I don't want to be like the last horse and buggy salesman who was holding out as cars took over the roads. I don't want to be the last investor in Blockbuster as Netflix emerged. That's exactly what is going to happen to fossil fuels. - Arnold Schwarzenegger
Energy has remained a buzzing theme in discussions of climate change for decades. Fossil fuels like oil, coal, and natural gas have been an essential source of energy since their initial discovery. Industrialization surged with the abundance of these energy sources; however, we now straddle the peak of this energy mountain as humanity depletes these resources and we prepare to transition into a world without oil.
Fossil fuels which once flooded our world with economic success, now shine a spotlight on humanity’s vulnerability. We've hit a breaking point: continuing to pursue fossil fuels as an energy source will come at the cost of an inhabitable planet.
The global community has toyed with alternative energy sources, experimenting and developing methods of harnessing energy from renewable resources, like:
Over the last several decades, the US has increased the use of renewables, but proportion of energy from renewable resources remains low - around 13.2%, according to the US Energy Information Administration. The rest, obviously, comes from non-renewables, namely coal, natural gas, and gasoline (among others).
Fortunately, the renewable resources are in abundance and are capable of powering the entire world many, many times over. The key to making this happen is the commitment of governments to transition to renewable energy - which itself is a huge (but surmountable) obstacle. Most of the infrastructure to provide power to the US is based on burning petroleum products, and transitioning will require large-scale construction of infrastructure based on renewable resources. This will take decades.
The Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) says we can generate 80% of our electricity needs from renewables by 2050. This is a large step towards meeting the parameters set forth in the Paris Agreement, but in light of the reality of climate change, we should hope research and investment will drastically shorten that timeline.
Renewable energy offers substantial benefits for our climate, our health, and our economy. It has the capacity to dramatically reduce emissions while providing jobs. The shift to renewable energy is a feasible reality, but it can only be achieved with the right policies in place. U.S. lawmakers need to enact a clean energy policy that encourages the integration of renewable energy and funds relevant research.
Lawmakers Step Up
A recent article acclaims hat more than 300 U.S. state and local lawmakers support the goal to achieve 50% renewable energy by 2030, and 100% clean energy by 2050 (Nieberg, Solar Crunch). California and New York administration have started drafting mandates for clean energy and calling for heavy reductions in emissions. Although the U.S. is currently lagging behind many European countries in harnessing renewables, we may see changes over the next 15 years.