The time is now for alternative energy: can America go 100% renewable?

With the release of the most recent IPCC report, comes science-backed news that we have all been expecting. Climate change is occurring at an alarming rate and lifestyle changes must be made to avoid catastrophe. If you need confirmation of this, read the report, or this great story from the New York Times instead. The report was essentially summed up in one sentence by Rajendra K Pachauri, the chairman of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change):

“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.”

A simple, true, and frightening statement. Irreversible damage may have already been done and now we face the consequences of the short-shortsightedness of our own species. However, all is not lost. This story is not just gloom and doom. Another IPCC panelist, Ottmar Edenhofer, states that “it doesn’t cost the world to save the planet.” The world economy would only suffer small losses and living standards would not need to be sacrificed. What would need to be sacrificed (and soon, at that), is the human dependence on fossil fuels. Cleaner options such as natural gas (ie: from fracking and other practices) are short term alternatives, although a more sustainable future is necessary (A great write up of this part of the IPCC report via The Guardian is available here). Convincing those in power as well as oil and gas executives that this is vital is the key step. Obviously, everyone has conflicting interests here. Many nations depend on the oil industry to bring in a massive portion of their GDP, and just because the world economy wouldn’t suffer much, does not mean that the oil industry will accept change. That said, global perception of climate change is…for lack of a better term, changing. The world is taking notice. The U.S. may be a bit behind in this area, but perceptions are changing here as well (see previous posts: here and here).

A recent initiative spearheaded by Stanford based engineer Mark Jacobson, called “The Solutions Project” has recently hit the web.

The most visible part of the project is a fancy, well-designed, interactive website that contains a graphic of the U.S 100% renewable energy alternative economies for all 50 states. It’s perhaps a bit unrealistic, but also amazing. Here is the infographic for North Carolina:

Obviously, these graphics are quite comprehensive. The website advocates for going 100% renewable by the year 2050, something we should definitely be considering if we want to keep hold on to our food and some of our biggest coastal cities. 100% renewable in this case means 100% wind, water, and solar energy. Potential energy sources are: Solar panels (residential and commercial), onshore wind farms, offshore wind farms, wave and tidal energy, geothermal, and hydroelectric power. In North Carolina, offshore wind is proposed to account for 50% of the state’s energy. That is a ton, but if you have been reading posts by our resident wind aficionado, Megan Schutt (hereherehere, and here), offshore wind is in the works and the controversy is often about making the view from shore less appealing (read: there is no real controversy, people are just difficult). Offshore wind is clean and very feasible. Anyone who has driven through Indiana on I-70 knows how feasible onshore wind farms are (and how large they can get). All of these alternative energy sources are already in use in some areas. The damaging effects of climate change cannot be understated. While going 100% renewable may seem rather drastic, this is the biggest issue facing our world today and the decisions that we make now will affect the legacy of our generation for the remainder of human history. “The Solutions Project” is perhaps not perfect, but it is a good place to start!


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