The Washington Post has an article this morning that should shake you out of your post-weekend torpor. In order to prevent global meltdown as a species we’ve got to produce zero or near-zero CO2:
The task of cutting greenhouse gas emissions enough to avert a dangerous rise in global temperatures may be far more difficult than previous research suggested, say scientists who have just published studies indicating that it would require the world to cease carbon emissions altogether within a matter of decades.
Their findings, published in separate journals over the past few weeks, suggest that both industrialized and developing nations must wean themselves off fossil fuels by as early as mid-century in order to prevent warming that could change precipitation patterns and dry up sources of water worldwide.
Using advanced computer models to factor in deep-sea warming and other aspects of the carbon cycle that naturally creates and removes carbon dioxide (CO2), the scientists, from countries including the United States, Canada and Germany, are delivering a simple message: The world must bring carbon emissions down to near zero to keep temperatures from rising further.
I won’t bother resorting to other papers that have appeared in peer-reviewed journals recently that claim that human-induced climate isn’t a major factor globally. Let’s just accept the finding quoted by the WP at face value. What measures would be required to achieve the stated objective?
Remember that China, already the world’s largest producer of CO2, is increasing its output at the rate of more than 8% per year. That means that in order to achieve zero growth without somehow persuading the Chinese to change their ways the rest of the world would need to reduce its output by more than 8% in absolute terms.
The only power sources that produce little or no carbon are nuclear, wind, geothermal, and, maybe, solar and tidal. Hydroelectric, i.e. damming rivers and using the force of falling water to move turbines that generate electricity. The dams produce lots of carbon in the form of methane released into the atmosphere from the slowed water behind the dam. Various alternative fuels, e.g. ethanol produced from whatever source and biodiesel also produce carbon. They’re no solution.
Actually producing solar cells produces carbon, too.
Wind, solar, geothermal, and tidal have similar problems, i.e. you’ve either got to transport the power to where the people who need it are or you’ve got to move the people to where the power is (or both).
The last nuclear power plant to come online in the United States took 25 years to build. I’ve heard claims of three years, minimum, to build a new nuclear power plant. The real number is probably somewhere in between, assuming no stumbling blocks put in the way of construction by well-meaning opponents. Not just any old construction company can build them and the risks are quite high cf. the well-meaning opponents, above. I wouldn’t hold out for a heads-down crash project to build nuclear power plants.
Remember, too, that it takes something like 20 years for the total fleet of cars and trucks to turn over in this country and even the number of hybrid vehicles sold last year is miniscule. The number of electric-only vehicles sold in the U. S. is very, very small although with the Indian electric-powered pneumatic car and some others coming into the market that may increase a little.
I do think that we should be going after greater efficiencies—that’s just good engineering—and I think that will happen as the cost of oil rises. But that won’t solve the problem of carbon emissions in the near term.
So, what’s your plan? Please relate ends and means. I honestly don’t see any way of achieving the goals being laid out in the article cited above although I see lots of ways of not achieving the goals with a maximum dislocation of society. I think that Tigerhawk put it pretty well:
reducing carbon emissions nearly to zero would also constitute a global catastrophe, so if these guys are right we are actually completely and unavoidably screwed.
and by we he means our species.
“[Electricity from solar power] is doubling now every two years. Doubling every two years means multiplying by 1,000 in 20 years. At that rate we’ll meet 100 percent of our energy needs in 20 years.”
Shouldn’t that be multiplying by 1,000 in ten years? In one year it doubles. The second year it quadruples (2 x 2). The third year it’s increased eight-fold (2 x 2 x 2). In eight years it will have increased by 256 times (28), nine years twice that or 512, and in ten years 1,024 times. This is the sort of thing that bothers me about economists and some scientists.
Having an Emily Latilla moment. Never mind.