Search Ebook here:

The Big Fix: Seven Practical Steps to Save Our Planet

The Big Fix: Seven Practical Steps to Save Our Planet PDF

Author: Hal Harvey, Justin Gillis

Publisher: Simon & Schuster


Publish Date: September 20, 2022

ISBN-10: 1982123982

Pages: 320

File Type: ePub

Language: English

read download

Book Preface

The world is on fire.

The flames are hard to see, because we hide them so well. But you can hear them—in the whine of jet engines as planes streak across the sky, in the rumble of power plants as they send electricity surging over power lines, in the purr of your car engine as you drive to work.

When the American military pushed Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait in 1990, after his ill-advised invasion, his forces set fire to hundreds of oil wells, causing a hellish conflagration. Smoke reached all the way to Europe, and the fires could be seen from the International Space Station, their intensity prompting comparisons to Dante’s Inferno. Ten thousand firefighters and other workers spent nine months putting them out.

Yet at their peak, the Kuwaiti oil fires consumed only 2 percent of the fossil fuels that humans burn every day, all day, year in and out. Imagine fifty sets of Kuwait-sized fires burning around the clock, never stopping, and you get a sense of what humanity is doing to power our industrial civilization.

Every person living in a well-off country contributes to the conflagration. When you and your neighbors turn on your lights at night, a coal- or gas-burning power plant somewhere will likely increase its fuel use—just a smidgen—to supply the electricity. Take a shower, and the natural gas in your water heater will fire up. Drive to work, and the engine in your car will burn the distilled remains of long-dead swamp algae just a few feet in front of your face at the rate of six thousand tiny explosions a minute—nicely muffled, mind you, but there all the same.

The clothes you buy, the warmth you enjoy indoors in the winter, and the coolness in summer—all these comforts are derived from the flames we hide away in chemical factories, power plants, furnaces, and engines. If energy consumption were measured in matchsticks, each American would strike nearly 5 million matches a week. Even in a country like China, much poorer but catching up, the figure would approach 2 million.

Without meaning to, we have been heating up the world, as the gases from all these flames alter our atmosphere, trapping extra energy from the sun. And while many of us find it hard to connect our own activities to this slow-motion emergency, we are starting to feel the consequences in our daily lives: heat waves worse than any in recorded history, rising seas flooding major cities, a runaway increase in wildfires that are burning down homes, polluting the air, and cutting lives short. Polar ice caps are starting to melt, and the once-icy tundra is catching fire. We may be putting the world’s food supply at risk.

Humanity faces a profound moral and practical dilemma: How do we sustain the economic progress that has delivered billions of us from poverty—indeed, how do we extend that progress to those still suffering—while quenching the fires that threaten our only home?

Many people are already trying to help, in their own ways—perhaps by buying a Prius or an electric car, recycling diligently, installing smart thermostats, eating less meat, maybe contributing money to an environmental group. These actions are important, but by themselves they are not enough. The world will not be saved by conscientious green consumers who decide, one family at a time, to drive less or install solar panels on the roof. The problem is just too big for that.

Instead, we all need to become green citizens. We need to focus, together, on a relatively small number of public policies that can, over time, bring about sweeping change. And that requires a coherent plan, one that every concerned citizen, business leader, technical innovator, and politician can understand. With strategic clarity comes power—and, we hope, the will to accelerate the necessary changes and the skill to minimize the associated cost and risk.

The good news is that change has already begun to happen, in pockets across the globe. In Britain, for the first time since the nineteenth century, many weeks go by now without a single lump of coal being burned to generate power. The country that led the world into the Industrial Revolution—and its insatiable hunger for fossil fuels—now seems increasingly determined to lead us out of that dependency.

Sometimes the changes we need are hidden away in closets: In Oregon, thousands of water heaters are getting new digital controls to allow them to compensate for variability in the electrical grid. When electrical demand is high, they hold back their energy appetites; when it is low, they power up and then store that heat until it’s required. This kind of innovation will help match demand on the grid to more variable supplies like wind turbines and solar panels. And nobody has to step into a cold shower.

Sometimes the changes are displayed across hillsides: in North Carolina, solar power has boomed, thanks to decisions by the state government to allow low-cost renewables to compete fairly. Soon, the tides of change will be visible in the sea: in the American Northeast, a huge new industry is gearing up to build wind turbines miles from shore. Changes are appearing in city centers: in Germany, swanky new apartments supply all the climate control their occupants desire using less electricity than a hair dryer. In China, a massive market shift toward electric cars and buses is underway.

In other words, solutions are already at hand, and more are coming. If they can be harnessed at a sufficient scale, neither our living standards nor our economy need be at risk as we transition to clean energy. But we are not moving fast enough to adopt them. An ominous combination of ignorance, inertia, and political mischief is hampering the pace of our energy transition.

At this moment in history, speed is the critical issue. The world’s nations agreed, in a meeting near Paris in 2015, to try to keep the temperature of the planet from rising to catastrophic levels. They set a specific upper limit: a warming of 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above the average temperature before the Industrial Revolution. They also set an aspirational goal: to hold the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Those numbers may sound low compared to the swings in temperature we experience day to day, but averaged across an entire planet, they are actually quite large. Unfortunately, the fossil-fuel combustion of centuries past has already heated the Earth by more than 1 degree Celsius, meaning we are already more than halfway to the danger zone. And we are not remotely on track to meet either of the Paris goals. If we blow past them, calamity awaits us on the other side. We are getting a foretaste of what it will be like in the fires already destroying towns in the American West, in the droughts that are drying up our water supplies, in the heat waves that are sending temperatures soaring past 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Meeting the Paris goals means that the remaining amount of fossil fuel we can burn is limited. To meet the 2C goal, as it is known in shorthand, the era of fossil fuels must come to an end by around 2050—less than thirty years from now. To get on a path toward that target, we need to cut our emissions substantially in just the next decade. But at a global scale, emissions are not falling. They are still rising.

No country is on track to meet these targets, though many—especially in Europe—are trying. President Joseph R. Biden has also set ambitious new goals for the United States, but no matter how much he achieves, the climate crisis will extend far beyond one or two presidential terms. Like other countries, the United States needs to embark on a decades-long course of cutting its emissions. And no matter how much help comes from Washington, much of the work will need to be done by state governments and local communities.

You may have heard the argument that it is already too late to stop the coming disasters. In a sense that’s true: the limit of two degrees Celsius was not picked because it is safe, but because it is doable—if barely. Given the fires, extreme rains, and coastal floods that we are already seeing, a world that has warmed up twice as much as ours is going to be a challenging place to live. Yet in another sense, it is never too late to act: so long as a pound of coal or a barrel of oil remains in the ground, we have agency. We can choose not to burn it, and our efforts will leave a better world. And so, the way we see it, it is not too late to tackle the climate crisis. We still have time to head off the worst damages, to prevent a great deal of human suffering, and to do right by future generations.

We’re heartened by how many people are already doing what they can to help. Yet it can be difficult to know what to do: the problem is so big, and we all feel so small. And so our goal in The Big Fix is to lay out the grassroots political actions you can take that will have the greatest impact, because you do have the ability to make a difference. The problem certainly is enormous, but that just means that every single one of us can tackle a piece of it.

We may be optimists, but we’re not naïve. Our backgrounds have given us a deep appreciation for the technological, economic, and political complexities of our world. Hal trained as a mechanical engineer—thirty years ago he built his own electric car, before you could buy them, and charged it with solar panels—and he has spent decades advising political leaders around the world on how to speed up the transition to clean energy. He knows from experience which policies work and which don’t, and he knows how best to advocate for them. Justin, meanwhile, has had a forty-year career in journalism, including nearly a decade as the lead reporter on climate science for the New York Times. So he understands the power of a well-told story to inspire change.

In this book, we will not dwell on changes we regard as politically impossible. Many economists argue, for instance, that a hefty tax on emissions of greenhouse gases would go a long way toward solving this problem—and it might, if there were any chance of getting it done. But thirty years of efforts to pass modest emissions taxes (far too modest to do the job, really) have yielded nothing in Washington. So we’re not going to suggest you spend your time and money trying to achieve something that history suggests cannot be achieved in the years left to us before we reach 2C. Instead, we’ll focus on the actions that promise to give us all the biggest return for our investment of time and energy.

We’ve structured the book by breaking our economy into seven realms: six are the economic sectors that contribute most substantially to the emissions problem today, and the seventh is the realm of invention, both technical and financial, that can help cut future emissions. To save our climate, we’ll need to make practical advances in each of these seven realms until we’ve brought our emissions down to near zero, and in each chapter we’ll show you how you can exercise influence to steer things in the right direction. Cleaning up the electric grid is the critical first step, because clean electricity can be used to displace dirty fossil fuels in other parts of the economy. We’ll dive into how our society can stop wasting so much energy in buildings and how to cut emissions in our transportation systems. The way we produce food and manage our land needs to change, too, and as people rush from the countryside to urban areas, we’ll need to build cities that are more sustainable. We will cover ways that we can begin cutting the greenhouse gases spewing from factories that produce the goods we all buy. And while many of the changes we need to make are already clear, others are barely visible on the horizon—so in our last chapters, we’ll show you what society needs to do to speed them up. In our book title, we call these “steps,” but we do not mean to imply that they need to happen in a particular order. Society needs to pursue all of them at once.

Download Ebook Read Now File Type Upload Date
Download here Read Now ePub September 21, 2022

How to Read and Open File Type for PC ?