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A spirit that is not afraid

Research shows a plan to combat climate change

Three numbers — two, 565 and 2,975. Two degrees is the threshold for dangerous climate change. Five hundred sixty- five gigatons is the amount of carbon dioxide that can be safely released in the atmosphere to stay under two degrees. Two thousand nine hundred seventy-five gigatons is the amount of carbon dioxide that would be released if the U.S. burned all the fossil fuel reserves discovered, according to “Keep it in the ground,” a campaign by The Guardian.

Mark Jacobson, Stanford University professor of civil and environmental engineering, published an interactive map in National Geographic called “A Blueprint for a Carbon-Free America,” which gave a plan for how climate change could possibly be solved.

This map details each state’s energy mix, the combination of renewable energy each state will need to sustain itself. By 2050, this mix would rely on wind, water and solar power, according to Jacobson.

Jacobson said he researched current energy use and used energy projections to develop a plan to change the energy infrastructure of each state.

In Alabama, the state’s main source of energy would be solar power, comprising 64 percent of the total new energy mix, according to Jacobson’s study.

He said he examined electricity, heating and cooling, transportation and industry to determine what energy mixes were needed.

“And then we looked at electrifying each sector [making all industrial processes electric] and using existing technologies and that resulted in a reduction of power demand by around 30 percent over all the sectors,” Jacobson said.

Next, he said they looked at wind, water and solar resources for each state to see what was economically feasible to power them. Jacobson said he looked at costs, job creations, reduction of air pollution dimensions and cost and reduction of climate costs resulting from the transformation of each state.

He said the U.S. would eliminate approximately 60,000-65,000 air pollution deaths per year, save $500 billion to $600 billion dollars per year in health costs and eliminate U.S. emissions of global warming impact with renewable energy.

“So that would save the world $2.3 trillion per year in costs by 2050,” Jacobson said. “We would create about ... 2 million more jobs than we lose. We’d stabilize energy prices, because the fuel costs of wind, water and solar is zero.”

Jacobson said politically the U.S. would reduce international conflicts because we could get all our fuel locally, rather than importing it.

He also said citizens could generate movement for this vision by convincing policymakers in government. He also said using energy efficient lightbulbs, weatherizing homes and using solar-powered cars would help.

Mike Kensler, director of the Office of Sustainability at Auburn, said he agrees with Jacobson and thinks it’s possible.

Kensler said solar power will dominate the electricity market by 2033, according to Goldman Sachs. Additionally, Kensler said on some breezy, sunny days Germany got 80 percent of its electricity from renewables.

“We have the technology,” Kensler said. “It’s lack of leadership and political will that gets in our way.”

Kensler said anywhere from 90-95 percent of energy people create is wasted when it gets to the end use.

“Our energy efficiency performance can go way up,” Kensler said.

Kensler said in the energy sector renewable energy is creating the most jobs and also said Alabama Power received approval to develop 500 megawatts of solar power over the next five years.

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“So wer’re talking with them in very preliminary stages about the possibility of tapping some of that solar energy,” Kensler said.

Mark Barnett, professor of environmental engineering and associate chair of the department of civil engineering, said he thinks climate change is a serious problem which could have economic consequences.

Based on evidence, humans are changing Earth’s climate, according to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Barnett said he bases his opinions on this statement.

“One of the most important things to do is to stop putting so much carbon in the air, and renewable energy is a way to do that,” Barnett said.

According to Kensler, battery technology has also been changing rapidly.

“So being able to store that energy that we capture, because you can only generate wind energy when the wind’s blowing and solar energy when the sun’s shining,” Kensler said. 

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