In a matter of seconds, a timelapse of NASA’s Landsat satellite images show large-scale environmental changes, including the diminishing Columbia Glacier and rainforest loss in the Amazon, from just 30 years of human impact. Looking at what we have managed to do in just the past 30 years creates quite a bleak image of our planet’s future. If we don’t reduce greenhouse emissions significantly, the habitat range of 50 percent of plants and 30 percent of animals could be cut in half before the end of the century. For some species, that spells extinction. In addition, storms with the strength of Katrina and Sandy could increase in frequency, battering our country’s densely populated coastline regions and our aging infrastructure. It’s scary stuff.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently released a report that provides a small glimmer of hope. According to the Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks, U.S. emissions actually decreased by 1.6 percent from 2010 to 2011. Sure, a 1.6 percent decrease is only a small improvement, but with an average U.S. annual emissions increase of 0.4 percent since 1990, a decrease of any amount is encouraging.
But on the heels of the mid-April EPA announcement came news from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography that atmospheric carbon dioxide reached a new high of 400 parts per million in May. At the current pace, atmospheric carbon dioxide is projected to reach 450 parts per million by 2038, the level beyond which most climate scientists believe global temperatures will rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius. Indeed, 450 parts per million is the stabilization goal that more than 200 nations have adopted through the work of the United Nations. For reference, prior to the Industrial Revolution atmospheric CO2 concentrations were about 280 parts per million.
Obviously, combating climate change is a global challenge. The new Secretary of Energy Dr. Ernest Moniz, who was sworn in last week, stated at the 2013 Energy Efficiency Global Forum, “I just don’t see solutions to our biggest energy and environmental problems without a very strong demand-side response, and that’s why it’s quite logical to move [energy efficiency] up in our priorities.” With efficiency at the top of the list, the Department of Energy will continue its focus on increased fuel economy, advanced manufacturing, grid integration of renewables, building efficiency, and other energy-efficient technologies, including computers that make better use of waste heat. Secretary Moniz also emphasized the need to work with states and regions to meet the President’s goals of doubling our energy efficiency by 2030.
To address climate change, it’s critical to make changes at every level in society: global partnerships, national and state agendas, industries, as well as more conscious decisions at the company, university, and individual level. Even with all of these changes, we’re still going to experience climate change to some extent, and we need to be ready for it. One way we are helping at Nexight Group is by supporting the National Infrastructure Advisory Council in studying how regions can become more resilient to emerging threats, including the effects of climate change. Further, much of our work in the materials, energy, and manufacturing sectors directly or indirectly addresses climate change. There’s no climate change panacea; every little bit helps and every little bit is needed.