It’s safe to say most Americans had one of three reactions to COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, earlier this month: frustration at the lack of climate progress being made across the world’s most influential nations, aggravation that an international climate convention even takes place, or confusion because they’ve never heard of COP26.
Yet as the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference wound down and protesters flooded the streets to scream at the world’s most powerful politicians, and as those same politicians descended into meetings, there was finally consensus on the single clearest path to mitigating climate change.
Just kidding, there wasn’t. And there never will be.
This may be hard to hear, but there isn’t a single “solution” to climate change. And those who seek fortune or fame by peddling the over-simplicity that there’s some silver bullet out there are actually causing more harm to the planet than good.
It’s easy to rally at a protest or rail against politicians and corporations on national TV, but the complaints are often completely hollow. No matter the gargantuan size of the solution people like New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez like to peddle, there’s no way to lower carbon emissions with a snap of a finger. Climate change is a complex issue that requires many complex solutions.
Worst of all, the yearning for a silver bullet climate action completely dilutes the opportunity for action. Instead of filling the airwaves with balanced conversation about a smart path forward, we’re hearing alarmist rhetoric causing deep division in America. Unfortunately, it pays to be divisive. Whether you’re Ocasio-Cortez or Ted Cruz, the more dramatic the statement, the more news coverage and the more money raised. It juices reelection chances first and puts the planet last.
Here are five facts:
First: We absolutely need to decarbonize our economy within a reasonable time frame, but it’s not “too late.” Despite apocalyptic chastisements on protest signs, we can still decarbonize and follow what the science recommends. The most recent scientific evidence suggests that we need to achieve global carbon neutrality by 2050. To do that, we need a reasonable discussion about the role of each country, international cooperation and the private sector. Take the United States, where Congress has proven to be slow, excessively partisan and ineffective. Instead of waiting for Congress to enact a nonexistent silver bullet solution for an international problem, the most efficient steps we can take are often at the state and local levels or within the private sector.
Second: According to the Biden administration, fossil-fuel demand is expected to grow in the U.S. over the next few decades, even amid the expansion of renewable energy. That reality is even more blatant in other countries.
Rather than pretend we can immediately eliminate fossil fuels, this means we need to be realistic in how we offset those emissions while we aim to transition away from our reliance on them. For starters, we need to invest in technology to lower emissions from oil and gas production itself, such as carbon capture. Additionally, we should prioritize the restoration of our planet’s ecosystems, which naturally capture carbon emissions, by planting more trees, restoring wetlands and grasslands, improving soil health and rehabilitating coral reefs. Instead of spending our time vilifying the oil and gas industry, we should be working toward actual pro-climate results by first understanding the realities of increased fossil fuel demand.
Third: Climate change will never be solved if the solutions aren’t profitable. If developing countries are forced to choose between development or fighting climate change, they’ll choose development every time, as they should. Climate solutions must be accessible to the wealthy and the poor, the developed and the developing, and in an economic boom or economic recession. That’s where technology comes into play. If we can continue innovating and lowering the price of decarbonization, we will find a path forward. We need millions of new businesses and entrepreneurs fueled by bold ideas and consumer demand. Every citizen concerned about climate change can make a difference by scaling the climate tech revolution.
Fourth: Solar and wind have proven that they cannot be the sole focus of our clean energy efforts, as Germany’s experience has shown. Although they’re an important part of the puzzle, we need other sources of energy that have the ability to scale a low-carbon future. As such, we truly cannot combat climate change without exponentially increasing the usage of nuclear energy. Plain and simple.
Fifth: We need ambition and swift action, but we also need patience. Reversing the effects of climate change cannot happen overnight. It’s a multidecade battle that will be solved step by step.
This is the reality our planet faces. As voters, consumers and citizens, we need to put our political labels aside, drop the divisive language and return to reality on this issue. It’s up to us to ignore the divisive language on both sides and find a common path forward. Conservatives need to stop spending all of their time solely hammering on the left’s proposals, and liberals need to stop spreading false hopelessness, oversimplifications and alarm to gain political support.
Future generations will look back at this moment and either honor those who fought for our planet or hold in contempt those who used climate change as a wedge issue to further their own political goals. It’s time to move toward what’s actually best for the planet we all share.
Benji Backer is the president and founder of the American Conservation Coalition and a contributor to the Deseret News. Follow him on Twitter at @BenjiBacker.