My provocative title represents the increasing awareness that we don't need to believe in climate change to do the right thing when it comes to energy. Of course, climate change is a real threat to us and our environment. But there are many highly valid reasons to become more energy efficient, conserve energy through behavior change, and transition to renewables – entirely independent of climate change concerns.
I raise this point because there is an increasing backlash to the idea of climate change as a serious threat. Concern about climate change has been diminishing rapidly in the U.S. over the last few years, for a variety of reasons, including the poor economy (and the wrong perception that mitigating climate change will harm the economy), the “climate-gate” affair resulting from hacked emails from climate scientists, and a very aggressive campaign by corporate and conservative interests that just don’t want to believe that humans can impact global climate.
A Yale 2010 survey found that those who believe human activities are primarily responsible for climate change dropped from 57 percent in 2008 to 47 percent in 2010. And it’s probably dropped further since. US News & World Report mused about this trend in a recent article, asking rhetorically whether Americans care about climate change anymore.
Now for the good news. I believe that declining public belief in climate change as an important issue doesn’t matter because there are many very positive trends with respect to energy that are here today and will only increase in the future. These trends will mitigate climate change, but will also greatly enhance energy independence, reduce traditional air pollution, create millions of new jobs, and will actually save us all a lot of money through decreased electricity costs.
These very encouraging trends are: 1) an ongoing improvement in global energy intensity, leading to far fewer emissions per dollar of GDP in coming decades; 2) price-induced conservation; 3) a dramatic increase in global wind power over the last decade; 4) and, perhaps most importantly, the growth in global solar power may lead to an incredibly rapid transformation in how we produce energy.
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