The United Nations just gave the world a major wake-up call in the form of a report finding that business as usual will push us over the edge of climate change crisis in less than two decades. Given this stark warning, it is past time for the business community, our government and fellow citizens to stop arguing over whether we have a problem and to move forward with a pragmatic dialogue to solve it.
For years, environmentalists and the energy industry have argued over the best way to cut greenhouse-gas emissions. Environmentalists have long favored renewable energy and energy efficiency, plus strict limits on carbon emissions. Meanwhile, the energy industry’s solutions tend to focus on ways to reduce emissions from traditional fossil-fuel power.
But the fact is, the climate challenge is so large that we need to consider all energy options that accelerate our transition towards a low-carbon economy. That’s why we — one of the nation’s largest climate-solutions and nuclear risk-reduction grantmakers and one of the country’s biggest energy firms — both support four essential actions the world must take together: a limit on carbon emissions, the rapid deployment of renewables, the exploration of carbon-capture solutions, and the use of safe and secure nuclear power that does not increase the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation.
Even though our institutions differ on purpose and priorities, we can both agree that time is running out to return to a safe and stable global climate. The world’s top scientists give us a vanishingly short period of time to right the ship before climate change pushes Earth past its ecological tipping point. While the debate drags on in Washington, D.C., make no mistake: our planet has already measurably warmed. The overwhelming scientific evidence says this warming is caused by the relatively recent explosion of carbon-dioxide emissions, mainly from coal, oil and gas burned in power plants, factories and cars and trucks. These emissions trap the sun’s heat like a blanket. Since the early 1950s, carbon dioxide has been rising to levels higher than seen in several hundred thousand years, and it is rising 100 times faster than ever recorded in Earth’s history.
The result is that we are beginning to irreversibly alter our atmosphere and climate. The early consequences are already coming into view: more extreme heat waves, increasingly violent storms, melting of Arctic ice, coastal flooding, loss of agricultural productivity and the spread of heat-related diseases. Left unchecked, global warming will wreak havoc on our economy, health and national security.
To avoid our worst fate, we must quickly reduce the amount of carbon dioxide accumulating from the burning of fossil fuels. Here is how we do that: reducing energy demand, using low carbon energy sources, scrubbing the carbon out of fossil fuels and extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The world’s scientific bodies suggest we must employ all these approaches at large scale over the next few decades to avoid catastrophic climate impacts.
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