The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

Maine’s Warmer but Sunnier Future

Posted by | March 29, 2015

solar installation at Maine Audubon's Gilsland Farm

Photo: the new sun-tracking solar panels at Maine Audubon

 

The following was published in the Biddeford-Saco Journal Tribune Sunday edition, 3/29/2015.

Around the time I turned six years old, a funny thing happened. Starting in 1984, each successive month was warmer than its 20th century global average. That doesn’t mean December 1985 was warmer than November 1985. It means December 1985 was warmer, around the world, than the average temperature in December from 1900-1985. So was January 1986. And so was February 1986.

And June 1992. March 1997. August 2004. February 2015.

For the past thirty years (and counting), each month has been warmer than its average. We may remember, year to year, locally colder Januarys or cooler Julys, but around the world, our collective thermometers have not seen a dip for 360 straight months. The odds of this happening randomly are, well, Powerball-esque.

Of course, it’s not random. There are very clear, well-understood scientific explanations for this pattern, accepted by the vast majority of scientists who study the sciences of our planet every day of their professional lives. Our civilization’s burning of fossil fuels (oil and gasoline, coal, natural gas) emits carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere; the carbon dioxide acts like a blanket and traps more of the Sun’s energy as heat; the world inevitably gets warmer. It is physics, plain and simple. This CO2 feedback has been understood since 1895.

But some people, including at least one presidential candidate, are intent on spreading the idea that scientists aren’t sure why this global warming is happening, or even that it is happening at all. These people are lying. Whether on purpose or not, they are deliberately spreading lies. It is easy to look up the facts and cross-reference them with many reputable sources.

Fortunately for Earth’s seven billion humans, the “global warming is a hoax” folks are melting away as fast as the ice in Greenland. They may soon be taken as seriously as those that still believe in a flat Earth or humans riding on dinosaurs. So many people around the globe now accept the science and implications of global warming that we may finally be getting around to actually doing something about the problem.

There are some signs that say we are. In 2014, another funny thing happened. The International Energy Agency (IEA) discovered that global emissions of carbon dioxide from the energy sector stalled last year, marking the first time in 40 years in which there was a halt or reduction in emissions of the greenhouse gas that was NOT tied to an economic downturn. While global gross domestic product grew by 3% last year, CO2 emissions remained unchanged from the previous year. What’s up with that?

The preliminary IEA data suggest that the halt in emissions growth is due to China’s greater generation of electricity from hydropower, solar and wind, and less burning of coal, combined with America and Europe’s recent efforts to promote more sustainable growth, including greater energy efficiency and more renewable energy. Two proposed solutions to global warming experts have been begging us to adopt for years – conservation and conversion to renewable sources of energy – seem to be working.

Here in Maine, the energy solution revolution is evident, once we start looking up. It seems like solar installations are popping up all over the state. Homeowners, businesses, hotels, government offices, even my grandmother’s assisted living facility are putting up panels to harvest the sun. Mt. Abrams, a ski area up in Greenwood, switched on a huge array of 803 solar panels this past November. And “there are jobs in them thar panels” too: in just ten years, Maine’s leading solar installer, Revision Energy, has gone from two guys in a garage to more than 70 employees.

I was recently privileged to see firsthand Maine’s energy progress. I attended the ribbon cuttings on two large solar panel installations at Maine Audubon in Falmouth and my own Wells Reserve at Laudholm. Maine Audubon’s system, leased from the responsible corporate citizens at Moody’s Collision Center, features incredible automated panels that track the path of the sun through the sky during the day, generating 74,000 kilowatt-hours of free energy each year. The Wells Reserve’s roof- and ground-mounted arrays get a similar output and will make our nonprofit the first in Maine to get all of its electricity from renewable sources. Both organizations’ new solar systems combine to keep almost one hundred tons of carbon dioxide out of the air annually.

Granted, one hundred tons of CO2 are a drop in the bucket in the ocean of the sky. But when that kind of thing starts happening all over the world, it adds up, and even the IEA’s datacrunchers take notice. For the first time in a long time, I feel a stirring of hope. Perhaps I won’t ever see a cooler-than-average month in my lifetime, but my children just might. Spring, the season of renewal and renewable, is here.

 

Nik Charov is president of Laudholm Trust, the nonprofit partner of the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve in Wells, Maine. His Sunday column, “Between Two Worlds,” ventures forth from somewhere in between art and science, past and future, DC and AC. More at wellsreserve.org/twoworlds.

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