Movement toward limiting greenhouse gas emissions gaining momentum

Pity the fool who tries to defy the laws of physics and economics.

By Paul Studebaker

My wife wants grandchildren, and becomes aggravated when I tell my sons I think they might not want to have kids of their own. It comes up when we talk about smart phones, social media, self-driving cars, politics, global population and of course, the environment.

I expect people will figure out how to fend off the worst and survive, as we always have, but it’s easy to have doubts when so many die taking selfies, eating detergent, driving themselves insane, shooting others, starving, drowning, etc. The human condition has always been out there; now it always seems to be happening right in my face.

One thing we’d rather not face is the recent U.N. report on climate change, which points out that we’re on track to warm the planet 2.7 °F over pre-industrial levels by 2040. At that temperature, we should expect hotter and longer summer heat waves, more common and intense droughts, and more frequent and extreme rain events like hurricanes Harvey and Florence.

To mitigate that temperature rise, greenhouse gas emissions will have to be decreased 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, and eliminated entirely by 2050. Not likely at the rate we’re going, eh? Because nobody’s willing to make any sacrifices or pay anything at all to do it. Like they are with the burgeoning U.S. national debt, the kids are on their own.

But not entirely on their own. Apparently, the movement toward limiting greenhouse gas emissions has gained some momentum, according to a consortium of research organizations that have tracked each nation’s progress since 2009. Climate Action Tracker says the U.S. continues to reduce its carbon emissions thanks to surprising increases in renewables and record drops in fossil-fuel use, and is on track to reduce its emissions 11-13% below 2005 levels by 2025.

"In 2017, fossil fuel-fired electricity generation experienced its steepest year-on-year decline since the 2008 financial crisis as wind and solar reached record shares in the electricity mix, and 6.3 GW of coal-fired capacity was shut down,” the consortium reported.

Even where I live in the rather red state of Indiana, coal plants are being shuttered, and not by climate-change regulation, but by economics. My utility, NIPSCO, announced its plans to stop burning coal to provide electricity, and to replace most of that capacity with renewable energy. NIPSCO will close its two remaining coal-fired generating plants by 2028. The NIPSCO spokesperson, said renewable energy sources including wind, solar and battery storage technology have become less expensive than coal to produce electricity.

Retiring the approximate 1,800 MW of coal-fired generation will significantly accelerate carbon reductions across the NIPSCO footprint and will result in further reductions, both in timing and magnitude, beyond previously announced targets, according to a NIPSCO press release.

“Technology and market changes continue to transform the energy industry, opening more competitive options and it’s the primary driver of the changes being considered for our system,” said NIPSCO president Violet Sistovaris. “Retiring our aging coal fleet sooner will cost substantially less compared to our original plans for extending retirements over a longer duration."

I like to think that’s partly because I pay NIPSCO a few extra dollars a month to promise that my portion came from renewable sources. I’m not the only person I know who does that, and I think it makes a difference. It helps that Indiana is a great place to put windmills.

As my sons remind me whenever I hate on how smart phones are making everyone stooped and stupid, technology transforms civilizations and there’s not much point in fighting it.

Like war, pestilence and famine, technology destroys the weak and unfortunate, and defines the next version of humanity. Who am I to say my grandchildren wouldn’t want to be part of that?

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