Remember the song, “Greatest Love of All”? It starts with. “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.”
That song came to mind when I attended a community forum on global warming in Washington County some time ago. The main speakers were from Kentucky State University and The Berry Center. But what was so compelling was a group of sixth graders’ adamant presentations.
What is more powerful than to see children argue and reason with conviction?
First, they played a game to illustrate that when sunlight hits the surface of Earth, it can either be reflected or absorbed. They demonstrated how solar radiation is transformed into heat because it is absorbed — not reflected — by the increasing levels of carbon emissions, water vapor and other gasses.
Second, they focused on data analysis. They determined that the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases was a result of the increasing use of fossil fuels. They saw how coal was the worst. They reasoned that the continued use of fossil fuels, would produce only more heat-trapping greenhouse gasses.
Their analysis is reinforced by the just-released National Climate Assessment that climate change is already causing deaths and disease, environmental destruction, spread of disease and financial damage to this country. If you don’t understand the negative impacts of global warming on weather patterns, you live in denial.
The students, I was later informed, had studied according to the Next Generation Science Standards and that the “key is to teach students science concepts, learning reasoning and initiate claims.”
They felt their future was at stake and, worse, that the state they live in had not taken any action.
Science cannot dictate our actions, but scientific evidence must inform our actions. Kentucky and the U.S. need strong leadership to inform actions.
While the U.S. has been the biggest accumulated contributor to carbon emissions in the world, less than one third of the states have policies that target emissions and direct needed improvements in power sector and energy infrastructure.
Kentucky is the seventh-biggest carbon emitter in the U.S. and produce 29 metric ton (MT) CO2 per capita versus the U.S. average 15 MT CO2 per capita. The European Union produces 6 MT per capita; China 7 MT per capita.
The 10 states with lowest emissions are New York, California, Oregon, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Washington and Idaho. The average of this group is 10 metric ton CO2 per capita.
The cleaner states are also wealthier states, indicating that investing in clean energy doesn’t prevent a state from progressing — on the contrary.
The electric power sector and transportation are biggest emitters. Although the shift from coal to natural gas with lower carbon emissions have reduced U.S. total emissions by 11 percent since 2005, much more is needed. And every home ought to have one electric vehicle.
The U.S. power grid needs to become a national grid which will make the electricity market broader, more competitive and efficient. That would bring flexibility, resilience and reliability benefits which are all needed transitioning to renewables and to tackle the effects of global warming.
America will be great only if all states invest in clean-energy technology. And the power sector needs to reform and become competitive by diverting into generation and distribution as separate businesses.
Coal has come at a very high price in Kentucky and has not contributed to any economic progress. Let’s use the right resources and invest in clean energy so Kentucky can prosper.
Kentucky leaders need to consult with Washington County’s sixth graders for advice on energy policies. Inhale the future, exhale the past.
Kris O’Daniel of Springfield is a scientist who raises beef cattle and trains horses. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.