It’s clear that the best time to start fighting against climate change was probably about fifty years ago. But the next best time is now, and we have no excuse to keep delaying our efforts. We’re eager to see plans for action, and we’re ready to try any strategy that might help. Unfortunately, some of the plans intended to combat climate change could actually make things worse. It sounds contradictory, but not all of these proposals would benefit us in the long run.
This is why it’s crucial to be critical of any climate change action plans that come our way. A method that might sound great on paper could actually be detrimental. At this point in time, it can be tempting to think that as long as we start moving ahead with any kind of change is worth a shot—but the truth is that some of these changes won’t help solve the problem. Over a long enough time period, it could actually make things worse.
A recent special report by the UN exposed a huge problem with the majority of proposals to mitigate the effects of climate change and curb emissions. Many of these plans rely heavily on the use of bioenergy, which refers to electricity and gas generated by organic matter (also known as biomass) rather than fossil fuels. Biomass could refer to wood, crop residue, sugarcane, manure, or other byproducts of farming and agriculture. Since it’s a renewable resource, it sounds like a clean, sustainable idea, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Although this seems great on paper, heavy dependence on biofuels could be detrimental in practice.
First, these crops would have to be grown on large plots of land, and then burned in power plants to produce electricity. Then, the idea is that the CO2 released would be stored rather than allowed to enter the atmosphere. But the amount of land needed to grow and harvest these biofuels would be enormous. Growing mono-crops would result in poor soil quality over time, making it more difficult to produce the necessary biomass. It could also lead to desertification, land degradation, and loss of wildlife. Furthermore, setting aside land that could be used to grow food for people and using it instead to produce biomass is rather wasteful. After all, climate change could result in increased food prices, and putting so many resources towards the mass production of biofuels will only exacerbate that issue.
This finding is especially troubling since the majority of current proposals for tackling climate change involve heavy use of bioenergy. Relying on bioenergy and carbon capture isn’t enough. We need to drastically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and stop emitting so much carbon in the first place.
Here’s the silver lining: in lieu of bioenergy, the UN report recommends a large-scale embrace of plant-based diet as a safe and efficient solution. (This is what we have been saying at Peaceful Dumpling all along!) It also espouses wind and solar energy as clean and renewable alternatives.
Doing something about climate change feels much better than doing nothing—but sometimes, doing something can be just as bad as doing nothing. We need to look carefully at the solutions that are being offered to us. Everything is connected, and making a major change in one area can affect our fragile ecosystems in unexpected ways. Just because a particular strategy doesn’t involve the use of fossil fuels doesn’t automatically make it “green.” When it comes to fighting climate change, we need to act fast—but that doesn’t mean we should rush ahead with “solutions” that aren’t really going to solve much.
Right now, we’re at a pivotal moment in regards to climate change. It feels like we’re running out of time—and it’s true that our window to act is getting smaller and smaller. But this doesn’t mean we have to go forward with half-measures like dependence on bioenergy or pinning our hopes on carbon capture. And even though we need to move quickly, we still need to tread carefully. One reason we got into this mess in the first place is because we didn’t stop to consider how our actions would affect our environment in the long run. When it comes to implementing plans to fight climate change, we can’t afford to make the same mistakes over and over again.
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