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September 9, 2016

Responding To: The Challenge of Climate Change

Revolutionizing Clean Technology

Costanza Concetti

In December 2015, at the latest UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, 195 countries agreed to deploy progressively stricter plans to curb greenhouse emissions every five years. This commitment, unimaginable only a few years ago, demonstrates a global concern for the grim prospects of a world radically transformed by climate change. More importantly, it signals that leaders across the world acknowledge the anthropogenic contribution to rising global temperatures.

Recognizing human involvement in climate change, however, is only a satisfactory response to the challenge at hand when accompanied by urgent reparative actions––and action can only be adequate when executed with tools capable of bringing about real change. Curbing the human environmental footprint is a gargantuan commitment, one which challenges most aspects of life in today’s societies. Therefore, the social and political will for change can only be truly meaningful if accompanied by the technology capable of enacting such change.

This is not to say that policy makers should cease work on the regulation of carbon emissions, nor should activists stop tackling immediate issues of environmental justice. Rather, similar efforts and funds should also be directed towards the creation of green, marketable, disruptive technologies. Particularly, both private and public money should be spent towards finding alternatives to the supply, transportation, and distribution of electric power. Investing in clean electricity solutions would indeed curb two significant contributors to carbon dioxide emissions. The first culprit being electric power itself, and the second being transportation, which could reap the benefits of innovations downstream through electric vehicles (Sivaran and Norris 148).

Electric power already accounts for 25 percent of total carbon emissions (IPCC), and with cities becoming larger and more populous by the day, the need for a technology to produce, transport, and distribute clean electric power is more urgent than ever. Urbanization trends are transitioning to low-income countries still heavily dependent on coal for energy production (Romero-Lankao and Dodman 464), and people moving into cities continue to purchase energy intensive appliances as psychological and social indicators of wealth and comfort (Quezada et al 464). It’s not a coincidence that international organizations such as the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, and the United Nations Environment Program have all listed the restructuring of energy economy in cities as one of the key means for carbon emission control (Byrne et al). Indeed, if these trends remain true, projections predict that urban energy demand will increase more than threefold by 2050 (Creutzig et al 6283).

Current clean technology does not provide us with a truly suitable substitute for centralized fossil-fueled generation plants—and political and social incentives to adopt alternative solutions are not sufficient to change a system supported by one of the most pervasive physical infrastructures in the world. Global climate change is challenging us to invent and render marketable technologies that will disrupt the supremacy of an obsolete yet resilient system. The technological revolution demanded by climate change cannot be overlooked, for its success is deeply intertwined with the future of our global community; if our effort to access electrical power without further polluting the atmosphere fails, our only alternative solution may be one of de-development and retrogression.

Costanza Concetti (SFS '17) is the Green Fund director for the Georgetown University SIPS Fund.

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