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Midlands Voices: Data on the scale of the climate crisis — and the need to move quickly
Midlands Voices

Midlands Voices: Data on the scale of the climate crisis — and the need to move quickly

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We have entered the climate-change pledge season once again. The president of the United States has pledged to cut United States’ emissions of greenhouse gases by half compared to 2005 levels by the end of 2030. The good news is that we now have a president who knows something about climate science and is conscious enough of their effects to advance a plan that may reduce them significantly. With Joe Biden, climate-wise, the United States is back in the game.

The other news is that a pledge isn’t realization reality — not yet, at any rate. And the extremely bad news is that China eclipsed United States’ emissions in 2014, and kept on running, doubling them by 2020. You read that correctly: China added enough greenhouse gases to create a whole new country that spews more effluent than any other in six years, as the United States and the European Union’s effluent was slowly falling. This was occurring as China also was becoming the world’s largest producer and exporter of wind turbines and solar panels. China also remains the world’s largest user of coal (the dirtiest of fossil fuels). It isn’t alone. The World Energy Agency projects that annual use of coal will increase 4.5% in 2021.

Even with China’s prodigious appetite for fossil fuels, the United States still uses much more per capita. The Chinese used 10.1 tons of greenhouse gases per person in 2019, as U.S. citizens used 17.6 tons per capita. The European Union used 7.4 tons per capita, and India 2.5. What ought to be obvious from such numbers is that no one is going to win any kind of climate-change battle against greenhouse gases without China’s full-throated cooperation.

The same goes for many other countries that we have not even mentioned yet: Bangladesh, Australia, Japan, Canada, Russia, India, Indonesia, all of Africa. Some of these countries have sizable populations (India: 1.3 billion; Indonesia, 320 million; Bangladesh, 160 million; Nigeria, 140 million).

Many of these people live in the tropics, with hot, humid summers, where air conditioning would be very nice, but at present is an unaffordable luxury. Anyone who has lived through a New Delhi pre-monsoon summer knows what I mean. To reduce worldwide emissions, are we, in Nebraska, going to give up our summer air conditioning, or are all of us going to find new ways to supply electricity from renewable resources, such as sun and wind, rather than dirty coal? Our utility, OPPD, is already moving off of coal and into sun and wind, to a limited extent.

Back to President Biden’s pledge: More than half of our new cars, trucks and SUVs would have to be powered by electricity. Whenever you see that magic wand, ask where the electricity comes from. We do not yet have enough electric power produced by wind and solar power to make a dent in demand if oil-based gasoline is eliminated. To do that enormously good deed, we will need new infrastructure, probably at least partially funded by Uncle Sam.

The United States already has shed 21% of its greenhouse-gas emissions since 2005. Hooray for us, before we realize that one-third of that is due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, friends, a show of hands: How many of us would favor 570,000 agonizing deaths in 16 months to help meet our pledged greenhouse-gas emissions? Surely, we can find a less painful way to do this. All of us need to have more than a serious conversation. We need solid results — quickly.

Bruce E. Johansen is Frederick W. Kayser University Research Professor, emeritus, at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He is the author of “Climate Change: An Encyclopedia of Science, Society, and Solutions” and other books on the climate crisis.

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