Imagining a Greener Future

Honestly, what’s stopping us from making the switch from fossil fuels to cleaner alternatives? Often, people will say that green technology is simply not ready for use on a large scale, it is too expensive to implement, and it would eliminate many of the jobs in today’s energy sector. But, new information is proving those concerns unfounded.

Data shows that jobs in renewables are climbing. As investment in clean technology increases, jobs openings will increase as well. Plus, generating electricity from renewables is often more labor-intensive than energy production using fossil fuels, so a larger workforce will be needed to sustain a new system. If we commit to a clean energy system, it has the potential to employ a greater number of people.

And here’s the big news: a recent study by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) concludes that the U.S. could easily obtain 80% of its energy from renewable sources by 2050 using existing commercially available technologies. That’s right, we already have the technology we need to facilitate a major shift to clean energy. Take a look at this chart from NREL (also below). All of the big players in future scenarios are technologies that we already have available. In the scenario where we have 90% renewable energy by 2050, wind is the biggest player, supplying over 40% of the nation’s power. But, solar power (PV-photovoltaics and CSP-concentrated solar power), hydropower, and biomass all contribute at least 10% to the mix. You can also see that we could achieve less than 5% usage of both coal and natural gas and no reliance on oil.

This is amazing! I find this chart incredibly uplifting because it tells me that we already have the tools needed to create meaningful change. We are not waiting on technology to catch up. We can dramatically change our energy landscape in less than 40 years. We just have to get started!

I will freely admit that a switch to a clean energy infrastructure system will undoubtedly be expensive. Then again, any infrastructure upgrades are expensive; but we choose to invest in them because they will be advantageous in the long run. The transcontinental railroad was very costly to build (apparently even costs for the least expensive option were equal to the federal budget for a full year), but the nation agreed that it was a necessity. A switch to clean alternative fuels is a necessity. Putting new infrastructure in place will be time-consuming and expensive, but it is necessary for our future. Those costs will be more than made up as public health risks decline and damage to the environment decreases.

At times, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the thought of climate change and the potential dangers our world will face. But this news is very encouraging. It reminds us that, although big change will be needed, that change is possible. We are absolutely capable of restructuring our energy usage; all we need to do is get to work.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” –Laozi, Chinese philosopher

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