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The Way We Could Live Now

Now that the scientific "debate" about climate change has finally been put to rest, the conversation has shifted to questions of technical and political feasibility. There are grounds for hope on both fronts, but much will depend on whether we can dismantle the behavioral obstacles standing in the way of collective action. 

ITHACA – Debates about climate change have finally moved past the mindless disputes with denialists. Most people now accept that we face a deadly challenge. Yet without a consensus about what to do next, we seem to have hit an impasse. Is rapid decarbonization actually feasible at any cost? If so, is there any prospect that voters would willingly bear that cost?

There are cautiously optimistic answers to both questions. On the issue of decarbonization, my own thinking has been heavily shaped by the work of the energy engineer Saul Griffith, who has argued persuasively that it’s not too late to act. A World War II-scale mobilization to decarbonize the entire energy sector within the next decade through wholesale deployment of solar and wind energy would avert the worst consequences of global warming.

Building a carbon-neutral electrical energy sector in the United States would result in solar panels occupying about 1% of the country’s total land area. Because there are substantial costs to transmitting electricity across long distances, these panels would need to be widely distributed in proximity to population centers. We will all have to get used to living in their midst.

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