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The Cost of Morality and Mortality

by Francis P. Koster, Ed.D.

Think about how much you would be willing to pay for a lifejacket of your very own as you and your child board the fishing boat. How much? How much you would be willing to pay for one for yourself when the boat is sinking? For your child as the boat is sinking? I bet you got 3 different numbers. You recognized real value.

There are times when you are willing to pay almost anything to avoid catastrophe - but that is when it is staring you in the face, not when the danger seems remote.

Scientists believe that the upper safe limit of common greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere is 350 parts per million (ppm).i This would result in a 3.6 degree worldwide average temperature rise (hotter in some spots, cooler in others) over decades. Surprisingly, last fall we hit 400 ppm, and emissions continue to grow, not shrink.ii

There is breaking news. The ocean appears to be losing its ability to absorb greenhouse gasses, which means more gas floating into the upper atmosphere, increasing the rate of climate change.

iii In addition, polar ice is melting much more rapidly than predicted, releasing a lot of ancient greenhouse gas previously trapped under the ice, also adding to the rate of climate change.iv,v

We are headed into much more dangerous times sooner than had been predicted just a short time ago.

The updated prediction is that so much greenhouse gas is being produced that it will cause temperatures in parts of the earth to rise 10 degrees by 2050.vi,vii We are responsible for this state of affairs. This climate change is driven by the kind of energy we use.

One of the major impacts of making energy from coal, gas, or oil is that this produces greenhouse gas. Conservation and solar energy don’t.

Due to initial prices, people constructing large buildings often chose to build facilities that do not include conservation and solar, so the utility has to use greenhouse gas producing generators to supply the building.

After all, there is no apparent cost to the building owner if the utility dumps the greenhouse gasses into the sky.

I have written about the difference between "price" and "cost". Price is what you pay at the gas pump or electric meter. Cost is the total cost to society – it includes the polluted water and air, and the sick people harmed by the pollution. Cost also includes the greenhouse gasses created during the energy manufacturing process.

The scientists' latest announcements about climate change tell us that the bill for the total cost of energy is coming due - soon. Want to buy that life jacket? For your kid?

Fortunately, you can. From 2001 to 2012, the average retail price of electricity in the U.S. has increased 35 percent, while the average installed price of a large commercial scale solar electric system has dropped nearly 70 percent.

viii New legal and business models have emerged. The pricing and financing terms have gotten so competitive that companies like Wal-Mart, Costco, and Fed Ex have made major strategic decisions to get their energy from the sun. For example, Wal-Mart has set a goal of obtaining 100% of its electrical energy from the sun over the next 7 years, and is hard at work doing just that.ix

 

viii Personal email communication Susan DeVico, Solar Energy Industry Association, April 18 2013 

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