The science laid out in a new U.N. report is clear and stark: Our fossil-fueled economy has irreversibly changed the global climate. Less certain is whether we’ll change lifestyles to confront rising seas and supercharged storms, according to scientists and policy analysts.
Going solar is expensive, but a confluence of plummeting equipment prices, rising utility bills, new financing schemes and a raft of federal, state, and local incentives are encouraging homeowners across America to take the plunge and put photovoltaic panels on their roofs, even in rainy Seattle.
In 2013, 792 megawatts of solar capacity was installed on homes. That figure is expected to increase 61 percent in 2014 and another 53 percent in 2015, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a Washington-based trade group. A megawatt of solar capacity is typically enough to power 200 average U.S. homes, though the number varies depending on factors such as available sunlight and panel orientation.
On a recent drizzly July morning here, homeowner Brian Palmer gestured out the window to the falling rain. There, workers in slickers from a local solar energy company prepared to put photovoltaic panels on his roof, one of the hundreds of such installations that occur daily across the country.
In a bid to stave off the dire effects of global warming on human health and the environment, the White House on Monday unveiled a new plan to slash carbon emissions from the power sector by 30 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2030.
“That’s like cancelling out annual carbon pollution from two-thirds of all cars and trucks in America,” Gina McCarthy, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said in announcing the new rules.
Recently, several scientific studies have concluded that the global climate is less sensitive to the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide than previously believed. Other studies also found that cuts to short-lived pollutants such as soot could temporarily slow the pace of warming.
Neither, however, are reasons to delay weaning the world off fossil fuels in a bid to curb global warming, according to a pair of perspective papers released Thursday.
Politicians and activists seized on a major scientific report saying that human activity is “extremely likely” to be the dominant cause of global warming— and used it to prod world leaders toward a global deal to curb greenhouse-gas emissions.
“The future we are heading to is not the future we want to leave to our children and grandchildren and future generations,” Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, told NBC News.
An international panel of scientists is expected to issue a report Friday that dismisses nearly every doubt that human activity has caused temperatures to warm, glaciers to melt, and seas to bulge since the middle of last century. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise precipitously, the report will warn, there will be catastrophic consequences. Whether these strong words will be met with meaningful response is another matter.
The scientists with the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have been working behind closed doors in Stockholm, Sweden, this week to hammer out the exact wording of the report, though experts anticipate little departure from the main messages contained in a draft that was leaked to the media in August.
Next week, a body of scientists is expected to present ironclad evidence that links humanity’s fossil-fuel burning and forest-clearing ways to rising temperatures, shrinking glaciers, bulging seas and ferocious bouts of weather. The evidence could nudge global policymakers to reach a grand bargain to overhaul how we live in a bid to stabilize the global climate. But it probably won’t, experts say.
Nearly four years ago, thousands of scientists, diplomats, non-profit workers and activists converged in Copenhagen with hopes that the then most recent version of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s assessment report would lead to such a deal. Instead, the world received a non-binding agreement to limit warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels.