How can societies reduce emissions now? What are some longer-term strategies to help us cut emissions even as our world becomes more developed and our population increases?
Retrofitting Buildings for Efficiency
Increasing the heating and cooling efficiency of buildings helps save energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions. New York’s Empire State Building was recently retrofitted for energy efficiency, reducing the building’s expected energy use by 38%.
Policies can help individuals and communities reduce their carbon footprints by making low-emission development and modes of transportation more convenient. For example, enhanced public transportation, bike paths, and walkability can promote smart growth while reducing urban sprawl and traffic congestion.
Maximizing Distribution of Renewable Energy
Although renewable energy sources generally provide power with vastly reduced greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil-fuel based energy sources, many renewable energy sources, such as solar energy, are intermittent. “Smart” grids can help solve this problem by rerouting power from other sources when clouds roll in.
Researching New Fuels
New fuels could provide needed energy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. For example, scientists are studying how to generate biofuel from non-edible plant material such as switchgrass and algae. It is important to study both the benefits and the potential unintended consequences of these innovations.
Implementing Small-Scale Innovations
Small-scale innovations can make a big difference. For example, compact biogas plants produce usable energy from materials such as manure or garbage, offering an affordable, sustainable, and reliable renewable fuel source that can be implemented locally.
Streamlining Industrial Processes
Industries are finding ways to optimize their use of energy. For example, the heat generated by steel furnaces was once simply wasted. Now this “waste” heat is being recycled and put to use in other manufacturing processes, thus reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.
Even if greenhouse gas emissions were to stop tomorrow, the gases already in the atmosphere would continue to contribute to climate change. We can prepare for inevitable changes by adapting proactively—taking steps now to prepare for and reduce future climate change impacts.
Holding Back the Water
Flood gates, seawalls, and other structures play an important role in protecting people and property. Many flood protection systems will need to be retrofitted to prepare for predicted sea level rise and changing development patterns.
Planning for Heat Emergencies
Heat wave early warning systems and cooling centers can help reduce illnesses and deaths associated with heat waves. Philadelphia was the first U.S. city to implement an early warning program for heat waves. Several cities offer cooling centers.
Changing Agricultural Practices
Scientists and farmers are developing growing methods that are better suited to anticipated changes in temperature, weather, and water availability. For example, rice farmers are increasing yields using a planting system called rice intensification that aims to produce healthy, deep-rooted plants that can better resist drought, water-logging, and wind damage.
Helping Habitats Resist and Recover
Scientists are working to strengthen the resiliency of vulnerable habitats, which are often challenged by multiple stressors such as climate change, pollution, unsustainable fishing or hunting, or damaging patterns of land and water use.
Removing Salt from Seawater
Securing stable sources of freshwater is increasingly important as the availability of freshwater in some regions becomes limited. Desalinization plants, which remove salt from seawater, are being constructed to supplement freshwater supplies. Although these plants are energy-intensive, researchers are working to reduce the amount of energy needed or use renewable energy sources for desalinization.
Relocating Vulnerable Communities
Coastal erosion, increased storms, sea ice retreat, and permafrost melt are putting some coastal communities at risk. In some cases, for example in Alaska, communities are being relocated.
The materials in the Koshland Science Museum’s Earth Lab exhibit are based on reports of the National Research Council and works of the U.S. government and have been vetted for scientific accuracy by a panel of expert advisors.