The threats posed by climate change aren’t going to go away simply by wishing they would, and so the U.S. House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis met Tuesday to hear from experts discuss possible paths to take to head off problems worsening.
Diana Liverman, a professor at the University of Arizona, spent most of the past 40 years on what could happen if the world’s human population doesn’t rein in warming that’s higher than the global average. She said that right now, we’ve seen the onset of warming of more than 1 C — 1.8 F — and the trend shows eventually rising more than 3 C, or 5.4 F.
Liverman said global warming is likely to hit 1.5 C between 2030 and 2052 — warming is guaranteed because greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere for decades, and oceans store heat for decades. However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report — of which Liverman was the lead author, nominated by the federal government, for one of the chapters — that shows the possibility of limiting warming to 1.5 C.
“The IPCC found significant differences in climate and impacts between 1.5 C and 2 C — that’s 2.7 and 3.6 F,” Liverman said. “For example, sea-level rise by 2100 would be 6 inches more at 2 degrees, with added risks if ice sheets become more unstable. Even a few inches of sea-level rise increase the risks of coastal flooding, salt water intrusion and damage to infrastructure. The loss of habitat for many insects, plants and animals doubles even with that extra half degree. Fire risk is higher and fisheries are more disturbed.”
She said adaption is possible and less costly to halt warming at 1.5 C than it would take later — those both in the public and private sectors are already making adaptations that are costlier than if societies addressed the issue earlier.
Liverman said the goal should be to cut emissions in half by 2030 and get to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
With Liverman laying the foundation of the challenge ahead, the other three panelists discussed ways forward.
U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-1, put his questions to Christopher Guith, acting president of the Global Energy Institute, which is an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Carter asked, “You mentioned a number of private-sector businesses that are already making investments in their own right to fight climate change — can you talk just a little bit about that, and maybe just a few examples?”
Guith responded, “In my written testimony, I highlighted a couple of specific projects that I think are emblematic of what U.S. business has been doing over the last decade, and we feature these in our EnergyInnovates program. The most recent one … module we just put on our website last week, was San Diego Gas & Electric who constructed what was at the time the world’s largest stationary storage facility. It’s been now surpassed by one in Australia, but I’m sure there will be a race to the top to see who can make the most efficient and, frankly, largest dispatchable battery.
“Advanced reactor at NuScale — it’s a small-module reactor, it’s a revolutionary design that can be used globally and at places where you wouldn’t necessarily put a large-scale reactor, like what we use right now. And then one that is incredibly important, just outside of Houston, Texas, a project being built by a consortium of companies that stands to be the first zero-emissions natural gas plant that would be competitive with an off-the-shelf natural gas plant.”
Dispatchable energy is a source of power that can be turned on or off and adjust power to the electrical grid on demand.
While there remains a notable amount of American-generated carbon emissions sticking around from prior decades, concerns were raised in committee about China’s carbon emissions, and what can be done to influence that nation to make significant steps toward reducing its impact. Carter asked Guith what role the business community has in that discussion.
“It’s a great economic opportunity,” Guith said. “The reality is the emissions from developing countries, and whether you consider China one or not, are going to continue to rise. And unless we or someone else bring the technologies to bear that are scalable, to the extent that we’re talking about globally — we’re not talking about a single state or a single community in this country, where resources are relatively accessible, we’re talking about scalable globally, they’re going to keep burning coal. So, unless we have a way to capture the emissions from that, we’re going to continue to be at a net-negative as far as reductions.”David Foster, a distinguished associate at the Energy Futures Initiative, which is a low-carbon think tank, said there’s a lot to celebrate in the past decade about how as a nation, the people of the United States have moved to become more energy efficient. Still, though, as a society we’re missing out on goals that could have been met. Foster said the skills shortage in the workforce is at a critical level.
“In 2017, energy efficiency construction employers projected hiring at 10.6 percent, or over 120,000 new jobs,” Foster said. “But, the reality of hiring difficulty got in the way and they added only 21,000 jobs in 2018. This was a failure of our workforce development system with very real-world consequences. From the environmental perspective, millions of tons of CO2 went into the atmosphere that could have been prevented. But from the human perspective, this represented over 100,000 families that could’ve entered the middle class with some of the best-paying jobs in America.”
The nearly two-hour committee meeting can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XY6q5ICzLiY.