A Sense of Urgency: It’s Too Late to do Nothing for Earth

The first atomic explosion, 1945I try to keep the tone mostly warm and friendly here but what drives me to write is very serious. We are facing… no, strike that. We are creating a planetary emergency. Let me state a few facts and then tie them all together.

The Earth has an energy imbalance due to added greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Just like adding a blanket on cold night, the gasses trap heat so less of the sun’s energy is able to radiate back into space. This imbalance is real and growing, but how many of us can actually visualize the energy involved?

Here is a visual you’ll never forget. Let’s use a unit of measurement that most of us can relate to – a really big one. Imagine the energy released by a WWII-style nuclear explosion: the blinding flash, the mushroom cloud, entire cities flattened. Because almost all of us are familiar with those horrific and devastating historic releases of energy, one atomic explosion will be our imaginary unit of measurement.

How many of these explosions do you think it would take to equal the amount of extra energy being added to the atmosphere each and every day? A few dozen perhaps? A couple of hundred? Not even close.

Fact number one: I want to make this clear. Here is your visual…

We are responsible for adding the energy equivalent of 400,000 atomic bombs per day to our precious, life-sustaining planet.

That is over four per second, around the clock, 365 days per year. Think about it. Are you feeling uncomfortable yet?

The total energy imbalance now is about six-tenths of a watt per square meter. That may not sound like much, but when added up over the whole world, it is enormous. It is about twenty times greater than the rate of energy used by all of humanity. It is equivalent to exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs per day, 365 days per year. That’s how much extra energy the Earth is gaining each day.”

– Dr. Jame Hansen, NASA climate scientist

Fact number two: If and when we finally come to grips with this and stop adding greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere, climate change will not begin to reverse itself. The process is underway and will be for at least the next thousand years. The longer we avoid taking meaningful action, the more severe and long-lasting the problem becomes. It is a myth that climate change is reversible, but we can do things to avoid making it worse. I believe it is a moral imperative.

Fact number three: Solar power systems have become so affordable that all new homes and other buildings should efficiently produce all the energy they need. Anything else should be illegal.

Fact number four: Some visionary and responsible builders around the country are already doing it. If small builders can create affordable net-zero energy homes and make a profit, there is no reason for our building codes to lag behind this trend or for anyone to purchase a new home that will have an electric bill larger than the cost of a mocha latte and a croissant. Smart builders are responding to this paradigm shift. Those that don’t will go the way of the dinosaurs.

New homes can be a huge positive impact on carbon emissions. We can cost-effectively create homes that generate much more energy than they consume!”

– R. Carter Scott, president of Transformations Inc., a zero-energy home builder

Fact number five: Most existing homes and buildings can be improved to nearly the same standard.

The sum of these facts is that we can effectively address a major problem by making our buildings more efficient and by powering them with renewable energy. We know what to do! Do not let the enormity of the problem overwhelm you. Let it motivate you. Get excited about the contribution you can make and then do your very best!

I recently read a quote attributed to an anonymous judge. His stern words of advice were directed at the teens he deals with but they might also apply to those among us who complain about the situation and just want it to go away:

The world does not owe you a living, you owe the world something. You owe it your time, energy and talent so that no one will be at war, in sickness and lonely again. In other words grow up, stop being a cry baby, get out of your dream world and develop a backbone not a wishbone. Start behaving like a responsible person. You are important and you are needed. It’s too late to sit around and wait for somebody to do something someday. Someday is now and that somebody is you!”

We can do this. After all, it’s just green living.

Ten Things You Can Do

Remember: No one can do everything, but everyone can do something! Awareness is the key. Once you have a vision of where you want to go, just keep making decisions that move you in that direction no matter how big or small they are. Here is a list of suggestions:

  1. Watch the videos below of James Hansen’s TED talk “Why I Must Speak Out About Climate Change” and “The Price of Carbon.”
  2. Feed your mind. Use the library. Read some books about climate change, alternative energy or the importance of the planetary balance that sustains us. You can also subscribe to GreenDream (use the form at the top right) or read Joe Romm’s excellent Climate Progress blog.
  3. Join some local organizations that are making a difference. Watch the Sustainability Calendar for upcoming events.
  4. Help make Nevada the first carbon-neutral state! While we’re at it, let’s demand a Price On Carbon.
  5. Make your home more energy efficient.
  6. Make changes at work where you can. Suggest ways your company can be more efficient. Create a green team.
  7. Install a renewable energy system (power your home, heat water, solar oven, daylighting – all forms of renewable energy in all price ranges).
  8. Walk, bike or ride public transportation and if you can’t, drive a more efficient car. Driving on sunshine is amazing!
  9. Make some lifestyle changes (work more at home, eat more vegan meals, consider limiting family size, do stay-cations).
  10. Do what works for you, and when you’ve done that, share your best ideas with others. We are in this together!

Dr. James Hansen

What is the Price of Carbon?


  1. Thanks, Steve! I’m always inspired by your columns – I should comment more often! While I live outside your area, I plan to share this article (as well as several others) with our local government – town / city / county / state representatives. You are so right – we all can do *something* (and it only happens by actually taking action!) We are seeing more solar and wind projects where I live, but it’s time to make it mandatory for all new structures. Then, instead of subsidizing big oil, we should be subsidizing communities toward sustainable, renewable energy independence (including existing structures.) Thank you for educating me on the earth’s energy imbalance – I had no idea about the scale of things – so shocking. May it shock all of us into massive action.

    • Steve Rypka says

      Suz, you have written the perfect comment! Thank you for the feedback. This is exactly the effect that I hope for. Feel free to share with as many as you like.