Despite continued and growing evidence of climate change, the disparity between the amount of effort required to slow the process and the amount of projects aimed at such a goal continues to grow.
A recently developed method for reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the environment, carbon capture and sequestration technology, captures carbon dioxide waste and buries it deep beneath the earth. Despite its promise, the U.S. Department of Energy canceled what was expected to be the most significant use of this technology. A worldwide survey found that the number of projects aimed at capturing and burying carbon dioxide has fallen 13 percent in the past year, from 75 to 65 projects.
If projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gases continue to be postponed, temperatures across a majority of the planet will reach unprecedented levels by 2050. University of Hawaii geography professor Camilo Mora and his team predicted that in 2047, the Earth’s climate will be several degrees warmer than today’s.
“The coldest year in the future will be hotter than the hottest year in the past,” Mora said.
David Lea, earth science professor at UCSB, said that many suggested alternatives to fossil fuels are impractical or unpopular.
“Natural gas is currently one of the more practical options, but it has a large environmental movement against it due to the impact of fracking, which risks damage to the environment in the process of freeing it from the reserves,” Lea said. “Solar just isn’t cheap enough to be practical, and with nuclear, nobody wants to wear that hat after the tragedy at Fukushima.”
Mora said that if there is a large-scale, concerted effort to bring greenhouse emissions to a reasonable level, we can buy ourselves 20 extra years, and hope that in the intervening time someone invents new technology to help fix things.”
New York City’s temperature shift may be pushed back to 2072 if more projects and policies are instated to reduce emissions, buying time to find a more permanent solution. China, the largest producer of carbon dioxide, may even push back the temperature increase to 2078 rather than 2047.
Tropics in Central Africa and Southeast Asia face experiencing the extreme climate shift as early as 2029. The more dramatic examples of climate change can be found at the poles, in photos of polar bears balancing on the ice cubes of once giant glaciers. Yet the tropical countries are home to plants and animals that are not accustomed to variation in temperatures and face greater possibility of extinction. Additionally, these countries have fewer resources to defer climate change than mid-latitude countries, such as the U.S. and China, which produce the bulk of greenhouse gases.
Ángel Gurría, the head of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, a Paris-based group of 34 industrialized nations, urged countries to “put climate change back on the front burner” and work to eliminate emissions from burning fossil fuels during the second half of this century.
The OECD plans to release reports in the coming months evaluating the progress of various nations on the reduction of their emissions, but some of the world’s leaders in emission reductions are facing the largest problem. Germany now supplies roughly a quarter of its energy through alternative resources such as wind and solar, but the German government is uncertain whether industry and consumers can afford to subsidize cleaner energy projects. As it is, German companies face some of the highest energy costs in Europe, making the development of alternative energy technologies undesirable.
The United States, however, does not face an immediate threat of running out of fossil fuels, and subsequently continues to practice environmentally costly practices, such as mining oil from shale rock.
Lea said that there is no single ideal energy source, but that solar energy holds the greatest potential to solve the alternative energy conundrum. Still, he fears that climate change may worsen before it begins to improve.
“There is no free lunch in this business. Nothing we do with regards to energy, whether it’s nuclear, natural gas, coal, oil, hydroelectric, wind or solar,” Lea said. “Nothing is pain-free. In the long run, solar probably will solve the problem, but that is not going to happen soon.”
A version of this article appeared on page 4 of October 22nd’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.