January 12th, 2011 by Zachary Shahan
Yes, first of all, by stabilize we don’t mean keep it exactly the same — that is impossible. We mean not pumping it so full of CO2 that we see unprecedented warming and ‘natural’ disasters and perhaps even an unlivable climate at some point.
Anyway, this post is a share of an in-depth post by Dr Joe Romm of Climate Progress. As he very succinctly summarizes at the beginning, “In this post I will lay out ‘the solution’ to global warming.”
Here’s the intro if you want to get a sense of the piece before clicking over:
This post is an update of a 2008 analysis I revised in 2009. A report by the International Energy Agency came to almost exactly the same conclusion as I did, and has relatively similar wedges, so I view that as a vindication of this overall analysis.
Stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide at 450 ppm or lower is not politically possible today — not even close — but is certainly achievable from an economic and technological perspective, as I and others have said for years.
Humanity has only two paths forward at this point. Either we voluntarily switch to a low-carbon, low-oil, low-net water use, low-net-material use economy over the next two decades or the post-Ponzi-scheme-collapse forces us to do so circa 2030. The only difference between the two paths is that the first one spares our children and grandchildren and countless future generations untold misery (see “Intro to global warming impacts: Hell and High Water” and “A stunning year in climate science reveals that human civilization is on the precipice“).
It would require some 12-14 of Princeton’s “stabilization wedges” — strategies and/or technologies that over a period of a few decades each ultimately reduce projected global carbon emissions by one billion metric tons per year (see Princeton website here). These 12-14 wedges are my focus here.
The reason that we need twice as many wedges as Princeton’s Pacala and Socolow have said we need was explained here. That my analysis is largely correct can be seen here: “IEA report, Part 2: Climate Progress has the 450-ppm solution about right.”
OK, I almost decided not to include the solutions, because I think there is a lot more in the discussion that you should read over on Climate Progress, but with the title as it is (and for those who don’t want to read about this in-depth), I think I should stick solutions in here. Here they are (of course, I would be inclined to focus more on mass transit than on cars, but this is not my list and I am not prepared to make one of such detail):
This is what the entire planet must achieve:
- 1 wedge of albedo change through white roofs and pavement (aka “soft geoengineering) — see “Geoengineering, adaptation and mitigation, Part 2: White roofs are the trillion-dollar solution“
- 1 wedge of vehicle efficiency — all cars 60 mpg, with no increase in miles traveled per vehicle.
- 1 of wind for power — one million large (2 MW peak) wind turbines
- 1 of wind for vehicles –another 2000 GW wind. Most cars must be plug-in hybrids or pure electric vehicles.
- 3 of concentrated solar thermal (aka solar baseload)– ~5000 GW peak.
- 3 of efficiency — one each for buildings, industry, and cogeneration/heat-recovery for a total of 15 to 20 million GW-hrs. A key strategy for reducing direct fossil fuel use for heating buildings (while also reducing air conditioning energy) is geothermal heat pumps.
- 1 of solar photovoltaics — 2000 GW peak
- 1 wedge of nuclear power – 700 GW
- 2 of forestry — End all tropical deforestation. Plant new trees over an area the size of the continental U.S.
- 1 wedge of WWII-style conservation, post-2030 [this could well include dietary changes]
Here are additional wedges that require some major advances in applied research to be practical and scalable, but are considered plausible by serious analysts, especially post-2030:
- 1 of geothermal plus ocean-based renewables (i.e. tidal, wave, and/or ocean thermal)
- 1 of coal with biomass cofiring plus carbon capture and storage — 400 GW of coal plus 200 GW biomass with CCS
- 1/2 to 1 wedge of cellulosic biofuels for long-distance transport and what little aviation remains in 2050 — using 8% of the world’s cropland [or less land if yields significantly increase or algae-to-biofuels proves commercial at large scale].
- 1 of soils and/or biochar– Apply improved agricultural practices to all existing croplands and/or “charcoal created by pyrolysis of biomass.” Both are controversial today, but may prove scalable strategies.
That should do the trick. And yes, the scale is staggering.
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