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Ecotech Institute President Chris Gorrie on climate change, the Pope, and jobs in renewable energy

Ecotech Institute President Chris Gorrie on climate change, the Pope, and jobs in renewable energy
Image: White House/CC-PD-Mark

The Pope has written a paper on climate change.

The Pope.

That, in itself, seems as significant as any of the other signs indicating a growing awareness of climate change as an issue we need to deal with now — a realization that it is not a problem we can ethically leave to future generations. After all, it will likely be too late for future generations to do anything about it. The growing awareness of the importance of climate stability is significant because it is beginning to replace the old conversation about climate change, the one where the conversation was really a debate about whether climate change was real, and then the debate about whether it is being caused by human activity. This last point is particularly nonsensical. The fact is, whether or not climate change is currently being caused in large part by human activity, its effects are real and we as human beings need to respond. Quickly.

So, why the delay? News reports of record glacier melts, rising sea levels, crop failures, mass extinctions, epic drought and wildfires are all linked to climate change to some degree. These reports can sometimes seem like portents of end times, and yet our level of urgency to course correct seems dulled by economic and political factors. The human race is like a tired driver flying past the last exit on an unfinished highway, ignoring all the warning signs and flashing lights.

Of course, one of the problems with human perception is that our short lifespans make it inherently difficult to sense the immediacy of climate change. One day it's warm, the next it's cold. A record-breaking storm is followed by an extended period of mild weather. Our frame of reference, when we factor in the year-to-year variability of the seasons, means that any one individual's anecdotal evidence of a shift in climate becomes as hazy as a Beijing sky. And, of course, for decades now we've had to listen to politicians and executives spout about our climate, turning what should have been legitimate scientific debate into a smokescreen of short-sighted self-interest.

Fortunately for us, though, the same economic forces that slow our response to climate change have also led to opportunities in the fields of renewable energy and sustainability. In the past decade new markets for solar and wind have shown steady growth, even at times when the economy as a whole has been in decline. As power from renewable sources reaches grid-parity with traditional fossil fuels an economic imperative will drive even faster growth in these industries and we will see a parallel growth in demand for the most important part of this new clean energy infrastructure: a highly-skilled workforce.

At Ecotech Institute we work every day to train students for these renewable energy careers. Our graduates have the unique opportunity to make a great living doing something they can believe in. Will any of this put a dent in our climate change dilemma? Maybe not in a day or in a week but, without a doubt, our family here at Ecotech Institute — students, faculty and staff — can proudly say we're making progress and working towards a solution. I think the Pope would be proud.

Chris Gorrie is Campus President at Ecotech Institute.

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