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10 Solutions for Climate Change

Ten possibilities for staving off catastrophic climate change

  • By David Biello  on  November 26, 2007

10 Solutions for Climate Change

The enormity of global warming can be daunting and dispiriting. What can one person, or even one nation, do on their own to slow and reverse climate change ? But just as ecologist Stephen Pacala and physicist Robert Socolow, both at Princeton University, came up with 15 so-called " wedges " for nations to utilize toward this goal—each of which is challenging but feasible and, in some combination, could reduce greenhouse gas emissions to safer levels —there are personal lifestyle changes that you can make too that, in some combination, can help reduce your carbon impact. Not all are right for everybody. Some you may already be doing or absolutely abhor. But implementing just a few of them could make a difference.

Forego Fossil Fuels —The first challenge is eliminating the burning of coal , oil and, eventually, natural gas. This is perhaps the most daunting challenge as denizens of richer nations literally eat, wear, work, play and even sleep on the products made from such fossilized sunshine. And citizens of developing nations want and arguably deserve the same comforts, which are largely thanks to the energy stored in such fuels.

Oil is the lubricant of the global economy, hidden inside such ubiquitous items as plastic and corn, and fundamental to the transportation of both consumers and goods. Coal is the substrate, supplying roughly half of the electricity used in the U.S. and nearly that much worldwide—a percentage that is likely to grow, according to the International Energy Agency. There are no perfect solutions for reducing dependence on fossil fuels (for example, carbon neutral biofuels can drive up the price of food and lead to forest destruction, and while nuclear power does not emit greenhouse gases, it does produce radioactive waste), but every bit counts.

So try to employ alternatives when possible—plant-derived plastics, biodiesel, wind power—and to invest in the change, be it by divesting from oil stocks or investing in companies practicing carbon capture and storage.

Infrastructure Upgrade —Buildings worldwide contribute around one third of all greenhouse gas emissions (43 percent in the U.S. alone), even though investing in thicker insulation and other cost-effective, temperature-regulating steps can save money in the long run. Electric grids are at capacity or overloaded, but power demands continue to rise. And bad roads can lower the fuel economy of even the most efficient vehicle. Investing in new infrastructure, or radically upgrading existing highways and transmission lines, would help cut greenhouse gas emissions and drive economic growth in developing countries.

Of course, it takes a lot of cement, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, to construct new buildings and roads. The U.S. alone contributed 50.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere in 2005 from cement production, which requires heating limestone and other ingredients to 1,450 degrees Celsius (2,642 degrees Fahrenheit). Mining copper and other elements needed for electrical wiring and transmission also causes globe-warming pollution.

But energy-efficient buildings and improved cement-making processes (such as using alternative fuels to fire up the kiln) could reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the developed world and prevent them in the developing world.

Move Closer to Work —Transportation is the second leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. (burning a single gallon of gasoline produces 20 pounds of CO 2 ). But it doesn't have to be that way.

One way to dramatically curtail transportation fuel needs is to move closer to work, use mass transit, or switch to walking, cycling or some other mode of transport that does not require anything other than human energy. There is also the option of working from home and telecommuting several days a week.

Cutting down on long-distance travel would also help, most notably airplane flights, which are one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions and a source that arguably releases such emissions in the worst possible spot (higher in the atmosphere). Flights are also one of the few sources of globe-warming pollution for which there isn't already a viable alternative: jets rely on kerosene, because it packs the most energy per pound, allowing them to travel far and fast, yet it takes roughly 10 gallons of oil to make one gallon of JetA fuel. Restricting flying to only critical, long-distance trips—in many parts of the world, trains can replace planes for short- to medium-distance trips—would help curb airplane emissions.

Consume Less —The easiest way to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions is simply to buy less stuff. Whether by forgoing an automobile or employing a reusable grocery sack, cutting back on consumption results in fewer fossil fuels being burned to extract, produce and ship products around the globe.

Think green when making purchases. For instance, if you are in the market for a new car, buy one that will last the longest and have the least impact on the environment. Thus, a used vehicle with a hybrid engine offers superior fuel efficiency over the long haul while saving the environmental impact of new car manufacture.

Paradoxically, when purchasing essentials, such as groceries, buying in bulk can reduce the amount of packaging—plastic wrapping, cardboard boxes and other unnecessary materials. Sometimes buying more means consuming less.

Be Efficient —A potentially simpler and even bigger impact can be made by doing more with less. Citizens of many developed countries are profligate wasters of energy, whether by speeding in a gas-guzzling sport-utility vehicle or leaving the lights on when not in a room.

Good driving—and good car maintenance, such as making sure tires are properly inflated—can limit the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from a vehicle and, perhaps more importantly, lower the frequency of payment at the pump.

Similarly, employing more efficient refrigerators, air conditioners and other appliances, such as those rated highly under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program, can cut electric bills while something as simple as weatherproofing the windows of a home can reduce heating and cooling bills. Such efforts can also be usefully employed at work, whether that means installing more efficient turbines at the power plant or turning the lights off when you leave the office .

Eat Smart, Go Vegetarian? —Corn grown in the U.S. requires barrels of oil for the fertilizer to grow it and the diesel fuel to harvest and transport it. Some grocery stores stock organic produce that do not require such fertilizers, but it is often shipped from halfway across the globe. And meat, whether beef, chicken or pork, requires pounds of feed to produce a pound of protein.

Choosing food items that balance nutrition, taste and ecological impact is no easy task. Foodstuffs often bear some nutritional information, but there is little to reveal how far a head of lettuce, for example, has traveled.

University of Chicago researchers estimate that each meat-eating American produces 1.5 tons more greenhouse gases through their food choice than do their vegetarian peers. It would also take far less land to grow the crops necessary to feed humans than livestock, allowing more room for planting trees.

Stop Cutting Down Trees —Every year, 33 million acres of forests are cut down . Timber harvesting in the tropics alone contributes 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere. That represents 20 percent of human-made greenhouse gas emissions and a source that could be avoided relatively easily.

Improved agricultural practices along with paper recycling and forest management—balancing the amount of wood taken out with the amount of new trees growing—could quickly eliminate this significant chunk of emissions.

And when purchasing wood products, such as furniture or flooring, buy used goods or, failing that, wood certified to have been sustainably harvested. The Amazon and other forests are not just the lungs of the earth, they may also be humanity's best short-term hope for limiting climate change.

Unplug —Believe it or not, U.S. citizens spend more money on electricity to power devices when off than when on. Televisions, stereo equipment, computers, battery chargers and a host of other gadgets and appliances consume more energy when seemingly switched off, so unplug them instead.

Purchasing energy-efficient gadgets can also save both energy and money—and thus prevent more greenhouse gas emissions. To take but one example, efficient battery chargers could save more than one billion kilowatt-hours of electricity—$100 million at today's electricity prices—and thus prevent the release of more than one million metric tons of greenhouse gases.

Swapping old incandescent lightbulbs for more efficient replacements, such as compact fluorescents (warning: these lightbulbs contain mercury and must be properly disposed of at the end of their long life), would save billions of kilowatt-hours. In fact, according to the EPA, replacing just one incandescent lightbulb in every American home would save enough energy to provide electricity to three million American homes.

One Child —There are at least 6.6 billion people living today, a number that is predicted by the United Nations to grow to at least nine billion by mid-century. The U.N. Environmental Program estimates that it requires 54 acres to sustain an average human being today—food, clothing and other resources extracted from the planet. Continuing such population growth seems unsustainable.

Falling birth rates in some developed and developing countries (a significant portion of which are due to government-imposed limits on the number of children a couple can have) have begun to reduce or reverse the population explosion. It remains unclear how many people the planet can comfortably sustain, but it is clear that per capita energy consumption must go down if climate change is to be controlled.

Ultimately, a one child per couple rule is not sustainable either and there is no perfect number for human population. But it is clear that more humans means more greenhouse gas emissions.

Future Fuels —Replacing fossil fuels may prove the great challenge of the 21st century. Many contenders exist, ranging from ethanol derived from crops to hydrogen electrolyzed out of water, but all of them have some drawbacks, too, and none are immediately available at the scale needed.

Biofuels can have a host of negative impacts, from driving up food prices to sucking up more energy than they produce. Hydrogen must be created, requiring either reforming natural gas or electricity to crack water molecules. Biodiesel hybrid electric vehicles (that can plug into the grid overnight) may offer the best transportation solution in the short term, given the energy density of diesel and the carbon neutral ramifications of fuel from plants as well as the emissions of electric engines. A recent study found that the present amount of electricity generation in the U.S. could provide enough energy for the country's entire fleet of automobiles to switch to plug-in hybrids , reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the process.

But plug-in hybrids would still rely on electricity, now predominantly generated by burning dirty coal. Massive investment in low-emission energy generation, whether solar-thermal power or nuclear fission , would be required to radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And even more speculative energy sources—hyperefficient photovoltaic cells, solar energy stations in orbit or even fusion—may ultimately be required.

The solutions above offer the outline of a plan to personally avoid contributing to global warming. But should such individual and national efforts fail, there is another, potentially desperate solution:

Experiment Earth —Climate change represents humanity's first planetwide experiment. But, if all else fails, it may not be the last. So-called geoengineering , radical interventions to either block sunlight or reduce greenhouse gases, is a potential last resort for addressing the challenge of climate change.

Among the ideas: releasing sulfate particles in the air to mimic the cooling effects of a massive volcanic eruption; placing millions of small mirrors or lenses in space to deflect sunlight; covering portions of the planet with reflective films to bounce sunlight back into space; fertilizing the oceans with iron or other nutrients to enable plankton to absorb more carbon; and increasing cloud cover or the reflectivity of clouds that already form.

All may have unintended consequences, making the solution worse than the original problem. But it is clear that at least some form of geoengineering will likely be required: capturing carbon dioxide before it is released and storing it in some fashion, either deep beneath the earth, at the bottom of the ocean or in carbonate minerals. Such carbon capture and storage is critical to any serious effort to combat climate change.

Additional reporting by Larry Greenemeier and Nikhil Swaminathan .

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David Biello is a contributing editor at Scientific American .  Follow David Biello on Twitter

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What are the solutions to climate change?

Climate change is already an urgent threat to millions of lives – but there are solutions. From changing how we get our energy to limiting deforestation, here are some of the key solutions to climate change.

Climate change is happening now, and it’s the most serious threat to life on our planet. Luckily, there are plenty of solutions to climate change and they are well-understood.

In 2015, world leaders signed a major treaty called the Paris agreement  to put these solutions into practice.

Core to all climate change solutions is reducing greenhouse gas emissions , which must get to zero as soon as possible.

Because both forests and oceans play vitally important roles in regulating our climate, increasing the natural ability of forests and oceans to absorb carbon dioxide can also help stop global warming.

The main ways to stop climate change are to pressure government and business to:

  • Keep fossil fuels in the ground . Fossil fuels include coal, oil and gas – and the more that are extracted and burned, the worse climate change will get. All countries need to move their economies away from fossil fuels as soon as possible.
  • Invest in renewable energy . Changing our main energy sources to clean and renewable energy is the best way to stop using fossil fuels. These include technologies like solar, wind, wave, tidal and geothermal power.
  • Switch to sustainable transport . Petrol and diesel vehicles, planes and ships use fossil fuels. Reducing car use, switching to electric vehicles and minimising plane travel will not only help stop climate change, it will reduce air pollution too.
  • Help us keep our homes cosy . Homes shouldn’t be draughty and cold – it’s a waste of money, and miserable in the winter. The government can help households heat our homes in a green way – such as by insulating walls and roofs and switching away from oil or gas boilers to heat pumps .
  • Improve farming and encourage vegan diets . One of the best ways for individuals to help stop climate change is by reducing their meat and dairy consumption, or by going fully vegan. Businesses and food retailers can improve farming practices and provide more plant-based products to help people make the shift.
  • Restore nature to absorb more carbon . The natural world is very good at cleaning up our emissions, but we need to look after it. Planting trees in the right places or giving land back to nature through ‘rewilding’ schemes is a good place to start. This is because photosynthesising plants draw down carbon dioxide as they grow, locking it away in soils.
  • Protect forests like the Amazon . Forests are crucial in the fight against climate change, and protecting them is an important climate solution. Cutting down forests on an industrial scale destroys giant trees which could be sucking up huge amounts of carbon. Yet companies destroy forests to make way for animal farming, soya or palm oil plantations. Governments can stop them by making better laws.
  • Protect the oceans . Oceans also absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which helps to keep our climate stable. But many are overfished , used for oil and gas drilling or threatened by deep sea mining. Protecting oceans and the life in them is ultimately a way to protect ourselves from climate change.
  • Reduce how much people consume . Our transport, fashion, food and other lifestyle choices all have different impacts on the climate. This is often by design – fashion and technology companies, for example, will release far more products than are realistically needed. But while reducing consumption of these products might be hard, it’s most certainly worth it. Reducing overall consumption in more wealthy countries can help put less strain on the planet.
  • Reduce plastic . Plastic is made from oil, and the process of extracting, refining and turning oil into plastic (or even polyester, for clothing) is surprisingly carbon-intense . It doesn’t break down quickly in nature so a lot of plastic is burned, which contributes to emissions. Demand for plastic is rising so quickly that creating and disposing of plastics will account for 17% of the global carbon budget by 2050 (this is the emissions count we need to stay within according to the Paris agreement ).

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, and to feel that climate change is too big to solve. But we already have the answers, now it’s a question of making them happen. To work, all of these solutions need strong international cooperation between governments and businesses, including the most polluting sectors.

Individuals can also play a part by making better choices about where they get their energy, how they travel, and what food they eat. But the best way for anyone to help stop climate change is to take collective action. This means pressuring governments and corporations to change their policies and business practices.

Governments want to be re-elected. And businesses can’t survive without customers. Demanding action from them is a powerful way to make change happen.

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The fossil fuel industry is blocking climate change action

Major oil and gas companies including BP, Exxon and Shell have spent hundreds of millions of pounds trying to delay or stop government policies that would have helped tackle the climate crisis.

Despite the effects of climate change becoming more and more obvious, big polluting corporations – the ones responsible for the majority of carbon emissions – continue to carry on drilling for and burning fossil fuels.

Industries including banks, car and energy companies also make profits from fossil fuels. These industries are knowingly putting money over the future of our planet and the safety of its people.

What are world leaders doing to stop climate change?

With such a huge crisis facing the entire planet, the international response should be swift and decisive. Yet progress by world governments has been achingly slow. Many commitments to reduce carbon emissions have been set, but few are binding and targets are often missed.

In Paris in 2015, world leaders from 197 countries pledged to put people first and reduce their countries’ greenhouse gas emissions. The Paris agreement has the aim of limiting global warming to well below 2ºC and ideally to 1.5°C.

If governments act swiftly on the promises they made in the Paris climate agreement, and implement the solutions now, there’s still hope of avoiding the worst consequences of climate change .

World leaders and climate negotiators meet at annual COPs – which stands for Conference of the Parties (the countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC).

At COPs and other climate talks, nations take stock of their ability to meet their commitments to reduce emissions.

Recently, talks have focused on climate finance – money to help poorer countries adapt to climate change and reduce emissions. Rich countries have pledged $100 billion in annual funding to help developing countries reduce emissions and manage the impacts of climate change. This is yet to materialise, and much more money is needed.

As the impacts of climate change are increasing, important talks have also started on “loss and damage” funding. This is money needed by worst-impacted countries to deal with extreme weather and other climate change impacts.

Global climate change activism

Around the world, millions of us are taking steps to defend our climate. People of all ages and from all walks of life are desperately demanding solutions to the climate emergency.

Over the years, Greenpeace has challenged oil companies chasing new fossil fuels to extract and burn. We’ve also called out the governments for their failure to act fast enough on the climate emergency. Greenpeace activists are ordinary people taking extraordinary action, to push the solutions to climate change.

Indigenous Peoples are most severely affected by both the causes and effects of climate change . They are often on the front lines, facing down deforestation or kicking out fossil fuel industries polluting their water supplies.

Communities in the Pacific Islands are facing sea level rises and more extreme weather. But they are using their strength and resilience to demand world leaders take quicker climate action.

For many of these communities, the fight against climate change is a fight for life itself.

Even in the UK, climate change is impacting people more severely. As a country with the wealth and power to really tackle climate change, it’s never been more important to demand action.

Keep exploring

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What can I do to stop climate change?

Individuals can make changes to their lives to reduce their personal carbon footprint. But it’s more important to persuade decision-makers in governments and businesses to drive emissions reductions on a much larger scale. This is the best way to stop climate change getting worse.

A worker in a hard hat and harness crouches on top of an offshore wind turbine. Other turbines are visible in the background.

What is the UK doing about climate change?

All countries need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. So how’s the UK doing?

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Renewable energy: a beginner's guide

Clean renewable energy is a vital tool for tackling climate change. Discover how it works and understand the advantages of wind, solar and water power.

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Environmental justice, explained

The environmental crisis doesn't affect everyone equally. Often the worst impacts fall on those who are already most exploited by people in power. The fight for environmental justice is about addressing this unfairness, and making sure green solutions don't add to the problem.

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Solving Climate Change

We caused the problem but also have the ability to make the tough but necessary changes. Find out how.

the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per year through this century for the four scenarios all have the ability to stop emissions

We caused the problem by increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but we have the ability to keep the amount of warming low enough that it is survivable. Communities and nations around the world are taking action to solve climate change.

How Do We Reduce Greenhouse Gases?

How Do We Reduce Greenhouse Gases?

There are two main ways to stop the amount of greenhouse gases from increasing: we can stop adding them to the air, and we can increase the Earth’s ability to pull them out of the air. Doing both will help reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

This image shows a large metal barrier across the Thames River in England

Adapting‌ ‌to‌ ‌Climate‌ ‌Change‌

As climate change and its impacts have increased risks to people and communities, taking steps to adapt have become essential. The ability to adapt can help keep us safe while we also take action to stop climate change.

Illustration showing how particles of sea salt or other aerosols released from a ship over the Arctic could help make brighter clouds that reflect incoming solar energy.

Can We Limit the Amount of Sunlight to Stop Climate Change?

Blocking some solar radiation from getting to Earth could involve sending gases or particles into the atmosphere. It could also include methods like making clouds or the Earth’s surface brighter so that they reflect sunlight back out to space. Methods like these could help slow climate change, but there could be risks.

This is an image of a dense temperate forest with lots of undergrowth, moss covered branches, and ferns.

Can We Pull Carbon Dioxide Out‌ ‌Of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Atmosphere?‌ ‌

What if we could pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in order to stop climate change? Learn how researchers are developing ways to do this.

Schematic diagram of possible CCS systems

Carbon Capture and Storage

How do we catch carbon? The possibility of capturing carbon dioxide greenhouse gas (CO2) has become an increasingly attractive idea, especially as people realize that it is unlikely we will stop using fossil fuels entirely in the next hundred years.

highway traffic

What's Your Carbon Footprint?

How much carbon dioxide do you send into the atmosphere? Anytime you do something that requires fossil fuels - like riding in a car, flying in a plane, buying something, eating something, or even just watching TV - you emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Future Climate: Explore the Possibilities

Future Climate: Explore the Possibilities

Use a simple climate model to peek into the future. You suggest the rate that you think humans will release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in the future and the model calculates how that would affect temperature.

Climate Solution Activities

Solving Climate Change Activities

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Climate Solutions Games and Simulations

Solving Climate Change Games and Simulations

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How You Can Stop Global Warming

Healing the planet starts in your garage, in your kitchen, and at your dining room table.

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Weatherizing doors and windows by sealing drafts can make your home more energy efficient.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: On April 4, 2022, the IPCC released the Working Group III Sixth Assessment report on climate change mitigation. The report describes how, despite gains in the clean energy revolution, nations are falling far too short of reducing climate pollution quickly enough to avoid severe damage, cost, and upheaval. “The good news is that we have the climate solutions needed, and they work,” says NRDC president Manish Bapna. “For our economic and national security, and for the future of all life on earth, lawmakers must act without delay.” Read more about the IPCC report here .

Rising sea levels. Raging storms. Searing heat. Ferocious fires. Severe drought. Punishing floods. The effects of climate change are already threatening our health, our communities, our economy, our security, and our children’s future.

What can you do? A whole lot, as it turns out. Americans, on average, produce 21 tons of carbon a year, about four times the global average. Personal action is, of course, no substitute for meaningful government policies. We still must limit carbon pollution and aggressively move away from dirty fossil fuels toward cleaner power.

But it’s important to remember the equally vital contributions that can be made by private citizens—which is to say, by you. “Change only happens when individuals take action,” says clean energy advocate Aliya Haq. “There’s no other way, if it doesn’t start with people.”

Here are a dozen easy, effective ways each one of us can make a difference.

1. Speak up!

What’s the single biggest way you can make an impact on global climate change? “Talk to your friends and family, and make sure your representatives are making good decisions,” Haq says. By voicing your concerns—via social media or, better yet, directly to your elected officials —you send a message that you care about the warming world. Encourage Congress to enact new laws that limit carbon emissions and require polluters to pay for the emissions they produce. “The main reason elected officials do anything difficult is because their constituents make them,” Haq says. You can help protect public lands, stop offshore drilling, and more here .

2. Power your home with renewable energy.

Choose a utility company that generates at least half its power from wind or solar and has been certified by Green-e Energy , an organization that vets renewable energy options. If that isn’t possible for you, take a look at your electric bill; many utilities now list other ways to support renewable sources on their monthly statements and websites.

3. Weatherize, weatherize, weatherize.

“Building heating and cooling are among the biggest uses of energy,” Haq says. Indeed, heating and air-conditioning account for almost half of home energy use. You can make your space more energy efficient by sealing drafts and ensuring it’s adequately insulated. You can also claim federal tax credits for many energy efficiency home improvements. To help you figure out where to start, you could also get a home energy audit, which some utilities offer free of charge. (Alternatively, you can hire a professional to come to your home and perform one; the Inflation Reduction Act offers a partial tax credit for this.) The EPA’s Home Energy Yardstick gives you a simple assessment of your home’s annual energy use compared with similar homes.

4. Invest in energy-efficient appliances.

Since they were first implemented nationally in 1987, efficiency standards for dozens of appliances and products have kept 2.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the air. That’s about the same amount as the annual carbon pollution coughed up by nearly 440 million cars. “Energy efficiency is the lowest-cost way to reduce emissions,” Haq says. When shopping for refrigerators, washing machines, heat pump water heaters , and other appliances, look for the Energy Star label. It will tell you which are the most efficient. (There may also be rebates to earn from your purchase of Energy Star–certified products.)

And when you’re ready to swap out your old machines, don’t just put them on the curb: Recycling an old refrigerator through the EPA’s Responsible Appliance Disposal Program can prevent an additional 10,000 pounds of carbon pollution because the global-warming pollutants in the refrigerants and foam would be properly captured rather than vented to the air.

5. Reduce water waste.

Saving water reduces carbon pollution, too. That's because it takes a lot of energy to pump, heat, and treat your water. So take shorter showers, turn off the tap while brushing your teeth, and switch to WaterSense -labeled fixtures and appliances. The EPA estimates that if just one out of every 100 American homes were retrofitted with water-efficient fixtures, about 100 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year would be saved—avoiding 80,000 tons of global warming pollution .

6. Actually eat the food you buy—and compost what you can’t.

Approximately 10 percent of U.S. energy use goes into growing, processing, packaging, and shipping food—about 40 percent of which winds up in the landfill. “If you’re wasting less food, you’re likely cutting down on energy consumption,” Haq says. As for the scraps you can’t eat or the leftovers you don’t get to, collect them in a compost bin instead of sending them to the landfill where they release methane. Recycling food and other organic waste into compost provides a range of environmental benefits, including improving soil health, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, recycling nutrients, and mitigating the impact of droughts.

7. Buy better bulbs.

LED light bulbs use one-sixth the amount of energy to deliver the same amount of light as conventional incandescents and last at least 10 times longer. They’re also cheaper in the long run: A 10-watt LED that replaces your traditional 60-watt bulb will save you $125 over the ligh bulb’s life. And because the average American home has around 40 to 50 light bulbs, this is a simple swap that will reap huge rewards. If every household in the United States replaced just one incandescent with an Energy Star–labeled LED, we would prevent seven billion pounds of carbon pollution per year. That’s equivalent to the emissions of about 648,000 cars.

8. Pull the plug(s).

Taken together, the outlets in your home are likely powering about 65 devices—an average load for a home in the United States. Audio and video devices, cordless vacuums and power tools, and other electronics use energy even when they're not charging. This "idle load" across all U.S. households adds up to the output of 50 large power plants in the country. So don't leave fully charged devices plugged into your home's outlets, unplug rarely used devices or plug them into power strips and timers, and adjust your computers and monitors to automatically power down to the lowest power mode when not in use.

9. Drive a fuel-efficient vehicle.

Gas-smart cars, such as hybrids and fully electric vehicles, save fuel and money . And once all cars and light trucks meet 2025’s clean car standards, which means averaging 54.5 miles per gallon, they’ll be a mainstay. For good reason: Relative to a national fleet of vehicles that averaged only 28.3 miles per gallon in 2011, Americans will spend $80 billion less at the pump each year and cut their automotive emissions by half. Before you buy a new set of wheels, compare fuel-economy performance here .

10. Maintain your ride.

If all Americans kept their tires properly inflated, we could save 1.2 billion gallons of gas each year. A simple tune-up can boost miles per gallon anywhere from 4 percent to 40 percent, and a new air filter can get you a 10 percent boost. Also, remove unnecessary accessories from your car roof. Roof racks and clamshell storage containers can reduce fuel efficiency by as much as 5 percent.

11. Rethink planes, trains, and automobiles.

Choosing to live in walkable smart-growth cities and towns with quality public transportation leads to less driving, less money spent on fuel, and less pollution in the air . Less frequent flying can make a big difference, too. “Air transport is a major source of climate pollution,” Haq says. “If you can take a train instead, do that.” If you must fly, consider purchasing carbon offsets to counterbalance the hefty carbon pollution associated with flying. But not all carbon offset companies are alike. Do your homework to find the best supplier.

12. Reduce, reuse, and recycle.

In the United States, the average person generates 4.5 pounds of trash every day. Fortunately, not all the items we discard end up in landfills; we recycle or compost more than one-third of our trash. In 2014 this saved carbon emissions equivalent to the yearly output of 38 million passenger cars . But we could be doing so much more. “ Reduce should always be the number-one priority,” says NRDC senior resource specialist Darby Hoover . And to reap the environmental benefits of “recyclable” goods, you must recycle according to the rules of your municipality, since systems vary widely by location . Search your municipality’s sanitation department (or equivalent) webpage to learn exactly what you can place in the recycling bin, as counties and cities often differ in what they accept.

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Lesson of the Day

Explore 7 Climate Change Solutions

In this lesson, students will use a jigsaw activity to learn about some of the most effective strategies and technologies that can help head off the worst effects of global warming.

Migrating cranes flying near Straussfurt, Germany. Climate change and biodiversity are “more deeply intertwined than originally thought,” one of the leaders of a new report said. <a href="">Related Article</a>

By Natalie Proulx

Lesson Overview

Earlier this summer, a report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change , a body of scientists convened by the United Nations, found that some devastating impacts of global warming were unavoidable. But there is still a short window to stop things from getting even worse.

This report will be central at COP26 , the international climate summit where about 20,000 heads of state, diplomats and activists are meeting in person this week to set new targets for cutting emissions from coal, oil and gas that are heating the planet.

In this lesson, you will learn about seven ways we can slow down climate change and head off some of its most catastrophic consequences while we still have time. Using a jigsaw activity , you’ll become an expert in one of these strategies or technologies and share what you learn with your classmates. Then, you will develop your own climate plan and consider ways you can make a difference based on your new knowledge.

What do you know about the ways the world can slow climate change? Start by making a list of strategies, technologies or policies that could help solve the climate crisis.

Which of your ideas do you think could have the biggest impact on climate change? Circle what you think might be the top three.

Now, test your knowledge by taking this 2017 interactive quiz:

how to solve climate change problem

How Much Do You Know About Solving Global Warming?

A new book presents 100 potential solutions. Can you figure out which ones are top ranked?

After you’ve finished, reflect on your own in writing or in discussion with a partner:

What solutions to climate change did you learn about that you didn’t know before?

Were you surprised by any of the answers in the quiz? If so, which ones and why?

What questions do you still have about solving climate change?

Jigsaw Activity

As you learned in the warm-up, there are many possible ways to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. Below we’ve rounded up seven of the most effective solutions, many of which you may have been introduced to in the quiz above.

In this jigsaw activity, you’ll become an expert in one of the climate solutions listed below and then present what you learned to your classmates. Teachers may assign a student or small group to each topic, or allow them to choose. Students, read at least one of the linked articles on your topic; you can also use that article as a jumping-off point for more research.

Climate Change Solutions

Renewable energy: Scientists agree that to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change, countries must immediately move away from dirty energy sources like coal, oil and gas, and instead turn to renewable energy sources like wind, solar or nuclear power. Read about the potent possibilities of one of these producers, offshore wind farms , and see how they operate .

Refrigerants: It’s not the most exciting solution to climate change, but it is one of the most effective. Read about how making refrigerants, like air-conditioners, more efficient could eliminate a full degree Celsius of warming by 2100.

Transportation: Across the globe, governments are focused on limiting one of the world’s biggest sources of pollution: gasoline-powered cars. Read about the promises and challenges of electric vehicles or about how countries are rethinking their transit systems .

Methane emissions: You hear a lot about the need to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but what about its dangerous cousin, methane? Read about ideas to halt methane emissions and why doing so could be powerful in the short-term fight against climate change.

Agriculture: Efforts to limit global warming often target fossil fuels, but cutting greenhouse gases from food production is urgent, too, research says. Read about four fixes to earth’s food supply that could go a long way.

Nature conservation: Scientists agree that reversing biodiversity loss is a crucial way to slow climate change. Read about how protecting and restoring nature can help cool the planet or about how Indigenous communities could lead the way .

Carbon capture: Eliminating emissions alone may not be enough to avoid some of the worst effects of climate change, so some companies are investing in technology that sucks carbon dioxide out of the air. Learn more about so-called engineered carbon removal .

Questions to Consider

As you read about your climate solution, respond to the questions below. You can record your answers in this graphic organizer (PDF).

1. What is the solution? How does it work?

2. What problem related to climate change does this strategy address?

3. What effect could it have on global warming?

4. Compared with other ways to mitigate climate change, how effective is this one? Why?

5. What are the limitations of this solution?

6. What are some of the challenges or risks (political, social, economic or technical) of this idea?

7. What further questions do you have about this strategy?

When you’ve finished, you’ll meet in “teaching groups” with at least one expert in each of the other climate solutions. Share what you know about your topic with your classmates and record what you learn from them in your graphic organizer .

Going Further

Option 1: Develop a climate plan.

Scientists say that in order to prevent the average global temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, the threshold beyond which the dangers of global warming grow immensely, we will need to enact all of the solutions you learned about — and more. However, the reality is that countries won’t be able to right away. They will have to consider which can have the biggest or fastest impact on climate change, which are the most cost-effective and which are the most politically and socially feasible.

Imagine you have been asked to come up with a plan to address climate change. If you were in charge, which of these seven solutions would you prioritize and why? You might start by ranking the solutions you learned about from the most effective or urgent to the least.

Then, write a proposal for your plan that responds to the following questions:

What top three solutions are priorities? That is, which do you think are the most urgent to tackle right away and the most effective at slowing global warming?

Explain your decisions. According to your research — the articles you read and the quiz you took in the beginning of the lesson — why should these solutions take precedence?

How might you incentivize companies and citizens to embrace these changes? For some ideas, you might read more about the climate policies countries around the world have adopted to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Option 2: Take action.

Thinking about climate change solutions on such a big scale can be overwhelming, but there are things you can do in your own life and in your community to make a difference. Choose one of the activities below to take action on, or come up with one of your own:

Share climate solutions via media. Often, the news media focuses more on climate change problems than solutions. Counteract this narrative by creating something for publication related to one or more of the solutions you learned about. For example, you could submit a letter to the editor , write an article for your school newspaper, enter a piece in one of our upcoming student contests or create an infographic to share on social media .

Make changes in your own life. How can you make good climate choices related to one or more of the topics you learned about? For example, you could eat less meat, take public transportation or turn off your air-conditioner. Write a plan, explaining what you will do (or what you are already doing) and how it could help mitigate climate change, according to the research.

Join a movement. This guest essay urges people to focus on systems, not themselves. What groups could you get involved with that are working toward some of the solutions you learned about? Identify at least one group, either local, national or international, and one way you could support it. Or, if you’re old enough to vote, consider a local, state or federal politician you would like to support based on his or her climate policies.

Want more Lessons of the Day? You can find them all here .

Natalie Proulx joined The Learning Network as a staff editor in 2017 after working as an English language arts teacher and curriculum writer. More about Natalie Proulx

What can we do to slow or stop global warming?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to stopping or slowing global warming, and each individual, business, municipal, state, tribal, and federal entity must weigh their options in light of their own unique set of circumstances.  Experts say  it is likely many strategies working together will be needed. Generally speaking, here are some examples of mitigation strategies we can use to slow or stop the human-caused global warming ( learn more ):

  • Where possible, we can switch to renewable sources of energy (such as solar and wind energy) to power our homes and buildings, thus emitting far less heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.
  • Where feasible, we can drive electric vehicles instead of those that burn fossil fuels; or we can use mass transit instead of driving our own cars.
  • Where affordable, we can conserve energy by better insulating our homes and buildings, and by replacing old, failing appliances with more energy-efficient models.
  • Where practicable, we can counterbalance our annual carbon dioxide emissions by investing in commercial services that draw down an equal amount of carbon out of the atmosphere, such as through planting trees or  carbon capture and storage  techniques.
  • Where practical, we can support more local businesses that use and promote sustainable, climate-smart practices such as those listed above.
  • We can consider placing an upper limit on the amount of carbon dioxide we will allow ourselves to emit into the atmosphere within a given timeframe.

Note that NOAA doesn’t advocate for or against particular climate policies. Instead, NOAA’s role is to provide data and scientific information about climate, including how it has changed and is likely to change in the future depending on different climate policies or actions society may or may not take. More guidance on courses of action can be found in the National Academy of Sciences' 2010 report, titled  Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change . Also learn more  here,   here,  and  here .

Photo of Amtrak train sitting on tracks

Thanks to low friction between train wheels and tracks, and level train tracks with gradual turns, trains have high energy efficiency. Photo from National Park Service Amtrak Trails and Rails .

Stabilizing global temperature near its current level requires eliminating all emissions of heat-trapping gases or, equivalently, achieving a carbon-neutral society in which people remove as much carbon from the atmosphere as they emit. Achieving this goal will require substantial societal changes in energy technologies and infrastructure that go beyond the collective actions of individuals and households to reduce emissions.

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Ten solutions to climate change that will actually make a difference

Jun 20, 2022

Man inspecting his papaya fruits on his farm (seeds provided by Concern).

At this point we need solutions bigger than any one person. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.

There are a lot of differing opinions on whether it's too late to climate change — and, if it's not the best way of going about it. Some say recycling is useless and that individual action means nothing against the larger policy reforms that need to happen. This is, in part, true — although you should absolutely still be recycling. But it doesn’t tell the whole story, and it doesn’t help those who are currently on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Here, we break down 10 solutions to climate change that will actually make a difference — and how you can help make them all a reality.

Stand with the people most affected by climate change

1. shift to renewable energy sources in all key sectors.

The United Nations identified a six-sector solution to climate change, focusing on actions that can be taken by the energy, industry, agriculture, transportation, nature-based solutions, and urban planning. If all of these actions are completed, the UN Environment Programme estimates we could reduce global carbon emissions by 29 to 32 gigatonnes, thereby limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5º C.

One key element of this plan is shifting to renewable energy sources, both at home and at work. “We have the necessary technology to make this reduction by shifting to renewable energy and using less energy,” the UNEP writes of our personal energy consumption (generally, fossil fuels power our homes, keeping the lights on, our rooms warm, and Netflix streaming). But the energy usage of the industrial sector also plays a key role: Addressing issues like methane leaks and switching at large scale to passive or renewable energy-based heating and cooling systems could reduce industrial carbon emissions by 7.3 gigatonnes every year.

Graphic of the United Nations Environment Program's Six Sector Solution to Climate Change

2. Reduce food loss and waste and shift to more sustainable diets

There are a few different ways that climate change and hunger go hand-in-hand. Whether it’s kale or Kobe beef, producing food accounts for some measure of greenhouse gasses. In 2021, the Food and Agriculture Organization estimated we consumed more meat than ever before . By 2050 this will, by some estimates, increase greenhouse gas emissions from food production by 60%. Likewise, many farmers use nitrous-based fertilizers to grow more crops, more quickly to meet demand.

It’s important to reduce food waste at every step of the food system . For us as consumers, we can commit to eating what we buy and composting what we don’t get to in time. We can also switch our focus to plant-based and other sustainable diets, supporting farms that use organic fertilizers and making beef and other meat products the exception rather than the rule at the dinner table.

Woman and her vegetables for sale at the central market of the town of Manono, Tanganyika Province.

3. Halt deforestation and commit to rebuilding damaged ecosystems

The rapid deforestation of the Earth, especially over the last 60 years, has contributed to climate change, creating “heat islands” out of land that would normally be protected by trees and other flora from overheating. Simply put, this has to stop. There are actions each of us can take as individuals to help halt this—going paperless and buying recycled paper products, planting trees or supporting organizations that do this (like Concern ), and recycling.

But change has to happen at a larger scale here. Illegal logging happens both in the United States and abroad. Last year, world leaders committed to halting this and other harmful practices by 2030 as part of COP26. You can help by holding your own elected leaders to account.

A tree nursery in Bangladesh

4. Embrace electric vehicles, public transport, and other non-motorized options for getting around

The carbon savings on junking your current car in favor of an electric model are basically nullified if you aren’t seriously in the market for a new vehicle. However, mass adoption of electric vehicles and public transport — along with walking, biking, skating, and scooting — is key to cutting the greenhouse gas emissions from fuel-based motor vehicles.

Woman riding a bicycle with a man standing behind her

This is another issue you can raise with elected officials. Earlier this year, for example, you may remember hearing that President Biden had been encouraging the US Postal System to adopt electric vans as part of its new fleet. This didn’t come to pass , but it’s changes like these — changes beyond any one person’s transportation method — that need to happen. You can call on your representatives to support these switchovers for delivery vehicles, cab and taxi fleets, ambulances, and other auto-centric services. Or, if your city or town lacks decent public transportation or enough bike lanes or sidewalks to make those alternatives to driving, lobby for those.

5. Subsidize low-carbon alternatives for urban planning

In tandem with low-carbon alternatives for public transportation, governments need to commit to similar measures with our growing cities. New buildings mean a new opportunity to reward green design methods that help to decrease the strain on urban resources, whether they’re apartments or entertainment venues. (Fun fact: The Stavros Niarchos Cultural Center in Athens runs almost entirely off of solar panels during the bright and sunny summer months. ) In cities like New York, we’ve seen the toll that excessive power use can take through rolling blackouts and brown-outs, especially in the summer months. Changes to public infrastructure that reduce our reliance on the power grid will help to keep the system from becoming untenably overloaded.

A solar-powered water point in Marsabit, Kenya

6. Strengthen resilience and climate adaptation methods in MAPA communities

So far, we’ve looked at solutions to climate change that can take place within our own homes and communities. However, these only go so far to mitigate the damage that the climate crisis has already inflicted on a large portion of the world. The most affected people and areas (MAPAs) are largely in the Global South. Many are located in low-income countries without the resources or infrastructure to respond and adapt to climate disasters, even as they become more frequent and destructive.

Countries like the United States and organizations responding to the climate crisis must support MAPA communities, particularly the most vulnerable, in developing and carrying out strategies specific to context and designed to bolster resilience where it’s needed most. Often these communities know what needs to be done to mitigate the effects of climate change, and they simply need to be supported with access to additional research and meteorological data, new technologies, and funding.

how to solve climate change problem

What we talk about when we talk about resilience

The word “resilience” has taken on new meanings and contexts in recent years, but at Concern it still has a specific definition relating to our emergency and climate response. Here’s what we mean when we use it.

7. Address poverty and other inequalities that increase vulnerability

The tem MAPA can also apply to individuals within a community. Women, disabled people, children, the elderly, people living in poverty, indigenous peoples, and LGBTQIA+ people are among those who are most likely to be hit harder by climate change because of preexisting societal marginalization. This is why it’s critical that they also have a seat at the decision-making table when it comes to solutions to climate change within their own communities. Ending poverty and the other systemic inequalities that give some people greater access to resources than others will help to offset some of the greatest threats posed by the climate crisis.

Esime Jenaia, a Lead Farmer for conservation Agriculture, at her plot in Chituke village, Mangochi, Malawi, with neighbor Esnart Kasimu. Concern has been carrying out Conservation Agriculture and livelihoods programming in Malawi since 2012, with the assistance of Accenture Ireland.

8. Invest in disaster risk reduction (DRR)

Disaster Risk Reduction (otherwise known as DRR) protects the lives and livelihoods of communities and individuals who are most vulnerable to disasters or emergencies. Whether the crisis is caused by nature or humans (or a combination of both), DRR limits its negative impact on those who stand to lose the most.

We can’t undo much of climate change’s impact so far, but we can help the communities who are hit hardest by these impacts to prepare for and respond to these emergencies once they strike.

9. Commit to fair financing and climate justice

Of course, DRR strategies and other resilience, adaptation, and mitigation practices cost money. Money that the countries most affected by climate change often lack. As part of a global commitment to climate justice , countries with the highest carbon footprints should be making restitution to those countries with lower footprints, countries that tend to be more vulnerable to global warming.

Countries like the United States must increase investments in disaster prevention and DRR strategies, such as early warning and response systems, forecast-based financing mechanisms, and adapted infrastructure. What’s more, these funds need to be made rapidly dispersible and flexible so that when emergency strikes, they can be accessed more quickly. Additional investment to prevent conflicts over the use of natural resources will also help countries facing both fragile political systems and a high risk for climate-related disasters.

how to solve climate change problem

Project Profile

Responding to Pakistan's Internally Displaced (RAPID)

RAPID is a funding program that allows Concern to quickly and efficiently deliver aid to people displaced by conflict or natural disaster.

10. Guarantee these changes in the long-term via policy reform

Few of the solutions listed above are not sustainable without policy reform. You can help by encouraging your elected officials to consider the above points, and to support bills that incorporate one or more of these solutions to climate change, many of which are currently being written and shared at the local and national levels.

Smart climate policy will prioritize people over corporations, consider the framework of climate justice — including land and water rights of indigenous peoples and rural communities, address the intersectional effects of climate change on hunger, poverty, and gender equality, and enforce regulatory frameworks and standards that commit people and institutions to honoring these new standards. Bold and aggressive action must be taken if we’re to reach the goal of not exceeding 1.5º C and mitigating the current effects of climate change by 2030. But it’s not a lost cause yet. It’s on all of us to now support those actions that are needed most.

Support Concern's climate response

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100 Practical Ways to Reverse Climate Change

You know some of them—use renewable energy, eat less meat—but others will surprise you.

At a time when the science of global warming is under attack and many people complain of climate change fatigue, some cheering news occurred last month: A book about climate change became a New York Times bestseller in its first week of publication.

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming , edited by environmentalist Paul Hawken , is the first environmental book to make such a splashy debut since Elizabeth Kolbert’s Field Notes from a Catastrophe in 2006.

Kolbert’s book warned of cataclysm; Hawken’s tries to prevent it. Bringing together geologists, engineers, agronomists, climatologists, biologists, botanists, economists, financial analysts, architects, NGOs, activists, and other experts, Drawdown offers 100 solutions to reverse global warming.

When National Geographic caught up with Hawken at his home in San Francisco, he explained why climate change is a gift, not a curse; why empowering girls and women is the number one solution; and what role musk ox, reindeer, and wolves have to play.

Let’s start with a definition. What is “ Drawdown ”? And how is it different from other methods of tackling global warming?

The idea for Project Drawdown goes back to 2001. There has never been an attempt to map, measure, and model the 100 most substantive solutions to global warming. There has been a tendency to silver bullet the problem, which is to look for the big solution: the Archimedean lever. If you just find it and pull it, somehow we're going to get rid of this problem and stabilize emissions.

That's simply not true. All of us have heard again and again that if we go to solar, wind, and renewable energy—and maybe electric vehicles and storage—prevent deforestation, and reduce meat consumption, we will get a hall pass to the 22nd century.

Those solutions are crucial to achieving drawdown as well, so I'm not in any way diminishing their importance. I'm just saying a great number of salient, important solutions are often left out. That’s why we include 100 different strategies.

Michael Pollan , the writer and activist, once said that the biggest question facing us with regard to climate change is: Why bother? Have you got an answer for us?

I see it as a gift not a curse. Why bother means game over. I actually see it as game on. It's a different point of view. Climate change is feedback, and any system that doesn't incorporate that feedback is stupid and fails and dies. Here, we have feedback, and the feedback it's giving us is a pathway to a much better world than the one we live in now.

This is not a path to retrogression or a future that we won't like. It's actually to a much better future: cleaner, healthier, with more jobs, more security, and more life on the planet. What climate change is offering us is actually a new way of seeing ourselves, our relationship to each other, and all living beings on this planet, which can be extraordinary in terms of imagination, innovation, creativity, and real breakthroughs in human thinking.

President Trump recently introduced a global gag rule on family planning. Explain how this will also have a powerful, negative effect on climate change.

What he's done is simply project ignorance to satisfy his right-wing supporters. I think it will have some effect, but not much. The idea that the United States is all-powerful is an American illusion.

As regards family planning, the United N ations has a three population projections for 2050—high, median, and low. The highest is 10.8 billion, the median is 9.7 billion. The difference between the high and the median population projections comes from family planning. There are two pathways. One is to provide education for girls in those countries where they are taken out of school in fifth and sixth grade, and married off, because of cultural, religious, or other forces. Those girls tend to have five children or more. But if a girl is allowed to continue education and pass tenth or eleventh grade, her reproduction rate falls to two—which is why the empowerment of girls and women is the number one solution to global warming.

Nuclear energy is a controversial choice as a solution to climate change. But China is showing a new way forward—ironically, with a technology developed, then shelved, by the U.S.

Molten salt reactors were first developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory , in the 1950s. I don't know why we dropped it but I do know the Chinese have picked it up. [Laughs] The nuclear power industry in Europe and the U.S. has pretty much come to a stop. The plants under construction are way over budget, nobody wants to finance them, nobody will insure them except the governments themselves.

But in China and Asia , that's not the case. The Chinese are building them at a very rapid pace at a much lower cost. Many people objected to us including it, and I don't think safety in the long term, in terms of plutonium storage, has been solved. But certainly some of the new reactors are much different in terms of their impact.

Architecture is increasingly playing a role in combatting global warming. Tell us about “ cool roofs .”

Cool roofs are roofs that either reflect the heat back, in the sense of white roofs, or green roofs that have foliage and perennial plants. Each provides a different mechanism to cool the building underneath. White roofs are particularly suitable for tropical areas or areas where there’s high radiation.

When you fly into Los Angeles, you'll see more and more white roofs. It's actually a very simple technique. Green roofs can be installed anywhere, whether in tropical or temperate climates. They have a marvelous insulation factor. They are big in Germany and Canada, as well as the U.S. and the U.K.

In Denmark, 18 percent of local trips are done by bicycle. In the Netherlands, it is 27 percent. But in the U.S ., the figure is just 1 percent. How can Americans be persuaded to swap four wheels for two? And what effect would that have on global warming ?

The United States is a car-loving culture and has designed its cities and roadways in such a way that it's dangerous for bicycles to be on the roads. As a result, it is one of the most dangerous places for bicycles.

But if you create infrastructure for bikes , people will use them, even in the north. Look at Denmark. The phrase “build it and they will come” is true for bicycles. If people see a safe lane for a bicycle, the invitation is there and they will begin to explore doing it themselves.

This can have a huge impact on health and well-being, but also the number of gigatons of carbon we need to reduce by 2050. The overall cost is negative compared to building more roads or more mass transit. It's a win-win strategy cities can take, both in terms of municipal budgets, health, and the reduction of pollution and traffic.

We all love to travel but, worldwide, flights produced 781 million metric tons of CO 2 in 2015. How can this gargantuan figure be lowered?

Aviation is the source of 2 to 3 percent of global CO 2 emissions , and all the big aircraft companies are working on solutions. But they have to think 30 years out; it takes a long time to design a plane and ensure its safety. That is due to extraordinarily careful engineering.

There are a whole series of new technologies being applied in the lab and in test aircraft, from the shape of fuselages to placing jet engines at the rear of aircraft, in order to save on weight. The Germans are developing something called “late descent.” The way aircraft are marshalled in and out of airports, or taxi on the runways, is a significant cause of CO 2 emissions. What you see now are operational shifts in take-off and landing that can reduce fuel use from 10 to 30 percent.

Aviation companies are also talking about designing planes that will actually be electric or run on biofuels. It's a very different mode of transport. It’s very quiet and will save 40 to 50 percent of the energy that’s presently being used by aircraft. It's an area of great innovation, except I would be patient because it does take a long time.

Towards the end of the book, you describe some futuristic ideas that may soon become reality. Tell us about the idea of repopulating the mammoth steppe.

Repopulating the mammoth steppe is in some ways my favorite. The mammoth steppe is a subarctic region that used to stretch from Alaska to Canada, all the way across Europe and into Russia. Now, it's just Russia. It was the world's largest grassland. But 12,000 years ago, human beings swept in and wiped out all the animals.

Now, two biologists , Sergey Zimof and Alexander Sergeev, want to create the Pleistocene Park to repopulate the mammoth steppe with animals that were originally there, except for the woolly mammoth, which is extinct. Elk, wolves, reindeer, or musk oxen eat the dead grass underneath the snow by pushing the snow away with their horns, snouts, or hooves. In so doing, they reduce the temperature of the soil in the subarctic by two degrees Celsius, which then enhances the ability of that area to retain its permafrost.

Nothing is more futuristic than a car that drives itself, which is why Apple and Tesla, as well as traditional manufacturers like Ford, are all racing to develop one. Trouble is, they keep crashing. Is there a future for autonomous vehicles —and what effect would they have on climate change ?

The whole issue of mobility is up for grabs. Do we really need a 4,000-pound car to deliver a 120-pound woman to the supermarket? I don't think so. What we're looking at is a very different relationship between human beings’ mobility and autonomy, in terms of vehicles. Opinion is divided. But if it's done properly, it means a 40 or even 60 percent reduction in the total number of cars on the road, or in garages, because that's where they are most of the time. A car is only used 4 percent of the time. The other 96 percent it is idle.

If we have mobility at our fingertips—which is to say, I need a vehicle, I need a pod, something to take me from here to there, and it arrives quickly and is safe—then we can say, I don't need a car, especially in urban environments. It can not only reduce the amount of vehicles being produced in the world. These vehicles can also be electric, charged by renewable energy, like wind.

It would also have a big impact on roads because these cars are smaller and don't need the same kind of infrastructure. They're talking about making roads that are narrower, returning cities more to pedestrian-scapes instead of road-scapes, expanding sidewalks and cafe areas. It also has a tremendous impact on sound, because these vehicles are very quiet.

Some of them have crashed, but we also have to remember the amount of vehicular deaths and carnage caused every year by existing vehicles. Given the rate of innovation in the technology, I have no doubt that it will be achieved successfully.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Simon Worrall curates Book Talk . Follow him on Twitter or at .

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Climate change: science and solutions

19 May 2021


A net zero climate-resilient future: science, technology and the solutions for change

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Contributors and peer reviewers

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Science-led solutions play a critical role in delivering rapid decarbonisation and helping communities to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Drawing on the expertise of over 120 scientists from more than 20 countries ( see the full list of contributors and peer reviewers PDF ), the Royal Society has produced a series of briefings for policymakers on 12 science and technology areas that are key for accelerating progress towards ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions and increased resilience to climate change. 

The briefings are introduced by the President of the Royal Society (PDF) , together with a statement issued by some of the world’s leading scientific academies (PDF) , setting out the need to accelerate action on climate change.

Policy briefings

Ahead of the UN Climate Summit COP26 in Glasgow last year, the Royal Society sought wide-ranging input from the global scientific community to produce the Climate change: science and solutions briefings. These briefings highlight the significant potential that research, development and deployment in 12 critical areas hold for climate action.

Watch Peter Bruce FRS, Physical Secretary and Vice-President of the Royal Society, introduce the briefings.

Climate science, adaptation and resilience

Even if warming is limited to 1.5°C, livelihoods and infrastructure will be increasingly affected by climate change and extreme weather. The following briefings highlight the key research priorities for advancing our understanding of future climate change and developing mitigation and adaptation measures compatible with the twin goals of achieving net zero and enhancing global climate resilience.

Next generation climate models (PDF)

Carbon dioxide visualisation of earth

The carbon cycle (PDF)

Trees in mist

Weathering the storm: climate resilience and adaptation (PDF)

Flooded urban landscape

Land, food and health

Investing in land-based mitigation options and a sustainable global food system reduces greenhouse gas emissions while offering co-benefits to human health. These briefings explore the relationship between society and the natural world, and how they can together tackle and adapt to climate change. 

Climate change and land (PDF)

canola fields

Nourishing ten billion sustainably (PDF)


Healthy planet, healthy people (PDF)

smog over Los Angeles

Energy transitions

We can reach much of the 50% – or greater – cut that is needed in carbon emissions required by 2030 with existing technologies; but to go beyond and reach net zero by 2050 requires research, development and deployment of novel technologies. The following briefings outline priorities for research, development and deployment of technologies that will be critical to achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

Next generation batteries (PDF)

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The role of hydrogen and ammonia in meeting the net zero challenge (PDF)

container ship

Carbon dioxide capture and storage (PDF)

industrial emissions

Low-carbon heating and cooling (PDF)

air conditioner units

Transforming economic systems

Coordination of action between all involved, from governments and businesses to communities and individuals, will be critical to achieve the rapid and transformational change required in economic systems. Computing can play an important role, creating ‘digital twins’ of industries, cities – and ultimately the planet – that support a systems approach and help understand and reduce emissions. Meanwhile, economics research shows how policy levers can be used to secure ‘win-win’ outcomes and minimise emissions at national and global levels. These briefings discuss some of the available solutions to accompany such transformational change in economic systems.

Computing for net zero (PDF)


Policy options and economic perspectives (PDF)

stock numbers on a screen


To help highlight the range of solutions and ideas that scientists are creating and researching, the Royal Society has launched a campaign, the #2050challenge, for people to share stories of their work, research and actions to help countries of the world tackle climate change, biodiversity loss and achieve ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. Find out how to get involved .

Find out more

Climate change: evidence and causes

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How Can Technology Help Combat Climate Change


Setting targets is only the first step. How can countries and companies make sure they hit them? Image:  Pixabay

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Problems Brought on By Climate Change and the Solutions

Problems Brought on By Climate Change and the Solutions

We know that climate change will have devastating impacts on the planet. We’re already seeing it now, with extreme weather events causing thousands of deaths around the world and greenhouse gases creating environments inhospitable to leading enjoyable lives. These are some of biggest climate change problems and solutions to help mitigate the crisis. 

What are the Problems Caused of Climate Change?

Outdoor air pollution.

Poor air quality kills people. In 2016, outdoor air pollution caused an estimated 4.2 million premature deaths , about 90% of them in low- and middle-income countries. Also, preliminary studies identified a positive correlation between COVID-19-related mortalities and air pollution.

In the long term,   air pollution has been linked to higher rates of cancer, heart disease, stroke and asthma. In fact, in the US alone, nearly 134 million people—over 40% of the population—are at risk of disease and premature death because of air pollution, according to American Lung Association estimates . 

In the short term, air pollution can cause sneezing and coughing, eye irritation, headaches and dizziness. Without fossil fuel emissions, the average life expectancy of the world’s population would increase by more than a year , while global economic and health costs would fall by about USD$2.9 trillion .

Species Extinction 

According to a 2020 analysis , the sixth mass extinction of wildlife on Earth is accelerating. More than 500 species of land animals are on the brink of extinction and are likely to be lost within 20 years; the same number were lost over the whole of the last century. Scientists say that without the human destruction of nature, this rate of loss would have taken thousands of years. 

This rapid rate of species extinction is caused by an ever-increasing human population and natural resource consumption rates. Further, species are links in ecosystems and, as they disappear, the species they interact with are likely to disappear as well.

When a species dies out, the Earth’s ability to maintain ecosystem services is eroded to a degree. Humanity needs a relatively stable climate, flows of fresh water, agricultural pest and disease-vector control and pollination for crops, all services that will be impacted as the sixth mass extinction accelerates. 

Many endangered species are being affected by the wildlife trade, both legal and illegal, which poses a threat to human health. And it’s a major cause of species extinction and is eroding the ecosystem services that are vital for our survival. 

Ocean Acidification

Ocean acidification is a direct consequence of increased human-induced carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in the atmosphere. The ocean absorbs over 25% of all anthropogenic emissions from the atmosphere each year. As CO2 dissolves in sea water it forms carbonic acid, decreasing the ocean’s pH and leading to a variety of changes collectively known as ocean acidification. 

This causes water to heat up, killing marine life and affecting the ocean’s ability to continue absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Ocean acidification also affects coral, weakening its skeleton and causing breakage.

Ocean acidity has increased by 26% since 1850 , 10 times faster than any period within the last 55 million years. 

Food Insecurity

The climate crisis poses a significant threat to agriculture as changes in temperature and precipitation affect crop yield and shift agricultural zones. 

A common misconception about the climate crisis is that warmer temperatures result in plants growing larger and for longer periods. While rising temperatures are causing the shifting of seasons, prompting plants to sprout and turn green sooner than usual, plants are becoming less nutritious, signalling a nutrient collapse and threatening food security. 

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that wheat and rice, which are highly sensitive to changes in CO2,  are the main source of protein for 71% of the world’s population. A paper published in Environmental Health Perspectives predicts that given this dependence on plant-based proteins, more than 15% of the global population will be protein deficient, resulting in 90.9 million days lost to illness and 2 million deaths annually by 2050. 

companies deforestation, sandile ndlovu


For the past 20 years, the world has lost around 5 million hectares of forest every year to deforestation, mostly in the tropics. A third of tropical deforestation is concentrated in Brazil, home to the Amazon rainforest, where deforestation has surged to a 12-year high under far-right president Jair Bolsonaro. Alongside Brazil, Indonesia also stands out with the second largest proportion of tropical deforestation in a single country. 

Forests are one of the most important carbon sinks on the planet as a whole, and the carbon they absorb is released when they are cut down or burned. Because of this, eventually forests will become sources of carbon , as opposed to carbon sinks. Unfortunately, this process has already started in the Amazon rainforest.

Food production is the leading cause of deforestation, beef, soy and palm oil in particular. In fact, three quarters of all deforestation today is linked to agriculture.

Plastic Waste Crisis

Every year, 500 billion plastic bottles are produced globally and ​​there is more than 150 million tons of plastic waste in the ocean. Scientists have found microplastics in virtually every part of the world, from the deepest depths of the Mariana Trench to the highest point of Mount Everest.

It is estimated that 100,000 marine mammals and turtles and 1 million sea birds are killed by marine plastic pollution annually.

Producing one tonne of plastic generates up to 2.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide and plastic production has been forecast to grow by 60% by 2030 and to treble by 2050. Sadly, only about 9% of all plastic ever produced has been recycled. About 12% has been incinerated, while the rest — 79% — has accumulated in landfills, dumps or the natural environment.

Other Problems

Other problems brought on by climate change, including rising maximum and minimum temperatures, rising sea levels, shrinking glaciers and thawing permafrost.

What are Some Climate Change Solutions? 

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The importance of this can’t be stated enough –  greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced rapidly in order for the planet to have a chance of meeting climate goals. However, current efforts won’t have the effects that are needed; as of April 2021, commitments will still lead to 2.4°C of warming by the end of the century if implemented in full. Scientists at the IPCC have said that emissions should fall 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 to limit temperatures to 1.5°C by 2100, however the latest IPCC report has found that global temperatures will very likely rise 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels by 2040. It is up to governments to ensure that corporations stop emitting harmful greenhouse gases, and arguably the best way to do this is to implement a carbon tax.

Implement a Carbon Tax

Imposed by a government, a carbon tax is a per-ton tax on the carbon emissions produced by burning fossil fuels or other pollutants. By putting a direct price on greenhouse gas emissions, carbon-intensive activities and products become more expensive, and so people, businesses and governments are incentivised to lower emissions through cleaner fuels. This is be one of the more effective climate change solutions we have at the moment. 

As one of the first countries in the world to impose a carbon tax, Sweden is a leader in the carbon taxation sphere . In 1991, the country introduced a carbon tax on transport fuels at $26 per ton of CO2, steadily increasing to today’s rate of $126 – the highest in the world. It currently covers approximately 40% of Sweden’s greenhouse gases emitted due to the numerous exemptions for the industrial sector, as well as the mining, agricultural and forestry sectors. The result? The carbon tax has been credited with being an environmental and economic success. Since the tax was introduced, CO2 emissions from transport declined almost 11% in an average year, with 6% being from the carbon tax alone. Similarly, in the electricity, gas and heat sector, greenhouse gas emissions were 31% lower in the first quarter of 2020 , compared with the same period in 2019; this can be attributed to the substitution of fossil fuels for biofuels.

As of 2019, carbon taxes have been implemented or scheduled for implementation in 25 countries; while 46 countries have put some price on carbon, either through carbon taxes or emissions trading schemes. 

Go On a Plant Based Diet

The UN predicts that there will be close to 10 billion people in the world by 2050. To meet this demand, we will need to increase food production by 50%. Agriculture takes up around 50% of all habitable land, equal to roughly 50 million sq km. The global production of food is responsible for releasing 30% of greenhouse gases and a massive part of this is raising animals for meat. 

Switching to a plant based diet is one of the more easily achievable climate change solutions, and it will reduce deforestation – according to the World Wildlife Fund, beef and soy drive more than two-thirds of the recorded habitat loss in Brazil’s Amazon, where the bulk of tropical rainforest loss occurs. It would also help reduce the amount of land used for agriculture by three quarters; this is due to the amount of cropland and pasture that goes into animal rearing. 

Reduce Food Waste

Roughly one third  of the food produced that is intended for human consumption every year – around 1.3 billion tons and valued at USD$1 trillion- is wasted or lost. This is enough to feed 3 billion people. The water used to produce the food wasted could be used by 9 billion people  at around 200 litres per person per day. 

If food loss was a country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter , behind China and the US, making it an incredibly important sector to focus on when devising emission-reducing strategies.

Consumers also need to be given more education on how they’re unknowingly contributing to food waste; ​​according to a survey conducted by Respect Food , 63% of people don’t know the difference between the “use by” and “best before” dates. Foods with “use by” dates are perishable and must be eaten before the given date. Foods with “best before” dates can be eaten after the given date, but it won’t be at its best quality. 

A big cause of food waste is the myth perpetuated by supermarkets that food must look “perfect” to be edible. Unfortunately, because of quality standards that rely too much on appearance, crops are sometimes left unharvested and rot. 

One of the many climate change solutions we can also consider is to support small farmers and local farmer’s markets to reduce food waste. 

plastic pollution, plastic waste, ziaul huque

Reduce Use of Single Use Plastics

While plastic has undeniably made our lives easier and more convenient, it has had a massive negative impact on the planet. 

Some ways to reduce your intake of single use plastics include avoiding plastic straws, plates and cutlery, buying in bulk so as to use less packaging, using reusable containers, doing your food shopping at a local farmer’s market, recycling the plastic you do use, buying less clothing and ensuring that the clothing you do buy is made from natural fibres like cotton, hemp and linen and composting food to use less plastic garbage bags. 

Invest in Renewable, Clean Energy

Mining for fossil fuels burns carbon dioxide, one of the major greenhouse gases driving climate change. We need to shift away from coal rapidly to have a chance of meeting climate goals; global unabated coal use must fall by around 80% this decade if warming is to be limited to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures, according to recent Carbon Brief analysis.

Transitioning to clean energy is one of the most effective climate change solutions out there. And it’s already cheaper than fossil fuels; o f the wind, solar and other renewables that came on stream in 2020, nearly two-thirds – 62% – were cheaper than the cheapest new fossil fuel , according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

Retiring coal plants would stop the emission of about three gigatonnes of CO2 a year – 20% of the reduction in emissions needed by 2030 to avert climate catastrophe.

Further, cheaper renewables give developed and developing countries a reason to phase out coal while meeting growing energy demands, saving costs and adding jobs to the economy.

Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Governments need to class endangered species as such in law and provide funding so that their preservation can be focused on by animal and wildlife conservation groups. Further, heavier penalties for hunting protected animals should be implemented and strictly enforced. 

To mitigate climate change and prevent a catastrophic global climate breakdown, we need a combination of solutions that consumers can take in their daily lives, innovative technological solutions and government intervention to stop emissions at the source. Our lives quite literally depend on it.

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Climate solutions do exist. These 6 experts detail what they look like

Julia Simon

how to solve climate change problem

Researchers say protecting mangroves that soak up carbon is a great climate solution. But they caution against programs that slap carbon offsets onto it as those offsets can be hard to verify. Marie Hickman/Getty Images hide caption

Scientists say there's a lot we can still do to slow the speed of climate change. But when it comes to "climate solutions", some are real, and some aren't, says Naomi Oreskes , historian of science at Harvard University. "This space has become really muddied," she says.

So how does someone figure out what's legit? We asked six climate scholars for the questions they ask themselves whenever they come across something claiming to be a climate solution.

A big climate solution is an obvious one

It may sound basic, but one big way to address climate change is to reduce the main human activity that caused it in the first place: burning fossil fuels.

Scientists say that means ultimately transitioning away from oil, coal and gas and becoming more energy efficient. We already have a lot of the technology we need to make this transition, like solar, wind, and batteries, Oreskes says.

"What we need to do right now is to mobilize the technologies that already exist, that work and are cost competitive, and that essentially means renewable energy and storage," she says.

Think about who's selling you the solution

It's important to think about both who's selling you the climate solution and what they say the problem is, says Melissa Aronczyk , professor of media at Rutgers University.

"People like to come up with solutions, but to do that, they usually have to interpret the problem in a way that works for them," she says.

Oreskes says pay attention when you see a "climate solution" that means increasing the use of fossil fuels. She says an example is natural gas, which has been sold as a " bridge fuel " from coal to renewable energy. But natural gas is still a fossil fuel, and its production, transport and use release methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide.

"I think we need to start by looking at what happens when the fossil fuel industry comes up with solutions, because here is the greatest potential for conflict of interest," Aronczyk says.

A solution may sound promising, but is it available and scalable now?

Sometimes you'll hear about new promising technology like carbon removal, which vacuums carbon dioxide out of the air and stores it underground, says David Ho , a professor of oceanography at University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Ho researches climate solutions and he says ask yourself: is this technology available, affordable, or scalable now?

"I think people who don't work in this space think we have all these technologies that are ready to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, for instance. And we're not there," Ho says.

how to solve climate change problem

While new technologies can sound tempting as climate solutions, scientists say not all of them are available or scalable now. That's why scientists argue for mobilizing technologies that already exist and are affordable, like renewable energy. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

If it's adding emissions, it's not a climate solution

These days all kinds of companies, from airlines to wedding dress companies , might offer to let you buy "carbon offsets" along with your purchase. That offset money could do something like build a new wind farm or plant trees that would - in theory - soak up and store the equivalent carbon dioxide emissions of taking a flight or making a new dress.

But there are often problems with regulation and verification of offsets , says Roberto Schaeffer , a professor of energy economics at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. "It's very dangerous, very dangerous indeed," he says.

He says with offsets from forests, it's hard to verify if the trees are really being protected, that those trees won't get cut down or burned in a wildfire.

"You cannot guarantee, 'Okay, you're gonna offset your dress by planting a tree.' You have no guarantee that in three years time that tree is gonna be there," he says.

If you make emissions thinking you're offsetting them, and the offset doesn't work, that's doubling the emissions, says Adrienne Buller , a climate finance researcher and director of research at Common Wealth, a think tank in the United Kingdom, "It's sort of like doubly bad."

If a solution sounds too easy, be skeptical

Many things sold as carbon offsets - like restoring or protecting forests - are, on their own, great climate solutions, Buller says. "We need things like trees," she says, "To draw carbon out of the atmosphere."

The problem is when carbon markets sell the idea that you can continue emitting as usual and everything will be fine if you just buy an offset, Buller says. "It's kind of a solution that implies that we don't have to do that much hard work. We can just kind of do some minor tweaks to the way that we currently do things," she says.

Schaeffer says there is a lot of hard work in our future to get off of fossil fuels and onto clean energy sources. "So people have to realize there is a price to pay here. No free lunch."

It's not all about business. Governments must play a role in solutions, too

We often think of businesses working on climate solutions on their own, but that's often not the case , says Oreskes. Government often plays a big role in funding and research support for new climate technology, says June Sekera, a visiting scholar at The New School who studies public policy and climate.

And governments will also have to play a big role in regulating emissions, says Schaeffer, who has been working with the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for 25 years.

That's why all the scholars NPR spoke with for this story say one big climate solution is to vote.

Schaeffer points to the recent election in Brazil, where climate change was a big campaign issue for candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Lula won, and has promised to address deforestation , a big source of Brazil's emissions.

There's no one solution to climate change - and no one can do it alone

Aronczyk wants to make one thing clear: there is no one solution to climate change.

"We're human beings. We encounter a problem, we wanna solve that problem," Aronczyk says, "But just as there is no one way to describe climate change, there's no one way to offer a solution."

Climate solutions will take different forms, Sekera says. Some solutions may slow climate change, some may offer us ways to adapt.

The key thing, Aronczyk says, is that climate solutions will involve governments, businesses, and individuals . She says: "It is an all hands on deck kind of a situation."

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Climate Change

The 5 greatest challenges to fighting climate change

Kara Baskin

Dec 27, 2019

Climate change: Most of the world agrees it’s a danger, but how do we conquer it? What’s holding us back? Christopher Knittel, professor of applied economics at the MIT Sloan School of Management, laid out five of the biggest challenges in a recent interview.

CO2 is a global pollutant that can’t be locally contained

“The first key feature of climate change that puts it at odds with past environmental issues is that it’s a global pollutant, rather than a local pollutant. [Whether] I release a ton of CO2 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, or in London, it does the same damage to the globe,” Knittel said. “Contrast that with local pollutants, where if I release a ton of sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxide in Cambridge, the majority of the damage stays near Cambridge.”

Thus, CO2 is far harder to manage and regulate.

For now, climate change is still hypothetical

The damage caused by most climate change pollutants will happen in the future. Which means most of us won’t truly be affected by climate change — it’s a hypothetical scenario conveyed in charts and graphs. While we’d like politicians and voters to be moved by altruism, this isn’t always the case. In general, policymakers have little incentive to act.

“People [who stand to be] most harmed by climate change aren’t even born yet. Going back to the policymaker’s perspective, she has much less of an incentive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because those reductions are going to benefit voters in the future and not her current voters,” Knittel said.

There’s no direct link to a smoking gun

Despite the global threat from climate-altering pollutants, it’s hard for scientists to link them to a specific environmental disaster, Knittel said. Without a definitive culprit, it’s easier for skeptics to ignore or explain away climate change effects.

Developing countries contribute to a large share of pollution

Simply put, this isn’t their top priority.

“We’re asking very poor countries that are worried about where their next meal is coming from, or whether they can send their kids to school, to incur costs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to benefit the world. And that’s a tough ask for a policymaker inside of a developing country,” he said.

Modern living is part of the problem

It’s a tough pill to swallow, but modern conveniences like electricity, transportation, and air conditioning contribute to climate change, and remedies potentially involve significant sacrifice and lifestyle change.

“Although we’ve seen great strides in reductions in solar costs and batteries for electric vehicles, these are still expensive alternatives. There is no free lunch when it comes to overcoming climate change,” Knittel warned.

Writing in the Los Angeles Times  recently, Knittel said, “If an evil genius had set out to design the perfect environmental crisis … those five factors would have made climate change a brilliant choice. But we didn’t need an evil genius. We stumbled into it on our own.”

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The 'safe' threshold for global warming will be passed in just 6 years, scientists say

New research suggests we have just six years left to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and two decades to keep temperatures below the 2 C threshold in the Paris Agreement.

Global carbon emissions are on track to exceed safe limits by 2030 and unleash the worst effects of climate change, new research suggests. This means we have just six years to change course and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A new estimate of our remaining carbon budget — the amount of carbon dioxide we can produce while keeping global temperatures below a dangerous threshold — indicates that, as of January, if we emit more than 276 gigatons (250 metric gigatons) of CO2 we will hit temperatures 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels. The researchers found that if emissions continue at the current rate, we will cross this threshold before the end of the decade, according to a study published Monday (Oct. 30) in the journal Nature Climate Change .

"Our finding confirms what we already know — we're not doing nearly enough to keep warming below 1.5 degrees C," study lead author Robin Lamboll , a researcher at the Center for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London, said in a statement . "We can be ever more certain that the window for keeping warming to safe levels is rapidly closing."

In 2015, 196 world leaders signed the Paris Agreement , a legally binding treaty on climate change that aims to keep global average temperature below 2 C (3.6 F) above preindustrial levels. The agreement stressed that limiting global warming to 1.5 C would help prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

Earlier this year, a UN report warned that temperatures may soon periodically exceed the dangerous 1.5 C threshold , but the new study refers to long-term warming.

Related: Catastrophic climate 'doom loops' could start in just 15 years, new study warns

Humans currently emit nearly 40 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year, according to the statement. Without a reduction in these emissions, our remaining carbon budget to stay below 1.5 C will be exhausted within the next six years.

"This does not mean that 1.5 degrees C will be achieved on that timescale," Benjamin Sanderson , research director at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Norway who was not involved in the study, wrote in an accompanying Nature News & Views article . There is a time lag between the release of emissions and the warming effects being felt, according to the article, meaning record-breaking temperatures in recent months and years result largely from historical emissions.

The new study is based on data used in a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but Lamboll and colleagues revised the methods to account for the latest emissions and for historical aerosol emissions. Aerosols are small particles suspended in the air that can reflect sunlight and can cool the climate, partially offsetting the warming effects of greenhouse gases . 

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The revised estimate halves the remaining carbon budget to keep warming below 1.5 C from 550 gigatons (500 metric gigatons) of CO2 to 276 gigatons. The team also calculated that we have 1,323 gigatons (1,200 metric gigatons) of CO2 left to emit before we breach the Paris Agreement's central limit of 2 C — a budget that will be exhausted within the next two decades if no steps are taken to reduce emissions, according to the statement.

These estimates come with large uncertainties linked to the effects of other greenhouse gases, such as methane. It's also unclear how various parts of the climate system will respond to rising temperatures, according to the statement. Increased vegetation growth in certain regions could absorb large amounts of CO2 and offset some warming, for instance, while changes in ocean circulation and melting ice sheets could accelerate warming.

These uncertainties emphasize the need to rapidly cut emissions, Lamboll said. "The remaining budget is now so small that minor changes in our understanding of the world can result in large proportional changes to the budget," Lamboll said. "Every fraction of a degree of warming will make life harder for people and ecosystems."

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Sascha Pare

Sascha is a U.K.-based trainee staff writer at Live Science. She holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Southampton in England and a master’s degree in science communication from Imperial College London. Her work has appeared in The Guardian and the health website Zoe. Besides writing, she enjoys playing tennis, bread-making and browsing second-hand shops for hidden gems.

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  • Rowdy Rushmore Just more gloom and doom "predictions". We've heard all this kind of tripe for the last 50 years! Reply
admin said: New research suggests we have just six years left to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and two decades to keep temperatures below the 2 C threshold in the Paris Agreement. The 'safe' threshold for global warming will be passed in just 6 years, scientists say : Read more
  • rocketman67 If we didn't have Global Climate Change we humans would not be here to complain about it. Ones lost becomes another ones opportunity. Look around you it is happening all the time. Reply
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The broken $100-billion promise of climate finance — and how to fix it

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Jocelyn Timperley is a freelance climate journalist in San José, Costa Rica.

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Twelve years ago, at a United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen, rich nations made a significant pledge. They promised to channel US$100 billion a year to less wealthy nations by 2020, to help them adapt to climate change and mitigate further rises in temperature.

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Independent Expert Group on Climate Finance. Delivering on the $100 Billion Climate Finance Commitment and Transforming Climate Finance (Independent Expert Group on Climate Finance, 2020).

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Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Climate Finance Provided and Mobilised by Developed Countries: Aggregate Trends Updated with 2019 Data (OECD, 2021).

Multilateral Development Banks. 2020 Joint Report on Multilateral Development Banks’ Climate Finance (Multilateral Development Banks, 2020).

Carty, T., Kowalzig J. & Zagema, B. Climate Finance Shadow Report 2020 (Oxfam, 2020).

Bos, J. & Thwaites, J. A Breakdown of Developed Countries’ Public Climate Finance Contributions Towards the $100 Billion Goal (World Resources Institute, 2021).

United Nations Environment Programme. Adaptation Gap Report 2020 (UNEP, 2020).

Naran, B. et al. Global Landscape of Climate Finance 2021 (Climate Policy Initiative, 2021).

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Climate adaptation projects sometimes exacerbate the problems they try to solve—a new tool hopes to correct that

by Ritodhi Chakraborty and Claire Burgess, The Conversation

Climate adaptation projects sometimes exacerbate the problems they try to solve—a new tool hopes to correct that

Maladaptation is a growing problem

The situation in aotearoa new zealand.

  • the need to involve Māori and local communities more throughout the process
  • share governance across all levels of government
  • address funding barriers for implementation
  • and avoid investments that lock in problems for the future.

Addressing maladaptation

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‘Stop the madness’ of climate change, UN chief declares

UN Secretary-General António Guterres visits Syangbpoche in Solukhumbu district, Nepal.

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UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday called on the world to “stop the madness” of climate change as he visited the Everest region in Nepal where melting glaciers are putting entire communities at risk of extinction.

Nepal has lost almost a third of its ice volume in 30 years, with glaciers melting 65 per cent faster in the last decade than in the previous one.


“The rooftops of the world are caving in,” the UN chief said , warning that the “disappearance of glaciers altogether” looms even larger.

“Glaciers are icy reservoirs – the ones here in the Himalayas supply fresh water to well over a billion people. When they shrink, so do river flows,” he added.

Communities erased forever

Glaciers high in the Himalayas feed large river systems, sustain crops, livestock and local economies, in a region that is home to over 1.8 billion people.

However, with rising global temperatures on the back of climate change, glacial snow ice compressed over centuries is melting faster than ever - not only in the Himalayas, but also in crucial areas such as Antarctica and Greenland.

Mr. Guterres warned that in the future, major Himalayan rivers like the Indus, the Ganges and Brahmaputra, could have massively reduced flows and in combination with saltwater, decimate delta regions.

“That spells catastrophe: Low-lying countries and communities erased forever,” he said.

End fossil fuel age

The Secretary-General said his mission to the Everest region, was to “cry out from the rooftop of the world.”

“Stop the madness,” he emphasized, underscoring the need to end the age of fossil fuel to protect people on the frontlines of climate change induced destruction.

“We must act now to…limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C, to avert the worst of climate chaos. The world can’t wait,” he concluded.

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The UN chief is on an official visit to Nepal at the invitation of the Government.

On Sunday, speaking to the media alongside Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Mr. Guterres extended deep condolences to the families of the 10 Nepalese students killed in the terror attacks by Hamas in Israel on 7 October.

He reiterated his call for the protection of all civilians in Gaza, and renewed his appeal for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, the unconditional release of all hostages and the delivery of a sustained humanitarian relief at a scale that meets the needs of the people of Gaza. 

  • climate action


Climate adaptation projects sometimes exacerbate the problems they try to solve – a new tool hopes to correct that.

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Across the globe, a “climate adaptation industry” sometimes imposes solutions that exacerbate the problems they aim to solve. Photo / Getty Images

When United States aid money was used to build a seawall on Fiji’s Vanua Levu island to shield the community from rising tides, it instead acted as a dam, trapping water and debris on its landward side.

In Bangladesh, the World Bank is pouring US$400 million ($685m) into expanding old flood barriers along the coastline to counter climate-induced floods and sea-level rise. But this, too, is causing new problems, including waterlogged fields and loss of soil fertility.

Across the globe, a “climate adaptation industry” sometimes imposes solutions that exacerbate the problems they aim to solve. Frequently, this comes at a cost to vulnerable communities.

This story plays out across the world, including in Aotearoa New Zealand, where top-down adaptation projects can increase climate vulnerability of communities. Our work seeks to fill a critical gap by establishing a monitoring and evaluation system to identify the risk of maladaption.

Along the coast of Bangladesh, seawater is flooding fields behind flood barriers. Photo / Getty Images

Concern about unforeseen consequences of climate adaptation has emerged as a key issue in the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Authors noted that: “Evidence of maladaptation is increasing in some sectors and systems, highlighting how inappropriate responses to climate change create long-term lock-in of vulnerability, exposure and risks that are difficult and costly to change and exacerbate existing inequalities for indigenous peoples and vulnerable groups.”

Maladaptation is usually understood as referring to the unintended consequences of well-meant measures to reduce climate vulnerability. But it also includes the fallout from decisions that favour technical fixes over more holistic approaches.

Climate adaptation is not a neutral or apolitical process. It can perpetuate problematic approaches, including colonial land practices and the exclusion of indigenous voices.

This can create tenuous resource distribution, erode democratic governance and compromise indigenous sovereignty, exacerbating vulnerabilities. It can also subvert community-driven bottom-up adaptation, instead focusing on national agendas caught up in international politics.

Addressing these maladaptive strategies is pivotal for achieving climate justice.

Sea walls and barriers are appearing along many parts of the New Zealand coastline. Photo / Getty Images

The situation in Aotearoa New Zealand

In New Zealand, climate change adaptation research is still in its early stages.

Most adaptation projects are being designed and implemented in three key categories: flood protection (stop banks and erosion control), nature-based solutions (tree plantings and wetland restoration) and coastal hazard prevention (managed retreat and sea walls).

These efforts often follow a framework of “dynamic adaptation policy pathways” (DAPP). This means the planning process has to remain flexible to keep adjusting as new information comes to hand.

However, a recent symposium on the 10-year stocktake of this approach raised several critical points, including:

  • the need to involve Māori and local communities more throughout the process
  • share governance across all levels of government
  • address funding barriers for implementation
  • and avoid investments that lock in problems for the future.

Take for instance the stalled Clifton to Tangoio coastal hazards strategy in Hawke’s Bay. This project aimed to identify the areas most at risk of coastal flooding and erosion.

It was hindered by policy ambiguity and funding issues. The region now faces decisions about managed retreat because land was classified as uninhabitable after Cyclone Gabrielle.

Others have noted the lack of synergy between planned and community-driven climate adaptation activities. Council-planned measures often exacerbated climate vulnerability, especially for communities already living in disadvantaged areas.

Addressing maladaptation

We came together as a group of Māori, Pasifika, Pākehā and tauiwi scholars and practitioners to develop a maladaptation assessment tool for New Zealand.

Its aim is genuine sustainability and justice. It evaluates the risk of maladaptation and serves as the foundation for a national monitoring system with regulatory and educational roles.

Our goals are to illuminate and ideally correct overlooked social and ecological impacts of climate adaptation and to address the limitations of current audit systems. These often neglect local justice and wellbeing concerns in favour of centrally planned projects aimed at reducing risks identified by engineering and insurance industries.

Our preliminary findings from the analysis of 79 adaptation projects show that managed retreat, structural flood protection and climate-resilient development projects are most at risk of maladaptation.

To be just, climate adaptation requires a counter-intuitive approach. It should prioritise community wellbeing and examine the risks posed by both climate change and adaptation.

This perspective doesn’t diminish the reality of climate impacts. It contextualises them within a complex history of indigenous displacement, forced landscape alteration and ongoing social crises.

By addressing the threat of maladaptation, we hope to encourage thinking and planning that looks beyond mere technological fixes and begins to repair our broken relationships with the planet and each other.

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Regions & Countries

How americans view future harms from climate change in their community and around the u.s., 63% expect climate impacts to worsen in their lifetime.

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Pew Research Center conducted this study to understand Americans’ views of climate change and its impact on the country. For this analysis, we surveyed 8,842 U.S. adults from Sept. 25 to Oct. 1, 2023.

Everyone who took part in the survey is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way, nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology .

Here are the questions used for this report , along with responses, and its methodology .

A new Pew Research Center survey finds a majority of Americans think climate change is causing harm to people in the United States today and 63% expect things to get worse in their lifetime.

When it comes to the personal impact of climate change, most Americans think they’ll have to make at least minor sacrifices over their lifetime because of climate change, but a relatively modest share think climate impacts will require them to make major sacrifices in their own lives.

July 2023 was hotter than any other month in the global temperature record , and the United Nations climate panel has warned of growing impacts from climate change barring major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

Chart shows 63% of Americans say harm to people in the U.S. from climate change will get worse in their lifetime

The Center survey of 8,842 U.S. adults conducted Sept. 25-Oct. 1, 2023, finds that 43% of Americans think climate change is causing a great deal or quite a bit of harm to people in the U.S. today. An additional 28% say it is causing some harm.

Looking ahead, young adults ages 18 to 29 are especially likely to foresee worsening climate impacts: 78% think harm to people in the U.S. caused by climate change will get a little or a lot worse in their lifetime.

Chart shows 23% of Americans think they will have to make major sacrifices in their own lives because of climate change

About a quarter of Americans (23%) think they’ll have to make major sacrifices in their everyday lives because of climate change . A larger share (48%) expects to make minor sacrifices because of climate impacts and 28% of Americans expect to make no sacrifices at all.

Republicans and Democrats have much different expectations for how climate change will impact their lives. Just under half of all Republicans and Republican-leaning independents expect to make no sacrifices in their everyday lives because of climate change. By comparison, 88% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents expect to have to make at least minor sacrifices.

These partisan gaps are closely tied to differing expectations about national impacts: 86% of Democrats expect harms from climate change in the U.S. to get worse during their lifetime; just 37% of Republicans say the same.

More broadly, the public believes individual Americans can make less of a difference on climate change than other major actors. For example, 55% think the energy industry can do a lot to reduce the effects of climate change and 52% say this about large businesses and corporations. By comparison, far fewer (27%) say individual Americans can do a lot to reduce climate impacts.

Climate change consistently ranks lower than other national issues like the economy, health care and crime on the public’s list of national priorities for the president and Congress. Nonetheless, 74% say the U.S. should participate in international efforts to address the issue and majorities support a number of specific policies intended to reduce the effects of climate change, such as providing a tax credits to businesses for developing carbon capture and storage technologies.

Views on climate activism

Despite widespread concern about future climate impacts there has been a slight decline in participation in forms of climate activism. The survey finds 21% of of U.S. adults say they have participated in at least one of four climate-related activities in the last year , including donating money to a climate organization or attending a climate protest. This is down slightly from two years ago when 24% of Americans said they had participated in a climate-related activity.

Chart shows 37% of Americans say they personally care ‘a great deal’ about the issue of climate change

Furthermore, Americans are largely skeptical that climate activism builds public support for the issue or spurs elected officials to act. Just 28% think climate activism makes people more likely to support action on climate change and only 11% say it is extremely or very effective at getting elected officials to act on the issue. For more, read Chapter 3 of the report, “Climate activism.”

Consistent with the slight decline in levels of climate activism, there has been no increase in personal concern on the issue in recent years. Overall, 37% say they personally care a great deal about the issue of climate change. This share is down 7 percentage points from 2018 and about the same as it was in 2016, the first time the Center asked the question.

How Americans view the expertise of climate scientists

A related analysis finds only about one-third of Americans think climate scientists understand “very well” whether climate change is happening. An even smaller share says climate scientists understand the causes of climate change very well.

For more, read “Americans continue to have doubts about climate scientists’ understanding of climate change.”

The survey findings are organized into three chapters exploring the following topics in more detail:

  • Expectations for future climate change impacts
  • What groups Americans think can make a difference on climate change
  • Climate activism and engagement

Public expectations of future climate impacts locally and around the U.S.

Experts predict that some regions of the U.S. will face more severe climate impacts than others . Americans also make distinctions when asked to think about future climate impacts on some different places around the country.

Chart shows how Americans think climate change will impact select areas over the next 30 years

Majorities expect that coastal Florida (61%), Southern California (60%) and the Southwest (55%) will become worse places to live over the next 30 years because of the effects of climate change.

Assessments of other areas are less negative. Only around three-in-ten think New England (32%) and the Mountain West (30%) will become worse places to live over the next 30 years because of climate change; 27% say this about the Upper Midwest.

Americans’ assessments of the impact of climate change on their own communities tilt more negative than positive, though a sizable share do not expect much change. Overall, 41% think their own community will become a worse place to live over the next 30 years due to the effects of climate change. Just 7% think climate impacts will make conditions in their community better, while 41% think climate impacts won’t change conditions in their area much.

Democrats (59%), young adults (56%) and Americans living in the Western region of the country (51%) are among the groups most likely to believe conditions in their community will become worse in the next 30 years because of climate change. Read more about these differences in Chapter 1 .

Emotional reactions to climate news and information

Seven-in-ten Americans say they’ve felt sad about what is happening to the Earth , when they’ve seen news and information about climate change recently. Half say they’ve felt motivated to do more to address the issue when they saw climate news and information recently.

Chart shows 70% of Americans say climate news makes them feel sad about what is happening to the Earth

A sense of optimism about progress is not widely held: 38% say they’ve felt optimistic we can address climate change when they’ve seen news and information on the topic. A June 2023 Center survey found just 33% of Americans think the U.S. and other countries around the world will do enough to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Americans’ most common emotional reaction to climate news is feeling frustrated that there is so much political disagreement on the issue; 79% say they’ve felt this way recently.

A sense of skepticism toward climate advocates also registers with a sizable share of the public: 53% of Americans say they’ve felt suspicious of the groups and people pushing for action on climate change when they’ve seen climate news and information recently. An August Pew Research Center study used qualitative interviews to explore the views of those who do not see urgency on climate change; the analysis found that crisis language on climate change often drove suspicion and deeper mistrust among participants who see climate change as a lower-tier priority.

Chart shows Majority of Democrats say climate news makes them feel anxious while majority of Republicans say they feel suspicious of the groups pushing action

Republicans and Democrats have starkly different emotional responses to news and information on climate change.

Among Democrats and Democratic leaners:

  • 88% say they felt sad about what is happening to the Earth.
  • 73% felt anxious about the future.
  • 72% felt motivated to do more to address the issue.

Still, fewer than half of Democats (45%) say they felt optimistic about addressing the issue when they’ve seen climate news and information recently.

Among Republicans and Republican leaners:

  • 78% felt suspicious of the groups and people pushing for action on climate change.
  • 58% felt annoyed there is so much attention on the issue of climate change.
  • 51% felt confused about all the information out there about climate change.

Despite broad skepticism within the GOP toward groups pushing action on climate change, half of Republicans say they felt sad about what is happening to the Earth when they recently came across climate news and information.

One sentiment that registers with large shares of Republican and Democrats alike is frustration that there is so much political disagreement over climate change: 86% of Democrats and 73% of Republicans express this feeling.

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Report Materials

Table of contents, how americans view electric vehicles, fast facts about international views of climate change as biden attends un cop26 conference, 67% of americans perceive a rise in extreme weather, but partisans differ over government efforts to address it, most u.s. latinos say global climate change and other environmental issues impact their local communities, on climate change, republicans are open to some policy approaches, even as they assign the issue low priority, most popular.

About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts .

Banks of machinery with fans and mountains with snow in the background.

How not to solve the climate change problem

how to solve climate change problem

Distinguished Scholar, NCAR; Affiliated Faculty, University of Auckland

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Kevin Trenberth does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

University of Auckland provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.

University of Auckland provides funding as a member of The Conversation NZ.

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When politicians talk about reaching “net zero” emissions, they’re often counting on trees or technology that can pull carbon dioxide out of the air. What they don’t mention is just how much these proposals or geoengineering would cost to allow the world to continue burning fossil fuels.

There are many proposals for removing carbon dioxide, but most make differences only at the edges, and carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have continued to increase relentlessly, even through the pandemic.

I’ve been working on climate change for over four decades. Let’s take a minute to come to grips with some of the rhetoric around climate change and clear the air, so to speak.

What’s causing climate change?

As has been well established now for several decades , the global climate is changing, and that change is caused by human activities .

When fossil fuels are burned for energy or used in transportation, they release carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas that is the main cause of global heating . Carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for centuries. As more carbon dioxide is added, its increasing concentration acts like a blanket, trapping energy near Earth’s surface that would otherwise escape into space.

When the amount of energy arriving from the Sun exceeds the amount of energy radiating back into space, the climate heats up. Some of that energy increases temperatures, and some increases evaporation and fuels storms and rains.

Illustration of energy in from the Sun vs energy out from Earth in greenhouse effect

Because of these changes in atmospheric composition, the planet has warmed by an estimated 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 F) since about 1880 and is well on the way to 1.5 C (2.7 F), which was highlighted as a goal not to be crossed if possible by the Paris Agreement . With the global heating and gradual increases in temperature have come increases in all kinds of weather and climate extremes , from flooding to drought and heat waves, that cause huge damage, disruption and loss of life.

Studies shows that global carbon dioxide emissions will need to reach net-zero carbon emissions by midcentury to have a chance of limiting warming to even 2 C (3.6 F).

Currently, the main source of carbon dioxide is China. But accumulated emissions matter most, and the United States leads, closely followed by Europe, China and others.

Pie charts show CO2 emissions from fossil fuels in one year compared with cumulative for top emitting countries. China has the largest share in 2018; the U.S. has the largest share cumulatively

What works to slow climate change?

Modern society needs energy, but it does not have to be from fossil fuels.

Studies show that the most effective way to address the climate change problem is to decarbonize the economies of the world’s nations. This means sharply increasing use of renewable energy – solar and wind cost less than new fossil fuel plants in much of the world today – and the use of electric vehicles.

Unfortunately, this changeover to renewables has been slow, due in large part to the the huge and expensive infrastructure related to fossil fuels, along with the vast amount of dollars that can buy influence with politicians .

What doesn’t work?

Instead of drastically cutting emissions, companies and politicians have grasped at alternatives. These include geoengineering ; carbon capture and storage , including “direct air capture”; and planting trees .

Here’s the issue:

Geoengineering often means “solar radiation management,” which aims to emulate a volcano and add particulates to the stratosphere to reflect incoming solar radiation back to space and produce a cooling. It might partially work, but it could have concerning side effects .

The global warming problem is not sunshine, but rather that infrared radiation emitted from Earth is being trapped by greenhouse gases. Between the incoming solar and outgoing radiation is the whole weather and climate system and the hydrological cycle. Sudden changes in these particles or poor distribution could have dramatic effects .

Illustration of solar rays bouncing off human-made aerosol layers and other sources

The last major volcanic eruption, of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991, sent enough sulfur dioxide and particulates into the stratosphere that it produced modest cooling, but it also caused a loss of precipitation over land . It cooled the land more than the ocean so that monsoon rains moved offshore, and longer term it slowed the water cycle.

Carbon capture and storage has been researched and tried for well over a decade but has sizable costs . Only about a dozen industrial plants in the U.S. currently capture their carbon emissions, and most of it is used to enhance drilling for oil.

Direct air capture – technology that can pull carbon dioxide out of the air – is being developed in several places. It uses a lot of energy, though, and while that could potentially be dealt with by using renewable energy , it’s still energy intensive.

A man holding onto a small tree speaks with reporters.

Planting trees is often embraced as a solution for offsetting corporate greenhouse gas emissions. Trees and vegetation take up carbon dioxide though photosynthesis and produce wood and other plant material. It’s relatively cheap.

But trees aren’t permanent. Leaves, twigs and dead trees decay. Forests burn. Recent studies show that the risks to trees from stress, wildfires, drought and insects as temperatures rise will also be larger than expected.

How much does all this cost?

Scientists have been measuring carbon dioxide at Mauna Loa , Hawaii, since 1958 and elsewhere. The average annual increase in carbon dioxide concentration has accelerated, from about 1 part per million by volume per year in the 1960s to 1.5 in the 1990s, to 2.5 in recent years since 2010.

This relentless increase, through the pandemic and in spite of efforts in many countries to cut emissions, shows how enormous the problem is.

Chart showing increasing CO2 over time.

Usually carbon removal is discussed in terms of mass, measured in megatons – millions of metric tons – of carbon dioxide per year, not in parts per million of volume. The mass of the atmosphere is about 5.5x10¹⁵ metric tons, but as carbon dioxide (molecular weight 42) is heavier than air (molecular weight about 29), 1 part per million by volume of carbon dioxide is about 7.8 billion metric tons .

According to the World Resources Institute, the range of costs for direct air capture vary between US$250 and $600 per metric ton of carbon dioxide removed today, depending on the technology, energy source and scale of deployment. Even if costs fell to $100 per metric ton, the cost of reducing the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide by 1 part per million is around $780 billion.

Keep in mind that the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere has risen from about 280 parts per million before the industrial era to around 420 today, and it is currently rising at more than 2 parts per million per year .

Tree restoration on one-third to two-thirds of suitable acres is estimated to be able to remove about 7.4 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2050 without displacing agricultural land, by WRI’s calculations. That would be more than any other pathway. This might sound like a lot, but 7 gigatons of carbon dioxide is 7 billion metric tons, and so this is less than 1 part per million by volume. The cost is estimated to be up to $50 per metric ton . So even with trees, the cost to remove 1 part per million by volume could be as much as $390 billion.

Geoengineering is also expensive .

So for hundreds of billions of dollars, the best prospect with these strategies is a tiny dent of 1 part per million by volume in the carbon dioxide concentration.

This arithmetic highlights the tremendous need to cut emissions. There is no viable workaround.

  • Fossil fuels
  • Climate change
  • Renewable energy
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • Solar power
  • Geoengineering
  • Carbon capture and storage
  • Solar energy
  • Wind energy
  • Carbon capture
  • Carbon dioxide removal
  • Direct air capture
  • Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG)

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