Science Alliance Update: The Importance of a Clean Energy Future


By: Dr. Ian Bolliger

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this message are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my employer.

I’m sitting here writing this during some light rains in the Bay Area, enjoying a brief respite from one of the driest California winters on record. A historic December snowfall preceded record low precipitation throughout the rest of the winter – a bizarre season that leaves us with less than 40 percent of our average snowpack, the third driest year on record, and the now-familiar fear of a lengthy and dangerous fire season. As members of the Outdoor State, you’ve all witnessed similar impacts of climate change firsthand in the areas you live and play. You’re here because you see that climate change has already arrived and because you recognize the urgency of the climate crisis. I’m here because my experience in the outdoors confirms what I find in my research – that the impacts of climate change across many sectors of society are substantial, unevenly distributed, and growing quickly.

We’re not alone in these observations, and such lived experiences of climate change are now supported by substantial advances in the science of attributing and forecasting climate impacts. As the global standard in climate change research, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), recently produced its report on “Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability.” In it, they synthesized over 34,000 scientific articles, providing, as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres blatantly put it, “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.” According to the report, roughly half of the world’s population lives in regions highly vulnerable to climate change. The climate-related hazards that have affected and will affect these areas, from increased flooding and drought to larger wildfires and stronger hurricanes, will not only make it harder to enjoy skiing, hiking, running and all the other pursuits that unite us as a community. They will also challenge communities’ food and water supplies, stunt local and global economies and make the places some of us call home entirely unlivable. It will also increase global inequality, as those with more resources are better able to minimize impacts through adaptation while lower-income communities suffer. If you thought you might be able to avoid the impacts of climate change, the evidence presented in the IPCC’s report should serve as a wake-up call. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that we have the tools to minimize this suffering. About three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions come from the energy sector, and we have the technology to make that energy production cleaner. I have no doubt this will happen. When accounting for the societal costs of climate change, the health benefits of reducing particulate emissions and the value of avoiding dependence on foreign energy reserves, the economic argument for the energy transition becomes clear. Add in precipitous cost declines in solar and wind power, as well as energy storage technologies, and it is not hard to picture a future in which the health and well-being of society is no longer dependent on the same dirty combustion that drives us toward catastrophic, widespread suffering.

The question is when this will happen and how much damage will we self-inflict in the meantime. That same IPCC report provides the first global assessment of the costs of overshooting the 1.5C goal set at COP21 in Paris. Even if we were to later cool the planet back down below this threshold, it shows that we face a significant risk of irreversible impacts across human and natural systems. As the report states, any further delay “will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all.” Translation – we must act now. 

While the technology for decarbonizing the energy system is here, effective climate legislation is critical to provide the funding and financial mechanisms needed to rapidly scale clean energy deployment. Individual actions to reduce one’s carbon footprint are laudable but will not be the primary key to unlocking the livable and sustainable future we need. Using our collective voice can bring about more systemic changes that will meaningfully contribute to prosperity both at home and abroad. 

Ian Bolliger
Climate Data Scientist, POW Science Alliance Member

How can you help?

Fortunately, you’re in the right place. As a member of Team POW, we’ll provide you with the resources to help make your voice heard.

  • Call Your Legislators: Phone calls are the most effective way to reach the offices of lawmakers and when we come together with the same message, our voices will be heard. Our Phone2Action campaign makes contacting your legislators easy. 
  • Use Your Vote: Midterm elections will be here before we know it. Now more than ever, we need representatives in office that are committed to climate solutions. Your vote counts, and it’s important to vote at both the local and federal levels. 
  • Have Conversations: As a member of Team POW, you’re already using the outdoors as a common ground to build community. Now it’s time to have these important conversations around climate action with people in your own communities who come from diverse political backgrounds. 
  • Take Individual Actions: Take actions within your own means that will help offset your own carbon footprint and dependencies on fossil fuels. This could mean anything from riding your bike more often as a form of transportation, taking the leap to go solar or anything in between. Our collective individual actions will help spur systematic change. 

Dr. Ian Bolliger

Author: Dr. Ian Bolliger

As a Vice President in the Aladdin Sustainability Lab at BlackRock in San Francisco, Ian builds models to understand financial risks from extreme events in a changing climate. His work blends earth system modeling, satellite imagery, economics, and data science to understand how changing extremes have impacted and will impact communities around the country and […]