Over the past 2 ½ years, TerraTherm employees and visitors alike have commented on the car I park outside the office, a Tesla Model S all-electric sedan. “How do you like the car?” “Cool car!” and “How’s it do in the winter?” are commonly heard, and I love talking about it, and giving folks rides, since it truly is a wonderful car: fast, agile, great looking, quiet, safe and reliable. Its 200-mile range, combined with the ever-growing number of Tesla Superchargers nationwide, has enabled me to drive it as far as New York and New Jersey on occasion, and someday I may even take it cross-country. But the main reason I own it, which took a rather big investment on my part when I made that choice, is the zero emissions. With the 9.8 kW photovoltaic system I lease at my home, the power for the car comes from the sun – in fact we haven’t paid an electrical bill at our home in 3 ½ years; we consistently send power back to the grid. Driving an electric car powered on net by the sun is truly driving the car of the future, now.
Why is this important to me?
Climate change is an issue that will shape life on earth for generations to come. While the severity of the past winter in the Northeast U.S. may have cast doubts in some minds as to the reality of climate change, we must put our direct experience in proper context: the area of the eastern half of the U.S. comprises < 1% of the surface area of our planet. What we directly experience is therefore not a reliable guide as to what’s happening globally. For example, look at the severe drought striking the Western U.S. The scientific data are incontrovertible – Earth as a whole is warming. According to NASA and NOAA, the 10 warmest years on record globally have all happened since 1998, with 2014 on top as the warmest of all. As but one example closer to home, according to scientists at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, the Gulf of ME is warming faster than 99% of Earth’s water. Globally, ocean temperatures are rising 0.1°F/yr, while in the Gulf of ME, the temperature is climbing 0.5 degrees annually. Human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases are the major cause of these affects.
Of great concern is what’s occurring in the Arctic and Antarctic, which are warming faster than the rest of the planet. Summer sea ice and glaciers are shrinking, while permafrost is melting, releasing methane, one of the most powerful greenhouse gases, which had been trapped in frozen soil. The likelihood of positive feedback effects due to these releases in turn driving much faster warming than most models have predicted means that we cannot afford to be complacent – we must take personal and societal actions to limit our greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible! Otherwise society will be faced with enormous bills to adapt to rising sea levels, disruption to food and water supplies, and instability affecting more of the poor and vulnerable in many parts of the world. Not the kind of world we want to bequeath to our children and grandchildren.
TerraTherm is all about effectively and reliably cleaning up some of the worst environmental legacies of the past. We use energy to do it, but in a very localized, short-term and targeted way. I have co-authored several papers on life cycle assessments pointing to ways we can and are making our remediation services more efficient. Going beyond that, let’s reinvent energy – using renewable sources of energy that do not exacerbate climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that humanity must cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2050 to escape disastrous overheating. That means the world greenhouse gas emissions, which currently average 5.4 tons per person per year need to drop by 2.2 tons. U.S. residents, however, will need to cut our emissions massively from our current 23 tons per capita per year. To borrow a slogan from my youth, “We need to think globally but act locally”. Let’s each do what we can in our own lives to reduce our environmental footprint, and also work together to find ways to remove toxic contaminants from our environment, by concerted means where necessary, and by eliminating them in the first place wherever possible.
The following figures illustrate that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is dramatically higher now than at any point over the past 1,000 and 400,000 years:
Data Source for Temperature: NOAA.
Data Source for Temperature: Vostok ice core.