TRYING TO UNDERSTAND CLIMATE CHANGE – PART III

In our two previous blogs (April 26 and May 31), we tried to analyze the problem, as well as the practicality of the solutions.  Here, in our final blog in this series, we look at some other factors which contribute to both the problem and the solution.

What are the biggest challenges to meet the goals of the Paris Accord?

“Cost is one,” said Ethan Elkind, director of the climate program at U.C. Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy and the Environment.

“Prices are coming down in all the alternative technologies,” he said, “but we won’t know how much it would cost.  We also presumably would have to retire some existing power plants, so the ratepayer impacts are unknown but could well be substantial.”

Another challenge is energy storage.

“A total reliance on renewable energy would require a major expansion of storage capacity for those times when the wind dies down and the sun fades,” said Sadrul Ula, managing director of U.C. Riverside’s Global Energy Center.

“Lithium batteries offer good potential,” he said, “but they’re still not there yet.”

Another Cost – To You and Me

In addition to the substantial costs we would have to pay to achieve anything close to the Paris goals ($2,500 to $3,000 per household to implement a carbon tax), the Paris agreement requires us to pay $3 billion or more to help undeveloped countries try to meet their goals.

An Alternative for Carbon Emissions

The climate change fight has focused largely on cutting emissions.  California is now considering another solution:  DIRT.

While an overabundance of carbon in the air has been disrupting our climate, plants are hungry for the stuff.  The Central Valley’s farmlands essentially operate as a vast lung, breathing in carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and converting it into plant tissues.  That results in less of the heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere.

But the healthier the soil, the more carbon is stored in plants.  Enter California’s Healthy Soils Initiative, a statewide program rolling out this summer that is the first of its kind in the country.

More than a quarter of California’s landmass is used for agriculture.  Over generations, farming practices like monocropping and tillage have reduced the amount of organic matter in the soil, affecting plant growth.  Some of that organic matter, which contains carbon, needs to be put back.

“If you don’t put carbon back in, you’re kind of over-mining the soil,” said Kate Scow, a professor of soil science at the University of California, Davis.

California’s initiative will give grants to farmers who take steps to reverse that nutrient loss.  Those could include adding compost on rangelands or seeding fields between harvests with so-called cover crops such as grasses and mustards, which add organic matter to the soil.

State officials say such measures could eliminate from the air the equivalent of millions of tons of carbon dioxide a year.  No one is exactly sure how much, however.

For now, the soils initiative is funded with just $7.5 million, a drop in the bucket for a state with more than 76,000 farms.  But officials hope it can be expanded after demonstrating enough interest from farmers.

To that end, they’ve pushed the program as a win-win by citing evidence showing healthy soils produce higher yields.  “But many unknowns still need to be sorted out,” said Cynthia Cory, director of environmental affairs for the California Farm Bureau Federation.

Even if the new measures are good for yields, whether they justify a farm’s time, labor and expense depends on its unique circumstances.

“We need to try it,” Ms. Cory said.  “I don’t know if bad or good is the question.  It’s just, ‘Is it worth it?’”

The Politicians vs. the People

poll after poll shows that “climate change” is not a high priority for American voters.

A recent Gallup poll found only 34% of Americans believe global warming will pose a serious threat in their lifetimes.  The poll found climate change was dead last on a list of 13 issues important to voters.  And when a recent Massachusetts poll asked respondents to choose the greatest long-term threat to the United States, they chose terrorism over global warming, 58% to 24%.

The Pew Research Center reports, “In the U.S., a solid majority believe there is evidence that global warming is happening, but they do not rank global climate change as one of the top threats facing the country.”

Yet all the liberal politicians and activists keep pounding the drum to tell us the things we have to do immediately to stave off this crisis.  What do they know that they haven’t told us?

Hoping for a Miracle

Last May, the state senate leader, Kevin de Leon, quietly introduced legislation that would require California to get all of its electricity from solar, wind and other renewable sources by 2045.  To do that in just the next 25 years would require a miracle.

Climate Goals Require Carless Cities

To meet climate goals, regulators are saying will require more dense cities.  Residents will have to walk to work four times more frequently along with a three-fold increase in bicycling, as well as a substantial boost in use of bus and rail ridership.

All this, according to Marlon Boarnet, chairman of the Department of Urban Planning at USC, Price School of Public Policy, who said, “You can’t be pro-environment and anti-housing,”

Many others reflect the skepticism of Issi Ronem, chief economist at BuildZoom, who said, “I can’t imagine this happening.  It’s just not realistic.”

It is clear that a majority, perhaps a substantial majority of the scientific community feel something needs to be done about the climate change problem.  There is no consensus.  I have found, however, that any of the modest goals of the Paris Accord or the ambitious goals of the California legislature can be accomplished.

Technological advances like getting more carbon into our soil, rather than the atmosphere may hold the key to avoiding a potential crisis.

As Bugs Bunny used to say, “That’s all for now folks.”

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