At a special Covington work session on climate change Monday evening local scientist Dr. David Simons painted in very dire terms the future of the planet if there is not quick and decisive action taken to dramatically lower greenhouse gas emissions.
"We’re not playing with fire, we’re playing with a conflagration," Simons said of what he views as the lack of a concerted effort on the part of the United States to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels including oil, coal and natural gas.
Simons, who has been an amateur meteorologist for years in addition to his pioneering research on myofascial trigger points, is currently working on a book on climate change (Full disclosure, this reporter is co-authoring the book with Simons). The premise of the book was the topic of Monday’s meeting.
According to Simons, unaccounted for positive feedback cycles, especially the cycle of polar ice melting, have resulted in scientists and government officials drastically underestimating the pace of climate change.
Rather than progressing in a linear fashion, where increases can be predicted, Simons said the rates of sea level rise and polar ice melting are taking place exponentially — meaning that they can’t be predicted.
"I was flabbergasted when I figured it out last year," he said. "I couldn’t believe we were that far off."
"If all of the ice in Greenland melts (the ice there is currently melting at a very rapid pace), sea levels would rise by 30-feet" Simons said, "jeopardizing or putting underwater major population centers including New York City."
"These bad scenarios are gong to happen unquestionably," he said.
Simons said the effects of climate change are not widely known or understood by the general population. Rather than the planet growing uniformly warmer, climate change will result in some parts growing wetter and others growing dryer he said. Additionally the climate zones, which determine where plants and animals can grow and survive, are moving pole-ward.
"In just about 15 years, we can expect to have a climate like Florida," Simons said.
As a result of these exponential increases and positive feedback cycles, Simons said there is little to no chance that reducing the emission of greenhouse gases will stop global warming.
However, that does not mean that nothing should be done. By stopping the emission of GHGs, Simons said the planet can slow but not stop global warming, giving countries just enough time to adapt to climate change by doing things like genetically modifying crops to grow in dryer climes and putting in place large-scale water conservation efforts.
"We’ve got to stop [carbon dioxide] emissions. It’s not a question of economical," Simons said, adding "What is your and your children’s survival worth?"
Simons said a massive investment in solar energy was Georgia’s best bet for renewable clean energy. A plentiful amount of sunshine make the state and Newton County well suited for it he said.
He listed several solar technologies that are on the cutting edge of development and have the potential to be mass-produced including solar film panels, which are much cheaper to produce than solar panels, though they are not quite as energy efficient.
Simons had more than a few words of criticism for nuclear power, saying it was "barking up the wrong tree."
"Our power companies are focused on nuclear energy and can’t see this solar [power] is a win-win-win-win gain," Simons said.
Simons said residents and businesses gain from solar power because of the energy savings they will see in their electricity bills from not having to use so much energy from the grid and power companies save from not having to construct any more coal or nuclear power plants.
The environment gains because there is no carbon dioxide emission from solar power and no jeopardizing of natural resources from nuclear waste, according to Simons. Additionally, workers can benefit from solar energy because of the large number of jobs that will be created in solar panel manufacturing and installation.
The city of Covington through the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia is currently taking part in the building of two new nuclear power plants in the state. When they come online in 2018 the city will be entitled to 26 megawatts of power from the plants. The cost of those megawatts to the city is estimated to be $102.4 million.
Meeting attendee and Newton Climate Action Coalition member J.J. Hayden said he had done some rough calculations on those figures and estimated that for the same amount of money, Covington could get the same amount of power if it put solar panels on the houses of 10,000 homes in the city.
Covington City Manager Steve Horton, who attended the meeting, along with Mayor Kim Carter and several city council members, said the problem with solar power is there currently exists little financial help at the state and federal level for cities that want to invest in solar power or other alternative fuels.
Carter said the city has reached out to other utilities in the state including Snapping Shoals EMC and Georgia Power to find out what, if any alternatives there are to using fossil fuels to power the city’s electricity grid.
She said the city will also be meeting with its local delegation to the General Assembly in Atlanta before the next session begins in January. Carter said the possibilities for new forms of power generation will be included in the city’s talks.