A time of great peril and great opportunity

A time of great peril and great opportunity


We live at a time when wisdom, hope, moral clarity and courage are badly needed. Last fall, two big scientific reports made four things very clear: (1) The climate is changing. (2) We are causing it. (3) People will suffer from it. (4) We must eliminate 50 percent of pollutants from fossil fuels by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050.

Such wisdom is not new. The basics of climate change were figured out by 19th century European scientists. By the time we put men into space, scientists understood the details better and anticipated worse impacts; and yet humanity literally pressed the gas pedal, accelerating our approach to a climate crisis. So far, we have not stopped accelerating. Wisdom has been available, but we have not acted wisely.

Today, some say it is too late or that we are too small to do anything about the problem. Powerful companies and people with insufficient imagination say that we cannot drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels, that doing so would ruin the economy. They say it is better to damage the planet. Clearly, many people are deficient in hope.

Our actions are guided by moral principles, by market signals, and by laws. We pay to avoid contaminating our neighbor’s drinking water with our sewage. Yet we pay nothing for discharging pollutants from cars and furnaces that cause asthma in children, warm the planet, and acidify oceans. We benefit today at the expense of people in other places and future times. Why? In 1819 it was hard to imagine a thriving economy without slave labor. Today we struggle to imagine a future without fossil fuels. We should tune our moral compass to new signals and take courage from our history of innovation. We spend $3 billion annually on fossil fuels in Rhode Island. What can you do to change that?

Ask National Grid or Green Energy Consumers Alliance how to purchase 100 percent green electricity for your home or business.

Make your home more comfortable year-round, reduce emissions, and (if burning oil) save money by installing a heat pump and using your furnace less.

Electric vehicles are quieter, more fun to drive, cheaper to operate and maintain, and increasingly affordable. Make your next car electric.
Offset the emissions you cannot eliminate (See terrapass.com , cotap.org , etc.)

Support politicians acting wisely. Sen. Whitehouse speaks eloquently of climate problems and solutions. Gov. Raimondo is trying to increase the amount of clean energy in the state 10-fold by the end of 2020, and she has ordered state agencies to lead by example. The Resilient Rhode Island Act of 2014 set a goal of reducing fossil fuel pollution by 45 percent by 2035. You can urge your local representative and senator to do more in the current R.I. legislative session:

Make the Resilient RI goals legally binding by passing the Global Warming Solutions Act (H5444/S0658).

Send a clear market signal that will promote innovation and wise investments, the Economic and Climate Resilience Act (H5869 /S0662).
Ramp up electric vehicle purchases by the state (H5631/S0558).

Today, “Hope” cannot merely be our state motto. It should be a verb with its sleeves rolled up, creating new companies and new jobs. The internet enabled previously inconceivable software companies like mine. The transition to clean energy will likewise create opportunities for businesses we can scarcely imagine today. Look at what is already growing in Rhode Island, companies like Deepwater Wind/Ørsted, eNow, and Power Docks.

When our grandchildren ask “What did you do to stop climate change?” I want to say

“Everything I could.” What will you say?

Kevin O’Neill is president of The Conference Exchange, previously worked as an engineering consultant and manufacturing executive, and is active in the Rhode Island chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby.

Tom Ward is on vacation.


I haven't laughed like that in a while, thank you Kevin.

Hear hear! Thank you Kevin! Great stuff, and it is a great question. Everyone should be doing their part to stop climate change!