The environmental, economic, and mental power that is renewable energy
Sunlight, wind, water, biomass, and geothermal heat. All are natural, all are boundless, and all have the potential to power our planet for centuries to come. Why, then, aren’t we harnessing this potential to its full extent? Right now only about 16% of our global energy consumption is yielded from renewable resources, primarily from biomass and hydroelectricity. Our developing renewable sources, like solar and wind, are contributing to our energy supply at a smaller (<5%) but continually increasing rate—but is it a rate quick enough to decrease the projected global carbon trend to a gradient that will secure the systematic balance of our planet?
Over the past 150 years, we have increased the level of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere by 40% (NASA). The dangers of this increasing carbon trend are limitless, as it is impossible to predict every environmental and ecological feedback to our precipitously changing climate. The planet and its inhabitants are used to responding appropriately to normal environmental changes by means of adaptation, but we are not designed to withstand the vast changes we are seeing at the modern rate. We have a window of “climate thresholds” that detail measurable climactic changes that have been laid out by scientists, and we must understand that this window is not limitless. It is with urgency, then, that we act on climate now before we reach these irreversible thresholds and are forced to resort to precarious mitigation efforts.
It isn’t human instinct to think in the long-term, but this is something that we can change. We already occasionally invest our money into long-term feats to reach an ultimate goal, such as our children’s education or saving up for a trampoline to put in our backyard. So, what’s different about those reserves compared to investments in our environment? People invest in incentives—usually economic ones—but they also invest in environmental and moral enticements. These each exist within the renewable energy economic sector, in the form of tax breaks, carbon footprint reductions, health advancements, and direct environmental impacts. Investing in our world might not have to be such a long-term commitment anymore, because climate change is happening. It’s happening now.
Right now, the US has more people working in the solar business than in coal mining (350.org), and 9 states rely on over 12% of their overall electricity consumption from wind sources (energy.gov). Also, the EPA just announced the single greatest effort in US history to combat climate change by means of reducing carbon emissions from existing coal-fired power plants, which currently amount to 40% of the total carbon emissions across the country. With these renewable energy advances being made in the US and across the globe, things are looking up. But we have a long way to go—and we need to continue improving our renewable technologies, creating more clean energy jobs, and carefully transition into a cleaner energy economy. We’re on the right track.
Common logic aside, renewable energy serves as a beacon of optimism amidst a maligned network of coal-fired greenhouse gases. We have the technology; it is being perfected, and it is being used. We are employing thousands of people every day globally to work in the clean energy industry, and the costs of this energy continue to decrease as its technology is innovated. Maybe the “there’s nothing we can do about it” or “it’s too late to fix this” attitudes are wrong after all. Maybe we can decrease this global temperature trend. The human race has tackled environmental crises in the past, and we can do it again. We will do it again.
Here’s to optimism, technology, and sunshine.