Monday, July 13, 2009

Climate change: we are not helpless

Faced with a problem like climate change, it is easy to give up and adopt an attitude of helplessness. The problem is so big, we are so small, emissions keep on rising, and there seems to be little we can do about it.

That attitude is wrong. We already have many of the solutions we need to reduce our emissions to a sustainable level: wind, hydro, geothermal and solar-thermal power, hybrid vehicles, biofuels (if grown sustainably), even planting trees. Others we can see are just around the corner: wave power, cellulose ethanol, hot rock geothermal. In an effort to find more, the Guardian convened a think tank at the Manchester International Festival, getting people to pitch their ideas to save the world. Some of them were things seen before - biochar (turning trees into charcoal to lock away the carbon and then burying it), using the Sahara to generate solar power (something which is already happening), and increasing the planet's albedo with a fleet of cloud-making ships (which does nothing about the real problem, but does buy us a bit of time). Others, such as liming the oceans (absorbing carbon and reducing acidity) or using CCS with biomass (effectively removing carbon from the atmosphere) aren't really a go-er at present, as they rely on the coal industry's imaginary carbon capture and sequestration technology, which won't be around for 25 years, but they might be doable then. But even so, there are still plenty of solutions there. The problem isn't one of technology - it is purely one of political will; politicians in hock to established and unsustainable economic interests being unwilling to enact the policies which would push us down those technological pathways. Which in turn suggests the solution: de-election of anyone who refuses to act.