2016 has brought many significant changes both in our natural environment and changes in people and institutions. The end of the year is a time to look back a moment, assess where we are and make plans on how to move forward.
Green Living means to live sustainably on this planet. Sustainability is the ability to continue a defined behavior indefinitely. The behavior we are hoping to continue indefinitely is to live the lifestyles we have grown accustomed to. It’s not uncommon to strive to live financially sustainable lives, by living within the limits of our income. But how well do we live sustainably within the physical limits of our home, planet earth?
Earth’s natural physical limits are real. We know for a fact that increased levels of heat-trapping green house gases in the atmosphere correlate with increased average global temperatures. We also know that burning fossil fuel releases carbon dioxide and other green-house gases. Emissions have increased exponentially since the industrial revolution and so have the temperatures. Scientific records and data make clear that the majority of this increase is caused by human activity.
2016 is looking to be the hottest year on record, making it a three year streak. NASA reports that, “While a very strong El Niño helped boost temperatures during this year and last, the record-setting temperature is mostly due to the long-term warming driven by human activities. Even years marked by El Niño’s cold counterpart, La Niña, are now warmer than El Niño years of previous decades because of this warming.”
Temperature increases lead to melting ice-caps, more forest fires and prolonged droughts. The Arctic was nearly ice-free this year. This has not happened in 100,000 years. Human-induced climate change has doubled the area affected by forest fires in the U.S., according to a new study from the Earth Institute at Columbia University. And in Nevada, our own Lake Mead is hovering at 1077 feet. If Lake Mead drops another 2 feet it will trigger shortage conditions for Nevada’s share of the Colorado River.
The sky’s the limit
Understanding climate change can be confusing, as scientists and climatologists often talk in numbers. But what do these numbers mean to us and our lives?
Scientists are concerned about lowering CO2 levels in our atmosphere to a safe level of under 350 parts per million (ppm). In 2007, NASA scientist, James Hansen and other climatologists started 350.org, an organization attempting to bring awareness to the importance of this number. At that time, CO2 level had reached 400 ppm, today it is at 490 ppm.
Steven Chu, a physicist, Nobel winner and a former US Secretary of Energy stated this month, that “the likelihood of going over 500ppm is almost a certainty.… and a reasonably high probability of going over 600ppm.”
We know from ice core data taken by NOAA, NASA and multitudes of research centers across the globe that there have been times of high levels and low levels of CO2, followed by times of warming and cooling. However, never have the levels of CO2 been more than 300ppm.
Scientist also observe temperature records. The goal is to try to avoid an increase of 3 degrees higher than the average temperatures before the industrial revolution. The last time our planet was 3 degrees higher was around 130,000 years ago. The sea level was much higher than today and more importantly there were no major coastal cities or people for that matter. A likely scenario would be 30 or 40 foot sea level rise (the height of a 3 to 4 story building). Coastal cities around the globe including, New York City, San Francisco and many parts of Florida will be in danger or under water.
Most scientist agree that the majority of the remaining fossil fuel needs to be kept in the ground in order to help lower these numbers.
Amory Lovins, the chief scientist at the Rocky Mountain Institute says, “ Anybody who doesn’t understand this, is not paying attention to the data.”
The Good News
The Good news is that the US ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change, along with 188 other countries. Production in renewable energy in the US and the world has increased and prices have gone down. Voters in Florida rejected an initiative to halt solar. Target and Walmart are now the nations two biggest users of solar.
In Nevada, companies like Switch, Tesla and Faraday are proving to be leaders in moving sustainable progress to the forefront. Nevada’s second leg of the Silver States electric highway was completed this year. Very soon, electric cars will be able to drive across the state with charging capabilities. Nevadans decreased its energy usage, lower than in 2007. Nevadans were also able to win back the grandfathering clause for rooftop solar and showed overwhelming support for the energy choice initiative this last election.
Companies, governments and individuals are making progress and this is hopeful.
Please join me in 2017 for more ways that individuals can make changes for the collective good. Peace to all in the new year.
Published on December 24, 2016 in the Las Vegas Review Journal