Editorial: We have the power

With the president and the EPA announcing limits on carbon emissions from power plants, the future of our planet got a little brighter last week.
Global climate change casts a dark shadow, threatening sea level rise that could reshape coasts and wipe out islands, droughts that could last decades, more frequent wildfires and more intense heat waves and tropical storm systems are some of the effects of global warming, according to NASA.
Where will people who live in drought-stricken or flooded regions go? Somewhere else. Probably somewhere where there are already people. Conflicts over territory and other resources seem inevitable under such conditions. Much of the world is already politically and socially unstable, and if wars over religion seem barbaric, warfare over the basic necessities of life could be made more extreme by the higher stakes. Perhaps the effects could be even more grim than that.
It’s a problem every country has to help solve, and the U.S. must take a leading role. The president has signaled we’re willing to step up.
The so-called Clean Power Plan does a lot, but notably calls for a 32% reduction in carbon emissions from power plants from 2005 levels by 2030.
We should take pride in this effort as Americans, and we should take pride in Connecticut’s efforts, too. The state has set out in the Global Warming Solutions Act to reduce carbon emissions 10% from 1990 levels by 2020 and 75% to 85% from 2001 levels by 2050. A 2014 report by the state showed the state was about halfway to that 2020 goal.
We need to look at what we as Wiltonians can do.
The town has already moved forward with the expansion of natural gas lines, and while this is an improvement — particularly from a financial point of view — natural gas is still a limited resource. Wilton Go Green has launched a no-idling initiative to prevent cars from idling more than three minutes. And the Wilton Energy Challenge encourages residents to reduce energy consumption at home.
But we can always do more. Solar is a means of more aggressively reducing our carbon footprint. We have already put it on our high school roof. We should encourage more people in town to put panels on their rooftops as well.
Since 2010, the cost of solar electric systems has dropped by half, according to the White House.
Homeowners can reap the most benefit by paying for the whole system up front, then paying little or nothing for juice from the grid. The systems can cost $40,000 on average, but there are significant tax incentives that greatly reduce that price.
Plus, there are practical benefits. The sun doesn’t go out when a hurricane takes down power lines. Paired with a whole house battery like the one Tesla has developed, solar can keep your house running at night, too, without the need to tap into the grid. Another benefit is resale value — who wouldn’t want to buy a that comes with no electricity bill?
But for those without such deep pockets, solar panel systems can also be installed by companies that cover the upfront cost in exchange for using your rooftop and then giving you some of the benefit through lower electricity rates.
Not everyone gets enough sunlight or has the right roof or property to get much out of solar panels, but every electricity customer can choose to support the CT Clean Energy Options program. By paying a surcharge on your electric bill — yes, a higher rate! voluntarily — the utility will make sure the amount of energy you use is pumped into the grid from a renewable source.
We can also look to Lancaster, Calif., where solar power systems have been mandated on new single-family homes. Perhaps there is room in our building regulations for this — especially commercial property with big, flat rooftops, that soak up lots of sunlight.
There are other ways we can go green as a society, some big, some small. Some will work. Some won’t. Most of them will require an open mind.
Electric cars are becoming more popular and cheaper. Of course, they are only as green as their energy source, which could be a coal-fired power plant.
Lab-grown meats could virtually eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, while also eliminating the need to raise animals just to kill them, and reduce food safety threats like contamination that occurs in those conditions. An even easier and healthier solution would be going vegan, but The Bulletin can’t in good conscience endorse a burger-less lifestyle.
An intriguing idea by a company called Solar Roadways is to replace asphalt roads with solar panels covered in textured glass. The company’s numbers suggest it could generate three times the electricity the U.S. uses. It’s in the longshot category, but if it worked we could create jobs and rebuild our crumbling infrastructure while at the same time working to curb global warming.
Sometimes the most improbable ideas bear fruit. Thirty years ago who would have thought we’d have hand-held computers known as smartphones.
We should look at global warming as the serious threat that it is, but we can also take pride in the progress we’ve made so far and be open-minded about how to make further gains.