The current debate over the environment often reaches a fever pitch, which often can cloud the reality of what’s really going on. In partnership with NRG, we scrutinized five persistent myths concerning the environment, looking for truth behind the rumors.
Myth 1: For a lot of environmental problems, it’s already too late.
Truth: The reality is that cooperation and innovation can lead to unexpected consequences, and in recent years we’ve seen positive changes that decades before might have been unimaginable.
It wasn’t too long ago that the widening hole in the ozone, over Antarctica, was the latest sign that the apocalypse was upon us. Now, thanks to significant international cooperation dating back years, it’s healing. In 2014, the United Nations’ Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion, which summarizes the assessment of 300 scientists, found that the Earth’s protective ozone layer is on track to recover by 2050.
A look at how the hole in the ozone is shrinking, year-over-year.
The recovery is in large part due to international cooperation to reduce and eliminate the use of ozone-depleting chemicals, which came out of the Montreal Protocol, a deal struck in 1987, less than 10 years after scientists discovered the ozone hole.
And that isn’t the only agreement of its kind, struck outside the glare of the media, with the potential for wide-ranging effects. China’s greenhouse emissions, which have been a major contributor to global warming, are now estimated to taper around 2025, according to a recent report released by the London School of Economics. This is seen as a direct result of the historic U.S.-China climate deal made in November 2014, and crucial to potentially preventing some of the most dangerous impacts of climate change.
The reality is that Earth does have the ability to heal, if we work together to give it the time to do so.
Myth 2: There are only a few good renewable energy options.
Truth: There are many pathways to a sustainable future, and we have the capacity to try them all.
A device that converts the motion of surface waves into electricity.
When most of us think of sustainable energy, what immediately comes to mind is wind and solar power, and electric cars. But there are many forms of sustainable energy, including some truly amazing innovations that most people have never heard about. For example, torrefied wood pellets have the potential to be a direct replacement for coal; electricity generators placed on the surface of the ocean can harness the energy of ocean waves; the Optical Cavity Furnace (OCF), developed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, dramatically increases solar cell efficiency; and, physicists at the University of Arizona have found new ways to harvest energy by converting waste into electricity using self-contained thermoelectric devices that are easy to manufacture and maintain. These are just a few of many promising energy innovations out there.
There are numerous options for renewable energy, and more being discovered every day with continued research and development.
Myth 3: Transitioning to a low-carbon economy will be economically painful.
Truth: Renewable energy is a major growth opportunity, for all.
Parts for a wind turbine are shipped via rail.
Some renewable energy naysayers will tell you that “green jobs” kill jobs and will kill the economy. Nothing could be farther from the truth. A 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed that 3.4 million green jobs were created in the United States by the end of 2011. According to Adam Jones, Special Assistant for Energy Policy at American Progress, renewable energy creates three times more jobs than fossil fuels do; median wages are higher in green energy careers than in the broader economy; the clean energy sector is growing at nearly double the growth rate of the overall economy; and investing $150 billion in clean energy could create an estimated 1.7 million new jobs. What’s more, studies by the New York Independent System Operator and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory suggest that increased renewable energy generation has the potential to save American taxpayers tens of billions of dollars per year on energy cost. The growing body of evidence is convincing, to say the least.
Between creating jobs, increasing energy efficiency and saving taxpayer money, the future of a green economy looks flush with a different kind of green.
Myth 4: We'd have to abandon every “dirty energy” source right now to make a dent.
Truth: Actually, new technologies offer short-term solutions that are a powerful part of the equation.
There is an ancient saying, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” and carbon capture is a great example. Carbon capture and storage is the process of taking large amounts of carbon dioxide from sources such as fossil fuel power plants and storing them someplace, usually underground, in order to prevent those emissions from entering the atmosphere. And carbon capture is one of many such technologies that could have a powerful short-term impact.
A visualization of a single day's carbon dioxide emissions.
In addition, research into advanced fuels, advanced vehicle design, building efficiency, grid modernization, renewable power and energy storage holds tremendous potential. Many of these projects were part of a push by ARPA-E, the government’s advanced research arm, in 2012, to kickstart 66 such cutting-edge projects with $130 million in funding. While it’s true that the rate of the world’s CO2 levels is still increasing, all of these efforts (and others) are helping to slow down that increase.
As long we continue taking steps forward, we will continue yielding positive environmental results as longer-term solutions build.
Myth 5: Scientists think we're all totally screwed.
Truth: Many scientists agree that we're headed in a perilous direction, but many also believe that direct action now can have outsized effects down the line.
A solar array at Nellis Air Force Base. Each panel pivots to track the sun.
There are reasons to be optimistic. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and many other studies, find that the cost of taking action against climate change is actually quite cheap (it’s the cost of doing nothing that’s expensive). And right now people are taking action. Wind and solar power are becoming both more popular and more affordable. Electric car sales continued to rise in 2014 to 118,500, a 27 percent gain over 2013 sales, according to Green Car Reports. And for the first time in history, the International Energy Agency, this year, stated that if the United States and other major powers push a little harder to develop clean energy sources and phase out fossil fuels, energy-related greenhouse gas emissions could peak by 2020 — a decade earlier than previously expected. There’s still a long road ahead, but the gears are turning.
Even Al Gore, whose film “An Inconvenient Truth” helped to spread the word about global warming, is feeling more optimistic these days. As he told the New York Times in March, “We’re going to win this. The only question is how long it takes.”
NRG is dedicated to delivering cleaner, renewable and more sustainable energy sources every single day, so people can make smarter choices when it comes to their energy supply. Join NRG in the #SmartEnergyRevolution.