Years ago, I remember listening to a radio documentary that reconstructed the dramatic final moments in the control room of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Kiev, Ukraine on April 26, 1986. That re-enactment came to mind recently as I read two news stories: one about accelerating warming of our oceans, and the other about the incredible strides being made in renewable energy technology.
Chernobyl Nuclear reactor 4, which exploded in 1986. (Photo: Oktay Ortakciouglu via Getty Images)
According to the radio dramatization, the final seconds in the Chernobyl control room came down to a race between two opposing factors: one, an unstable nuclear reactor about to surge out of control and the other, the plant's control rods being lowered into the reactor in time to prevent a catastrophe.
As the reactor began its ominous surge, the operators suddenly realized what was happening and a switch was thrown to lower the control rods -- but the process would take several seconds. Would they descend in time to stave off disaster?
Alas, had that switch been thrown mere seconds earlier, Chernobyl might still be an unknown, ordinary place in Ukraine. Instead, we know it as the site of the world's most devastating nuclear accident ever.
(Photo: Plainview via Getty Images)
So what two stories brought this narrative to mind?
The first was the news that Earth's oceans are warming much faster than previously believed, and that that warming is accelerating. The conclusions were reached thanks to the Argo float system, a new network of temperature sensors deployed in oceans around the world. Whereas previous ocean temperature sensors were only capable of measuring surface water temperatures, Argo floats can measure ocean temperatures at depths of up to 2,000 meters. Ocean temperatures a critical indicator of global climate change as over 90 per cent of extra heat reaching Earth ends up in oceans.
The second was an optimistic overview of the revolution that's happening right now in renewable energy. Technologies are advancing quickly, costs are dropping much faster than expected and installations around the world are exceeding forecasts. Over 98 per cent of Costa Rica's electricity came from renewables in 2016. China has scrapped plans for 85 new coal fired power plants, and is investing over $350 billion into new wind, solar and hydro power.
One story about a climate on the verge of sliding out of control, the other about the technology that can prevent that from happening. A bit like the race between the nuclear reactor and the control rods.
(Photo: Ales_Utovko via Getty Images)
In a traditional Cherokee legend, an elderly brave tells his grandson about the battle that goes on within every person.
He explains that there are two wolves inside each of us, continuously in conflict. One is evil: it is anger, jealousy, resentment, greed, arrogance and lies. The other is good: it is serenity, contentment, love, generosity, humility and truth.
The grandson thinks for a minute, then asks, "Which one wins?"
The old man answers simply, "The one we feed."
(Photo: Bernhard Staelhi via Getty Images)
So... which will we feed?
The accelerated warming of our oceans is just the latest rumble of a changing climate. January was the third hottest on record; February and March were second hottest. In March, the ice cap over the Arctic Ocean reached its annual winter maximum size -- except that this year that maximum was the smallest on record, for the third year in a row. Ice around Antarctica reached its annual summer minimum last month, too -- the smallest on record, by far.
Yet globally, greenhouse gas emissions from our consumption of oil, coal and natural gas remain at or near record levels. Fossil fuels are a hard habit to break; they're the evil wolf.
At the same time, solar panels cost a fraction of what they did just a few years ago. Wind turbines are becoming cheaper and more efficient. Tidal and wave energy technologies are on the cusp of breakthroughs. Collectively, they're the good wolf.
So which will win -- the evil wolf that's ruining our climate, or the good wolf that can prevent that from happening? The choice is ours -- it will be whichever we feed.
Also on HuffPost:
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlights six main lines of evidence for climate change.First, we have tracked (see chart) the unprecedented recent increase in the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Without human interference, the carbon in fossil fuels would leak slowly into the atmosphere through volcanic activity over millions of years in the slow carbon cycle. By burning coal, oil, and natural gas, we accelerate the process, releasing vast amounts of carbon (carbon that took millions of years to accumulate) into the atmosphere every year.
We know from laboratory and atmospheric measurements that such greenhouse gases do indeed absorb heat when they are present in the atmosphere.
We have tracked significant increase in global temperatures of at least 0.85°C and a sea level rise of 20cm over the past century.
We have analyzed the effects of natural events such as sunspots and volcanic eruptions on the climate, and though these are essential to understand the pattern of temperature changes over the past 150 years, they cannot explain the overall warming trend.
We have observed significant changes in the Earth’s climate system including reduced snowfall in the Northern Hemisphere, retreat of sea ice in the Arctic, retreating glaciers on all continents, and shrinking of the area covered by permafrost and the increasing depth of its active layer. All of which are consistent with a warming global climate.
We continually track global weather and have seen significant shifts in weather patterns and an increase in extreme events all around the world. Patterns of precipitation (rainfall and snowfall) have changed, with parts of North and South America, Europe and northern and central Asia becoming wetter, while the Sahel region of central Africa, southern Africa, the Mediterranean and southern Asia have become drier. Intense rainfall has become more frequent, along with major flooding. We’re also seeing more heat waves. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) between 1880 and the beginning of 2014, the 19 warmest years on record have all occurred within the past 20 years; and 2015 is set to be the warmest year ever recorded.The map shows the percentage increases in very heavy precipitation (defined as the heaviest 1 percent of all events) from 1958 to 2007 for each region.
Follow Carl Duivenvoorden on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@CDuivenv