Starting tomorrow, global leaders will gather in Paris to decide how we will confront climate change. Very compelling scientific evidence points to our emissions of greenhouse gases as the major cause of these changes, but when this same group met in Copenhagen in 2009, it was easy enough for climate skeptics and fossil fuel interests to argue that the tools needed to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions – clean energy foremost among them – were too expensive, complex or experimental.
What a difference 6 years makes.
While the negotiators face daunting issues in Paris, today’s technological reality is extraordinarily encouraging. Unlike the situation the world faced in 2009, the tools to combat climate change are now affordable, well established, and are being deployed around the globe at a pace never before seen.
Consider the incredible growth of solar energy. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), by the end of 2014, the world installed over 177 Gigawatts of solar generating capacity, an increase of 28% from the previous year. (The average residential customer in Germany and the U.S. use 0.36 kilowatts and 1.4 kW of power, respectively.) While Europe initially led the world, the move to solar has become international. In a few months, China may announce plans to increase their installed solar capacity to 100 Gigawatts by 2020. Solar energy produced in the U.S. will have increased from January 2009 to the end of 2015 by nearly 3000%. The U.S. is expected to be second to China as the largest installer of new solar power in 2016. This explosive growth is partly due to a drop in the cost of solar modules. By 2014, the international price of solar modules plunged by 80% from 2008 prices, and by a staggering 100-fold since 1977.
Worldwide wind energy production increased by 300% from 2008 to 2014, according to the International Energy Agency’s Annual Wind Reports. While not as spectacular as the growth of solar energy, in some States in U.S., wind power has become the lowest cost option for electricity. In many areas of the world, the life-cycle cost of wind and solar energy is dropping below the cost of fossil energy. One trend seems clear: over the lifetime of a new fossil fuel power plant, the operational and environmental costs will continue to mount, while sunshine and wind, the “fuel” of these clean energy sources, remains free.
Rapid progress has also been made in energy efficiency, transportation, advanced nuclear power, energy storage and other key climate-friendly technologies. It is the result of the inspired efforts of engineers, entrepreneurs, and elected officials who see the future. It also shows what humanity can achieve when it refuses to accept the status quo and strives for a truly sustainable solution.
Steps to reduce the risks of climate change are fully aligned with economic prosperity. These realities should inspire the Paris negotiators as they begin their work. At the same time, average citizens around the globe must educate themselves about the rapidly changing energy landscape. With this knowledge, they can understand why finding a way forward on climate is so important – and entirely feasible.
A particularly important opportunity to learn about the environmental choices we face will come on Monday, November 30, when the new documentary Time to Choose streams for free on Huffington Post worldwide. This film focuses on the solutions now being implemented by people everywhere, from California to Kenya.
Time to Choose helps illustrate the progress being made on the energy technologies we need to reduce our global emissions. It shows that we have finally crossed a crucial boundary toward solving the climate challenge. The time to learn is now. With that knowledge, the choice of a clean energy future becomes obvious, and the closer we will be to creating a true path forward.
Otherwise, to quote Martin Luther King, “There is such a thing as being too late.”
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