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Maybe We Aren't Quite So Doomed On Climate Change

The challenges are many, but the argument that we're on the verge of a renewable revolution is strong.
<span>In this Monday June 20, 2011 photo, a sparrow stands on solar panel for a street light near a real estate project in Ba
In this Monday June 20, 2011 photo, a sparrow stands on solar panel for a street light near a real estate project in Baoding, in northern China's Hebei province.

There are many good reasons why most environmental news today sounds pretty dire.

But there are just as many reasons for environmentalists to be optimistic, Jonathan Chait argues in a cover story for New York magazine’s Sept. 7-20 issue, published online Monday. 

Chait does not downplay the significance of the challenges our planet faces as world leaders prepare to meet for a United Nations conference on climate change in Paris this December. As Chait notes, the planet just experienced its hottest month ever and sea levels are rising three times faster than previously estimated. 

American political leaders and climate-change denialism have also made it difficult for the US to make meaningful progress on the issue -- for instance, by passing the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan

There is other encouraging news to report, though, and Chait is feeling optimistic.

Even if all the Paris talks do is simply eliminate the risk of the all-too-thinkable worst-case scenario, it would constitute a monumental achievement in the history of human civilization, like the development of modern medicine,” Chait writes.

The price of solar power has fallen dramatically in recent years, from almost $10 per watt two decades ago to 50 cents per watt today -- some estimated the price wouldn't dip below 50 cents for another 15 years. Today, a new solar power plant is cheaper to build in sunny places than a coal or natural gas plant, and the same will soon be true in places that receive an average amount of sunlight.

Wind power, too, is getting cheaper; new energy-efficient technologies are being developed at a rapid pace; and new regulations mean that no new coal plants will ever be built in the US.

Impressive action on climate change is being made in some unexpected places as well.

In China, which leads the world in greenhouse gas emissions, coal consumption and production have declined as the country has invested in renewable energy, dramatically increasing its solar capacity and wind energy production in recent years. China’s action could arguably set a powerful example for other developing nations.

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