In several days, the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) is scheduled to be held in Glasgow. It is supposed to be an important meeting because many believe this is the decade where the world must start cutting carbon emissions by as much as 8% per year or break through the key climate guardrail of 1.5º C global warming.
As it did in Kyoto in 2005 and Paris in 2015, the COP will gather, drama will ensue with certain countries refusing to get on board with aggressive goals for reducing carbon dioxide, a diplomatic breakthrough will come at the last minute and the delegates will declare victory. Will the meeting make a difference? Consider that this past May, 16 years after Kyoto, atmospheric carbon dioxide measured at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory peaked at the highest level since measurements began 63 years ago.
Meeting the Climate Change Challenge
Dr. Jane Lubchenco, the deputy director for climate and environment for the Biden Administration recently said, “Every bit of warming matters, and every bit of avoided warming matters.” That is a statement that can, in fact, make a difference if we embrace it. Those who believe singular strategies like “electrify everything” probably don’t appreciate her pragmatism, but she properly points out that an array of solutions – silver buckshot not a silver bullet – are needed to meet the climate change challenge.
Decentralize the Energy Grid
With a silver buckshot approach, we use the cleanest possible energies available to us today. For example, decentralize the grid so that cleaner options like propane can pair with solar and wind to reliably support the nation’s power needs while increasing resilience.
Prioritize Propane-Fueled Transportation
Make propane a transportation priority. Today, medium- and heavy-duty propane-powered vehicles provide a lower carbon footprint solution when compared to similar electric vehicles charged from the electric grid in 38 U.S. states. When used in school buses, maintenance costs are dramatically lower, ranges are longer, fuel costs are lower, NOX is reduced by 96 percent and carbon dioxide diminishes by 13 percent versus diesel. For the same reasons, diesel-powered cargo ships pose an even greater opportunity for carbon reductions.
Embrace Multiple Alternative Fuel Options
Recognize the contribution every energy source can make. Hydrogen, for example, is a manufactured product. Producing 1 kilogram of it, which has a specific energy of about 40 kWh, however, requires 50–55 kWh of electricity to make. It needs to dramatically improve, but its potential means it has to be in the mix. Carbon-free nuclear is available to us today but suffers from a psychological bias known as dread risk. That said, small modular reactors and public education about them should play a role.
Low-carbon energy is available to us now, and COP26 ought to make its use the priority in this energy transition. This represents solutions without sacrifice, buying the world more time to innovate even smarter ways to reduce CO2. In this climate crisis, we would do well to recognize the value of putting every possible strategy to work and doing so immediately.