The Urgency of Climate Change Solutions

Climate change affects us all. We need to act decisively, urgently, and equitably if we are to minimize the negative impacts of climate change and pave the way for a more sustainable future.

In my keynote address at the Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine of Florida (ASEMFL) Annual Meeting held Saturday, October 4, at the University of Central Florida, I had the pleasure of discussing “Climate Change: How and When.”

NAE John Anderson at ASEMFL pic by Kimberly J Lewis - 11-4-2023.jpgFor starters, let me say that science has laid out an impressive set of evidence showing the anthropogenic causes of climate change and has developed compelling models for future global temperature increases and their potential consequences. So, we have the “what,” based on strong evidence and scientific principles.

Answering the “how” and “when” is a call to action to engineers in all technical disciplines.

First, we must address the “how” of decarbonization. This can be accomplished by increasing the prominence of low-carbon power generation and decreasing reliance on fossil fuels. It will entail the use of a variety of renewable energy sources, like wind power, solar power, hydropower, and advanced nuclear reactors, operating in tandem. As we move toward a net-zero carbon economy, processes and products will improve and be better than what we have now, the quality of life will increase, and, of course, we will stop injecting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Answering the “how” of climate change is a bigger issue that includes mitigation, innovation, and adaptation. It is a three-step process in which decarbonization features prominently.

  1. Reduce net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to zero by 2050 to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5°C.
  2. Develop a secure energy ecosystem and enable sustainable development on a global scale.
  3. Adapt to the effects of climate change.

We must plan globally, and act locally, with actions that take into consideration the full spectrum of change: community, equity, and quality.

Second, we must address “when” we expect to accomplish these goals. This is, perhaps, the tricky part. Community and public acceptance are essential to reaching net-zero carbon emissions. And it is imperative that we address the broader range of changes needed to combat climate change. To gain public acceptance, we will need creativity to instill a can-do culture, imagery to show the excitement, wonder, and beauty of engineering, and succinct communications to explain the benefits of change.

The task before us is not an easy one, but it is an achievable one. We must be optimistic about the future and build this optimism into the culture of young people.

We will make the transitions and innovations necessary to address climate change and get to net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases, but only if we engage communities in the change process and empower the next generation of engineers and scientists to be the solution, not just find the solution.