Therese Friis questions the common policies and current energy sources used to combat climate change while arguing for another way to look after our environment.

Global warming and changes in the environment are a threat that affects anyone who finds themselves inhabiting the Earth at present, or at any time in the future.

Despite this, there appears to be a saddening trend among conservatives to brush off climate change as simply a hoax or a gross overreaction. For this reason, many have come to consider climate action as being a solely left wing issue, and a problem that no one who finds themselves to the right of the centre of the political spectrum would ever concern themselves with. It is, however, arguably counter productive to try to classify such a large scale, complex issue as being a left vs. right wing issue. It is also important to consider the history of climate action, and the conservative figures at the forefront of the early movement. Most notably, Republican president Ronald Reagan signed the Montreal protocol which banned the use of chlorofluorocarbons, a major contributor to the depletion of the ozone layer. Similarly, in 1970, Richard Nixon founded the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

While the end goal of any form of climate action should be the same for all, regardless of political values or ideologies, the means by which this goal is reached has always been the subject of much debate. Currently, the most common method of regulating CO2 emissions is through carbon taxes and subsidies for using green energy. While this has only yielded some largely insignificant results, it is still seen as the best method of reducing global warming.

Despite the 2008 implementation of the Kyoto protocol, the subsequent Doha Amendment in 2012, and most recently the Paris Agreement, carbon emissions are still on the rise, and there seems to be no indications of an end to this trend. The approaches to reducing carbon emissions first outlined in the Kyoto protocol 20 years ago come at the prohibitive cost of $180 billion per year. And even if the protocols’ targets are met, they would deliver very little gain, only promising to postpone the effects of global warming in the current century by a mere 5 years. It is quite obvious from this data that more needs to be done to tackle the root cause of carbon emission; our dependency on carbon based fuels.

Although the introduction of carbon taxes has made things like heating your house seem more like a luxury than a given to some, it is still substantially cheaper for consumers to rely on non-green energy options, as all other currently available alternatives are out of reach for the price conscious consumer. Similarly, green energy sources such as solar panels and wind turbines are too expensive when compared to their energy output. For solar panels and electric cars to be a more attractive option to the average consumer, they must also be made available to them at competitive prices that can compete the currently available carbon fuelled options.

Currently, there are fewer than 25 kilometres between every electric car charging station in Ireland, which is great for the environmentally conscious upper middle class individual who can afford to pay in excess of €80,000 for a Tesla, but utterly useless to the average working family who cannot afford such a luxury car. Similarly, these people cannot afford to adorn their rooftops with expensive solar panels, which in the short run are unlikely to fulfil all of their energy needs.

If we are to adhere to the recommendations of the IPCC and reduce our use of fossil fuels to 0% by 2100, we must ask ourselves how this will be achieved. Carbon taxes and subsidies for green energy use, though they have done some good, will not help us achieving this goal. No amount of subsidies are going to eliminate our need for energy, of which 85% is currently met through the burning of fossil fuels. If we are to truly tackle global warming, we must find an inexpensive and high-energy-output alternative to fossil fuels. By investing less money into inefficient energy sources such as wind turbines and solar panels, and more into research and development of smarter alternatives such as nuclear energy and fuel cells, our chances of reaching a sustainable solution to climate change will increase dramatically. Nobody currently has the answer to what these solutions may be, and it is not possible to say when those answers will be found, but if we continue to neglect the importance of research and development in this area, the answer may live and die in the mind of a scientist who never got funded.

Climate change is a global issue, and one that cannot be solved unless we, as countries and as a species, work together to tackle this issue. Our climate is not an issue to be subjected to political polarisation, but rather an issue that should unite us all, regardless of ideologies. Many people consider climate action and conservatism to be incompatible, but others would argue that conserving our environment represents some of the core values of conservatism – it is, after all, in the name itself.

Posted by Therese Friis