Climate Corner: Can We Reverse Global Warming?

The overwhelming consensus of scientists is global average temperatures are increasing as a result of emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs), primarily carbon dioxide (CO2), through burning fossil fuels, and the consequence of warming is an altered climate likely to result in rising oceans, more frequent and more extreme weather, drought conflict, food shortages and loss of species.

These projected impacts are driving many nations, states, communities and individuals to focus on how to slow or cap GHG emissions to reduce the rate at which warming is occurring.

While lowering emissions is essential, the biggest question is whether global warming can be reversed. Can we actually reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere that trap heat and thereby warm our air and oceans?

The answer is yes, if we take concerted action using existing technologies and practices both to greatly reduce emissions of CO2 and other GHGs, such as methane, and to capture and sequester much more carbon from the atmosphere.

In 2017 the book Drawdown was published to tackle this issue through a comprehensive plan that evaluates and ranks 100 different climate change strategies. Drawdown is the brainchild of its editor, Paul Hawken, and the work of a consortium of scientists from many disciplines. For each strategy, assuming implementation from 2020 to 2050, GHG reductions are estimated, along with the incremental cost of implementing the strategy and the net cost or savings resulting during the 30-year study period. All of the analyses have been subjected to peer review.

The bottom line – through using reasonable and optimistic assumptions – is that by implementing the 15 most impactful strategies we can come close to reversal.

Because Drawdown’s focus is global, not all the strategies fit in Wisconsin – strategies like restoring damaged tropical forests. But many do. Regardless of their rank, each strategy identified will help. Most will result in a net dollar savings if implemented.

There isn’t space here to delve into many of 100 strategies analyzed in Drawdown. Here’s a quick list of the 10 most impactful strategies:

  1. Phasing out use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in refrigeration. This step has already been agreed to by 197 nations, with a target date of 2028. HFCs replaced refrigeration chemicals that were damaging the ozone layer, but we now know they have atmospheric warming impacts thousands of times greater than CO2.
  2. Developing the world’s extensive on-shore wind energy potential. The health benefits of wind and solar energy through displacement of harmful emissions from burning coal and gas are very great, and the costs of these renewable resources are plummeting.
  3. Reducing food waste. Scientists estimate that up to a third of food produced does not reach consumers and about 35 percent of food purchased in wealthy countries is wasted.
  4. Adopting a plant-rich diet. Raising livestock is estimated conservatively to contribute 15 percent of current greenhouse gas emissions. The health benefits of reduced meat consumption are also huge.
  5. Restore tropical forests. This strategy is well under way. Drawdown assumes success of the international commitments that have been made.
  6. Educating girls. Based on experience from South Korea, moving toward universal elementary and secondary education for girls will have a dramatic impact not only on population growth, but also on food and natural resource management.
  7. Family planning. This strategy focuses on additional success in population control through reproductive health care and family planning services. Continued population growth, particularly in the developing world, as people strive for the standard of living we enjoy, threatens to dramatically increase GHG emissions from transportation and energy production.
  8. Solar farms. This strategy seeks to greatly increase power from utility scale solar installations to displace coal and gas generation.
  9. Silvopasture. This strategy focuses on integration of trees with pasture. By protecting pasture from carbon release and increasing capture through more trees, a significant decrease of GHGs in the atmosphere can be achieved. The 100 strategies include a large number that address land use and food production, areas that often receive less attention than energy production in climate discussions.
  10. Rooftop solar. In addition to utility solar farms, the potential for rooftop solar to replace fossil fuels globally is great.

This is just a small sample of the many steps we can take that cumulatively can greatly reduce and, possibly, reverse man-induced climate change. Some are surprising. The dollar savings and health benefits are extraordinary.

Read this book!

Chili Dump Fundraiser

February Program of the Climate Change Coalition of Door County

Date and Time: Feb. 11, 1-3 pm

Place: Baileys Harbor Town Hall, 2392 County Road F

Cost: $10 per person

Contact Katie Krause at [email protected] if you’d like to compete; otherwise come and eat!

The Climate Corner is a monthly column featuring a variety of writers from around the state and Door County addressing various aspects of the challenges and opportunities climate change presents. The column is sponsored by the Climate Change Coalition of Door County, which is dedicated to “helping to keep our planet a cool place to live.” The Coalition is always open to new members and ideas. Contact the Coalition at [email protected].

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