By. George P. Nassos
One summary of this most important meeting on climate change is: The more than 200 countries gathered in Dubai for COP28 reached a deal that marks a ‘historic’ move away from fossil fuels, yet it still falls short of what the world needs to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.” This tells us that we cannot depend on the country governments to impose regulations that will help us achieve the goal of a maximum increase in temperature of 1.5°C, or even 2.0°C, by 2050. We must all take this situation seriously and participate in actions that will get us to the target.
One of the biggest polluters of the atmosphere is our automobiles. While the sales of electric vehicles (EVs) are increasing rapidly, it may not be enough to help reach our target. Even if the sales growth increased even more significantly, we may not be able to handle all the charging requirements. We should move to greater EV usage at a slower pace to be able to handle all the charging requirements. In the meantime, the auto industry should concentrate on producing more energy efficient internal combustion engines (ICEs) which will also reduce the rate of carbon emissions. There is no need for such a large percentage of Americans to be driving large SUVs, or similar, many of which are manufactured in truck assembly plants since vehicles produced in truck plants are not bound to the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards. We don’t need to drive these large automobiles when a smaller one will suffice. My first automobile was a 1961 four-passenger sedan that got 40 miles per gallon (mpg), and technology has improved so much achieving real economy should not be a problem.
Another auto recommendation is to go with more hybrid automobiles which are more economical than EVs while still reducing carbon emissions. Hybrid automobiles consume gasoline but can get 50-60 mpg when not using the electric battery. The hybrid battery is much smaller than an EV battery and thus requires much less precious metals to produce. In fact, with the precious metals’ requirement for an EV battery, you can produce 17 hybrid batteries.
The aviation industry is moving to low emissions with sustainable aviation fuels produced by companies like LanzaJet. Formula 1, a manufacturer of race cars, will be producing cars in 2025 that will be operating with a carbon free sustainable fuel. This is something that the auto industry could adopt but may need to modify the engines.
The building industry is also a major polluter of carbon emissions, primarily in heating and energy requirements. To reduce these emissions, a regulation should be passed that all new construction of buildings, commercial, industrial and residential, must adhere to LEED standards. These standards not only reduce energy consumption but also provide other environmental benefits like water efficiency, use of sustainable materials, indoor environment quality, and design innovation. Today, the increase in cost of achieving LEED standards is minimal since many of these standards have been adopted as normal. Any slight increase in cost is usually recovered in a few years as a result of utility cost savings. The building industry should also consider meeting the standards of the Living Building Challenge (LBC), which will make the building even more sustainable. The LBC follows the science of nature to establish how a building should be developed. One objective is to have a net-zero building, one that can operate by producing more energy than it consumes. This certainly will help meet the climate change goals.
In addition to reducing carbon emissions, another environmental issue is the overconsumption of our natural resources. We are currently using the equivalent of 1.7 earths to meet the needs of our rapidly growing population. We should seriously consider a rapid increase in urban farming, also called vertical farming. With so many empty buildings today because of more people working from home, these buildings should be converted into a “farm” for growing fruits and vegetables. This would alleviate the pressure of the world’s agricultural land to provide all the food for the world.
Besides increasing the availability of food, urban farms have many other benefits. Employing the science of hydroponics, the quantity of water needed for the plants would be about 10% of that used in the agricultural fields which today consume about 60% of the available freshwater in the world. The growing season would also increase to 12 months as opposed to about three months for the agricultural lands in the U.S. Since California alone produces over 70% of the fruits and nuts for the entire United States, think about the transportation required to reach its customers. With an urban farm, the fresh food market would be on the first floor of the building in a large city where most of the customers live.
We all have to take climate change and other environmental issues seriously, and let’s not wait for the governments to set the standards for a more livable planet. This is becoming a more serious issue for the future generations.