I just had a terrifying thought.
We’ve been assuming all along that global warming is due to CO2 emissions, since CO2 levels correlate with global temperatures. And it’s probably true that yes, CO2 in the atmosphere does create a greenhouse effect. But the assumption is that by fixing our methods of energy production, changing them to less carbon-intensive sources, we can halt global warming. I’m not entirely sure that’s the case.
The fact is, whether the energy you capture is from oil, the wind, the water, or the sun, energy production is really energy conversion – you’re taking chemical, electromagnetic, or mechanical energy and converting it into useful work. But no matter what purpose you turn it to, that energy always ends up as heat. It seems that energy use would always heat up the planet, regardless of how “green” the source is. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to limit CO2 emissions, since they are certainly responsible for some of the global warming crisis, and since producing and burning fossil fuels has other negative impacts as well. But if a green-energy revolution enabled us to cheaply provide clean power to everyone on Earth, I think we’d quickly realize that sustainable production does not imply sustainable consumption.
The good news is that even if this does happen, if we manage to avert a CO2 crisis first, global temperatures won’t continue rising out of control. They’ll simply be a bit higher until people decide to stop running their air conditioners.