Students have undoubtedly noticed the bizarrely hot weather this past week. The high on Thursday topped 100 degrees at RDU airport, the first three-digit temperature seen there since July of 2017. While the ever-present disclaimer that climate and weather are distinct entities still applies, the heat wave we've seen this fall is consistent with predictions by climate scientists that heat waves will become more common in the future.
Earth would continue to warm even if we stopped emitting CO2 today — what's known as our "locked-in" warming. But to keep the temperature increase from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a benchmark set by the Paris climate accord, we will need to dramatically reduce our emissions soon and eventually likely work out efficient carbon capture technology. This action plan is one of those considered by the UN body which studies climate change.
Fortunately, Gov. Roy Cooper recently released a plan to transition the state's economy to a carbon-neutral one. Developed as a result of an executive order signed last year, the plan aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from electricity by 70% by 2030 and to make it carbon neutral by 2050.
Another plan from the Department of Transportation calls for a dramatic increase in electric vehicles by 2030 to reduce the emissions from the transportation sector. Electricity and transportation account for 35% and 32.5% of the state’s total emissions, respectively, so this proposal is a substantial part of decarbonizing the state’s economy.
However, the plan is far from an end-all be-all, since it does not address the remaining state emissions, for instance from agriculture, and it does not halt construction of the natural gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Activists say this pipeline will promote fracking and potentially leak methane, a greenhouse gas much more potent than CO2.
All in all, though, this plan presents a fairly strong push by the state government to fight emissions, especially compared to the climate denial of the current president and the inaction of ex-energy executive and former governor Pat McCrory’s administration.
If the state succeeds in dropping its emissions, it could help NC State pursue its own climate goals. At the beginning of the year, Technician reported that NC State has fallen short of its emissions plans, set first in the 2010 Climate Action Plan, despite early signs of success. However, the article notes that “53% was from purchased electricity,” meaning that Cooper’s plan would eventually eliminate most of our emissions.
Ideally, NC State won’t stop there and will use the state’s climate plan as a springboard to further tackle their non-electrical emissions. Our researchers can partner with Duke Energy to determine how to best transition our energy supply from fossil fuels while maintaining consistent supply. We can also investigate the emissions from our own agricultural sources, like the famous Howling Cow Dairy Farm and other endeavors.
Students can take part by minimizing their own energy usage, as well as pushing the administration to adopt institutional-level policies and technologies which may have a larger impact. They can also vote in the Raleigh elections on Oct. 8 to ensure the city government is also driven to reduce emissions. With enough force, we can move our economy to a greener future and preserve our way of life.