The world may be “sleepwalking into a crisis.” David Wallace-Well’s new book, The Uninhabitable Earth, shows that the dire consequences of climate change, even based on the most optimistic projection, are going to be apocalyptic. This should not strike anyone who has been paying attention to climate change as a grim surprise. We are, after all, already experiencing some of the catastrophic effects of climate change, something that people who survived the Paradise Camp Fire could testify to–their sneakers melted on asphalt as they ran for their lives past exploding cars.

Yet, despair alone is not going to motivate people to solve one of the biggest crises that humanity has faced. There is, however, some reason for optimism. In February, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposed a legislative resolution, the Green New Deal, that aims to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions in ten years. By any measure, it is one of the most ambitious, all-encompassing legislative overhauls that has been proposed in response to climate change. Currently, about four-fifths of the US economy runs on fossil fuel, and the sheer scale of the economic impact that the proposed resolution will have makes opponents skeptical of its feasibility.

With technologically, however, we are much closer to achieving the Green New Deal than we think. Solar energy is now completely cost-effective as well as competitive–solar energy costs as much as fossil fuel energy and the production of solar panels is scalable on an industrial level. Wind power is now capable of generating energy at a profit. It has been widely implemented in Texas, which is the leader in for-profit renewable energy, producing tens of thousands of megawatts from over forty different sites across the state. All policymakers need to do in the next decade or two is to convert the existing power grid to renewable energy, improve energy efficiency, and help smooth the economic transition that necessarily involves shutting down fossil fuel plants.

To clarify, transforming the infrastructure on which the US economy relies is no small task. Some estimates show that it would cost about $10.3 trillion to replace the electricity grid for renewable energy. This is precisely why lawmakers are now in a uniquely powerful position to bring about the most crucial change that humanity needs to survive. The legislature can impose emission limits, mandate a carbon tax, subsidize investment in renewable energy, and, most importantly, help communities adapt to the drastic infrastructure change.

 

Bokang Liu

 

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