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We must take steps now to stop global warming if we want our kids to have a future | Opinion – PennLive

By John Sigle

Most people agree that making good decisions often means forgoing instant gratification for a much bigger payoff at a future date. We save money to buy a house instead of blowing it on a vacation in Vegas. We put money in retirement accounts.

I hear a lot of political rhetoric about the energy policies of the Biden administration. They are blamed for the current high price of gas, the loss of jobs in the fossil fuel industry, and our failure to suck every ounce of fossil fuels out of the ground as fast as possible.

Strangely, these critics, such as former Chester County State Sen. Earl Baker seldom even mention climate change. It’s as if they’ve never heard of it, don’t believe it’s real, or don’t think it’s a serious problem. And in the rare case it is mentioned, it’s described as a problem in the far-off future that we can take our precious time about addressing. They want energy, jobs, and profits now, and to hell with the future.

Let’s be clear. There is nothing that we can do to flip the switch and fix this problem overnight. We are not going to quit flying airplanes or eating steaks. We won’t eliminate all gasoline engine cars by 2030. On and on. We, and the rest of the world, will not severely sacrifice our standard of living to solve this problem. That just won’t happen. The solution will require concerted global action by governments and entrepreneurs, as well as individuals, and will take decades.

But understanding that it will take decades to solve this problem is NOT an excuse for delay. If we don’t make serious, sometimes difficult decisions NOW, we (and our children) will pay substantially for our delay. Even with the best scenario, a great deal of expensive and difficult mitigation will be required. The longer we wait to act, the more traumatic the results will be and the more expensive and difficult it will be to deal with them.

For purposes of united action, the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 is frequently put forward. Of course, there is nothing magic about that particular year. It merely represents a reasonable, if somewhat optimistic, timeframe for a pragmatic attack on the problem. An excellent read on this is Bill Gates’s “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need

This will likely involve developing cap and trade systems for greenhouse gases. It will also involve substantial support for R&D for technologies that move us away from greenhouse gas producing activities especially in transportation, production of steel and concrete, and agriculture, as well as in the capture and sequester of atmospheric carbon. It will require support of current sustainable energy technologies as well as development of new ones. It will likely include the use of new design nuclear reactors. The US should, must, lead the way.

In case you missed it, here are the basics: Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most significant greenhouse gas, although methane (essentially natural gas) is a significant second. They stay in the upper atmosphere and trap heat by keeping it from radiating back out into space. The more greenhouse gas, the hotter the earth gets.

Although during the 4.5 billion years of earth’s history there have been many very large climate shifts, we have had a very well-balanced climate for the last 12,000 years in which all human civilization has occurred. We would have expected that climate to continue until the next ice age, probably several hundred thousand years away, except that the industrial revolution (and other human activities) has changed the (sensitive) balance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that have keep us “just the right warmth.”

“Global warming” causes “climate change,” which means more extreme weather events, more droughts and deserts, sea level rise, and more.

The fossil fuel industry has an inherent interest in delaying the transition away from fossil fuels. Most of these companies have finally publicly admitted that climate change is real, but they still (sometimes surreptitiously) maneuver to delay the transition to sustainable energy.

Their proxies often use talking points such as:

  • “The science isn’t settled.” Well yes, it is. The trends are clear. Don’t expect the models to predict perfectly.
  • Climate change has occurred many times in earth’s history, yes, but that’s totally irrelevant.
  • Only God can change the climate. Wrong! We already have. And think about what 5000 nuclear bombs would do?
  • Climate change messengers are alarmists. OK, there have been some, but the science is clear, and we must act now.

Very recently an ice shelf 460 square miles in size, almost as big as Cumberland County, collapsed in East Antarctica. While climate scientists have observed major declines in ice extent in the Arctic, Greenland, and West Antarctica, this collapse in East Antarctica signals that climate change is proceeding faster than predicted.

We expect individuals to choose larger, long-term benefits over instant gratification. As a society, are we smart enough to do the same? I’m asking for our children.

John Sigle, a former Dickinson College professor, writes from Carlisle.

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