The Beginner’s Guide to Climate Change
Part 5: Combatting Climate Change
Stopping Climate Change
Now that we’ve discussed what problems may arise from climate change, what can we do to combat these negative impacts? The simple answer is that there are three primary strategies to possibly be utilized:
Each has their strengths and weaknesses, but the path forward likely will involve a combination of all three.
This strategy revolves around simply ignoring emissions and focusing on developing other means of survival. For example, a coastal city may decide to construct a seawall to reduce the risk of rising sea levels. Whilst the problem of climate change is not solved in this instance, an alternative method is used to survive it. Adaptation will be essential to some extent as we have already begun to see the impacts of climate change; even if we were to completely cut emissions right this minute, the atmosphere would still take some time to catch up due to the chemical properties of carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, adaptation cannot be our sole means of responding to climate change because eventually the consequences will be too drastic to cost-effectively counter.
Mitigation involves governmental action to cut emissions and encourage climate-friendly energy alternatives. This requires that countries across the world enforce a price tag on carbon-based products in order to ensure that they are only used when absolutely necessary. There are two primary methods that could accomplish this: a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system.
A carbon tax allows companies to emit however many greenhouse gases that they please, but they must also pay a tax to the government for each unit of those emissions. This forces companies to consider the damage that they are doing to the environment carefully by equating it to monetary value; as such, businesses will either reduce emissions or pursue a more sustainable energy source.
A cap-and-trade system operates very similarly to a carbon tax, but it has some extra political maneuverability. The government issues a set number of permits that each allow a certain amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Companies purchase these permits depending on their emissions needs and may sell them to other groups should they not need as much as originally expected. Additionally, politicians may be given the power to distribute these permits as a means of garnering sympathy for their political endeavors.
Mitigation is the most favored option moving forward in the fight against climate change. Governments across the world have already begun implementing these strategies with impressive results; the quicker that countries can mobilize into employing mitigation strategies, the less extensive adaptation and geoengineering solutions will need to be.
The final options for resisting climate change are geoengineering solutions. This includes any technological advancement that may help to stop warming without placing any governmental restrictions. Examples of this might be releasing aerosols into the atmosphere so that the Earth reflects more sunlight or building power plants that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it deep underground. Although these options may sound ideal, they also pose significant risk and/or cost. Much is unknown about how the atmosphere would react to such initiatives; too much geoengineering may result in a rapid change in the opposite direction of warming and cause entirely new issues. Whilst geoengineering may be useful later on, currently the prospect is simply too good to be true.
This has been an incredibly brief description of the strategies that humankind has developed to fight back against climate change, but it’s all you need to know if you want to casually learn the basics. Next time, we’ll take a look at the current state of the world’s climate mitigation.