A Roadmap for Reducing Global Warming (dedicated to Earth Day)
We examine 5 macro-solutions that provide a possible roadmap to solving the climate crisis
Earth Day should be an annual celebration of our progress solving the climate crisis. Instead it can feel like one of the more depressing global festivities on the calendar. An annual reminder of just how useless we are at solving our most pressing problem. After all, our key measure, rate of global warming, just keeps rising. We thought we would celebrate Earth Day by outlining a possible roadmap to solving the problem.
We should all understand the challenge by now. If we don't keep global warming to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels we risk an irreversible climate problem that could lead to extreme heating, endless violent storms and sea level rises that threaten every coastal community. This, in turn, could usher in food shortages, near total collapse of biodiversity and a possible extinction level threat. We are currently at 1.3 degrees above acceptable levels and hitting 2 degrees is pretty much baked in.
We need to acknowledge the fact that we could be looking at the end of mankind. While nature might welcome this, we have a vested interest in trying to find a genuine roadmap out of the mess. And we need to get on with it because things aren't getting any better. Last year was one of the hottest on record. This year emissions are expected to pop back to record breaking levels and scientists now say that just 3% of the world’s land remains ecologically intact with healthy populations of all its original animals and undisturbed habitat.
There are a growing amount of organisations and entrepreneurs around the world working on possible solutions. Most of them are quite niche. We are possibly confusing ourselves by considering too many approaches. To expedite things we might need to develop a focused, global roadmap with a proven set of macro-level solutions that can be implemented in reasonably short time frames.
There are two ends of the problem that need to be addressed. We need to both reduce emissions and get better at capturing and storing carbon in the right places, rather than letting it escape into the atmosphere which adds to the heating problem.
We also need to use the laws of gravity to identify the 20% of possible solutions to the climate crisis that will make 80% of the difference - then focus hard and fast on rolling them out.
We have boiled it down to just 5 macro-solutions to the problem that combined should get us there - they include renewables, electrification, replacements, rewilding and lifestyle.
Renewables. Renewable energy has relentlessly defied predictions - particularly wind and solar. Renewable costs are continuing to fall on a year-to-year basis, while oil, gas, and coal from new sources are significantly more difficult to extract, which will cause carbon-based fuels to rise in cost. We are in the middle of the greatest energy transition in history. Economics make its arrival inevitable: Clean energy is less expensive. There is a growing list of renewable energy approaches and a greater amount of energy supply is green. But countries need to accelerate the transition to renewable energy through industrial policy, incentives and licenses. The future is renewable and a full transition will make a sizable dent on carbon emissions. Much can be achieved by 2030.
Electrification. We are also in the midst of an electrification revolution as vehicles, boats, garden tools, work tools and heating systems make the switch from fossil fuel to electric. Most countries green plans are centred around renewable energy and electric vehicles. A growing number have introduced plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by, or before, 2035. Other nations should follow the lead. Market forces and incentives will tip the balance in favour of electric vehicle sales by the end of this decade. Governments need to support this by powering electric grids with renewable energy and accelerating the rollout of charging stations.
Replacements. As we get clearer about the most polluting resources and materials that feature in products and services, a growing number of businesses and entrepreneurs are developing sustainable alternatives - which we call ‘replacements’. For instance, we know that concrete and tarmac are major polluters. There are a number of alternatives that are carbon neutral. We need to develop similar green replacements for paper, pulp, building materials, roof tiles, animal feed, food, clothing, packaging and more. Expect green ‘replacements’ available for most offending materials and products by 2030. Government can accelerate their adoption by bans or health warnings for the worse polluters.
Rewilding. Rewilding has come a long way in the last 30 years. It is proven to be the most holistic solution to the biodiversity crisis. Large scale rewilding can be utilized to restore vast wildernesses, restoring habitats and wildlife populations. Smaller-scale rewilding techniques help us to return gardens, parks, verges and smallholdings to nature. Rewilding is the best mechanism for storing carbon in the ground and in our seas - where it should be. 70% of our annual emissions are absorbed this way. We need to rehabilitate our soil and water to the point where it can absorb the vast majority of our emissions again. A number of countries are starting to set targets for nature restoration. Some argue that 30% of land needs to be restored to nature. 20% would be a good start.
Lifestyle. There are a modest number of lifestyle changes that we, as a society, can make to reduce emissions and store more carbon in the ground. Everyone can plant trees in their garden and community spaces. We can try to eat a little less meat and buy less single use plastics. We can all recycle waste. These are short term changes that can be nurtured through good media stories, education and government influence. Longer term we will need to be persuaded to buy electric vehicles, green homes and wildlife gardens. If such a cultural revolution can come about this decade we could find ourselves in a very different place by the 2040’s.
As we learn more about climate change and the approaches required to tackle it effectively, it also gets clearer what we need to do about it. Let's embrace the learnings and accelerate humanities path to survival and sustainable living. It would be nice to watch the graphs on global warming starting to flatten out - then fall. It will prove just as satisfying as watching Covid graphs heading in the right direction.
The roadmap and timing is down to us. But there is hope. At least we know a great deal more about what works. Maybe it's time to start focusing on the 5 key pillars of the shorter term roadmap -renewables, electrification, replacements, rewilding and lifestyle. In so doing we could also switch the narrative from how terrible the climate crisis is, to how effective we are at implementing climate solutions and the impact on reducing global heating.
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