Franz Litz – A Clean Energy Future Makes Sense Even if You Are Skeptical About the Risks of Climate Change

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Reducing global warming pollution means a cleaner, safer, more sustainable world.  Why wouldn’t we want that, with or without the risk of climate change?

Like the vast majority of the world’s climate scientists, I am very worried about man-made climate change. We pump 74 million tons of heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every day, mostly by burning coal, oil and natural gas.

Over the past 100 years we have increased the concentration of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere by 40% above the highest concentration seen in the previous 400,000 years. At our current rate of pollution, we’ll easily double the concentration by 2050.

This unprecedented buildup of greenhouse gases is bound to have serious consequences.  But what if it doesn’t?   

To stop global warming, we need to reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  This in turn means we need to burn far less coal, oil and natural gas.  We need to embrace renewable energy alternatives like wind, solar and biomass.  We need to enhance natural “sinks” like forests and agricultural soils. 

You can look at changing the way we supply and consume energy as a good insurance policy against the real potential that climate change means bad news.  But these measures also make sense in the absence of global warming.

There are lots of good reasons to become more energy efficient; many reasons to dramatically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and increase our reliance on sustainable renewable fuels, plenty of need to preserve forests, to build more livable cities and enhance and preserve the health of human beings.  All of these are key parts of the global warming solution, but we should do them anyway. 

Shifting away from fossil fuels means a cleaner, healthier environment. Imagine less pollution in our air leading to asthma, cancer, heart disease or nervous system disorders, and, while we’re at it, climate change.

Relying on domestically available solar, wind and biomass energy means the United States will be less reliant on other nations to meet its energy needs.  Energy independence could render foreign wars unnecessary, saving not only the high cost of battle in the Middle East, but also the loss of life.

Energy independence means economic independence.  Imagine no longer being at the mercy of OPEC oil supply decisions or suffering the consequences of volatile, highly competitive world fuel markets. 

Becoming more energy efficient means our households and our business become leaner and meaner—better able to weather economic downturns and better able to capitalize on new economic opportunities.

Preserving biodiversity of the rainforests and other natural spaces on this Earth holds known and still unknown potential benefits for humans. These spaces are key parts of the natural carbon cycle, absorbing greenhouse gases.

Let’s be clear.  The chances that the global scientific community is wrong about the consequences of global warming pollution are quite small.  But even if you are clinging to that sliver of hope that most climate scientists have it wrong, the actions we need to take to address climate change make sense for lots of other reasons. 

After all, would it be so bad if we created a more efficient, cleaner, healthier, more independent future for ourselves?

Franz Litz is the Executive Director of the Pace Energy and Climate Center and Professor of Law at Pace Law School.

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