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Energy Solutions

Taking Action on Climate Change

What will it take for policy makers and the public finally get on board with the need to do something about climate change?

Sea levels are rising. Tuckertown, New Jersey, was underwater after the arrival of Hurricane Sandy on October 30, 2012.
Image Credit: U.S. Coast Guard

In my previous blog I described the international effort to understand climate change. The United Nations’ IPCC is leading the charge, and efforts like the Kyoto Treaty have grown out of that background work. But are we getting closer to solving the problem?

The vast majority of climate scientists are telling us that we’re careening headlong into the unknown world of a rapidly warming climate, and they offer policy recommendations for addressing that. Except for a few progressive countries that have taken to heart the need to slow carbon emissions — countries like Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Sweden — there is little sign that the rest of the world is even paying attention, let alone embarking on a path that will dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

What will it take for the rest of the world to get on board?

Peak oil?

I used to hope that the costs of extracting dwindling reserves of oil, gas, and coal would increase to the point that dramatic reductions in consumption would result. I read the articles about “peak oil” (the idea that once the peak in world oil production was reached there would be inexorable declines in production, accompanied by large increases in cost) and hoped that this could be the driver of significant reductions in fossil fuel use.

Alas, even as production of conventional oil probably did peak a few years ago, advances in extraction of unconventional oil through hydraulic fracturing (fracking), deep-seabed drilling, and other technologies compensated for the reductions in easy-to-access oil, and cost increases were largely kept in check.

Commodity pricing is tightly tied to supply and demand, though, and it’s still possible that we will see large increases in price drive conservation. But it’s also possible that costs will actually drop, making it very hard to turn our collective backs on the highly concentrated, carbon-rich fuels.

Suddenly waking up to the reality of climate change?

I have also long held out hope that science would be able to convince the public and policymakers that our current trajectory is leading us to catastrophe. The following metaphor helps explain where we are.

Imagine that your doctor tells you that you have cancer. Not satisfied with that single opinion, you visit 100 doctors for their prognoses, and 98 of them tell you that even though your symptoms may not be that obvious, you have cancer and need to take immediate action to cure it. The other two doctors tell you that the little bump is nothing and you shouldn’t worry about it. Most of us would take action based on advice the 98 doctors and not the two with contradictory advice.

That’s where we are with climate change science today. Ninety-eight percent of climate scientists are telling us that our emissions of greenhouse gases are leading us inexorably to a hotter climate, melting glaciers, sea level rise, more intense storms, and a host of other effects. But a lot of us — and especially our policy makers in Washington — are listening to that 2% of climate scientists who say “don’t worry about it; go on with business as usual.”

Much of the blame for the societal doubt about climate change has to do with journalists — my own profession. In a presentation in Putney, Vermont, last week, outdoor writer Tom Clynes, who wrote a fascinating article on climate change deniers for Popular Science magazine two years ago, explained that journalists are trained to present good information on the topic at hand, but then find an opposing points of view to present a “balanced perspective.”

Journalists do this in reporting on climate change, going back to the same climate-change deniers, such as the Heartland Institute, where well-funded “experts” offer the opposing view that climate change is a farce. This perpetuates the misimpression by the public that there still is a lot of doubt about the science of climate change.

So, while I will continue trying to convince the public and policy makers that climate change is real and we need to do something about it, I am increasingly doubtful that we will take significant action as long as the effects are mostly future predictions and not in our faces.

Seeing and feeling climate change

This brings me to the scenario that I think will most likely — finally — result in real action: a series of events that even the most skeptical climate-change denier cannot ignore. In the cancer analogy above, this would be the point at which the cancer metastasizes and multiple tumors appear on multiple organs in such a visible way that even those last two doctors who told you not to worry will now tell you that action is needed — though they might well say that it’s too late (sorry about that).

So, what would those climate-change events look like? How obvious would they have to be to finally convince the naysayers and create public demand for real action?

Will it be the next Hurricane Sandy, which this time hits New York and Boston with full Category-4 or Category-5 force and a commensurate storm surge? Will it be a drought in the West so severe that power plants have to shut down for lack of cooling water and the flow of food from California stops? Will it be three feet of sea level rise and an abandonment of Miami and New Orleans?

A focus on resilience

I wish that we as a society were more willing to base decisions on science, and I hope that if it takes more compelling evidence to convince policy makers to finally take real action on climate change that those wake-up calls won’t be too tragic in their outcomes.

As we wait to find out, I’m going to continue to focus on resilience as a driver of action. Next week I’ll remind readers that argument.

Alex is founder of BuildingGreen, Inc. and executive editor of Environmental Building News. In 2012 he founded the Resilient Design Institute. To keep up with Alex’s latest articles and musings, you can sign up for his Twitter feed.


  1. user-1119462 | | #1

    Is there a problem to worry about?
    Regrettably, you are quite mistaken if you really think that "98 %" of climate scientists believe that there is any meaningful risk of catastrophic climate change caused by a modest increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, a generally beneficial trace gas. Where is your evidence for that? The best recent statement in this area that is easily and simply accessible in a language that resembles plain English, comes from Dr Patrick Moore's presentation to the US Senate in February. He said, in part --

    "There is no scientific proof that human emissions of carbon dioxide are the dominant cause of the minor warming of the Earth's atmosphere over the past 100 years. If there were such a proof, it would be written down for all to see. No actual proof, as it is understood in science, exists".

    Essentially, he went on to say that forecasts by the IPCC participants about the effect of CO2 on our climate are speculative opinions, not repeatable science. This is not surprising, since the IPCC was founded explicitly as a political body with a pre-formed agenda, not properly a scientific one with a remit to look honestly at all the facts (including the extent of natural variation in climate over time).

    Frankly, we just don't know what is going to happen in the furure, and the "world temperature" if there is such a thing, is as likely to be colder in 20 years time as it is to be mildly warmer. Warmer would be nicer, I think, so what's all the fuss about? The context is an inch of wet snow covering my boat today, so perhaps I am biased!

    The very worst thing we could do as a society is to take heroic action to try to solve a mostly imaginary problem. Specifically, there is no evidence that Tropical Storm Sandy which you illustrate was connected in any way with global warming and/or an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere- none. If you think you have any, let's hear it.

    This article is very recent, and pretty comprehensive. It spells out my general position quite well.

    Regards, Tony.

  2. jackofalltrades777 | | #2

    Not Buying It
    I just read a scientific article that was of the opposite position of this article. It basically stated that there is NO proof that climate change is the fault of human beings. Our weather data has only been recording weather phenomena for just over 100+ years. It is next to impossible to blame climate change on what is just normal shifting weather patterns of the earth. Humans didn't cause the Ice Age.

    I believe in being a good steward of the earth and being responsible and in building energy efficient homes but I don't buy into these "fear tactics" and all of this "gloom and doom." I will pass and not drink Kool Aid.

  3. user-1033221 | | #3

    The problem is....
    I think the main impediment to universal acceptance and action on climate change is the hiatus in increase in global temperatures which, as I understand it, is thought to be caused by absorbtion of heat by the Pacific Ocean. Should that cycle end and temperature rises return to trend I think it would be a tipping point.

    I don't blame journalists, they get a bad press..ha,ha. Some blame does lie with the scientific community itself which seems over keen to flood the system with low grade research in many areas, probably as promotion of universities and their funding.

  4. wjrobinson | | #4

    Journalism really???
    Alex, you blew it my man. Sandy... Climate change? Ridiculous.

    The main huge change on earth is the same one you and I were taught in elementary school.

    Population Alex. You're the expert. How come this nobody builder has to splain global change to you?
    :) aj

  5. wjrobinson | | #5

    Nature will fix earth's
    Nature will fix earth's overpopulation as it always does. We all live and die. Doesn't really matter how once you've completed nature cycle does it really? No.

  6. user-741168 | | #6

    thanks, Alex

    Now I’m kicking myself for not being the first commenter, and saying how much I appreciate your posting on climate change here and the previous posting.

    I like going back to see where ideas come from. My favorite source these days is the first report of the council on environmental quality (1970). It has a foreward by Richard Nixon and the primary author (of three), Russell Train, was a Republican, so I take the liberty of referring to it as what Republicans were thinking back in 1970.

    Global warming took a vacation between 1940 and 1970, with maybe even a slight dip in average global temperatures. In their chapter “Man’s Inadvertent Modification of Weather and Climate” they ask (p. 95) to what extent are climatic fluctuations of the past years due to natural processes or to man’s intervention? Under “Carbon dioxide—An earth warmer?” there is an unchallenged recognition of the greenhouse effect. They state “If 60 percent of the emissions of carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere and there is a 5 percent yearly growth of fossil fuel consumption, then by 1990 there would be about 400 parts per million in the atmosphere. If this were not offset by other activity, then the earth’s average surface temperature would increase by 1.4 degrees F. On the other hand, if 40 percent of the artificially produced carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere and the present 4 percent growth of fossil fuel consumption continues, then a level of 400 parts per million will not be reached until about the year 2010.”

    How much CO2 is taken up by the oceans was the big unknown for them, and was just beginning to be studied. They state “The combined effect of carbon dioxide pollution and heat pollution is strongly in the direction of warming the earth’s atmosphere. Particle pollution tends to lower the earth’s temperature. Which pollution effect will ultimately dominate? Will we indeed drown or will we freeze?”

    Their conclusions include: “Enough is known about the physical environment to establish the fact that inadvertent modification is occurring. But not enough is known to predict all the consequences of atmospheric changes confidently. Despite its importance, research on inadvertent climate modification has been neglected. Only about 1 percent of Federal Government research monies for weather modification go to programs investigating man’s inadvertent modification.

    Their recommendations?
    1. Worldwide recognition should be given to the long-term significance of manmade atmospheric alterations.
    2. Worldwide ground monitoring of turbidity, carbon dioxide content and water vapor distribution in the atmosphere should be done with particular attention to oceanic areas.
    3. Satellite monitoring of global cloud cover, atmospheric heat balance and surface albedo should be accelerated.
    4. Research on models of the thermal and dynamical processes within the atmosphere and the boundary between the atmosphere and the solid earth and oceans needs emphasis.

    Those Republicans, what are we going to do with them?

    Incidentally, for anyone interested in the relation between temperature and the moisture content of the air, I invite you to download local weather data. Compare the overnight low temperature (drybulb) to the dewpoint the following day. I get a strong 1 to 1 correlation. So if nighttime lows are going up, I’d expect the water content of air to go up. And water makes weather.

  7. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #7

    I'm saddened
    Thanks for your important blog. I'm saddened that so many of the posted comments offer evidence that people aren't ready to face the challenges ahead.

    But you know that.

    Science is beleaguered this days, as it was in the time of Galileo.

  8. user-741168 | | #8

    regarding population
    Regarding population, the Republicans I mentioned in the comment above say that the rate of population growth contributes to environmental decay. “It is more difficult to have environmental quality with the pressure of population.”

    For these Republicans, “Values concerning family size cannot be changed directly by public policy, but there are measures which can be taken to influence such values. One, for example, would be to improve training and employment opportunities for women, opening up for them many acceptable roles other than rearing children. There are now only half as many women as men enrolled in colleges and universities, and only 10 percent of the students in professional schools are women. Opening more career possibilities for women would move the country toward a wider range of family size, since some career women will choose to have no children, and at the same time would make available to the Nation a valuable and underutilized pool of talent.”

    Now educating, employing and empowering women seems to me like a pretty good place to start when addressing population issues. Anyone looking for a real surprise, turn to page 152 of the First Report.

  9. user-1119462 | | #9

    I'm saddened - Martin.
    Martin, a belief like yours held without willingness to look unemotionally at the full evidence of its possible falsification is really a demonstration of a cult religion, not science. Think about it. Have you actually read Lawson's paper and Dr Moore's Senate presentation, to which I referred? Why and how are they wrong?

    Regards, Tony.

  10. Allan27 | | #10

    Dr Joe's Thoughts
    The last time Joe Lstiburek was in Houston discussing some building science topics at our local HBA, particular to our climate, I attended and took some notes. Regarding climate change he said:

    "No question climate is changing.
    Could be bad but maybe not.
    Looks like we did it but not completely sure.
    We can fix it, but is it worth it?
    Questions Are: when, how bad, did we do it, can we do anything about it."

    I pretty much agree with him.

  11. STEPHEN SHEEHY | | #11

    It seems to me that the
    It seems to me that the question we should be asking is, given that a great many climate experts are saying that humans are causing the climate to warm and global temps to rise, are we obligated to do anything? Should we wait until there is 100 per cent consensus?
    Put another way, how much risk are we willing to subject our children to to avoid the inconvenience associated with no longer ripping the tops from the hills of West Virginia so we can have cheap electricity?
    Put yet another way, are we prepared to impose building codes that result in efficient homes being built? Are we willing to give up our freedom to do whatever we want?
    Those of us who are not scientists can always find someone who says what we want to hear.

  12. wjrobinson | | #12

    Look folks, what Alex
    Look folks, what Alex mentions... Sandy... and Martin saying we some are not ready... bonkers!

    Posting nonsense IS nonsense.

    Bill Rose posts make sense, Joe Lstiburek makes sense.

    Anthony has challenged you Martin. Have you read up his citings?

    And lastly finally someone I respect in this field Bill Rose has noted population IS the problem not CO2.


    Which is driven by poverty and Religious nuts!

    But nobody wants to yap about the harm religion does now do we!!??!! NOPE.

    aj Reality starts with me alone apparently

  13. wjrobinson | | #13

    Symptoms or what really is growing too large
    There are too many people.

    Religion needs to be rebooted with a bit more science.

    What do you suggest Martin and Alex that we can keep growing the world population and go back to 300 ppm CO2. You guys are the deniers!!!! Impossible.

    Tell us how to do that hat trick... really. tells us... love to hear.

  14. M.Waring | | #14

    Everyone has an alterior motive

    Here is your boy Patrick right here. Some of you who accuse irrationality seem a little hot under the collar yourself. My generation is on board with doing whatever possible to ensure that we move forward with sustainability in the forefront. Born and bred on the three R's, we will move forward with Climate Change as gospel fact whether you all want to or not, simply because it is the right, clean thing to do - protect the environment. On the topic of actual building, if you aren't already moving toward energy neutral, you're behind. Good Luck.

  15. Alex Wilson | | #15

    Response to AJ
    I agree with AJ that overpopulation is a huge issue today--an 800-pound gorilla. I have long supported the Population Media Center (, which is doing incredibly important work through entertainment media to change attitudes about education, the status of women in society, family planning, etc. PMC works with local organizations in less developed countries to produce radio or television soap operas that are having a huge impact on family panning and desired family size. I recall that a soap opera in Kenya had gained viewership of something like 70% of the female population and led to a dramatic shift in the desire or girls to go to school and have smaller families. You should check out and support PMC.

    I have generally avoided writing about population issues in this forum. I used to think that was because I didn't want to be attacked for my opinions--but I get attacked plenty already (as readers of this forum know), so maybe I'm getting a thicker skin. While also apparently controversial (to my continuing surprise), climate change has a more direct relationship to buildings.

    And, AJ, while I feel that population is an 800-pound gorilla, it is not the only 800-pound gorilla. I believe that climate change is an even more serious problem, because its impacts will continue for so long. I recognize that population is a huge driver of carbon emissions and climate change, but I believe that focusing only on population issues without addressing climate change would be a big mistake.

  16. user-741168 | | #17

    response to aj builder

    In speaking of the 1970 First Report, I mentioned that they addressed population. Population has some importance in my opinion, but not primary importance.

    An American uses twice the energy per capita as a German. A German uses twice that of a Chinese. A Chinese uses twice that of an Indian and an Indian uses twice that of an African. Much of the world's population lives and dies with practically no impact on global CO2. The North American responsibility for climate change cannot be ignored while awaiting declining populations. It is much more productive to view fossil fuel use and CO2 production as a function of economic activity.

  17. BobConnor | | #18

    Alex thank you!
    Finally, talk of the Elephant in the Room of climate change. Although I think a lot of the men here are "family men" and have kids, so talk of "that issue" is personal to them (do you have kids? does Martin?) While we all need to save energy as discussed here, family planning will help a lot. And as I always say, the most gas-guzzling, steak eating, travel the world, SUV racing, beer and coffee guzzling playboy has much less carbon footprint than a family does.

  18. Expert Member
    Dana Dorsett | | #19

    The oil problem will fix itself... (with cheap PV solar)
    Peak oil consumption in the already-deveoped world has already passed, but demand in the developing world is rising faster than it has been falling in the OECD countries (and former Soviet Union countries.) Despite a quadrupling of the price of oil six years ago, the world production rate has only increased about 10% I from about 80Mbbl/day to about 88Mbbl/day) The inelastic source and increasing demand is delivering a high price for oil products, but already the per-BTU price of oil products are above the lifecycle cost per BTU of PV solar at 2014 pricing, and by 2025 the price of PV will be less than half what it is today (less than 1/4 the average cost for grid-tied PV in the US in 2014.)

    At the same time the cost of battery technology is crashing, for both grid-storage applications and for automotive applications. The tipping point at which it will be no-brainer financial move for car buyers in the developed-world automotive fleet to begin a rapid conversion toward plug-in electric is closer than most of us think. Elon Musk (founder of Tesla Motors) is betting 5 billion dollars that the cost of lithium ion car batteries can be under $200/kwh beforeY2020, which will be one knee point in the curve. When it hits $100/kwh it'll blow the lid off. But prior to then distributed PV and grid storage (on both sides of the meter) using cheaper technology storage will have already enabled the electrification of the personal transportation fleet, and put a cap on electricity price inflation.

    This is not some fantasy scenario of green-dreamers, it's the considered & calculated view of analysts at CityGroup and Sanford Bernstein investment banks. Bernstein is predicting broad energy price deflation worldwide by the end of the 2020s. Oil production from shale or sand has a price floor of about $75/bbl before it's not profitable (today's price is about $100/bbl) but the price of PV- derived energy will be well below that in 2025. There may be technology innovations that allow tight oil to be extracted at $50/bbl by then, but the market should also be shrinking by then, rather than continuing to rise, due to competition from other sources for many or even most applications. The transition won't be overnight, but the rate of transition will accelerate quickly once the transportation sector tipping point has passed. Not surprisingly the release of that analysis has been considered good news by the solar-cheerleading crowd:

    With some caution about risk aspects from others in the finacial sector, at least on the automotive end:

    It's unlikely that lithium ion will win the grid-storage market- there are cheaper, simpler low power density options under development all over the world. The coming of widely distributed storage and PV is already decimating some utility business models, and it's a tsunami that will crush the less-nimble utilities, some of which are being hamstrung by less than nimble regulators. The state of New York threw the doors wide open this week, inviting commentary on how to best re-structure the utility business. It's a bit arcane for the average Joe on the street, but this is a big deal- a bigger deal than "decoupling" was a decade or two ago, and bigger than California's regulator-mandate approach to the big picture. It'll be exciting to see what they come up with, but "business as usual" just became history in the electric utility biz, in ways that will inevitably push fossil fueled generation into decline over time. No matter what the cost of the fuel is, it's a cost, and that cost has been volatile. Cheap renewables have no fuel cost, and cheap grid storage can provide better grid stability for the rate-payers than fossil fired peakers, since storage can both sink & source power.

    This stuff is nearly ready for prime time, and going into high renewables locations where power is currently being dumped (like parts of Hawaai's grid that is overloaded with PV to the point where wind-power has to be curtailed to keep the grid stable):

    For an audio explantion of what New Yorks' move means, the GTM podcast linked to on this page is a good listen:

  19. BobConnor | | #20

    So Dana, do you have kids?
    There are too many people.

    Religion needs to be rebooted with a bit more science.

    As for religion, there is a way we can all do something good for the world. Next Sunday, your priest or minister will be asking for more money (they always do). Don't give it to them. Instead, write a check to your local Planned Parenthood center. If you don't want to do that, donate to your animal shelter. Or even buy more insulation for the attic will be a way to save the world with your money.

  20. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #21

    Response to AJ Builder
    I don't know why your attempt to post a long comment failed. Feel free to post a new comment if you have more to say.

  21. fitchplate | | #22

    We are considering only what
    We are considering only what we are told to pay attention to by the EPA. Are you aware for example that the most efficient greenhouse gasses and ozone depleting effluents are in the class of HFC’s and CFHC’s. Carbon pales as a GHG compared to these gasses. So how come the EPA the EU laws exempt the nuclear weapons and nuclear power fuel processing cycles from the emissions’ control regulations and do not even require these industries to report their shares of GHG emissions. By the way, if you have been fooled by false claims that nuclear is “green”, consider this: the single greatest contributors of ozone depleting and man-made daily global contributions of GHG’s are US and European uranium enrichment facilities.

  22. wjrobinson | | #23

    800 pound humans... you're giving apes a bad rap
    800 pound gorillas... Alex to post accurately you need to be able to take some heat. You still are making a basic mistake. CO2 and methane from HUMANS burning fossil fuel and raising cattle is directly a connected to how much of a problem from how many HUMANS want to have fuel and cattle. And how many HUMANS want to clear rain forests and over fish the oceans and kill and eat all the whales and club the baby seals. HUMANS...

    (less humans equals less problems caused by humans)

    While the earth has added 6 billion humans in the last 100 years there has still been a huge push for each religious groups of humans to have more humans to protect and take over areas they want to control via having boat loads of human offspring.

    Jews.... Israel... they need to hang on through numbers
    Palestinians... they want their place... add numbers since they don't have the US weapons the Jews have
    Muslims... have em till they dominate the world
    Christians... been having kids... Catholics not allowed to stop having kids (birth control is a sin) been trying to take over the world via human production for two thousand years

    Now the Chinese did the right thing because they already are crapping in their sleeping bag a bit too much. They made a community law that says one child per couple for city folks And rightly so if you have ever stepped foot in Beijing, you can walk on the smog. The Chinese are smart humans and I bet they are a big part of the world surviving humans.

    Dana is right about the how and where this all is headed. Technology got us industry that tapped all the trapped CO2 fuels and technology is getting us solutions.

    And as to religions? Who knows.... war still gets some humans off the planet, my god better than your god... or I ride horses shirtless... so what you can swish a b-ball black man...

    Look... Life is fun... war and religion is living hell on earth. Have one kid. Get off the planet, go hang glide. Buy a Tesla. Install PV. Walk to work.

    Every group needs to like to compete with the other groups but each day the game ends, there is a winner of the day and then like any game the players need to shake hands, smile, talk about life and family and bond over our similarities. Then ask a new friend to dinner. Take him hang gliding.

    So Alex. I still want to hear what you think will be the solution.

    Talking about a problem is not a solution. A solution is a solution.

    I am with Dana. As a semi educated engineer, I know engineers will be the humans that get us through our future human caused problems.

    Engineers with brains and passion... the Jobs and Musks.

    Solutions... are great... talk is cheap. Just yesterday I decided my new back building needs to be farther North to the back of my property so it's roof could miss more shade. Love my trees... I can't cut another, already cut one down that I miss to this day. Love a tree, have less kids.. Play with your friends kids, it's great, they wipe the snot and you get the fun and you are saving the planet.

  23. wjrobinson | | #24

    Martin, interesting posting of mine prior to this one
    My post before this is much longer and the site is truncating it, but it is still there when I hit edit. Interesting anomaly. What gives? Maybe one of the gods I offended is THEE God!

    No god... just added a character not allowed... thanks Martin... fixed now

  24. wjrobinson | | #25

    flitch... I agree with
    flitch... I agree with yaa.... when someone gets dopey and says Sandy is a sign... they should lose their right to journalism... to breathe .o4% CO2

  25. BobConnor | | #26

    About engineers...
    I am with Dana. As a semi educated engineer, I know engineers will be the humans that get us through our future human caused problems.

    Unfortunately, in my area, I did not learn what an engineer did until I was a freshman in college and was in business administration (what a miserable major). In my childhood neighborhood, there were at least 5 men I knew to be engineers. All 5 were nasty, surly, men who made "good money" and had a lot of kids and were active in the church (as rude ushers). No one ever talked about how they solved problems and all I knew is they came home from work miserable and plopped in the Lazy Boy and fell asleep in front of the TV after yelling at the kids. Oh, also that the calculus you have to take is "sooooo Hard!!" How did you guys ever know about the profession?

    While I agree we must build efficient buildings and use energy wisely, the way to save the world is not at Home Depot. You can help a lot with a trip down the family planning aisle at Target.

    Flitch plate: I follow atomic energy. I agree the EPA should regulate refrigerant emissions from the uranium enrichment industry, maybe they cannot because department of defense is involved. The newer centrifuge method will use much less energy than the previous gas diffusion method, which should help.

  26. woodgeek68 | | #27

    Climate change skepticism is
    Climate change skepticism is popular in many countries....including the US, Zimbabwe and Yemen.

    Totally agree that population is the issue, but one which is already (imperfectly) solved. When countries develop (i.e. get reasonable access to energy services), birth rates collapse. All the developed nations of the world are at or below replacement level (including the US, less immigration). Population continues to rise because of momentum in the system, and yet undeveloped countries.

    So, want slower or negative population growth...give people access to cheap energy.

    Most of the dire predictions (mass extinction on land and sea) correspond to future GHG emissions. It is not too late. I am a climate change believer, but a 'tipping point' skeptic. Its NOT too late.

    So, let us be global leaders on how to live the good life, with low GHG emissions, through advances in efficiency and affordable low-carbon energy sources. I thought this was the place to find out how to do that. Go Alex!

    If the US can do it, other countries will too. Right now, the US is too often bringing up the rear on this issue.

  27. Expert Member
    Dana Dorsett | | #28

    Answer to Robert Connor regarding engineering (#27)
    "How did you guys ever know about the profession?"

    Engineering is the natural extension of math & science studies (I earned degrees in both), applying the known to real-world applications. If math & science was never your cup o' camelia sinensis it takes a bit off one's ability appreciate the nature what it's about.

    Sorry to hear your early exposure to engineers was so off-putting- your characterization doesn't fit any of those in my office (other than they all happen to be men.) Of those with families the largest family has a kid-census of 3, (two adoptees, one genetic), and all of those with families have at least one adoptee. None are regular church attendees, two are members of synagogues, but not particularly active, and none of them are rude or nasty by nature.

    But solving the carbon-energy problem takes as much business model innovation as it does further engineering effort at this point. The stuff that's being built today really IS good enough to compete, and still has plenty of incremental improvement on both efficiency & cost to chew on. The levelized cost wind & solar energy is rapidly closing in on (or has already passed) the cost of combined cycle gas power at current near-record low (and nearly profit-free for the extractors) price of natural gas. (See: )

    But renewables are the flip-side of gas plants financially- front loaded on capital cost, with near-zero operating cost. Business majors (miserable major that it might be) more so than engineers have been responsible for getting distributed rooftop PV power implemented on the customers side of the meter (about half of all PV installations in the US), via third-party ownership & lease options, as well as aggregating output from diverse locations to cover power purchase agreements (PPAs). Innovation on the business & financial end, making the capital debt "bankable" via securitization & sale is an area of active innovation, now that the levelized cost of rooftop PV output has crossed below the residential retail rates in high-cost areas, and soon will be everywhere in the US. In Hawaii (where the grid-power has been traditionally diesel-powered and high cost) more than 11% of all grid customers have PV on their side of the meter. This will be true in most of the US before 2025.

    Nukes may be low carb, but aren't exactly green, or cheap- they've gone from "too cheap to meter" to "too expensive to matter", no matter how technically kewl they might be. Unlike PV they don't scale downward very far, and are reliant on larger grid structures & capacities to get the power to the loads. The economics of keeping existing nukes going has legs in some cases for now, but it's getting harder every day, as the capacity factors of PV & wind continue to rise year & on year, with an even faster fall in cost.

  28. wjrobinson | | #29



  29. Allan27 | | #30

    Design change
    I actually had a 1st yesterday regarding the change in climate or more specifically local weather. I have a new home client I am working with who wants the engineer of record to design their home to withstand higher wind loads than currently required (110 mph) . They want to design to withstand 140 mph winds because of their expectations of wild changes in weather events in coming years.

    Also, funny thing I saw on Twitter:


    1. Denial
    2. Guilt
    3. Depression
    4. Acceptance
    5. Drowning

  30. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #31

    Response to Allan Edwards
    One more sign that Americans have given up on forestalling the coming crisis, and are beginning to think about adaptation...

  31. wjrobinson | | #32

    Forestall, seriously?
    Forestall, seriously?

    Adaption is life, one in the same Martin.

    Those that don't, get the Darwin award.

  32. user-3549882 | | #33

    A curious observation
    WOW. Alex really opened Pandora's climate change box.

    So, I'm reading along about the climate and whether it's a problem or not. The opinions seem tenacious. I'm pleased to see the issue of population presented. It all seems daunting and thick with politics.

    And then I'm feeling inadequate. Do I really have anything to add? It occurs to me: We aren't going to be here many more years. We want to leave a better world for our children. There's some urgency here. And, whether I agree with them or not, I believe EVERY contributor who has already written and those that will follow are ALL trying to make things better. I'm willing to bet that every contributor is interested to see that we address real problems and make a positive contribution. And there's the point about talk is cheap and solutions are needed.

    Here's my contribution: I'm actively reducing the energy we use. I do my own work. I'm retired. I don't have to do it all. I choose to do it. I pass along any ideas that have worked for me. I risk getting hammered by those in the GBA dialogue. I track my results with monthly utility bills. I've reduced our usage of gas and electricity by 50% over the last 12 years or so. We have 2 children. They each have two children.

    That stuff is not enough. We need to pay attention to how we are collectively and that means politics. But I'm no good at politics. I notice, however, that despite our problems as a nation and despite any shortcomings in our leadership, we are doing a lot of things right and I know the future is still a promising one if we work for it. Somehow we need to rediscover ourselves and what we will do to chart and achieve our future together and I have to remind myself that the 'WE' continues to change and yesterday's dreams as good as they were aren't necessarily the same ones that WE dream now. So, right now, I'm starting by not minding the political posturing I read in some of the comments. I remind myself that everyone is working to make things better and I can say that for each contributor. I look for what parts I can agree with, not just look for faults I can criticize. I surmise most GBA readers are probably having a bigger impact than I will.

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