Part II: Climate Change & Energy Series
The first article in this series gave a brief overview of the human impact of climate change on a global scale and why it’s going to be a very hard problem to solve. Intended to frame the scale and size of the problem, my hope is that it will ground us in the reasons why we need to change the way in which we live our lives (you can read it here).
Here and now, I’d like to talk about that change, specifically in relation to ourselves and our children, and what we can expect as people, organizations, and governments marshal, and try to mitigate against the effects of climate change.
As I have outlined in Part I of this series, we have no choice but to make changes. Even so, we should also know that all this change is for the better. A brighter future, for ourselves, our children, and our species, in a world where we’ll have less pollution, more productive natural resources, improved mental and physical health, reduced global inequality, and where the implementation of energy efficient measures will even save us money. Our children and grandchildren will thank us!
A Brief Note on Change
Humans have a natural aversion to change — it’s deep in our DNA. Entrenched interests and ways of doing things can make it hard to accept new and seemingly disruptive change.
If we take a step back and look at the type of changes we can expect in the near future, I think any reasonable and objective person would conclude that compared to the devastating consequences of climate change that what we need to do as a society will be at worst a minor inconvenience.
Even more importantly, immediate action on climate change will bring a host of positive changes to the US. The Union of Concerned Scientists in the United States (UCSUSA) have outlined the top 10 benefits of acting to clean our energy and reduce the effect of climate change. Among others, this includes improving national and global security, saving American households and businesses money, creating jobs, and increasing our competitiveness in international markets.
There is little doubt that lobbyists, interest groups and other concerned individuals will be apoplectic in reaction towards some of the changes that I will describe in this article. It certainly makes sense that those who are benefiting most will be the most resistant to change. There is also no doubt that these feelings will be stocked and used by political interests to gain and maintain power.
So What Can We Expect?
The following are changes we can expect in a town like Ridgewood from the mitigation efforts around climate change. I have not tried to describe the impacts of climate change itself, which we will leave for another article. There are a few higher-level themes that I believe will change our society as follows:
Ultimately, everything that currently uses fossil fuels needs to be changed to run on electricity. This will mean we will need to produce a lot more electricity and it will all need to come from renewable sources. For a typical Ridgewood resident this will mean:
Electric cars, buses and trains will replace their combustion engine equivalent. This is already starting to happen in many countries and is hopefully one of the easier changes to make; the power, acceleration and efficiency of electric vehicles are not difficult to sell to the general public.
Electric heat pumps, geothermal and other techniques will replace our gas and oil boilers. These are more efficient, quieter and less polluting that traditional boilers, and generally not something people think much about until they stop working. Hopefully this will also be one of the easier changes to roll out.
Induction hobs will replace gas hobs. This will improve the health of our residents, especially children, as gas hobs can pollute the air within the home (especially if there is no range hood in place). I think this is one change where we may see pushback. I have already heard someone say that they will never replace their gas hob with an induction hob as the food will apparently taste different. The majority of people are unlikely to find issue with it. Furthermore, the decreased energy use and the benefits to indoor air quality are immense. You can read more about how gas-powered stoves are associated with poor indoor air quality in this report by the Rocky Mountain Institute here or in this Atlantic article here.
Electric fires will replace gas fires in homes. Having a roaring fire has always been something at the heart of the family, but it will have to go over time.
There are somethings that impact a typical Ridgewood resident that will be difficult to electrify, but thankfully there are other solutions on the horizon. A big example is travel by air, which will be hard to do with electric motors at distance and scale. However, we can use renewable energy to produce hydrogen which can potentially power jet engines.
Local Town Policies and Regulations
It’s likely that in the near future we will see new housing policies that will impact how we build our homes. Some key ones that are already being rolled out across the US and in other countries include:
A ban on gas lines going into new construction. This will ensure electrification for those houses.
A requirement to add solar to all new roofs. Roof solar is a technology that is advancing all the time and even in New Jersey there is significant solar energy to be harvested to produce power for all the additional electricity we will need as everything becomes electrified.
A requirement to add battery backup. Solar works best when paired with battery power, so we can reasonably expect that power storage will be a requirement in the near future on new construction.
Increased efficiency standards. We can expect improvements to how we insulate and run our homes to reduce our energy consumption.
Changes in how we recycle. We currently don’t recycle as efficiently as we could, and we can expect that there will be improvements in how we do this in the future (e.g. a push to better compost food waste).
What Can We Do Now?
The above represents a lot of change, and it might be tempting to wait for government policy, power companies and others to drive all this change. However, we can start now and commence our journey in making the changes needed for a more sustainable society. In the next article in this series I describe some practical and cost-effective things we can do right now.
Electrifying America – https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy18osti/70485.pdf
Pollution from Gas Hobs – https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/resources/documents/indoor-air-pollution-cooking