Dream scenario: How can we prevent climate disaster
Today, the temperature of the earth is rising rapidly, and the future is threatening with violent storms, people on the run, and hunger. But if we make significant investments in environmentally friendly technology, we can slow down the development and even reverse it within a few decades.
The homes should save the heat
In the western world, buildings account for 40 percent of energy consumption. In the future, intelligent thermostats, heat recovery, and solar panels will make houses utterly independent of outside energy.
A heat exchanger removes the heat from the exhaust air and heats it in.
Up to 50 cm of insulation keeps the house warm in winter and cool in summer.
Wooden glass windows reduce heat losses and enable solar heating.
Solar cells produce all the electricity and heat needed in the house.
A smart thermostat lowers heat at night or when the house is empty.
Pumps heat the house in winter and dissipate heat in the summer.
The temperature would continue to rise for a period, even if we stopped all carbon dioxide emissions.
The food is grown in cities
New vast forests should remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and make room with the trees we have to cut down on the area of agricultural land. This is to be achieved partly by eating less meat, and partly by moving agriculture to rooftops and gigantic greenhouses in the cities - and the fisheries must ensure a high return with minimal effort.
The year is 2099.
Again, the temperature has dropped slightly.
In South America, rainforests are spreading again, farmers all over the world can reclaim agricultural land from deserts. In the Arctic, a small area of sea ice now survives every summer.
After a joint effort, the nations of the planet have pushed the temperature down to a level just 1.5 degrees above the level before industrialization.
This is how our future may look if we act now.
In 2015, the countries of the world signed an agreement to keep the rise in temperature to just 1.5 degrees. The planet has already become a degree warmer since industrialization, so we have only half a degree left.
To achieve this goal, we must first and foremost curb our extensive emissions of carbon dioxide. Other measures are also needed. Even if we were to stop our emissions today, the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would continue to warm the planet to near the pain limit.
Global warming is good
The cause of the global temperature rise we are experiencing right now is greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide and methane, from energy production, transport, and agriculture.
The gases capture part of the earth’s heat radiation and send it back again. As the amount of gases increases, more radiation is held back, and the surface of the planet becomes warmer.
Over the past 200 years, the amount of carbon dioxide has increased by 45 percent, and the amount of methane increased by 150 percent.
After the Global Climate Agreement 2015, where an increase of 1.5 degrees was set as the final goal, the researchers have realized that it may already be too late to reach that goal.
The carbon content of the atmosphere has increased from 280 million parts to over 410 million parts without the equilibrium of the planet’s temperature. This means that the temperature will continue to rise even if the amount of carbon dioxide is kept to its current level. And it probably reaches 1.5 degrees.
The goal is therefore no longer to ensure that the heating never exceeds the 1.5 degrees. It is likely to cross that boundary within a few decades. The goal is to bring the temperature down to 1.5 degrees again before the year 2100 and ensure that it remains stable.
We can probably do that if we reduce our carbon dioxide emissions significantly and, at the same time, make an effort to actively remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
Earth must do as Costa Rica
The researchers estimate that our carbon dioxide emissions must not exceed 2.1 tonnes per year per person to stabilize the temperature by the year 2100.
Where some countries – including Africa and South America – today are below that limit, others are far above it.
In Western Europe, the figure is between three and six times higher, and in North America and Australia, it is about eight times higher. The global average is currently about five tonnes per year per person.
To reduce emissions, we must switch to energy sources without greenhouse gas emissions. We have already begun this development, but the pace must be increased.
Several countries, including Iceland, Norway, and Costa Rica, are now close to getting 100 percent of their electricity from green sources, and US researchers estimate that the rest of the world can achieve the same goal by 2050.
If we are seriously investing in green energy now, during the century, we can create a global network that steadily delivers climate-friendly energy to the entire planet around the clock, all year round.
Areas near the equator can continuously produce solar energy, and the west wind belt in the northern and southern hemispheres can generate wind energy. This could eliminate the need for CO2-emitting power plants.
We will phase out petrol cars. In many European countries, it is now cheaper to drive an electric vehicle than a petrol car, and the electric vehicles are on the fast track. Even in most climate-conscious countries, however, electric vehicles make up only a few percent of the total number of cars, so the fight is still not won.
Also, technological advances are needed that can further reduce pollution from climate-friendly cars. The manufacture of electric cars’ batteries contaminates, and the solution is to either improve the batteries or replace them with fuel cells that are powered by hydrogen.
The ultimate solution is probably the most hopeful, but the technology is not yet optimally developed.
The last major source of carbon dioxide is the production of concrete. It provides about eight percent of the planet’s total emissions, and the concrete industry thus emits three times as much as the aviation industry. New types of climate-friendly concrete are underway, including the so-called bio-cement that is manufactured using microorganisms.
In recent years, engineers have also experimented with replacing concrete with wood, where new technology allows wooden structures to reach heights of 85 meters and 18 floors. This strategy is promising because trees actively remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and this carbon dioxide is then stored safely in the walls of the wooden houses.
Although the production of concrete will increase in the coming decades, it may be possible, according to the International Energy Council, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by just over 25 percent by 2050 – for example, by collecting and storing the gases emitted during production.
Trees push down the temperature
The technology for drastically reducing carbon dioxide emissions already exists and new technologies are continually emerging that can help us reach our ambitious goals even faster.
However, several studies suggest that we need to supplement this effort with measures that actively remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere if we want to prevent a temperature rise above 1.5 degrees.
Several pioneering methods are now being tested practically around the world, but it is unclear if they are effective enough to solve the problem.
Fortunately, there is another simpler solution that we can implement now: Planting forests.
Read the UN report on how we limit global warming here.
In 2017, an international team of researchers found that restoring former woodlands and protecting the forest could remove more than seven gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year – more than all of North America emits in one year. And the figure could be over twice that if we are willing to change our eating habits.
An American study shows that Americans’ current diet requires nearly eight times as much agricultural land as a vegetarian diet. And it is the culprit in particular that is the culprit – it requires 28 times as much land as chicken. By cutting down on beef, we would free up enormous areas for planting a forest.
The transition to a diet without beef becomes more comfortable and easier, thanks to technological advances in the food industry. A new plant-based alternative to minced meat developed by the American company Impossible Foods was in the spotlight in 2019 during one of the US’s most significant technology conferences.
The minced meat smells, tastes, and feels like real minced beef because the company behind it has identified the proteins that give the meat its smell, taste, and texture and found similar proteins in the plant kingdom. The company also uses genetically modified yeast to produce some of the proteins.
Stakes save billions
The world in 2099 will be drastically different from the world today – no matter what we do. But if we invest in green energy, sustainable building materials and new types of food already, then we can create a future where we live on our own premises.
Global warming is likely to continue for a period even though we are taking every action we can – the planet’s average temperature will rise half a degree, and parts of the Arctic will rise above three degrees.
But the alternative is a future where the climate is so extreme that we must continuously fight for survival – a struggle that will cost us dearly.
In 2018, US researchers calculated how much only the US would save by the end of the century if we invest in green technology now and thus reduce the number of extreme weather phenomena. The result was SEK 2,000 billion per year!