How the Current Energy Systems are Causing Climate Change and How You Can Change These Systems to Mitigate Those Impacts

by Wink von Mickels – Energy Translation – a 10 part series on Energy

Part One – Stopping the Earthquake

The outline for the 6th International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was just recently issued this past September.  The full 6th IPCC report will be available in late 2018 and early 2019.  Spoiler alert, the report by world renowned climate experts will, for the sixth time over the last 28 years, once again point to our impact on the climate and the threat to sustainable development worldwide.

The following are just a few highlights of the statements specifically cited in the 5th IPCC Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers issued in 2015:[1]

  1. Human influence on the climate system is clear.
  2. Anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history.[2]
  3. Recent climate change has had widespread impacts on human and natural systems.
  4. Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.
  5. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amount of snow and ice have diminished and sea levels have risen.
  6. Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes and impacts.
  7. The risk of abrupt and irreversible change increases as the magnitude of the warming increases.
  8. Adaption and mitigation are complimentary strategies for reducing and managing the risks of climate change.
  9. Without additional mitigation, warming by the end of the 21st Century will lead to very high risks of severe, widespread and irreversible impacts.
  10. While there are multiple climate change mitigation pathways, there is no single option that, by itself, can address climate change mitigation.
  11. Mitigation can be cost effective and also include co-benefits, if used in an inter-related approach to: reduce energy use; decrease greenhouse emissions intensity of end use sectors; decarbonize the energy supply; and enhance carbon sinks.
  12. Effective mitigation will depend on implementing policies at the international, national, state and local levels.

For a more in-depth and comprehensive presentation on the causes and impacts of climate change by local experts, you can go to C-Change Conversation at https://www.c-changeconversations.org.

Yes, it is true, our climate has and will always be changing. The cause of this climate change are natural forces. Our climate will naturally change regardless of what we do or do not do.  The issue is not just that our climate is changing, but the impacts that we are causing – man-made climate change.  It is not just that our climate is changing but the rate of that change that we are causing.  A rate of change that we cannot adapt to naturally.

Think of climate change in geologic terms and time. From the science of plate tectonics, we know that the place you are standing on now was in a different location of the Earth a million years ago.  A million years from now, where you are now standing could be at the North Pole or the other side of the world.  The Earth’s plates are always moving but mostly at a very slow rate.  This plate movement is like watching your finger nails grow.  But it can be sudden and abrupt, like an earthquake.  The current changes that we are causing to our climate is like an earthquake.  It is not good to be in the middle of an earthquake.  It is even worse when the earthquake stops, when you view the damage, and then have to repair the damage.

Some of the debate on man-made climate change is about winners and losers, as well as the degree of those wins and losses. Yes, as in natural climate change, there will be winners and losers. As in natural long-term plate tectonics, there will be winners and losers.  But are there really winners and losers in the middle of an earthquake?  Or even after an earthquake stops, when we view the damage and have to start to repair the damage.

But if we have the ability to cause climate change, we also have the power to not be the cause of climate change. That is the good news.  If we can cause this rate of change, we can also mitigate this rate of change.  The question is who should do this and how?  To some degree it is governments and nations.  They can set the right policies and new directions.  But governments did not cause this – we did. If we caused it, we can stop it. The really good news is we do not need governments to mitigate this rate of change.

The first step in reducing man-made climate change is understanding that mitigation is relatively easy to do. But that first step starts with an understanding of what is causing this rate of change? What are the driving forces of this rate of change? The who, what, where and the why of these driving forces is the basic objective of this ten-part series of the Mercer County Sustainability Coalition.

Over the next nine sections of this 10-part series, we will go through in bite size pieces: Energy. What is energy? Where does energy come from? What are the current energy systems we have developed to produce, generate transmit, distribute and use energy? What is the size, impacts and reach of these energy systems locally, nationally and globally? What new energy systems can be developed to change the impacts to reduce GHG emissions? and What are the costs and benefits of these changes?

The final step is actions that you can take to stop climate change.

Stay tune for Part Two in this series – What is a Greenhouse Gas and why they are not Really Green?

[1] Summarized from the policy statements in the IPCC, 2014: Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Core Writing Team, R.K. Pachauri and L.A. Meyer (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland, 151 pp.  at http://ar5-syr.ipcc.ch/

[2] Anthropogenic means “relating to or resulting from the influence of human beings on nature” Merriam Webster, “created by people or cause by human activity” Collins, “originating in human activity” Oxford, “caused by humans or their activities” Cambridge.