The winds are changing

By Natalie Sherman

“Our leadership is failing us,” said Bob Deans, the Director of Strategic Engagement at the Natural Resources Defense Council. He went on to list rising sea levels, croplands drying up into deserts, species going extinct, ice caps melting, and the dying of the great barrier reef as a few examples of the downfall of our earth, with our leaders doing little to combat it. Our government is not doing enough to combat climate change, and after pulling from the Paris Agreement, no legislation was introduced in its place. Our government can and should do more, and there is simply language that can be used to do so.

The Paris Agreement was an addition to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and was initially agreed to by all 195 countries present at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. This included the United States which was then under the presidency of Barack Obama. President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate change agreement, citing “the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country.” However, each country was able to choose its own contributions under the agreement. At the end of 2017, the U.S. was the only nation not committed to the deal, a deal dedicated to lowering emissions and strengthening countries’ abilities to deal with the impact of climate change. The U.S. was second to China in terms of carbon dioxide emissions. However, there are plausible ways to prevent climate change from worsening and undo some of the damage, and ways that our political leadership could help move us forward.

One way to combat climate change is the expansion of and use of wind turbines. Wind turbines are a possible way to replace the use of fossil fuels. Not to say that wind turbines do not have challenges – the weather is not the same everywhere, and the variable nature of wind means that there are times when turbine do not turn. Despite these setbacks, 314,000 wind turbines supply 3.7% of global electricity and are increasing. Even as fossil fuel prices drop, the wind turbine industry continues to thrive and grow, and in many areas, the wind is either competitive with or cheaper than coal-generated electricity. The ongoing reduction of costs will soon make wind energy the least expensive source of installed electricity capacity, possibly;y within a decade. The only piece to this puzzle missing is political will and leadership. Policy-wise, energy portfolio stands can mandate a share of renewable generation. Grants, loans and tax incentive can encourage the construction of more wind capacity as well as ongoing innovation. We are on the verge of what could drastically change how we get our energy and should push our political leaders towards allocating funding and resources to do so.

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Another option is solar farms. Solar farms are large-scale layouts of hundreds or thousands of solar panels that can achieve generating capacity in mass megawatts. Solar farms operate at utility scale, like conventional power plants in the amount of electricity that they can produce. In Ukraine, officials are pushing to renovate Chernobyl, the site of a mass nuclear meltdown in 1986, into housing for a 1-gigawatt solar farm, which would be one of the worlds largest. The price of solar is decreasing, and is predicted to soon become the least expensive energy in the world – and it is the fastest growing energy. Solar energy is best when combining with wind energy, since solar energy peaks in the middle of the day, but the peak time for energy use is later, where wind can fill in this gap. No matter where solar panels are placed, they are subject to the variable nature of solar radiation and its misalignment with electricity use. Solar energy would also benefit from the allocation of grants, loans, and tax incentives.

Although not involved in a political realm, solar farms can be used on a smaller scale as rooftop solar, for individual use. solar also aims to replace fossil fuels. Solar photovoltaics (PV) has been growing over the last decade. PV generates electricity without emitting greenhouse gasses or air pollution. When placed on a grid-connected roof, they produce energy directly at the site of consumption so there is no loss of energy in grid transmission. Solar panels can be financially feasible for homeowners by feeding unused electricity into the grid, offsetting the electricity that consumers would normally buy at night when the sun is down.

These are only a few of the many ways to combat climate change and lessen our carbon footprint. As Deans said, “What we need is an action plan.” This radical change to how we consume energy will not happen overnight, and representatives need to push to create an action plan towards a greener future. The financing of programs to replace fossil fuels or coal need funding allocation so that these solutions can be pursued – and, green energy options pay for themselves in clean, renewable energy. Climate change is happening. “Whether or not you believe the thermometer doesn’t change the temperature,” said Deans, and this holds true for officials who do not buy into climate change. It is happening, and we must push harder for federal participation in a greener future.

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