, solar panels won’t work unless there’s sunshine. Therefore, we need storage systems. But the problem is that Lithium batteries, which are also used in electric cars, require a lot of energy to craft. In fact, Lithium itself is mainly extracted by evaporating sea water, which takes an immense amount of energy. Furthermore, some methods to extract other components harm the environment. For example, in Congo, the rain forest is being deforested to access cobalt ores, which is then extracted using quite a lot of harmful chemical substances such as chlorinated lime, etc.
However, we know another way to store electricity. It consists in using electricity to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen gas can then later be burned to produce power again. The advantage is that the gas infrastructure already exists for both transport and storage. Currently, it’s used for fossil gas mainly coming from Russia. For example, the biggest storage space in Germany has a volume of 4 km3, which, once full of gas, would be enough to cover Germanys power supply for two weeks straight at current standards. This storage system would prevent Europe from a huge energy shortage if Putin suddenly decided to turn off the tap. The inconvenience is that the chemical process causes great energy losses.
So, we see that the solution of replacing all fossil fuels by green power is very appealing to the economy and has great advantages for the population as well, as there will be no need to sacrifice any comfort. However, it’ll be a long way till we achieve it, and there will have to be political decisions on national and international scales. But we all know politics cannot change unless minds change. This is where our role begins; this is why it’s so important to compromise with our comfort and our goals, this is why we should accept a wind turbine being built near our houses or in a forest. Otherwise, we’ll have to face much worse, as you’ll see in the next article.