In this article, we will examine some of the possible solutions to the problem of human-induced global warming. Many climate change deniers suggest that life in a “low carbon” world will stifle economic development, and is impossible in a modern society. To them, modern society can not function with out fossil fuels. Other’s, who are more open minded and considerably more enlightened, can envision a future where fossil fuels do not dominate the energy sector, and where clean, renewable energy sources provide both clean energy and jobs. Some, like former president Bill Clinton, suggest that it could be a source for enormous economic development. So, what are some of the strategies that we can enlist? Coal produces more CO2 per unit energy than any other fuel.
We can reconsider the $120 billion per year in tax credits for oil and coal development, which transfer operating costs to taxpayers and hide the real price of these fuels. We can plan cities and transportation systems to provide better alternatives to private automobiles, which are the main way individuals contribute to our climate impacts. We can account for the hidden costs (such as health costs, biodiversity and recreation costs, military expenditures to protect oil fields); and, when these costs are no longer hidden, it will be clear that fossil fuels are not cheaper than alternatives. We can invest in new technologies—the price of solar power has plummeted in recent years, making the cost of new solar, wind, and coal power equivalent. We can also implement an emissions trading system that uses market forces to encourage carbon reduction and use of new technologies. Many of the largest business conglomerates in America have joined environmental groups to call for strong national legislation to achieve significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. Those companies would prefer a single national standard rather than a jumble of conflicting local and state rules, which cost them time, money, and sometimes contracts with potential trading partners.
International climate accords continue to be stymied by the largest economies; however, the largest European economies overshot their Kyoto targets by 2012, at the same time as their economies have grown. International recognition of the costs of climate change seems to be growing. What progress we will make remains unclear. In 2015 the world’s nations met in Paris, France to sign the Paris Climate Agreement. This agreement calls on nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to keep global temperature increases BELOW 2 degrees Celsius. This agreement, based on the previous agreements in Rio, was ratified in October 2016. The US is a signatory. However, the Election of Trump has called into question the likelihood of the US living up to it’s obligations under this agreement. The prospects for limiting temperature increases to under 2 C now look, in a word, bleak. Solutions to climate change are many, but it takes political will to change. Pacala and Socolow’s paper described 14 “wedges”. Each wedge represents 1 GT (1 billion tons) of carbon emissions avoided in 2058, compared to a “business as usual” scenario. Accomplishing just half of these wedges could level off our emissions. Accomplishing all of them could return to levels well below those envisioned in the Kyoto Protocol. A “stabilization triangle” shows the difference between our current path of rising CO2 and alternative strategies to lower emissions.
The “business as usual” scenario follows the current pattern of constantly increasing CO2 output. This trajectory heads toward at tripling of CO2 by 2100, with temperature increases of around 5°C (9°F) (see fig. 9.2). A “stabilization scenario” would prevent further increases in CO2 emissions, but atmospheric CO2 in the atmosphere would still double by 2100 because of processes already in place. Temperatures increase by about 2–3°C. A third trajectory would produce declining CO2 emissions. To achieve stabilization, we need to reduce our annual carbon emissions by about 7 billion tons (or 7 gigatons, GT) per year within 50 years. None of the 14 wedge options is going to please everybody, and some will be more popular than others, but the potential benefits of the entire portfolio are large enough that not every option must be used. A wedge approach could use multiple strategies to reduce or stabilize carbon emissions rapidly and relatively cheaply.
In the United States, nearly 1,000 cities and 39 states have announced their own plans to combat global warming. And over 450 college campuses have pledged to reduce greenhouse emissions. Part of the motivation for these steps is that alternative solutions often are advantageous in their own right. Making buildings more energy efficient and buying high-mileage vehicles saves money in the long run. Buying better light bulbs saves money in the near term. Planning cities for better transit, biking, and walking saves tax dollars we now spend on far-flung road and service networks. Walking, biking, and climbing stairs are good for your health, and they help reduce traffic congestion and energy consumption. As the Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke said, “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.” Finding ways to reduce individual’s carbon emissions is also important, as collectively, we have an enormous impact of climate change. Looking at this figure, what are some of the actions that you might consider taking to minimize your “carbon footprint”. Proponents of carbon management, as these various projects are called, argue that it may be cheaper to clean up fossil fuel effluents than to switch to renewable energy sources. By far, the easiest way to remove CO2 from a coal-fired power plant is the integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) technology described in chapter 12. Geological formations around the world could hold hundreds of years’ worth of CO2 at current production levels. These formations, however, aren’t necessarily near the sites where we now produce CO2. Carbon capture and storage involves pumping CO2 into permanent storage, usually a salty aquifer or other geologic formation. Captured CO2 can also be used to increase pressure on oil and gas wells, increasing recovery. To conclude this chapter, here are some of the most important points.
Temperatures are now higher than they have been in thousands of years, and climate scientists say that if we don’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions soon, drought, flooding of cities, and other weather related events may be inevitable. Exhaustive modeling and data analysis by climate scientists show that the changes occurring in our world, can only be explained by human activity. The “stabilization wedge” proposal is a list of immediate steps that could be taken to accomplish needed reductions in greenhouse gases. Action is needed on a global scale to address climate change. Resisting these efforts will likely cost world economies large percentages of their future GDP and create needless suffering, for no reason, other than stubbornness and a blind, unthinking, acceptance of fossil fuel company, climate change denier, propaganda.