A new study divides fueling the world into two options: we can continue with a fossil engine model, or we can jump on the solar engine. Considering that experts say humanity has only a 50% chance of keeping to the Paris Agreement target of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius or under by century’s end, it’s clear the study authors are pro-solar.
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“Climate heating beyond 1.5°C induces potentially existential risks to humanity with rapidly increasing chances to exceed tipping points,” wrote authors Harald Desing and Rolf Widmer in their study on reducing climate risks, published November 24 in Environmental Research Letters.
However, building the solar infrastructure requires fossil fuels. The study authors focus on figuring out how much fossil fuel energy we can use to build the solar infrastructure while still minimizing climate risks. They don’t cover issues like cost or availability of materials. “The model simulations show that fast and complete transitions are energetically possible when temporarily increasing fossil emissions above current levels for the sole purpose of accelerating the growth of renewable energy capacity,” the authors wrote.
The study concludes that humanity’s best bet is to temporarily increase emissions by up to 40% while building solar infrastructure as fast as possible. They think the energy transition could be completed within five years if we act at top speed. Then, the fossil engine can be shut down. This plan results in the lowest cumulative emissions, according to the study.
Even if we start today and transition at breakneck speed, we still have a one in five chance of exceeding the 1.5-degree goal of the Paris Agreement. But it’s probably already too late to have a prayer of going any lower. And the longer we sit around talking about it, the more the temperature will ultimately increase.
The good news is that the authors suggest slapping solar panels on readily available surfaces, such as parking lots and roofs, rather than building out huge solar farms. “A fast and complete transition to a solar PV powered society is conceivable: the technology is mature, produced at scale and not constrained by material scarcity,” the authors wrote. “Integrating PV in existing built environment suffices to replace the fossil engine, so no additional land transformation is necessary.”
Lead image via Pixabay