Four cheap solutions to climate change


For my first article since hurricanes Harvey and Katrina, I could have written another article on how not solving climate change would cost us trillions of dollars. Instead, here is an article that shows that despite what deniers and others naysayers are telling us, doing so could actually be pretty cheap.

Switching from cars to bikes.

I have blogged about how switching a certain amount of cars to bikes would save our cities and communities a lot of money and my recent reading of Bikenomics by Elly Blue has reinforced my opinion with a lot of facts and figures. Biking could solve or help solve a laundry list of issues such as:

1. Crumbling infrastructure in the US ; 2. Road mortality (30,000+ every year in the US alone) ; 3. Local air pollution (and global climate change) ; 4. Healthcare with rising levels of obesity and diabetes due to lack of physical activity ; 5. Traffic congestion (a $300 billion problem just in America) ; 6. The horror of finding parking ; 7. Inequality and poverty (owning a car is just so expensive, over $10,000 per year)…

If you live in a city, ditching at least partially your car for a bike would help you save money, shed some weight and improve your health and so on. This is why biking and bike sharing keep on growing around the world.

Planting trees in our cities.

At a time where scientists are trying to figure out how to suck the excess carbon out of our atmosphere, Mother Nature has known how to do it for millions of years. Trees are very efficient at absorbing carbon dioxide. It is estimated that one acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen.

Trees also absorb other pollutants such as particulates, release oxygen, provide food and shade for decades and in the end, a durable construction material… Trees also absorb heat, which in our warming world could be a boon. Try and find a human invention that can do as much !

In my old article on urban afforestation I reported that for a planting cost of $250-600 (which includes the first three years of maintenance) a single street tree returns over $90,000 of direct benefits (not including aesthetic, social and natural) in the lifetime of the tree. Money does grow on trees after all ! So the space freed by fewer cars in our cities could actually be used for planting trees.

Unleashing energy efficiency’s HUGE potential.

I have been advocating this since the writing of my Master’s thesis at Audencia all the way back to 2006. Doing more with less is the best solution to many of our problems. Any energy use entails carbon emissions, some more than others. When a city like New York unveils a plan to tackle its buildings’ energy consumption, you know the story is big.

Years ago the Big Apple made headlines for having its famous Empire State Building undergo a $20 million retrofit that enabled a 40 percent energy consumption reduction. The payback period was of less than five years. Now imagine if all buildings in the world did the same…

Another study I blogged about in 2014 noted that retrofitting buildings brings a 387% return on investment and that for each million dollar invested over 17 new jobs were created…

If insulating buildings can be expensive to home owners, a much cheaper yet as a potent solution exist: LED bulbs. When I started this blog a decade ago, one single LED bulb cost as much as $40. Now you can buy them like beer, a six-pack costing around $12-$15. Their payback period can be as short as six months, Now here is a luminous idea.

To conclude this part, Penn Environment reported that :

America uses 3.6 percent less energy than in 2007, in great part due to more energy-efficient lighting, appliances and cars. The average American uses 10 percent less energy than in 2007, and the nation’s energy consumption per unit of GDP has fallen by 14 percent.

Ditching coal and natural gas for solar and wind.

Renewable energy sources have been booming in the US (+262 % and over 4,600% from 2008 to 2016 for wind and solar, respectively. Source: Bloomberg) as their prices dropped in the past decade, making them already more than competitive with coal and natural gas.

Solar photovoltaic has seen its installed prices drop by over 60 percent, from $8.82 per watt in 2008 to $3.36/watt in 2016 (Source: Energy Sage). Meanwhile, Lazard, a leading financial advisory and asset management firm, reports that wind power costs were down 66 percent from 2009 to 2016.

And if you thing these dropping prices won’t last, most if not all analysts believe that this is only the beginning as capacities will keep on soaring. Wind power costs could drop another 50%. The renewable energy revolution is just at its beginning as more cities, companies and countries will transition to such solutions.

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To conclude:

Solving climate change has to be done if Mankind is to survive. Hurricane Harvey alone will cost the US taxpayer $190 billion. Irma, another $300 billion. So climate change will cost half a trillion in just two weeks. This is what one degree centigrade of warming did to the US economy. Imagine what two degrees would do…

Meanwhile, as we have seen in this week’s article, most solutions are cheaper than incumbents. Adopting them en masse would also bring several other improvements to our global societies in terms of health and wellbeing. So, time to act !

Image credits: Flickr, Bernard Spragg.
Hagley Park New Zealand.

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