Most scientists are convinced that global warming is both real and, despite some benefits, potentially extremely dangerous for life as we know it – perhaps even for life at all. We don’t really know for sure, but to wait until we are absolutely sure might be like waiting until we are sure that the truck barrelling down on us on the road ahead isn’t going to stop before it gets to us. If we are going to do something about our contribution to the warming of Earth, the consensus is that we have about ten years to do it at a price that will not completely disrupt the lives we are now living.
The question is what can and should be done? Some things might work but at a terrible cost. If we shut down all the world’s electricity generating plants, the greenhouse gas emission problem might be solved, but factories would be closed, millions of people would freeze, starve, and die for lack of the simplest medical treatment. The solutions we find have to help solve the problem without destroying our national economies and ourselves.
Broadly, workable solutions are of two kinds: conservation and nnovation. Conservation includes everything from turning off lights we aren’t using to carbon-trading schemes and taking fewer trips by car and plane. A lot of conservation might seem simple, but its importance should not be underestimated. In fact, the problem of global warming probably can’t be solved without it. Innovation involves new ways of generating energy that don’t produce as much greenhouse gas as fossil fuels. There is huge world-wide controversy about how much alternative energy innovation can produce, and in particular whether these alternatives should include something as potentially dangerous in the long term as more nuclear plants.
Although I am often in despair about how short-sighted and selfish we humans can be, I am less pessimistic about the potential of innovation. If governments do not obstruct people’s ideas, history suggests we might develop some powerful and creative solutions, possibly even without the nuclear option. Once people are aware that we need to do something about global warming – and even in America and in the teeth of the current federal government’s years’ of denial, people are becoming convinced of this – we might think up some amazing possibilities.
Already, men and women are using the sun, wind, tides, recycled garbage, and geothermal energy. Radios, mobile phones, and flashlights can run for hours if we just shake or wind them for a few minutes. One man has even figured out how to run a clock on a lemon. I think we can do it, if we don’t spend too much effort trying to kill each other instead, and if governments don’t get in the way.