What do you actually know about climate change?

Questions to answer

  • What is it?
  • Why is it important?
  • Who is causing it?
  • What is causing it?
  • What can we do about it?
  • How quickly do we need to act?
  • Why is it difficult to take action?

What is it?

  • It occurs when CO2 and other air pollutants collect in the atmosphere and absorb heat that has bounced off the earth’s surface
  • It is caused by human activity, primarily the burning of fossil fuels that pump carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere
  • All of the largest international scientific organizations agree that global warming is real and has been caused by human action
Data from 2018

Why is it important?

Extreme weather events

  • More frequent and intense heat waves, droughts, fires, blizzards, rainstorms and hurricanes
  • Agriculture systems will suffer, which could lead to famines
  • Property will be destroyed, which could lead to economic hardship

Ice melt

Ocean acidification

Warmer surface temperature

Who is causing it?

Data from 2017
Data from 2017

What is causing it?

Data from 2018
Data from 2016
Data from 2018
Data from 2017
Data from 2018
Data from 2016

What can we do about it?

Use renewable energy for home electricity

  • Switch to rooftop solar panels. They are 50–75% cleaner than electricity from power plants, depending on where you live
  • Impact = High
  • Cost = High

Use a more efficient heating and A/C system

  • Switch to a heat pump system. They are 33% more efficient than furnace or boiler systems
  • Impact = Medium
  • Cost = Medium

Use less heating and A/C

  • Switch to a smart thermostat. They are 15% more efficient than traditional thermostats
  • Impact = Low
  • Cost = Low

Drive a more fuel efficient car

  • Switch to an electric car. They are 75–100% cleaner than gas powered cars, depending on where the electricity comes from
  • Impact = High
  • Cost = High

Drive less often

  • Bike or take public transit more often. On average, subways and metros are 75% cleaner than gas powered cars
  • Impact = Medium
  • Cost = Free

Invest in renewables and divest from fossil fuels

  • Invest in funds that exclude dirty energy companies by default. Use this online tool to find out the fossil fuel exposure of your mutual funds
  • Impact = Medium
  • Cost = Free

Eat food with lower emissions

  • Stop eating beef. Cows produce 6x more emissions than pigs or chickens
  • Impact = High
  • Cost = Free

Switch to renewable energy for electricity production

  • Wind. Pros: doesn’t require lots of land/space, enormous potential. Cons: power output fluctuates
  • Hydroelectric. Pros: consistent power output. Cons: disruptive to natural ecosystems, limited potential
  • Solar. Pros: deployable at the consumer level, unlimited potential. Cons: requires lots of land/space, power output fluctuates
  • Biomass (plants). Pros: consistent power output, unlimited potential. Cons: recurring operational costs, requires lots of land/space
  • Geothermal. Pros: consistent power output. Cons: limited potential
Data from 2019

Increase tax incentives for “clean” products

  • Rooftop solar and energy-efficient HVAC systems. Current incentives: 30% credit for heat pumps and solar panels
  • Electric vehicles. Current incentives: up to $7500, depending on the car maker

Increase tax penalties for “dirty” products

Forests

  • Trees remove carbon from the air via photosynthesis. Every acre of land restored to temperate forest can sequester about 3 metric tons of CO2 every year
  • Cost = $50 per metric ton
  • This solution requires lots of land, which could conflict with food production needs. Trees also take a long time to grow so the effects are not immediate

Farms

  • Fertile soil can store carbon via decomposition and soil respiration. Covering land with plants during off seasons (cover crops) and using compost can increase soil efficiency. Every acre of land that is handled properly can sequester about 1 metric ton of CO2 every year
  • Cost = $75 per metric ton
  • This solution is challenging because farmers are not always incentivized to make changes. It’s also difficult to implement due to the variability of agricultural lands

Direct air capture

  • New technology can remove carbon directly from the atmosphere
  • Cost = $150 per metric ton
  • This technology requires significant energy, which would need to be renewable in order to have a net impact. The renewable energy could instead be used to reduce emissions

How quickly do we need to act?

Why is it difficult to take action?

Political

  • Fossil fuel companies spend billions of dollars each year to lobby and support political candidates that will benefit them. Oil and gas companies spent over $100 million in 2016 to help steer election results. They are able to donate this amount of money because our corporate donation rules have obvious loopholes and are easy to bypass

Economic

  • Clean energy solutions often require a large upfront upfront investment, which isn’t possible for some people. Electric cars cost ~$40k, rooftop solar costs ~$15k, and a new HVAC system costs ~$5k
  • Once a dirty energy plant is constructed, the economics create an incentive for it to continue operating. Companies invest a large amount of money upfront, which takes a long time to pay off. Additionally, thousands of people may become reliant on the facility for jobs so shutting it down becomes difficult

Social

  • Most people do not fully understand global warming and the threats that it poses. In fact, some people don’t believe in global warming at all. Education is crucial in order for people to start taking action
  • People aren’t able to see the effects of their actions. The impact of global warming will be immense, but it will happen gradually over several decades. It’s difficult to grasp the severity of the situation since it isn’t an immediate threat

Technological

  • Producing large amounts of electricity through solar and wind means that the energy will fluctuate significantly. Because of this, we need to be able to store the energy and distribute it efficiently on a massive scale. Our current battery technology isn’t advanced enough to handle a full switch to renewable energy

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