Older generations have also created problems that need solving
Dear Mr Wallis,
Yes, the older generations have created useful technology but it comes at the expense of the very existence of future generations. Our technology was built on the energy supplied mainly by fossil fuels. This has led to a great increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases. It is this rise in greenhouse gases that threatens the very future of humanity.
Figure 1 shows the dramatic rise in greenhouse gases, particularly from 1900 onwards: note the sharp rise from 1950 onwards. The graph depicts the rise as carbon dioxide equivalents with carbon dioxide contributing 415 ppm while the remainder comes mainly from methane, nitrous oxide and chlorofluorocarbons.
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Figure 1. Adapted from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI), updated Spring of 2019 as put together by James A. Butler and Stephen A. Montzka.
Figure 2 demonstrates the rise in fossil fuel as an energy source. Currently coal forms about 30 per cent, crude oil 38 per cent and natural gas forms 28 per cent of fossil fuel consumption. This graph readily explains the rise in atmospheric greenhouse gases.
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Figure 2. Global consumption of fossil fuels in terms of terawatt hours of energy. Graph adapted from Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser in “Our World in Data”.
There has been a 12-fold increase in global fossil fuel consumption during the lifespan of current retirees, myself included. We cannot blame this on the young folk. Of course, the young people have benefitted in many ways from the technology that has been developed: better nutrition, better health, better education. But if the earth is heading to a catastrophe within the next few decades all these benefits are pointless.
Not only do we have a global increase in greenhouse gas production but we have destroyed much of the earth’s ability to sequester carbon dioxide by devastating forests and wetlands. Further, climate warming will cause a massive release of methane from the arctic tundra, exacerbating climate change. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Things are not looking good for the young people. Of course, for us retirees it does not matter since we all will be dead when the climate catastrophe comes.
Fortunately, there are solutions and this is what the young people are calling for. The solutions include the rapid elimination of fossil fuel use and turning to green energy sources. In principle this is simple since the production of electricity from solar and wind together with battery storage is already cheaper than obtaining electricity from fossil fuel burning plants. Of course, a rapid change to green energy sources can be very disruptive, especially if there is resistance by the fossil fuel companies. It will be far less disruptive if these companies begin to massively invest in green energy sources while moving away from fossil fuels.
A second solution that must be pursued is to increase the sequestration of carbon dioxide. This will be through allowing more forests to mature so more carbon is stored and using ecoforestry practices rather than the clear-cut forestry currently in place in B.C. In addition, we must restore wetlands and estuaries since these areas have the potential to sequester 20 times the carbon as do forests per unit area. Restoring the forests and wetlands will also counter the decrease in biodiversity we are currently experiencing.
We have been made aware for decades of this problem of rapidly increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases, yet we did nothing. I applaud the young people. I think Greta Thunberg is correct when she said: “You say you love your children above all else and yet you are stealing their future in front of their eyes.”
Bernhard H.J. Juurlink