In an antidote to my doom-and-gloom post last week, Jonathan Chait tries to take the positive approach on climate change. He cites the rapidly decreasing cost of solar panels and other technological innovations, including battery storage, to make the case:
The energy revolution has rippled widely through the economy. In the first half of this year, renewable-energy installations accounted for 70 percent of new electrical power. As the energy mix has grown cleaner, people have found ways to use less of it, too. Incandescent bulbs have been replaced with efficient LEDs, in what Prajit Ghosh, director of power and renewables research at energy company Wood Mackenzie, refers to as a “total bulb revolution.” Tesla has introduced a new home battery, the “Powerwall,” and broken ground on a plant in Nevada, called the Gigafactory, with the capacity to churn out 500,000 lithium-ion battery packs per year, which will allow it to cut battery costs by a third and sell less expensive electric cars. And these are only today’s technologies. Laboratories from Cambridge to Silicon Valley are racing to develop next-generation batteries, as well as ultraefficient solar cells, vehicles, kitchen appliances. For more than a century, everything that consumed energy was designed without a thought to the carbon dioxide that would be released into the air. Now everything from buildings to refrigerators is being designed anew to account for scientific reality.
But he ultimately frames the progress as a race against time. Not against nature, but against Republicans taking over the federal government and getting the country to back-track on this progress.
Still, he thinks Obama has locked in much innovation, while UN negotiators in Paris may be able to hammer out the framework of an international deal. All of which puts us on a path to avoid the worst-case climate scenarios.
I share some of the optimism on the technology side, but there’s no denying that humanity has locked in some unpleasant changes in the coming centuries. Like the expression “all politics is local,” all environmentalism is local to some extent: many environmentalists have particular places on Earth that are special to them and that motivate their desire to protect the larger planet. So it can be depressing to think about how favorite places will change forever in the face of this global challenge.
But if Chait is right, we are actually responding pretty quickly with new innovation and policies to encourage it, and it’s worth focusing on that progress and how we can continue it.