Workers install solar panels on a high-rise building in Wuhan, China.

Workers atop an apartment building in Wuhan, China, install solar panels, whose growing popularity could help to cut greenhouse-gas emissions. Credit: Kevin Frayer/Getty

Energy

Saving the climate without sacrifice

Modern trends such as car-sharing could help to limit warming.

Humanity can limit global warming and, at the same time, raise the quality of life around the world.

That’s the appealing outcome of a scenario proposed by Arnulf Grubler at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria, and his colleagues. The team used models to explore the potential of technological trends that reduce energy usage. The researchers assumed, for example, that the use of shared-car services will grow and that fossil fuels will give way to solar power and other forms of renewable energy. In such a scenario, their model suggests that despite increases in population, income and economic activity, global energy consumption would drop by about 40%. Air pollution and demand for biofuels would also drop, improving health and the food supply, respectively.

Contrary to many previous assessments, the team’s results suggest that humans can limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels without relying on drastic strategies to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere later this century.