The greed of corporations and a consumer-driven economy has taken us to a point where change is desperately needed. We are in a time of convenience, instant gratification, and willful ignorance, all of which impede the progress towards a sustainable future while policy and politics are being stalled and diverted. Change is uncomfortable, and when faced with fundamentally changing the very way we live, few are willing to make the sacrifices it requires.
Every year, 18.7 million acres of forests are being destroyed, creating an estimated 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions (Deforestation). Forests play an essential role in the Earth’s life support system. Water is another crucial element needed for survival for any life on this planet. Water, like the forests, are being used quicker than they can be replenished. The average American uses 88 gallons of water at home each day, and the aquifers are critically low in the United States.
Change is possible around the world; conservation efforts are being made largely because of the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement has brought together 195 members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC to fight climate change and adjust to its consequences. Climate change knows no borders, so having the unity between so many nations is an important step towards combating the problem.
Green Solutions in Finland
Finland has had great success with its plan to reduce emissions and conservation efforts. Finland utilized 47% green energy sources in 2017 with plans to reduce CO2 emissions and remove coal entirely from power production by 2030 (Karagiannopoulos 2018). Finland’s forest industry has had an important role in green energy production. By utilizing black liquor and byproducts, they have a wood-based biomass that contributes to 60% of their green energy sources (Cleantech Finland 2017).
With so much energy from the forest industry, the overall growth rate of the trees is higher than the harvest amount. Finland has built up an important matrix of protected areas, cleaned contaminated rivers and lakes, and ameliorated air quality in industrialized areas (Lyytimaki 2014). Finland is showing the world how to safeguard biodiversity while producing energy from renewable resources.
In the United States of America, progress is a bit slower. In 2017, the US sourced a measly 18% from green energy sources (Morris 2018). Only a small portion of that was sourced from biomass. Efforts have been made throughout the USA to use more renewable resources, including solar, hydropower, biofuels, and wind.
The heartland states are now sourcing 20% of their power from wind energy. In the United States, our CO2 emissions are some of the highest in the world, reaching 20 tons per person compared to a world average of only 4 tons per person. There is also a correlation between income and CO2 emissions, meaning the higher the income, the higher the emissions usually are.
There are many available renewable resources that can be used on a global scale. Biomass might be one of the most underused and overlooked resources that we have available to us. Biomass uses organic material that comes from garbage, wood, crops, alcohol fuels, and landfill gases, which can then be burned and used as energy in a process similar to photosynthesis.
Around the world, landfills and dumps are being pumped full of garbage, and after harvesting crops, the unused portion is wasted. All this waste can be turned into biomass and converted for energy. In the United States, biomass contributes to only 5% of our energy usage (eia.gov).
In some areas around the world, people live near mountains of trash; India, in particular, is in the top five countries with the highest emissions of CO2. If they were to start utilizing the trash resource, they could easily reach their Paris Agreement target of achieving 40% renewable energy 2030 (Westcott). In coastal areas where commercial fishing is the main trade, there are large amounts of leftovers from unwanted or unused parts of the fish; these could effectively be commuted to biomass and used for energy.
Biomass is not a perfect solution; there are disadvantages to it as well. Biomass could negatively impact air quality and add to air pollution. Burning wood for heat has the same potential of air pollution as a car on a busy street. In a study, it was concluded that keeping the biomass burning at a consistently high temperature throughout the process could greatly reduce those emissions (et la Kortelainen).
Another disadvantage to biomass seems to be in the way of thinking surrounding it—the idea that it is another thing that needs to be produced instead of using all of the waste that is available to us in a surplus of trash and waste. I believe biomass needs to have additional research and plans drawn up to convert the waste effectively.
Wind energy has another amazing capability to divert our addiction to fossil fuels. Wind energy is not a new concept. The idea of wind energy can be seen as far back as 5000 BC when boats were pushed with billowed sails across the Nile River. In 200 BC, windmills were used to pump water and grind grain in China and the Middle East, respectively (History of Wind Energy).
We have come a long way from harnessing the power of the wind. Windmills have now been replaced by wind turbines. Wind turbines consist of two or three blades mounted on a shaft that is at least 100 feet tall. The blades work like a propellor, turning the shaft that, in turn, powers a generator with the energy it creates.
On a large scale, wind turbines are built in close proximity to what is called wind farms. Homeowners also have the ability to use wind power as smaller-scale wind turbines; these are being produced and even sold on Amazon to help supplement or fully replace their reliance on fossil fuels.
Previous designs of the wind turbine posed a hazard to wild birds. The older models have propellors that spun at high speeds and lattice style structure that attracted birds for nesting. Turbines now are highly efficient with slower turning rotors and smooth poles, which have garnished the support of the Audobon Society. Wind is unpredictable and can change or stop altogether at any time. People living nearby to the wind farms also complain of noise and visual pollution (Siegel).
Dependence on Fossil Fuels
Our dependence on fossil fuels directly affects global warming. When fossil fuels emit gas into the atmosphere, trapping heat, it causes the Earth’s temperature to rise. What the Earth’s surface cannot absorb gets absorbs into the ocean, causing a rise in sea level.
The three chief components that cause a rise in sea level are thermal expansion, melting glaciers and polar ice caps, and ice loss from Greenland and West Antarctica (Sea Level Rise). The rise in ocean water can have devastating effects on coastal communities at this rate. Florida has seen an increased sea level of eight inches since 1950, four inches of which have been in the last ten years. The rate of sea-level rise is currently at 1 inch every three years.
Four billion dollars is being spent on safeguards in Florida, including raising roads, installing seawalls and pumping systems, and relocating freshwater wells (Florida’s Sea Level). This is not a solution; it is only a band-aid for the real problem. The rise in sea level is a symptom of a bigger problem—climate change that we have drastically altered. To truly tackle the problem, change is needed, and we all need to do our part. As citizens of the Earth, we need to break our addiction to the consumption of fossil fuels and wasteful habits.
"Biomass Explained." Eia.gov. Accessed May 25, 2018. https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/?page=biomass_home.
"Deforestation." Https://www.worldwildlife.org. Accessed May 29, 2018. https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation.
"Florida’s Sea Level Has Risen By Only 8 Inches Since 1950." Accessed May 29, 2018. https://sealevelrise.org/florida/.
Lefteris Karagiannopoulos. "Green Energy Share in Finnish Power to Hit High in 2018 but Drop Looms." Https://af.reuters.com/. March 28, 2018. Accessed May 29, 2018. https://af.reuters.com/article/energyOilNews/idAFL8N1RA3AZ.
"History of Wind Energy." Wind Energy Foundation. Accessed May 29, 2018. http://windenergyfoundation.org/about-wind-energy/history/.
"How We Use Water." Epa.gov. Accessed May 29, 2018. https://www.epa.gov/watersense/how-we-use-water.
Kortelainen, Aki, Jorma Joutsensaari, Liquing Hao, and Jani Leskinen. "Real-Time Chemical Composition Analysis of Particulate Emissions from Wood Chip Combustion." Energy &Fuels 29, no. 2 (January 15, 2015): 1143-150. Accessed May 29, 2018. doi.org/10.1021/ef5019548.
Lyytimaki, Jari. "ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION IN FINLAND." Https://finland.fi. July 2014. Accessed May 29, 2018. https://finland.fi/life-society/environmental-protection-in-finland/.
Morris, David Z. "Renewable Energy Surges to 18% of U.S. Power Mix." Fortune.com. February 18, 2018. Accessed May 29, 2018. http://fortune.com/2018/02/18/renewable-energy-us-power-mix/.
"New Record for Renewable Energy Production in Finland." Www.cleantechfinland.com/. March 14, 2017. http://www.cleantechfinland.com/-/new-record-for-renewable-energy-production-in-finland.
"Sea Level Rise." National Geographic. Accessed May 29, 2018. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/sea-level-rise/.
Siegel, R. P. "Windpower Pros and Cons." Triplepundit.com. June 27, 2012. Accessed May 29, 2018. https://www.triplepundit.com/special/energy-options-pros-and-cons/wind-power-pros-cons/.
Westcott, Ben. "Reluctant Signatory India Takes Moral High-ground on Paris Climate Deal." Cnn.com. June 2, 2017. Accessed May 29, 2018. https://www.cnn.com/2017/06/02/asia/india-paris-agreement-trump/index.html.