By Rebecca Canright
One of the greatest flaws of human nature is our urge to resist change in favor of stability. In America, many of us cling to our current way of life —our big, oil-hungry cars and homes, our destructive industrial food system, and our innumerable electronic gadgets that come with the conveniently hidden costs of unethical labor and environmental degradation. We continue to cling to this lifestyle even though it jeopardizes its own future.
Acknowledging and devising solutions to the environmental crisis we’ve ensnared ourselves in can be a daunting task; one that few people are willing to take on. A few methods of doing so include restoring entire ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef, the Colorado River, or the Indonesian rainforest; reversing arctic glacier melting, preventing further species from going extinct; and slowing the explosive population growth of developing countries. Although noble causes, most of these lack the support necessary to succeed on a large scale. Government funding for conservation projects in particular tends to be lacking, especially when compared to the amount of money that corporations — one of the primary perpetrators of these ecosystems’ degradation — have at their disposal. Most of them will go to great lengths and spend great sums to keep the public in the dark about the role that big business plays in environmental malaise, and bribe local governments to look the other way; thus enabling the business to rake in cash regardless of the hidden environmental exploitation behind it.
The bitterly divided and corporate-influenced politics related to climate change are not at all fertile grounds for positive environmental legislation. More often than not, our government favors what big business, not the Earth, needs to thrive.
Amongst this all, signs of hope are emerging. President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently crafted the Clean Power Plan, an unprecedented step towards reducing U.S. power plants’ CO2 emissions and increasing our use of renewable energy. Obama also recently banned future coal leases on public lands. Some local governments are also recognizing climate change as a serious threat and taking action to limit consumption of fossil fuels, often by raising their prices or even banning them altogether. These are all excellent steps in the right direction.
It also seems that we’re slowly acknowledging that an integral part of reversing climate change is converting all sources of power to renewable energy. Although doing so will require large upfront costs and significant upheaval of current energy infrastructure, the long-term benefits far outweigh these inconveniences. This conversion will unquestionably and drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. It would cut our output of heavy metals like arsenic and mercury, which are released into the air from coal burning. It would eliminate both our use of foreign petroleum; thereby avoiding future conflict over oil rights in the Middle East. It would also end the mad rush of natural gas companies’ to drill like there’s no tomorrow. Though natural gas has lower CO2 emissions when burned, gas production—including drilling, fracking, and transmission—releases a significant amount of methane, a greenhouse gas that is recognized by climate scientists to be many times more harmful than CO2. Additionally, the natural gas extraction process (officially termed hydraulic fracturing, better known as “fracking”) involves injecting hundreds of chemicals such as including benzene, toluene, and ethylbenzene into the ground to create fissures through which natural gas can be captured. Besides poisoning the surrounding groundwater (and the people who drink it), soil, and wildlife, the fracking process takes millions of gallons of water from local aquifers.
There are plenty more downsides to these outdated and harmful forms of energy, but suffice it to say that continuing to rely on them will unquestionably intensify climate change, air and water pollution; renewable energy would not. Solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal power have the potential to more than cover U.S. energy needs when used in combination (i.e. install both solar and wind power to supply energy in all weather conditions). If they’re to supply electricity to the entire nation, all of these energies will take time and money to further research and develop, but the short-term inconvenience of retrofitting America’s energy infrastructure pales in comparison to the inconvenience of having an uninhabitable planet.
Though converting to renewable energy is integral to solving our current climate quandary, there are other pieces to the puzzle that must also be implemented. As a country with one of the high energy demands, it would be wise to reduce our overall consumption, which is something everyone can take part in. By driving less, buying less, eating less meat, and growing more of our own food (or at least supporting others who grow it for us locally), we will immensely lessen our environmental impact. There are oodles of additional ways to take matters into our own hands. We can choose to eliminate harmful chemical cleaners at home. We can join a rally against development of a local forest. We can call our elected officials in support of environmental legislation. We can do all of the above, and more. By engaging in these various forms of activism, we fuel the transition to a more hopeful and sustainable future—no fossil fuels necessary.
Only by wholeheartedly and collectively changing the way we live can we hope to heal our gravely afflicted planet. Let us all do our part to stop the runaway train of climate change.