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Does Corona-19 Pre-Empt Climate Change?

By: , Posted on: June 15, 2020

Obviously, the current virus pandemic has attracted the full attention of governments and the public. We weren’t prepared even though many warned us of this danger.

All attention is focused on minimizing or defeating the virus and coping with the economic damage. The US Congress has already approved $3.0 trillion. The House has recently passed another $3.0 trillion spending program.

If anything, the virus tells us that we are not omnipotent such that we can ignore nature. Not many people would have thought that a flu virus could shut down the global economy. We believe the consequences associated with global warming will be far worse, especially if we cross some tipping point that could accelerate global warming.

Unlike the virus, global warming is not a natural phenomenon. It’s man-made. We caused it and we can stop it. We have the technology we need. So far, we’ve lacked the political will.

Doesn’t spending trillions of dollars to defeat or contain the Corona-19 virus mean that we won’t have the funds or the focus to deal with global warming? No.

Before the virus hit, some candidates in the primaries focused on global warming as the major threat and proposed $ trillion government programs to address this problem. The Green New Deal proposed a crash program to eliminate fossil fuel use by 2050.

We believe that a trillion-dollar government program or crash effort would end in failure and waste. We don’t need a thousand-page Congressional bill with a trillion-dollar price tag. This would result in tens of thousands of pages of new regulations issued by government bureaucracies without solving the problem.

Not having trillions of dollars to borrow and spend could be a blessing in disguise. It will force us to take a much more cost-effective approach to deal with global warming. What we need is a number of smart moves as outlined below and discussed in our upcoming book Reaching Net Zero: What it Takes to Solve the Global Climate Crisis.

The trend is our friend. We’re moving in the right direction:

* It’s possible to provide all the world’s energy needs using renewables: solar and wind. This would include synthetic fuels made with hydrogen and recycled carbon dioxide.

* Large scale commercial projects using the technology needed are being implemented largely by the private sector. We just aren’t moving fast enough and on a big enough scale. A good role for government is to identify and minimize implementation roadblocks for these and other projects.

* Renewables are rapidly becoming the lowest cost source of energy. Renewable energy is now cheaper than fossil fuels and nuclear power in most locations. Their costs continue to decline steadily. 

* Coal, the dirtiest fuel, is rapidly being replaced by cleaner natural gas where natural gas is available. Natural gas is starting to be displaced by lower cost renewables.

* Globally, more money was invested in renewable energy projects than in fossil fuels in 2019. This change in investment priorities provides much of the funding needed to transition to renewable energy.

* There is growing concerns about “stranded assets” by investors and banks. They do not want to invest in energy projects that become uneconomical or obsolete before the end of their useful lives. This would jeopardize investors cash flows and investment returns.

* All the major automobile manufacturers are rapidly redesigning their vehicles and retooling their factories to produce electric vehicles. This is happening without any government directives.

A big bonus is that renewables are fuel-free and pollution free. Most air pollution would be eliminated.

So, what should we do?

A good start is for the government to state that global warming is a major threat and that we can and must do something about it. This could be analogous to the 1964 Surgeon General’s Report that confirmed the dangers of cigarette smoking, only much more important. If the president won’t support this, we should settle for a congressional resolution.

The biggest action that could be taken is to get the incentives right by reducing the massive subsidies for fossil fuels, mainly the ability to discharge greenhouse gases and other pollutants into the atmosphere for free. A reasonable fee would also raise over $200 billion per year in the U.S. This should be more than enough to start funding essential government programs. Most of these funds would be spent on infrastructure projects, the best use of government money to stimulate the economy.

Yes, we need greater international cooperation. All the major industrial economies have to be involved. The US should rejoin the Paris Agreement and be active in the global effort to stop global warming. However, this action can follow the steps listed above.

We believe there is a bright future ahead of us using renewable energy to power the world. It can be done if we are willing to embrace the changes needed.

About the book

  • Provides in-depth discussion of the problem of global warming, with clear explanations of the science behind global warming and climate change
  •  Features case studies of successes and failures in reducing carbon footprints, including potential solutions for reaching net zero
  • Offers a realistic approach to the problem of global warming and potential solutions in light of all available evidence across multiple disciplines.

You can pre-order your copy now on the Elsevier store. Enter code STC320 at the checkout to save up to 30%

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Earth & Environmental Science

The fields of Earth science, planetary sciences, and environmental science encompass disciplines critical to the future of our world and its inhabitants. Our well-being depends on a thorough understanding of air and water resources, soil chemistry, atmospheric dynamics, geology, and geochemistry, along with a myriad of other aspects of the environment we live in. Elsevier supports the efforts of researchers and scholars in these areas with content that meets their cross-disciplinary needs: journals, books, eBooks, and online tools that span computer science, chemistry, energy, engineering, biology, agronomy, ecology, environmental impact and many other topics fundamental to the study of our world. Learn more about our Earth and Environmental Science books here.