Tackling climate change might seem daunting, but there’s actually a wide set of climate solutions. NOVA breaks down the three “speed bumps” that can slow and possibly stop us from reaching the worst outcomes of climate change.
Narrator: There’s a solution to climate change. Actually, there are a lot of them. Humanity has a problem on its hands: our climate is changing, and humans are the primary driver of that change. Even thinking about how to solve this problem can feel overwhelming. But there’s actually a wide setof climate change solutions.
One way to think about solving this crisis is to boil it down to trying to minimize suffering from climate change-related impacts. Now, some life on the planet is already grappling with the early consequences of climate change. And some populations are worse off than others. If we do nothing, the consequences are just going to get even worse.
But there are a few things we can do. Think of it as three kinds of speed bumps we can build to slow and possibly stop us from getting to a really bad outcome.
The first speed bump is prevention, which mayhave the biggest effect. This is where we stop putting greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and where technologies like wind, solar, and nuclear energy come in. Prevention would likely be the cheapest and most straightforward solution. Bring our emissions to zero, fast, and a lot of the worst consequences of a warming world would be avoided. The problem: it’s probably too late to prevent climate change entirely. People have already added a lot of carbon dioxide to our atmosphere—enough to warm the planet by more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, our planet hasn’t had this much CO2in the air for millions of years. We might need something more.
The second speed bump: “undo” the problem. If we can’t stop emitting greenhouse gases entirely, can we at least start taking them out of the atmosphere? Or keep the planet cool some other way? This is where negative emissions technologies come in—stuff that sucks CO2out of the air, including natural processes and machines. And even solar-geoengineering, which reflects some of the energy of the Sun away from Earth, thereby cooling the planet a bit to counteract the warming from greenhouse gases. The “undo” plan is somewhat controversial. It could be more expensive than prevention, demand a lot of energy resources itself, or have some severe unintended consequences.
The third line of defense: adaptation. This means developing ways to live on a warmer planet. A human being could probably live in a world that has way more carbon dioxide than today. The dinosaurs did it. But civilization would be hugely disrupted: our coastlines redrawn, our agricultural land moved. If we could somehow adapt to these changes, then theoretically, we could still prosper. This is where technologies like sea walls or drought-resistant crops come in. And it doesn’t actually have to mean admitting defeat. Implementing adaptation strategies today will make us more resilient to the vulnerabilities we already face. But adapting to a worst-case scenario may mean a gargantuan shift in the world order as we know it. And there’s a lot we can’t plan for. For example, we can’t predict all of the consequences of changing weather patterns or mass extinctions. That’s why the adaptation solution alone won’t fix the problem.
The higher the prevention speed bump, the lower the others can be. But the reality is we’re already seeing the effects of climate change, and so many argue we’ll need to develop all three of these solution sets in tandem. How much we invest in one over the other—well, that’s where the debate is at now.
Science tells us how the world is likely to change if we continue on our current path. But we also have the knowledge and tools to change that trajectory, if we choose to use them.
Follow us on social to watch our next episodes that dive into the solution sets on “preventing,” “undoing,” and “adapting” to climate change.
Narrated by: Caitlin Saks
Produced by: Ari Daniel
Research & Production: Ana Aceves, Sukee Bennett, Robin Kazmier, Christina Monnen, & Caitlin Saks
Science Advisor: Scott Denning
Footage: Storyblocks, Pixabay, Shutterstock,
Santiago de la Peña, Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center, The Ohio State University
Public Domain / NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
Animation: Mitch Butler & UNIT
© 2020 WGBH Educational Foundation