February 26, 2024

Replacing Dangerous Products

Spectator
By Stephen Tuttle | Dec. 2, 2023

This has been a very hot year. Not hot compared to tens of millions of years ago, but pretty damned hot since humans have been keeping records.

According to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, July, August, and September were the hottest months on record, and 2023 is on pace to be the hottest year on record, definitely the hottest since the Industrial Revolution and possibly the hottest in the last 125,000 years. (To be fair, humans weren’t keeping records that long ago, so temperature numbers from that era are extrapolated from core samples of ice and soil that contain telltale hints of climate variations.)

The Great Lakes states are one of the few areas that saw only modest temperature gains. For those Michiganders who believe the earth has left its orbit and is hurtling uncontrollably toward the sun every time the temperature reaches 90 or higher, take heart: last summer Phoenix had 31 days in a row of high temperatures of at least 110 and 54 such days altogether—both records.

Many climate scientists believe this is just the harbinger of some very nasty weather changes yet to come. And the vast majority who have published on climate issues, more than 97 percent according to NASA, agree that climate change is real and that it is, at a minimum, being exacerbated if not outright caused by human use of fossil fuels.

There are objective ways to measure post-industrialization changes in temperatures and sea levels and compare them to records from our past. We know, according to NASA and others, sea levels have increased 6 to 8 inches over the last 100 years and ocean temperatures have increased more than 1 degree Fahrenheit. We also know air temperatures have increased at least 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880. Critics would argue humans have recorded a pathetically small slice of the earth’s life and what we’re now experiencing isn’t so unique, may or may not be a real problem, and may or may not be human caused.

Let’s assume climate change is real, it is an existential threat, and our dependence on fossil fuels is the cause. We’re making some technological progress, but fossil fuel dependence is actually getting worse globally.

Last year, the world produced more greenhouse gasses, the triggers that help change the climate. While carbon dioxide increases slowed to just 1 percent according to the International Energy Agency, our own National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports the world continues to emit methane, another greenhouse gas, at record-setting levels.

Technically, we could replace most fossil fuel-generated power with renewable sources, but we are a long way from being able to do that from a practical standpoint. Both wind and solar are now much cheaper than any fossil fuel, and battery storage capabilities have increased dramatically.

But we don’t yet have the infrastructure that would allow us to wean ourselves from fossil fuels. According to the Center for Sustainable Systems, we still get 79 percent of our power from fossil fuels, just over 13 percent from renewables, and 8 percent from nuclear.

With all that sunlight and heat, solar would seem to be an ideal alternative. But we don’t have sufficient space available for a solar array big enough to power even a small city. The world’s largest solar array, in India, produces 2245 megawatts of power, enough to supply nearly 2.5 million homes, but it occupies a whopping 14,000 acres, nearly 22 square miles, of land. Our biggest project, the Solar Star in California, occupies just under 3,500 acres and produces about 700 megawatts of power.

There is a downside to solar according to EcoWatch. Solar panel construction requires mining for indium, tellurium, and, for batteries, lithium. The heat to melt silicon, mostly done in China, uses coal as fuel. According to Energy Sage, China makes 75 percent of the world’s solar panels, 85 percent of solar cells, 79 percent of polysilicon, and 97 percent of the world’s solar panel wafers. In other words, we’re dependent on an adversary for solar power.

Making solar panels isn’t without its own issues. But once built and installed, they create zero emissions, last 25-30 years, and are mostly recyclable.

Let’s now assume the 3 percent of climate change deniers are right. This is a natural climate cycle that would be occurring without human intervention and there is no crisis, we’ll adapt.

Even so, there are some incontrovertible facts about fossil fuels. We know they are dangerous to extract, dangerous to transport, and dangerous for many to breathe their airborne emissions when burned. We’ve known all of that for a long time.

So even if our use of fossil fuels has no impact on our climate at all, isn’t it still a good idea to replace dangerous products with those that are less so?

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