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Researchers say eliminating carbon emissions by 2050 is both possible and affordable

Investing in alternative power sources in the U.S. could dramatically improve the environment

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A great deal of climate change-related news can be overwhelming or stress-inducing for consumers; however, a new study conducted by researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory highlights some positives in the fight against climate change. 

According to the team, eliminating carbon emissions -- and even having negative emissions levels -- is both a possible and affordable reality for the United States to achieve over the next three decades. 

“The decarbonization of the U.S. energy system is fundamentally an infrastructure transformation,” said researcher Margaret Torn. “It means that by 2050 we need to build many gigawatts of wind and solar power plants, new transmission lines, a fleet of electric cars and light trucks, millions of heat pumps to replace conventional furnaces and water heaters, and more energy-efficient buildings -- while continuing to research and innovate new technologies.” 

Changes that will make a lasting difference

Because of how quickly and drastically climate change is affecting the planet, the researchers’ goal was to determine the best possible route to eliminating carbon emissions. By getting to net-zero carbon emissions over the next 30 years, the researchers explained that experts could get a better handle on the rising global temperature

For this study, the team analyzed the industrial and energy-based systems currently in place in the U.S. and sought to determine what can be done to improve these efforts. They determined that ramping up efforts that are already in place that focus on renewable energy sources and electric cars will lead to lasting environmental changes across the country. The goal, they say, is to eliminate carbon- and oil-based heating and energy sources by changing the energy infrastructure to rely mainly on solar, wind, and bioenergy. 

However, this plan wouldn’t require consumers or corporations to switch everything right away. Simply replacing items at the end of their lifespans with eco-friendly options could make a huge difference. The study findings suggest that these efforts wouldn’t require a huge financial commitment either; while a great deal of land and labor would be necessary to build solar and wind farms, the researchers say the pros ultimately outweigh the cons. 

One thing working in this plan’s favor is that the costs of both renewable energy sources and electric car batteries have dropped significantly in recent years. The researchers say another benefit is that building new energy systems would also create many jobs across the country.

“All that infrastructure build equates to jobs, and potentially jobs in the U.S., as opposed to sending money overseas to buy oil from other countries,” said Torn. “There’s no question that there will need to be a well-thought-out economic transition strategy for fossil fuel-based industries and communities, but there’s also no question that there are a lot of jobs in building a low-carbon economy.” 

What are the next steps?

While this is certainly an enormous, ongoing project, the researchers explained that efforts to reduce carbon emissions need to be happening now. Regardless of what happens in the future, this next decade is crucial in taking those first steps towards using more renewable energy sources and getting more electric vehicles on the road. 

“This is a very important finding,” said researcher Jim Williams. “We don’t need to have this big battle now over questions like the near-term construction of nuclear power plants, because new nuclear is not required in the next ten years to be on a net-zero emissions path. Instead, we should make policy to drive the steps that we know are required now while accelerating R&D and further developing our options for the choices we must make starting in the 2030s.” 

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