Climate change is happening; the earth is warming at unprecedented rates thanks to human consumption. This is not a novel discovery, but is it something that we should be concerned about?
In short, yes. Climate change is exacerbating problems ranging from environmental racism to public health, both now and in the future. And, ultimately, we reap many benefits from nature; it seems counterintuitive that we are simultaneously contributing to its destruction.
Greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change
Greenhouse gas emissions are driving climate change. According to the EPA, transportation contributes the largest chunk of greenhouse gases to our atmosphere, constituting 28% of the United States’ total emissions in 2018.
A greenhouse gas is a gas that absorbs and emits heat energy, mostly back towards the earth. Greenhouse gases are often villainized, but their presence in the atmosphere is the only thing protecting the earth from becoming a frozen wasteland. Like most things in life, however, they are beneficial only in moderation. In the wake of mass industrialization, humans have tilted the balance to dangerous highs.
As the thermal energy from the sun moves reaches the earth’s surface, some energy is absorbed, and some is reradiated back towards the sky. Greenhouse gasses then redirect this energy towards the earth again, creating a positive feedback loop.
As the permafrost melts, ice caps once again become part of the ocean, and sea levels rise, greenhouse gases caught in these ecosystems are reintroduced the atmosphere. This causes more melting, which causes more warming, which causes more melting. The positive feedback loop is the reason emissions, particularly transportation emissions, are a grave problem for the future of the earth.
Are alternative fuels the answer to our climate change woes?
For this reason, alternative fuels to gasoline and diesel like electricity, propane, and renewable natural gas are becoming more and more common across for both fleets and individuals throughout the country.
This isn’t to say alternative fuels do not come with their own problems, though. Fossil fuels underly nearly every alternative fuel, either because the fuel is directly derived from fossil fuels or because the production of the fuel utilizes fossil fuels for energy. The fossil fuel industry is undeniably contributing to environmental degradation both through extraction and emissions. As with any novel technology, alternative fuels can also be cost prohibitive to adapt, making the market for alt-fuel powered vehicles a playground for the wealthy.
Incremental change could lead to big results
All this being said, alternative fuels are the current option for a more immediate solution to ballooning emissions. We cannot continue on the path of consumption and destruction that we have deemed a mark of a well-functioning society. Evidence of our lack of stewardship are already pervasive, particularly in lower-income communities. These communities, often home to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, are often not afforded the same care when it comes to air and water pollution mitigation. Pollution sources often include power plants, manufacturing facilities, or waste management areas. Wealthier areas have the funds and political influence to block construction of these types of establishments, concentrating harmful pollution in underprivileged communities.
As the consequences of our thoughtless emissions augment, their negative impacts will begin to tarnish all communities. We underestimate the damage we cause because there are still relatively pristine areas for us to enjoy. This will not always be the case, though. We are destroying the environment that will be passed down to future generations, leaving them to inherit a world scarred by our careless actions for the sake of our own convenience.
There is an endless list of reasons to protect our environment, from the intrinsic value of the natural world to the continued presence of the resources on which we rely. Alternative fuels offer a substantial step towards reducing human-caused climate change and its repercussions. Granted, alt-fuels are arguably a problematic solution as they exist now, but with continued innovation, they could prove vital in buying our climate, and us, more time.