By Susan Nugent, Climate Reality Project
“No Solar Power Plants” proclaims the sign in a small town outside Gainesville. This anti-science generalization ignores the plight of people worldwide and announces “not in my backyard.” The familiar expression “Think Globally. Act Locally” comes to mind.
Many world citizens are already struggling because of climate change. In Kiribati, part of Micronesia, many citizens must relocate from their sinking nation.
At the United Nations Conference on Climate in 2015, I witnessed one man from the Marshall Islands break into tears as he told of his country’s need to find land where people could survive. Many other places are now vulnerable to increasing water levels and high tides including Manila, Haiti and, right here, Florida’s coast.
If the plight of many around the world doesn’t make us want to act locally, then think of the money needed to pay $95 billion for hurricane, wildfire, floods, crop damage, drought and other destruction exacerbated by increased carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. We increase our expenses by not acting to reduce the effect of fossil fuels.
Health issues also provide reasons to encourage utilities to replace carbon coughing plants with clean energy. People residing, barely “living,” near these outdated technologies have higher rates of asthma and other respiratory problems. Pollutants from burning coal, oil, and natural gas contribute to early death from heart attacks, strokes and respiratory diseases, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The poor suffer most from high levels of CO2 in our atmosphere. Many live near these belching power plants. Many have insufficient access to good medical care. As our planet gets hotter, food prices rise following destruction of crops from disastrous drought and flooding.
Globally, those who use the least amount of fossil fuels suffer most. While many people in numerous countries can barely afford minimum amounts of this artificially inflated costly energy source, we live in our air-conditioned and heated homes, often indulging in energy consumption.
In this country too, the poor are most affected by climate change. Poverty traps people in high rent slums. Shoddy construction and neglected repairs make this housing expensive to heat or cool. The poor, having little or no financial reserve, are the least resilient to disasters.
In order to reduce CO2 in our atmosphere, we need alternative energy sources. In Florida, solar power seems the obvious choice. It pollutes less than other sources despite reservations about some materials used in manufacturing photovoltaic systems. Solar power has become the cheapest form of electricity.
After installation, the cost of energy is nothing. So every user of electricity benefits from utilities turning to solar power. Additionally, the solar industry generates more and more jobs with increased demand for workers.
One negative view suggests that solar systems will affect wildlife. However, a good design will overcome this issue. On some sites, panels have been placed to provide shade for animals during hot days. Other sites have created hedge rows similar to those in England, giving security for birds and small animals. Such habitats provide food and shelter for small creatures.
Declaring that solar power should not be an option, overlooks the necessity to act to decrease our use of fossil fuels as quickly as possible. Perhaps one site is not a tenable option, but that does not lessen the need for solar plants. Our local decisions impact the world far beyond our county’s borders.
We must think globally. Our world’s future depends on us finding alternative clean energy, lowering our amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and helping the world’s citizens who suffer from our fossil fuel addiction.
Many of those affected people may be our neighbors with asthma, with heart problems, with prematurely born children. Some of these neighbors may be climate refugees, new to our area, having come north from Miami or other areas already dealing with our climate crisis.
We all need to consider how resilient we too will be as we face more extreme weather events. As we act locally, we will move toward a less polluted globe.
Susan Nugent is a Climate Reality Project leader from Gainesville. This op-ed was originally published in The Gainesville Sun.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.