Sustainability now

Sonia Waraich

If we want to survive into the future as a species, it is absolutely critical for our governments to begin funding renewable energy sources as a key component of our current and future energy systems.

Too many people believe individual choices can help reduce the impact of our oil consumption on the climate, but buying high-efficiency laundry detergent or a solar panel is not enough to combat global climate change.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States is electricity (33 percent), followed by transportation (28 percent) and industry (20 percent). Commercial and residential areas contribute about 11 percent to the total.

This means that even if an individual were to become completely sustainable, he or she would still be unable to make a significant difference in carbon emissions.

Really, companies, particularly those supplying electricity, would have the largest impact on carbon emissions if they were to become more sustainable.

According to the EPA, only 13 percent of U.S. electricity needs are met by renewable energy sources.

Though, according to the EPA, petroleum and coal consumption have gone down, industry has shifted toward an even dirtier form of energy extraction, hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

According to the Natural Resource Defense Council’s “Fracking Facts,” “fracking involves mixing large quantities of water and sand with dangerous chemicals, and blasting it into wells at extremely high pressure in order to release oil or natural gas deposits trapped in rock.”

The same report also details the adverse impacts of fracking, which include the contamination of drinking water, the poisoning of aquatic habitats and wildlife and a host of other horrors.

Fracking is clearly dangerous, but, according to a 2012 report by the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, the U.S. has become the global leader in the production of natural gas.

The bigger issue is that energy companies have shifted from using coal to using natural gas, which is just as destructive, if not more destructive, as coal.

According to the PBL, “Scientific literature suggests that limiting average global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels – the target internationally adopted in UN climate negotiations – is possible if cumulative emissions in the 2000–2050 period do not exceed 1,000 to 1,500 billion tons CO2. If the current global increase in CO2 emissions continues, cumulative emissions will surpass this total within the next two decades.”

This means change needs to happen now.

There is already enough of a transformation happening in academia and industry for change to be catapulted forward by the government.

Sapphire Energy is working on renewable energy by making their oil-producing algae farms more efficient and inexpensive.

At Arizona State University, mechanical engineers have been using nanotechnology for their work on solar thermal collectors.

These collectors would be able to capture all of the sun’s heat, as opposed to its light, using graphite nanoparticles, which could then be used to boil water, create steam and power a turbine to generate electricity, among other things.

The government must start funding research and development in renewable energy to stay within a safe range for emissions.

What can you do? Get involved in the dialogue! Make sure to contact your local representatives, or write to The City College Times and let us know what you think.