Clearing the Air: A Growing Movement to Stop Climate Change

by Lori Pottinger

There is no silver bullet that will bring a quick fix to the climate change problem - but a buckshot approach might just blow enough holes in it to make it more manageable. Here we feature just a handful of the many, many good initiatives that are tackling the problem head-on.

A Technological Shift

A Mighty Wind: In 2007, about 33,000 MW of new renewable-energy capacity was added worldwide, including 21,000 MW of new wind power and 2,700 MW of grid-connected solar photovoltaics - a 500% jump from just four years earlier. Wind continues to dominate the scene: as of this writing, the world had about 100,000 MW of wind power. The European Union's 56,535 MW of wind avoids up to 90 million tons of CO2 in an average wind year, according to Worldwatch. China was the big surprise in new wind additions in 2007: it now ranks fifth, with 6,050 MW, and could have as much as 50,000 MW by 2050.

The Almighty Dollar: Investors are putting their money into clean tech. New global investments in energy technologies -- including venture capital, project finance, public markets, and research and development -- have increased 60% percent since 2006, rising to $148.4 billion in 2007, according to New Energy Finance.

A Rising Sun: Concentrating solar thermal is experiencing a renaissance, with Spain and the US West leading the way for this highly effective grid-based renewable technology. The California utility Pacific Gas & Electric is spurring a particularly large jump in CSP plants in the US. The utility is committed to buying at least 1,000 MW (enough to power 775,000 homes) from CSP plants in the next five years. Renewable Energy World predicts close to 40,000 MW worldwide by 2025.

A Political Shift

It's the Climate, Stupid: Australia's temperatures are rising faster than the global average. Not only is it the "canary in the coalmine" for global warming, it also has the biggest per capita carbon footprint of any developed nation in the world. In November, after the worst drought in 100 years brought the crisis home, Australian voters booted climate-change do-nothing John Howard and elected Kevin Rudd to Prime Minister. Rudd campaigned on a platform that includes a 60% cut in CO2 emissions by 2050, and major investments in geothermal energy and solar power.

High Standards: Because the US federal government has failed to set national goals for reducing emissions, states are taking the lead. More than half of US states have mandates requiring somewhere between 10 and 25 percent of their energy be obtained through renewable sources in a decade or two. Thanks to these "renewables standards," the US is now second in the world (after Germany) for installed wind power and first for concentrating solar power. California upped the ante in 2006 by enacting the Global Warming Solutions Act (which commits the state to cut its greenhouse gases 25% by 2020), and a separate landmark law to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new cars. California's Million Solar Roof Initiative has a goal of 3,000 MW of new solar capacity by 2017.

A Social Shift

Green Buildings Movement: Buildings are responsible for almost half of all GHG emissions annually in the US, and suck up three-quarters of all electricity generated by US power plants. Architecture 2030 has devised "the 2030 Blueprint," a plan to greatly reduce the climate change impacts from buildings, save billions of dollars, and create jobs. The plan is for all new buildings and major renovations to reduce their fossil-fuel GHG-emitting consumption by 50% by 2010, incrementally increasing the reduction for new buildings to carbon neutral by 2030.

Green Jobs Movement: A growing worldwide movement is calling for more "green collar jobs" to halt climate change and create sustainable employment opportunities. In the US, the Apollo Alliance (a coalition of environmental groups, labor unions and politicians) and the recently launched BlueGreen Alliance (a partnership of the Sierra Club with the United Steelworkers) are pushing to transform the economy into one based on renewable energy and "green jobs." The South African group Earthlife (Johannesburg) has commissioned a study that revealed if South Africa generated just 15% of total electricity use in 2020 using renewables, it would create 36,400 new direct jobs, without taking any jobs away from coal-based electricity. And Germany's rapidly expanding green energy sector has seen a doubling of renewables jobs since 2004, with some 249,000 jobs in the sector today. The ministry estimates Germany will have up to 400,000 renewables jobs by 2020.

Youth on the March: Rising up from campuses and communities around the world, a youth movement is building to stop climate change. Young activists in the US, Europe, Australia, China and elsewhere are putting pressure on the decidedly youth-free political elite to get quicker, smarter actions to reduce emissions; sharing information between campuses, around their neighborhoods, and across generations; and taking personal responsibility for reducing their universities' and their own carbon footprints. From kicking off anti-coal campaigns, to bestowing "Fossil Fool Awards" on April Fools Day to the world's biggest climate polluters, to registering voters, to attending official climate negotiations, youth movements are picking up steam and becoming difficult for the powers that be to ignore.