Friday, August 22, 2014

What if climate change doesn\’t happen?

November 4, 2010 |

Enterprise columnist


The last column posed the question, “What if we woke up tomorrow and everything the scientists predict is going to happen due to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had come to pass overnight?”


What would we need to do to survive that new world of hotter temperatures and heat waves where the sea has risen a dozen feet or more? There would be no more time to adapt, to plan and to mitigate; we would be in an emergency and the response by governments at all levels would affect everyone.


The contrary scenario is posed by the question, “What if we do listen to the warnings, take global warming seriously, set greenhouse gas reduction targets, and construct and implement plans to minimize the predicted effects of global warming; but then nothing happens?”


We arrive at the year 2100 and the polar bears are surviving and thriving, the oceans have not risen, and global temperatures are about the same as today? The scientists were wrong and we didn\’t really need to make all those plans and take all those actions to reduce CO2 emissions. Climate change really was an error, a myth or a hoax.


Aside from all the finger-pointing (Congress would be holding hearings to figure out whom to blame), what would the world look like?


First and foremost, the world would have made a transition from a fossil fuel-based economy to one where energy is derived from renewable and sustainable sources such as solar, wind and biofuels. Sometimes lost in the discussion about climate change is the reality that the world has only so much oil and gas. We have arrived, or soon will, at what experts refer to as “peak oil” — the point where the amount of oil that we can extract from the planet has reached its peak and will begin to decline.


When this restriction on supply is coupled to increased demand — both from population growth and also from economic growth, particularly in lesser developed countries such as China and India — there is upward pressure on the price we pay to fill our gas tanks. More than that, oil is a feedstock or energy source for almost everything we manufacture, transport and consume.


Implementing climate action plans that encourage renewable energy sources reduces the inevitable negative economic effects of peak oil — independent of the issue of global warming.


Implementation of climate action plans today will reduce U.S. dependence on foreign sources of oil, a goal everyone seems to share but which some who “don\’t believe” in climate change seem to overlook as a benefit. Climate action plans will make the world a safer place.


Climate action plans emphasize efficiency and, again independent of the issue of climate change, greater efficiency in energy use not only resonates with the values of thriftiness and being smart about how we use resources, it also puts money in consumers\’ pockets. Filling a 10-gallon tank in a car that gets 40 miles to the gallon will, over time, cost the owner half of what it will take to fill the tank of a 20 mpg car.


Same thing for utility bills: A house or business that is built or retrofitted to be properly insulated, has Energy Star appliances and a few photovoltaic panels on the roof is going to cost the occupant much less to operate than one that is not so constructed or retrofitted. In simple terms, it is absurd to “waste” anything, especially if it costs money and/or its use has a negative consequence on the environment. The emphasis on efficiency in climate action plans will put more money in everyone\’s pockets.


Those rooftop solar panels, in conjunction with “solar farms” that provide electricity to communities, also will charge electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles that further reduce or eliminate reliance on fossil fuels.


Even though population increases, and California is more crowded, congestion will be reduced by local transit and by high-speed rail that will take us, for example, from Davis to Los Angeles, where a Zipcar will be waiting to complete the trip to Aunt Esther\’s house for Thanksgiving.


Implementing climate action plans will jump-start a green economy and create good jobs so that our children and future generations won\’t be reading “made in China” or “made in Germany” on the solar panels on our rooftops or the wind farms and other energy-generating systems yet to be invented. Moving away from coal also will reduce the incidence of air pollution and we won\’t see those pictures of people in Beijing wearing gas masks as a routine part of life.


Mixed use and smart development will make our communities more livable, our neighborhoods more walkable, with daily needs such as schools and groceries safely and conveniently accessible.


Implementing climate action plans, even if the scientists are wrong about the predicted negative effects of climate change, will result in a world in 2100 that is safer. Nationally, we will be more secure, more efficient and less wasteful, with a stronger economy, leadership in green jobs, a healthier environment and more money in people\’s pockets.


— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis. This column appears the first and third Thursday of each month. Send comments to




John Mott-Smith



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