Those of us who participated in projecting sea-level rise for the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact know that CO2 emissions must be dramatically reduced if we hope to save South Florida for sinking under the sea.
So, how expensive is it to make the transition to a low carbon world? In fact, creating such a world would save an enormous among of money, according to “Drawdown,” a book edited by environmentalist Paul Hawken.
Hawken, who writes about economics and the environment, estimates that the United States could save at least $73 trillion if Americans embraced the 80 carbon-cutting suggestions he puts forth in his book. Even if there were no climate crisis, we should make these changes because they save so much money.
Let me elaborate on two of his proposals: solar power and electric cars.
Most consumers are unaware that solar panel prices have plunged 10 percent to 15 percent per year. And installation methods have improved. Building owners who install solar panels can recoup their investment in as little as five years. You likely will do better if you buy a solar array instead of a 401K.
In addition, if you install efficient power storage modules, you will have power even when your neighbors have lost theirs during a hurricane. Unlike a backup gas generator, the solar array will earn money every day. Additional money can be saved by Energy Star efficiency improvements, at about half the cost per kWhr compared to power generation.
According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, building a natural gas-power plant costs about $500 billion and locks in $400 billion to $500 billion in fuel cost. Such a plant would release 5 billion tons of CO2 emissions over its operating life.
Renewables are already economically competitive with natural gas. California requires new buildings to have solar panels. Why not in the Florida?
Another sensible tactic to fight carbon emissions is to drive an electric car. The energy in a gallon of gas equals about 10kWhrs. So think of 10kWhrs as the new electric gallon. Each kwh cost 12 cents nationally.
So the average price of an electric gallon is about $1.20 nationally. Because electric vehicles regenerate to slow down, you will use most of that electric gallon repeatedly. Also, your brakes will practically last forever. A Model 3 Tesla is EPA rated 130 MPGe electric “fuel economy.” That saves an average driver about $4,250 in five years, according to the window sticker.
I have driven an electric car for the last three-and-a-half years, including a trip to western Canada. The driving experience has been exceptional. I will never own another gasoline-powered car.
Electric semitrailer trucks are another great idea. We would have no runaway semis, because electric ones are equipped with regenerative braking. A semi that which consumes 2kWhr per mile would save its owner about $200,000 per year in the cost of diesel fuel.
These examples are just two of hundreds of profitable solution to global warming. We need them all, as fast as possible, because the glacial ice and permafrost melting are accelerating. We need them because they are the basis of our sustainable global economy and the next industrial revolution.
We have endured more than three decades of orchestrated procrastination. Time is running out to cut carbon emissions. The faster we make changes, the more money we will save in adaptation and resiliency spending.
Hawken used conservative assumptions in his book, so we could reduce more emissions and save more money by attacking the problem more aggressively.
To reduce carbon emissions rapidly, we need to place an ever-increasing price on carbon emissions, collected the money at the point of production or importation of fossil fuels.
These payments would begin to compensate for the damage caused by burning fossil fuels. We need to let the free market work. Offshore drilling, tar sands production and other fossil fuel businesses would be among the first to be priced out of the market.
Encourage your representatives in Congress to join the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, which has grown to 78 members, half Republican and half Democrat.
Dr. John Van Leer teaches at University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences as an Associate Professor in OCE Department. He has taught Sustainable Living every semester for the last decade and served on both sea-level rise committees for the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact.
“The Invading Sea” is a collaboration of four South Florida media organizations — the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post and WLRN Public Media.