By Jeff Witten and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy Climate Change Committee
WV Mountaineers are resourceful and resilient: “Ask not what others can do to slow climate change – ask what YOU can personally do.”
Good news, since 2007 total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have steadily decreased; progress has been made. A small increase in 2018 and 2019 from Industrial sources was the result of across-the-board job creation with record low unemployment and record high number of people working. Of course, the 2020 pandemic had a much different impact on jobs. We will see what 2021 brings.
The U.S., with the world’s leading economy, is no longer in the top ten countries ranked by greenhouse gas emissions per capita. Australia and Canada are in the top ten. The U.S. has slowly and consistently reduced per capita emissions for almost 20 years while most of our peers have increased. Much work remains to be done to de-carbonize our economy, and we can continue to do better.
Our long-term decrease in total emissions was primarily due to lower CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion that was a result of multiple factors. These include a decrease in total energy use and a continued shift from coal to less carbon intensive and less expensive natural gas and growing renewables. Here is what YOU did: YOU bought more efficient transportation, installed LED bulbs, insulated your home, and demanded that major industrial energy producers and consumers reduce their carbon footprint. Maybe you bought an electric or hybrid car or installed solar!
Thirty-two years ago, we were told the growing hole in the Ozone Layer was widening resulting in an increase in harmful ultraviolet rays from the Sun because of Freon gas and other chlorinated fluorocarbons. YOU demanded that governments eliminate the offending chemicals, and you bought new technology that made your air conditioners and refrigerators more friendly. The result, in 2019, NASA reported the hole had shrunk to the smallest on record.
There is more YOU can personally do to protect and conserve our Highlands. The nation’s emissions cuts are still not on track to meet the targets under the Paris Climate Accord. Humanity has a tremendous amount of work to do to reduce emissions by 50% below 2005 levels in the next 14 years.
What can YOU personally do now? Of course, continue what you have been doing to be more efficient. And ask for a proposal from a qualified solar panel or geothermal installer for your home. Understand the costs and benefits including selling electricity to your Utility. Take advantage of a 26% federal income tax credit presently available that can significantly lower your installation cost. WV has more than 10 installers; find one near you – getting a quote will cost you nothing and enable you to make an informed decision. You are a Mountaineer; be responsible for your own improvements and contribute. Most importantly, engage with your elected officials and demand policy changes that will decarbonize the world’s economy in time to avert the worst impacts of climate change.
Job creation: https://www.bls.gov/charts/employment-situation/civilian-unemployment-rate.htm
Emissions by country: https://www.worlddata.info/greenhouse-gas-by-country.php
Emission per capita: https://www.unep.org/emissions-gap-report-2020
U.S. greenhouse emissions: https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions
NASA Ozone: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2019/2019-ozone-hole-is-the-smallest-on-record-since-its-discovery