The climate crisis is so troubling because we know the dimensions of the problem and we know the outlines of the solution--but we don't know how to get from one to the other past the obstacles that politics and greed have scattered on the path. Our most crucial job as a species is to figure out that route.
We should spend a minute considering the dangers we're facing, because the scale and the pace of the crisis determines the scale and the pace of the solutions. By this point, most people are aware that the danger is no longer theoretical or abstract--four-fifths of Americans live in counties that have had a federally declared disaster in recent years, almost all of them related to the windstorms, floods, droughts, and wildfires that a warming climate makes more common.
As we burn coal and oil and gas, the carbon that combustion emits steadily raises the global temperature: We're closing in on two degrees Fahrenheit, which doesn't sound like much. So say it another way: the heat equivalent each day of 400,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs.
That's why, say, California had the largest fire in its history in 2017 -- and why the record was broken again in the summer of 2018, with the most deadly and destructive wildfire following in November. It's why Hurricane Michael raked across the Florida Panhandle with winds thirty miles per hour faster than the region had ever seen before. It's why Hurricane Harvey brought more rain to Houston than any storm in American history, and why Hurricane Florence this year broke all the rainfall records for the East Coast--it literally dumped the equivalent of all the water in Chesapeake Bay on the Carolinas.
The answer to this nightmare is relatively clear: We need to stop burning coal and oil and gas, and replace them with other sources of power. Other steps would help, too: Factory farming, for instance, contributes its share of greenhouse gases. But fossil fuels are the motherlode.
A decade ago, it wasn't entirely clear what would replace it, but that mystery has been solved. The engineers have done their thing, dropping the cost of solar power nearly 90 percent over the last decade. Now sun and wind are the cheapest ways to generate power across most of the globe, even before you charge fossil fuels a price for the damage they're doing to the climate. (If you did that, the economics would be astonishingly clear even to the hardest-headed.)
Batteries are dropping in price on the same plummeting curve, so storing...