At press time there was great optimism that a multilateral agreement would emerge from the U.N.-sponsored summit on climate change in Paris this month. An agreement would entail new commitments from 180 nations to constrain or offset emissions that contribute to global warming. The emerging framework is ambitious, creative and historic; but it will still not be enough to prevent the earth from warming another two to three degrees Celsius by the end of the century. That may not sound like much of a shift, but it is enough, scientists say, to cause large areas of the earth to become uninhabitable because of stifling heat, drought or rising sea level. That outcome would send millions of people into flight in a vast, border-crushing migration that would dwarf today’s refugee crisis.
Yet there are also many reasons to support hope that enough time and ingenuity remain to prevent or mitigate the worst. As new infrastructure is rolled out, fine-tuning the technology will optimize renewable energy outputs. And that tinkering may also lead to breakthroughs in entirely new areas of alternative-energy capacity-building.
Already nations like Germany have achieved breakout levels of renewable capacity. On individual days of bright sunshine and optimal winds, Germany has achieved renewable production of as much as 75 percent of the nation’s daily power. Indeed, many of the obstacles ahead are political, not technological. Decommissioning K Street offices of fossil-fuel lobbyists may prove just as important as decommissioning coal plants in the upcoming struggle to secure the future by protecting creation.