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William Dorsch

Cape Henlopen HS, 

Climate Change: A Deeper Look at Long Term Solutions 

The Earth’s climate is complicated. Composed of many interconnected jet streams, ocean currents, and air masses, any change to any one of these systems could snowball into a huge effect on the overall climate. In the last 200 years, weather observations and atmospheric samples have shown a steady increase in average global temperature correlated with an increase in carbon dioxide emissions, as well as other greenhouse gasses such as methane. Scientists predict that a continued rise in global temperatures will result in major problems such as sea level rise, more extreme weather, and other unwanted impacts. Debates have been ongoing for years about how to combat climate change. Do we mandate electric cars? Do we plant more trees? To have the best chance of saving our climate from further permanent damage, we need to stop focusing on the implementation of electric cars and carbon offset projects and instead focus on cutting carbon off at the source; those being power generating stations, the transportation sector, and industrial processes. 

Tesla is the largest manufacturer of electric vehicles in the world. Battery electric cars, like those that Tesla produces, operate on electricity stored in a lithium-ion battery instead of an internal combustion engine. Electric vehicles do not use any gasoline, so wouldn’t that result in greatly reduced carbon emissions? Electric vehicles can save anywhere from 30% to 70% of the carbon dioxide that a normal combustion engine would create. (Gimbert, 2022). These reduced emissions come at a rather large cost, though, primarily related to the production, usage, and disposal of the core lithium-ion batteries. Batteries are very energy intensive to produce, from the extraction of cobalt to the assembly in a factory. The world’s leader in the production of lithium-ion batteries, China, relies on very pollutive coal energy for 60% of their total power. In addition, 70% of all cobalt is produced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Multiple human rights groups have documented “…severe human rights issues in these mining operations .. Child labor, fatal accidents, and violent clashes between artisanal miners and security personnel of large mining firms are recurrent.” (Campbell, 2020). With an ever increasing demand for electric vehicles and their batteries, these issues will likely be exasperated by the need to produce more cobalt from these same mines. Alongside extremely questionable labor practices, cobalt mining results in large scale habitat destruction and water pollution due to the nature of strip mining. Electric cars sound like a good solution to climate change and carbon dioxide emissions, however they come with hidden costs that may offset any benefits that they have. 

Another common practice to combat climate change is companies investing in carbon offset projects. Companies will buy into these projects to take as much carbon dioxide out of the air as they produce in their day-to-day operations. However, this comes with numerous problems as well. Carbon offset has been around for decades and has been studied to see if it yields any results at all. Unfortunately for the companies that buy into these projects, studies suggest that only 12% of offsets being sold result in tangible emission reductions. This is clearly a major flaw in carbon offset programs. Some critics have even called certain carbon offset programs “scams” and ‘scandals” for how they falsely advertise their real effects on the environment. As if that wasn’t bad enough, these programs also cause major issues relating to human rights. “[Carbon offset] projects have also been linked to Indigenous people being forced from their land and other human rights abuses.” (Gabbatiss, 2023). According to data collected over decades, carbon offset does not work as purported. Companies need to be aware of this so they can stop investing in effectively useless programs. 

If electric vehicles are not the solution, nor carbon offset programs, then what should be done about carbon dioxide emissions causing a changing climate? To figure this out, one needs to focus on the primary producers of carbon dioxide: power generating stations. The energy sector alone is responsible for one quarter of all carbon dioxide emissions! In the United States, “…utility-scale electric power plants that burned coal, natural gas, and petroleum fuels were the source of about 60% of total annual U.S. utility-scale electricity net generation, but they accounted for 99% of U.S. CO2 emissions associated with utility-scale electric power generation.” (eia, 2022). There are numerous ways to significantly reduce this number, many of which are slowly being phased in. There are two major categories of power stations on the electrical grid; base load stations and variable load stations. Base load stations are the easiest type to convert from fossil fuels to green energy sources as they provide a constant amount of energy. The cleaner of the fossil fuels, natural gas, produces 450 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour of power generated, coal producing more than double that with 1,050 grams per kilowatt hour. Nuclear energy, and other renewable sources, can produce as little as 15 grams per kilowatt hour, a 97% decrease in carbon dioxide production! With a little research and recreational math, I calculated that replacing just 10% of the global coal power stations with renewable or green sources could save upwards of 5.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere (see calculations). One of the main reasons that nuclear energy, an extremely clean energy source, has not been more widely implemented is due to public fears of meltdowns and a resulting lack of funding for such power generation facilities. More people will die this year from fossil fuels than have ever died as a result of nuclear energy. Changing the general population’s opinion on nuclear energy would result in a huge step forward for creating a cleaner electrical grid. 

The next largest carbon dioxide producing sectors are transportation and industrial processes. For transportation, it has already been discussed why electric vehicles won’t be the best solution, so what will? It’s simple. Trains! Electric trains are widely used elsewhere in the world, but not so much in the United States. The Federal Railroad Administration has identified multiple city pair corridors suitable for new rail lines, and electric trains should be built here. Electric trains have many benefits. They use overhead wires instead of batteries, completely eliminating any complications that would be caused by batteries. They are much more efficient than other forms of transportation due to very low friction, and they can be powered by green energy sources. By replacing diesel-electric trains with fully electric ones, there would be a significant reduction in air and noise pollution in areas surrounding rail lines, as well as overall decreased emissions in the transportation sector (Energy5, 2023). 

Industries have been notorious polluters since they stopped using hydro power in the 1800s. A prime example of industrial pollution is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In the 19th and 20th century, Pittsburgh was described as a “valley of work” and was “hardly livable”. Residents painted grim pictures of the city. “In truth, Pittsburgh is a smoky, dismal city at her best. At her worst, nothing darker, dingier, or more dispiriting can be imagined.” (Goldstein, 2003). This resulted primarily from coal being used to power all of these industries. However, natural gas lines were built in the latter part of the 1900s, significantly reducing carbon emissions and cleaning up the entire city. “clean and inexpensive natural gas was flowing into the Pittsburgh area, as well as into other cities. And it provoked a rapid changeover … It is now a modern, beautiful city, among the most livable in the country” (Goldstein, 2003). Pittsburgh is a real example of how heavy industry can be changed to significantly reduce environmental impacts and carbon emissions. In addition, carbon capture technology has been in development for many years, and it is beginning to prove its worth. Carbon capture technology pulls carbon from the air or from the exhaust of industrial buildings and can slash emissions by almost 90%. In addition, some carbon filtering towers can “…clean enough for a small city.” (National Grid, 2022) 

Electric cars and carbon offset are not the way forward with battling climate change. To be effective, we need to reduce carbon emissions at their source. We can replace base load electrical stations with green energy, filter industrial exhaust to prevent carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere, and change the transportation sector to rely more on efficient modes of transportation such as trains instead of gas or electric cars. As youth, we need to help create a future where these goals are accomplished. We need to educate as many people as possible, young and old, to help spread the message of what truly needs to be done to save the only planet that we have. We need to protest for cleaner energy and fight against the shutdown of nuclear power plants. Our message needs to be heard. This essay is my contribution to the fight for a better future. 

Calculations of CO2 Reductions: 

Coal produces 44,000 TwH of energy
(Just Energy. “What’s the Role of Coal Consumption in Energy Production?” Just Energy, 17 Aug 2023 ts%20for%2037,in%20the%20steel%2Dmaking%20process) 

44,000 x 1,000,000,000 (TwH to KwH conversion) 44,000,000,000,000
44 trillion kilowatt hours
X 2.3 pounds of CO2 per kilowatt hour 

(“Frequently Asked Questions (Faqs) – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).” 

101.2 trillion pounds of CO2 Convert to tons (divide by 2,000) 50,600,000,000
50.6 billion tons of CO2
10% = 5.6 billion tons 


“Why Cobalt Mining in the DRC Needs Urgent Attention.” Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Foreign Relations, 2070%20percent%20of,%2Dscale%20mining%20(ASM) Accessed 29 Feb. 2024. 

Ier. “Environmental Impacts of Lithium-Ion Batteries.” IER, 11 May 2023, eries/#:~:text=The%20production%20of%20lithium%2Dion,vehicles%20populate%20the %20world%27s%20roads. 

“How Much CO2 Can Electric Cars Really Save?” Transport & Environment, 29 Mar. 2023, 

Josh Gabbatiss, Daisy Dunne. “In-Depth Q&A: Can ‘carbon Offsets’ Help to Tackle Climate Change?” C 

“Frequently Asked Questions (Faqs) – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).” Accessed 29 Feb. 2024. 

“The Benefits of Electrified Railways for Energy Savings.” Energy5, Accessed 29 Feb. 2024. 

Institute of Medicine (US) Roundtable on Environmental Health Sciences, et al. “The Changing Face of Pittsburgh: A Historical Perspective.” Ensuring Environmental Health in Postindustrial Cities: Workshop Summary., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Jan. 1970, 

“Carbon Capture Technology and How It Works.” National Grid Group, orks. Accessed 29 Feb. 2024. 

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