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Good News on the Climate Challenge

Paul Kando

Global energy-related CO2 emissions stayed flat for the second year in a row, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), at 32.1 billion metric (35.1 billion US) tons in 2015. Renewably generated electricity played a critical role: it accounted for about 90% of new electricity generation last year. At the same time the global economy grew by more than 3%, evidence that it is possible to separate economic health from fossil-fueled carbon emissions.

Coming on the heels of the COP21 Paris climate agreement, this is a welcome boost to the global struggle against climate change. The two largest emitters, China and the US, both reduced their energy-related CO2 emissions in 2015. In China, emissions declined by 1.5%, as coal use dropped for the second year in a row. Likewise, US emissions declined by 2%, due to a major switch away from coal in electric power generation. The decline achieved by the two major emitters was offset by increasing emissions in most developing economies.

How could we make a dent in the remaining 35.1 billion tons of CO2? Over the same two years, I was able to reduce my own carbon footprint by about 10 tons, thanks to a 5.2 kW solar array on my roof and getting off oil heat, using a heat pump. This also cut my heating bill in half. There are 2,239 housing units in the Damariscotta-Newcastle twin villages, 23,668 in Lincoln County, and 727,632 in Maine. If we all converted to heat pumps powered largely by solar electricity, we would cut our CO2 emissions by 22,390 tons for our Twin Villages, 236,680 tons for Lincoln County and 7,276,320 tons for the State of Maine.

OK, but how could we pay for this? We, Mainers, collectively spend about $2 billion per year on heating fuel, all of which leaves the state’s economy. Cutting that in half would save us $1 billion per year with which to enrich our economy – like creating thousands of solar jobs to replace those lost by the paper industry.

The moral of this mental exercise is not that we can single handedly save the planet, but that if we do our share, we create a workable model for others to follow, even as we create a much better and happier life for ourselves. Dirigo!

We can do this. I know, because I have seen similar things being done when my native Hungary rose from the ashes of Fascism and World War II, rebuilt by the sheer will and determination of my parents’ generation, It did not start with some grant (we were not a Marshall Fund country) or great fanfare. Someone somewhere – a true leader -- simply said “let’s do it” and began chipping mortar off some bricks from the rubble.

Maine is not in ruin, only in danger of the “infantile paralysis” of our naysayers, should we fail to act on our obvious opportunities. All we need to do is our best. What are we waiting for?