Reducing global carbon emissions

By Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President,
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

After years of watching disappointing efforts at initiating global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we have embraced the philosophy that we too are nonrenewable resources and should not invest too much of ourselves in expecting a global embrace of protecting the environment. Yet no one can afford to ignore what is happening as global agreements have powerful effects on our everyday lives.

We appreciate Northern Public Radio’s coverage of the Paris climate talks and will share impressions as the talks unfold. The outcome of the conference remains unknown at the writing of this article. In an interview with Steve Curwood, Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists thought an agreement would be reached among participating nations. He hoped the large gap that exists between what nations had already agreed to do and what still must be done quickly to stay under the 2 degrees Celsius limit will be recognized. Even within the limit, greenhouse gas emissions may have reached a level where irreversible adverse impacts could occur.

We are already experiencing rising sea levels, droughts, flooding and other climate impacts which will require financing to adapt to and cope with what has already occurring and increasing. To avoid the worst impacts of climate change we must be well on our way to decarbonizing the global economy by 2050.

In an interview, a representative of Germany’s New Climate Institute pointed that out operating the 2,400 new coal power plants planned or being built globally could possibly raise temperatures to twice the level deemed essential to reach by 2040. The study recommends that no more coal fired power plants should be built. However, a representative from India indicated they need new coal plants to help raise millions of people out of poverty while calling for a trillion dollar investment in solar energy by 2030 to help developing countries increase their reliance on clean energy sources.

Although street demonstrations planned by protest groups were cancelled NPR gave some visibility to their views. Demonstrators called for a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy and want 80 percent of remaining fossil fuels to stay in the ground. They also expressed doubt that real commitments to reducing emissions will be forthcoming as those negotiating the agreements represent powerful corporate and national interests.

While we await the outcomes of the Paris negotiations what is becoming increasingly apparent is that local people have many opportunities to take actions on their own to reduce their carbon footprints. Some people have dramatically cut their consumption through energy efficiency. Others have installed solar systems. Hybrid and electric cars offer additional opportunities to embrace cleaner energy sources. Some people with existing solar electric systems are considering ways to use more of the solar electricity they produce in their own homes by installing battery storage systems. As the cost of batteries continues to fall customers will find more ways to use more of the electricity they produce to meet their own needs. As our Renewable Energy and Sustainability Fairs have demonstrated communities and businesses are embracing efficiency and renewable energy. Their acceptance and use is increasing.

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