Climate Protection: More than enough hope about climate change

Nick Maxwell

I get this startling thing a lot: People tell me, “It’s wonderful to see how hopeful you are about people dealing with climate change.”  Imagine you were heading home from work and someone said, “It’s wonderful to see how hopeful you are that you will get home tonight.”  Yikes! It gets me every time.

I admit I am hopeful. The reasons for my hope are the plain facts about the disasters of climate change.

What is disastrous about climate change is the change. For example, 120 °F is not itself a disaster –120 °F has happened in Death Valley summers for years. A disaster is when things change and 120 °F comes to Seattle.  If Seattle always had summer temperatures over 120 °F, we would have accounted for that when we built the place.

Torrential spring runoff is not a disaster. Throughout the Southwest, there are rivers that are dry streambeds most of the year and become floods that would wash away a house in the spring. That is just normal, and we built for that.  What is a disaster is when things change and the Hudson River rises 20 feet and submerges riders in Manhattan subway tunnels. If the Hudson had always flooded 20 feet every year, we would have dealt with that when we built Manhattan.

The disasters of climate change are the changes: five more degrees in Mumbai; 10 more feet of storm surge in Florida or New Orleans; three more months of summer drought in Seattle.

The changes happen because global warming pollution is changing. From 1975 to 2000, the carbon dioxide content of the air rose from .033% to .037%. Carbon dioxide levels have risen every year since. Now 0.042% of the air is carbon dioxide. (That is 420 parts per million.) Over 80% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are from burning fossil fuels. When people stop burning fossil fuels, carbon dioxide levels will pretty much stop rising. At that point, we will have pretty much stopped the change in climate change, and we get whatever climate we got to.

We can stop burning fossil fuels. A total of 25% of U.S. households burn no natural gas. In the U.S. in 2022, 6% of new cars were electric.  We do not need to burn natural gas to heat our homes. We do not need to burn gasoline to move our cars.

To stop burning fossil fuels, we replace all our fossil-fuel burning machines with electric machines. Saul Griffith, the founder of Rewiring America, points out that one way to do this is to buy only electric.  If we only buy electric machines from here on, fossil fuel burning will go away as our old cars and furnaces are replaced with electric options.

By the time we have replaced our own fossil-fuel burning machines, the electricity companies will have done the same. Most of Washington state’s electricity generation is already hydroelectric. Fossil-fuel power plants are going away elsewhere because they are the most expensive way to generate electricity. Wind and solar are the cheapest ways to generate electricity. When the remaining fossil-fuel power plants are replaced, they will be replaced by wind and solar.

Those are the facts behind why I know we will stop the climate change disasters.

An important remaining question is how fast will this all happen? If you are in a hurry — if you cannot tolerate the burning towns in California, the flooding deaths in Kentucky, the polar vortexes in Texas — if that is how you feel, you probably want to hurry up the transition to electric. Electrify your home and car now. And push your elected officials to hurry up too.

Either faster or slower, however it works out, there is no need to lose hope. This is not the end of the world. Literally, this is not the end of the world. You will get home safely tonight, and we all will fix the climate change problem.

— By Nick Maxwell

Nick Maxwell is a Climate Reality seminar leader in Edmonds, a Rewiring America local leader, and a climate protection educator at Climate Protection Northwest.

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