Climate advocates, UN researchers promote clean energy to fight climate change Local activists and researchers discuss solutions to climate change
Illinois climate groups, researchers and students are at the forefront of a clean energy movement.
They are pushing for low-carbon energy sources and energy efficiency to slow the effects of climate change – and they all approach the problem from different angles.
The electricity and transportation sectors accounted for 29% and 25% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, respectively. While rich countries collectively emit billions of metric tons of carbon dioxide into the world. air every year from the production and transit of energy, many environmental scientists predict that climate-related problems will only get worse.
Here’s a look at the nuclear energy debate underway in the state, the search for greener transportation, and how NU students are part of the picture.
Grassroots Green Nuclear Movement: A Roller Coaster Journey to Save Illinois Nuclear Power Plants
Although heavily dependent on coal-fired power plants, Illinois is one of the nation’s leaders in clean energy because of its many high-capacity, zero-emission nuclear power plants. The state gets more than half of its electricity from nuclear power and has the largest nuclear generation in the country, according to the Energy Information Administration and the Illinois Environmental Council.
In 2016, and again this year, Illinois nuclear power plants faced a potential shutdown for economic reasons – an inability to compete with cheap fossil fuels and heavily subsidized renewables.
Madi Czerwinski, founder and executive director of Campaign for a Green Nuclear Deal, said shutting down plants would lead to increased emissions.
Former UN Department of Mechanical Engineering Chairman Elmer Lewis, who has studied the physics of nuclear reactors, supports nuclear power as the “most prudent” way to tackle climate change. Lewis said a major flaw in renewable energy is its intermittent and unreliable nature.
Nuclear power is “extremely safe” from the risks associated with fossil fuels, such as air pollution-related illnesses that kill thousands of people each year, according to Lewis’s book “How Safe is Safe Enough?” “
Nuclear reactors around the world use multiple redundant safety measures and are designed to shut down automatically, cooling the reactor in the event of a problem. In addition, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission regularly reviews plants to ensure that they maintain all safety protocols and standards. As a result, experts say nuclear power is safe.
Nuclear has struggled in deregulated markets, according to Alan Medsker, technical solutions engineer at Unify, a resident of Illinois and a long-time advocate for nuclear energy. Part of the reason could be that natural gas is cheaper and the environmental benefits of nuclear have not been recognized as widely as other green energy sources, he said.
“Electricity markets don’t value what we as a society say we value,” Medsker said. “People who have solar, wind or gas power end up getting the same amount for their electricity, even though nuclear (and hydropower) is the only one that is both clean and reliable.
Without subsidies, owners of power plants such as Byron and Dresden have said they will invest elsewhere, shutting down the plants.
McCormick junior Bill Yen, co-chair of Engineers for a Sustainable World at Northwestern, said he sees nuclear power as a theoretical solution to moving away from fossil fuels and high emissions that contribute to change. climate. But he doesn’t know how much traction he will be able to gain in the long run.
Czerwinski worked with Medsker and local Illinois activists for over 13 months on the campaign to save Byron and Dresden.
After extensive work and lobbying, an energy bill containing subsidies for the plant was submitted to the Illinois legislature on September 12, the day Byron was scheduled to shut down.
Czerwinski said the process felt like a “roller coaster” between dark moments and sparks of confidence.
“Pretty soon after, I felt a little hungry in my stomach,” Czerwinski said. “It was a 13 month battle in a state where 90% of its clean energy comes from nuclear (and) half of its electricity production from nuclear… It should have been a slam dunk and it was so difficult . What hope do we have of building a new nuclear?
In search of greener transport
Transportation, the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, offers opportunities for greater sustainability and lower emissions.
Citizens’ Greener Evanston, a local non-profit organization founded in 2008, promotes green transportation. Specifically, CGE promotes the use of public transport and is working with Evanston to install an electric vehicle infrastructure, according to Lauren Marquez-Viso, vice president of the association. The organization is also considering electrifying the bus fleets of local school districts.
Earth and Planetary Sciences Professor Daniel Horton, head of the Northwestern Climate Change Research Group, which explores extreme weather events, the public health effects of climate change and climate solutions, recently conducted research on electric vehicles . He concluded that electric vehicles offer enormous benefits for the climate and human health.
“Climate change is not something that is going to happen in the future. It’s already there, ”said Horton. “If in the future we don’t change the amount of CO2 we release into the atmosphere, it will only get worse. Climate cuts across all aspects of life. Not just human life, but all of life.
Students seek to implement energy efficiency, sustainability
While affecting energy policy at the state or national level may seem beyond the reach of ordinary people, many NU students are finding ways to make a difference through research on energy efficiency and sustainability. .
Weinberg senior Grace Hauser, an undergraduate researcher at Horton’s CCRG, is studying the potential impact of replacing all incandescent bulbs in the United States with LED bulbs that are up to 90% more efficient. This change could significantly reduce emissions and, as a result, improve air quality and public health in communities near coal-fired power plants.
Hauser said she believes in reducing energy use through energy efficiency in tandem with the pursuit of clean energy.
“I see them as parallel goals, because in an ideal world we would be able to immediately shut down coal-fired power plants and replace them,” Hauser said. “I think the point is that clean energy has become politicized, as well as (like) nuclear power – it’s extremely difficult to build a new nuclear power plant.”
Yen is leading a team at ESW to create an auto-aquaponics system, a sustainable farming system that uses up to 90% less water than traditional farming. The system grows fish and plants without human labor, reducing emissions as it grows more food in less space and recycles nutrients.
All of the activists and educators interviewed agreed that reducing emissions is key to slowing and minimizing the damage from climate change.
“We’re going to have climate change and we have climate change,” Medsker said. “It’s up to us to see how badly it goes. It will get worse if we do not reduce emissions.
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