Is it too late to stop climate change?

I found this video by Kurzgesagt - In A Nutshell a few days ago and felt the need to share it with you. It explains the current situation in an easy-to-follow and understandable way and offers ideas and solutions that give hope as well as motivation to move forward.

TLDR: The world's population as well as its economy are constantly growing, which makes it impossible to simply stop everything that emits greenhouse gases overnight. Instead, we need to focus on improving our energy efficiency and at the same time reduce our fossil fuel use as much as possible. Those are the two levers that have the greatest effect regarding humanity's carbon footprint.

Here is the full video for you:

There is no silver bullet

There are many ways to tackle the fight against climate change: reduce your meat consumption and your waste production, try to buy as locally as possible, keep an eye on your fuel consumption, and increase your energy efficiency. The list goes on and on. Many small steps into the right direction can already have an enormous impact. However, to really tackle the problem on the largest possible scale, it is necessary to press the respective buttons on a higher level.

Because even if there is no secret recipe that guarantees us to defeat global warming and save the planet, there are some basic and logical approaches that are crucial if we want to succeed. Unfortunately, we can't simply say "Let's stop anything that is bad for the planet", since the world population keeps growing and with it society's demands for basics such as food and clothing as well as luxury goods, e.g. technology. More people therefore equal more CO2 emissions. So far, so good.

What's next?

The key to reduce humanity's carbon footprint is to focus on energy efficiency. Some concrete examples given in the video are the following:

  • reducing power consumption (e.g. by means of artificial intelligence)

  • electrification of transportation and industry

  • sustainable concrete production

At first glance, this sounds surprisingly easy, and yet there is a catch called the rebound effect. Direct rebound in this case means that as soon as something has improved its energy efficiency or general performance, it is almost always automatically used more often, which makes the outcome and therefore the energy requirement identical to before, when you were using a version with lower efficiency less often.

Indirect rebound is a little less obvious: Since higher energy efficiency usually comes along with an overall cost reduction (e.g. if your house is better insulated, you will have lower heating costs), you will ultimately have more money at hand to spend on things like a new laptop or a trip to Spain, which again results in a higher overall demand for energy and therefore in increased individual CO2 emissions. Thus, improving energy efficiency alone is not enough.

Direct and indirect rebound in a nutshell
Direct and indirect rebound in a nutshell

The solution

To prevent all our efforts towards more energy efficiency from being pointless, we also need to switch from using fossil fuels towards renewable energy as much and especially as quickly as possible.

Today, 87% of humanity's carbon footprint consists of fossil fuel use. Imagine the overall effect on our CO2 emissions if we could bring this figure down to zero! I know this sounds a little utopian and it will certainly not happen overnight. But it should be our main focus if we want to see significant changes.

Based on Le Quéré, C. et al. (2013). The global carbon budget 1959-2011. The Blue Bubble. Climate Coping Infographic. Global Warming.
Based on Le Quéré, C. et al. (2013). The global carbon budget 1959-2011.

This is where the decision-makers come into play. By taxing the biggest sources of pollution and subsidise new technologies, politicians could motivate the industry to slowly but surely shift to eco-friendly alternatives. This is what we as small parts of the whole need to encourage, e.g. by signing petitions or going on strikes. But also our everyday actions can contribute to the necessary change, for example through switching to renewable energy or insulating our homes.

Fact is: We are running out of time, and there are so many more alternative options that we have not yet discovered. By improving energy efficiency and at the same time reducing our fossil fuel use, we can gain the valuable time that is needed to develop ideas that can help us fight climate change on a whole new level. So let's all work together and do our best to support our innovators and engineers and provide them with the time they need to save the planet.

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