GUEST COMMENTARY: The genius of energy conservation and clean energy adoption

Monday, August 26, 2013 | 5:30 p.m. CDT; updated 7:39 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Hemingway wrote that all he had to do was write one true sentence, the truest sentence he knew, to unleash his writing genius. I have two. Human-caused climate change is the greatest threat that humanity faces. And, every personal action that we take as individuals, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, makes a difference (by definition), especially as multiplied by the actions of the collective hundreds of millions of us (about 7 billion in fact, planetwide).

At this point in time, we simply must, and we can, both mitigate climate change even as we do our best to adapt to it. Mitigate it by embracing solar, wind, geothermal and other climate-friendly energy sources and by conserving energy in oh so many ways that don’t impinge on our standard of living while even improving our public health. Turn off the lights when we’re not in the room; lower the hot water thermostat by a few degrees; raise the home thermostat by a few degrees; dress lighter or warmer depending on the season; drive a little less, walk or bike a little more; think of some other way to contribute — actions that don’t make much difference individually make a huge difference collectively. You aren’t alone, and you’ll feel really good about contributing to the solution. Realize that others are responding to the same urgent need, and it amounts to a movement. Give alternative energy sources a level playing field, and gosh, suddenly, they’re actually affordable. One barrier to adopting alternative energy sources has been energy storage (battery) capacity.  A friend of mine in Southern California who specializes in this technology was pulled off of this research effort decades ago on the cusp of success, only to be recently re-instated as a project leader. Come on, fellow Missourians. What more do we need to be shown?  This is really a no-brainer. What are the qualities of your children’s and grandchildren’s lives worth to you? Think broadly and deeply about capitalist greed, its impersonal ambitions and how to redirect the honest need to promote jobs growth toward a sustainable future that favors a thriving human component. All that’s required is willpower and democratic grass-roots insistence. Are you up to it?

Denial must be denied, and responsibility must be accepted.  As reported by Justin Gillis in The New York Times on Aug. 20, a current draft report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the group of international scientists awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, concludes that our little planet is indeed warming, and that human influence is almost certainly the principal cause. Do you want to bet your children's and grandchildren's lives against this?  You don’t have to, if you embrace energy conservation and public investment in truly clean energy.   According to Gillis’ report, depending on how effectively we respond to the need to reduce human emissions of greenhouse gases, sea levels may rise as little as 8 inches (with aggressive proactive effort) or as much as 21-plus inches (at current levels of denial). Under the same range of scenarios, global air temperatures may also rise between 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit and 5 degrees Fahrenheit. A global temperature hike of 5 degrees Fahrenheit would translate to a higher increase over land than sea, resulting in a wide range of environmental crises, from food production failures to extraordinary storms, fires and disruptions in water supply. Aren’t we already beginning to see this? Isn’t it already time to take serious action?

Johann N. Bruhn, Ph.D., is a of Columbia resident. He has studied forest ecology and forest health professionally for more than 40 years. He can be contacted at

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Mark Foecking August 27, 2013 | 8:04 a.m.

"mitigate climate change"

"conserving energy in oh so many ways that don’t impinge on our standard of living"

Hm. I don't think the two phrases belong in the same paragraph.

Meaningful mitigation involves reducing our (US) per capita carbon footprints by 80-90% over a couple of decades. Small changes won't do this. Unless most people are willing to give up eating meat, driving, air conditioning, and 24/7/365 availability of goods and services (which would be economically devastating), we may as well not do anything. If our small changes mean that we hit 450 ppm in 2035 rather than 2032, I'd argue that's a meaningless difference.

An even more difficult problem is to convince developing nations to develop using low-carbon energy sources. If they don't see any meaningful move by developed countries away from fossil fuels, they will be unwilling to do any differently themselves. Fossil fuels are still far cheaper, per energy unit, than wind and solar, plus they're easier to make dependable. Heavy subsidies to wind and solar have been necessary to "level the playing field", and without them, the market for wind and solar would be far less than it is now.

Climate denial is increasing among the public according to polls. If only a few percent of the population changes its behavior significantly (I have, although for somewhat different reasons), then even draconian measures by this group will not meaningfully change the outcome. I also hope people address this problem with adequate behavioral changes, but I don't see it happening, and I think public planning should assume that CO2 levels will continue to rise, or even accelerate.


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Mark Foecking August 27, 2013 | 12:29 p.m.

"actions that don’t make much difference individually make a huge difference collectively"

No, they actually make little difference collectively also.

If every American household reduced its electrical usage by 10%, that means total household usage also decreases by 10%. That's not even close to enough. Good luck doing even that. Planners generally expect electrical use to grow by 2%/year.


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