Climate change is the defining challenge facing humanity today. And we’ve known this for long enough – over 20 years, in fact. Still, carbon emissions are on the rise, and with each passing day, we’re losing valuable time to set things right. So what are we to do?
The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one – and understanding why we’re in the predicament we’re in. Here are five images showing the scale of our carbon pollution problem – and how the two largest emitters are starting to clean up their acts.
1. Balancing Our Carbon Budget
The carbon budget is the estimated amount of CO2 the world can emit to limit global average temperature rise to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. And, if we keep the world from warming that extra 2 °C, we’re likely to avert the most dangerous climate change impacts.
Unfortunately, we’ve already used up over 52 percent of our total carbon budget, leading one analyst to quip, “If this were a bank statement it would say our credit is running out.” And instead of slowing down our carbon spending, we’ve been racking up more charges.
2.) The Scale of Our Emissions
Over the years, as industrialization has spread and world economies have burned more and more fossil fuels, carbon pollution has ballooned – particularly in the United States and China, as seen by the enormous, growing circles on the animation above.
We know that carbon dioxide causes climate change, and if we can limit carbon dioxide, all those terrible catastrophes that one film predicted could be avoided – or at least minimized.
So what, if anything, are the biggest polluters doing to stay in our carbon budget?
3.) China Caps Carbon and Beijing Bans Coal
China, the world’s largest carbon polluter, is becoming a leader in clean energy.
The country installed 12 GW of solar electricity last year. That’s two times more than the UK’s entire solar capacity and about 75 percent of the entire solar capacity of the US. And all that was in only one year – imagine the possibilities if this growth continues!
In addition to bulking up its renewable energy sources, China has implemented a pilot cap-and-trade system in six cities and provinces, with a national carbon market set to begin in 2016.
Another positive sign that China is cleaning up its act is that the nation is planning to cap its coal use by 2020. to reduce its reliance on the dirty energy. Furthermore, the country won’t build any new coal-fired power plants around the densely populated cities of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.
While the country has made efforts to control the resulting air and carbon pollution, it still relies upon coal for the majority of its power and is actively building new facilities. Recent actions, however, show that China is serious about cutting its emissions, shifting its energy sites to renewables and scaling back its reliance on coal.
With China taking climate action, all eyes are on the next-largest emitter: the US.
4.) The power plant problem
China’s plan to reduce emissions is ambitious. And with the US and China – the world’s two biggest carbon polluters – recently agreeing to reduce their emissions, climate progress is happening. But how will the US achieve its stated target of reducing carbon pollution by 26–28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025?
The sad truth is that carbon pollution has been steadily on the rise in the US, "driven largely by an increase in coal use for power generation," according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In the US, power plants are responsible for 40 percent of carbon pollution. But while there are limits on the amount of mercury, sulfur, arsenic, cyanide, soot, and lead that plants can emit, there are no limits on carbon pollution… and Big Polluters are taking full advantage of that lack of oversight.
There’s a light at the end of this coal-train tunnel: the EPA has proposed a “Clean Power Plan” that includes limits on the amount of carbon dioxide that power plants can emit, which will reduce emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels and decrease soot and smog by 25 percent in 2030.
5.) Americans Agree on Climate Action
In this highly polarized political climate, it’s hard to believe that a large majority of Americans can agree on anything – let alone on climate action. But it’s true – 70 percent of Americans agree that there should be limits on carbon pollution from power plants. And a clear majority exists on both ends of the political spectrum.
While your opinion may be represented in the poll, that doesn’t mean the EPA’s Clean Power Plan will be fully implemented. Right now, the EPA is accepting comments from the public – people just like you – to learn what Americans think about their plan. It’s absolutely vital to make your voice heard by sending a message of support directly to the EPA. The EPA is listening until December 1, so be sure to tell them you support limits on carbon pollution from power plants. All it takes are a few clicks, so send your comment now.
6.) BONUS! Here’s Why We Have #ClimateHope
The EPA's proposal to put safeguards on carbon pollution from power plants is one of the most important steps the U.S. has taken to combat climate change in a long time.
The agency’s Clean Power Plan will lead to climate and health benefits worth an estimated $55–93 billion in 2030, avoid 2,700–6,600 premature deaths and up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and on top of that – help ensure a low-carbon future.
Solving the climate crisis will take some time, but there’s no reason we can’t start now. The solutions are readily available today. If the two largest polluters can begin to clean up their acts, who’s to say the rest of the world can’t?
Fortunately, countries, states, regions, and cities around the planet are already working to reduce carbon pollution. And that’s why we’re hopeful that world leaders will be announcing meaningful commitments to reduce their emissions next year in Paris.
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Before You Go
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