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Solving Global Warming - Not Easy, But Not Too Hard

Posted on 9 November 2010 by dana1981

A frequent skeptic argument is that solving the global warming problem will be "too hard", and thus we should just resign ourselves to trying to adapt to whatever climate change happens.  Considering that many consequences of a large magnitude climate change would be very bad, hopefully this is not true.  Although it may be comforting to get in the car, close our eyes, sit back, and hope it does not crash into a brick wall, the wiser course of action is to see the wall in our path and attempt to avoid it if possible.

The argument that solving the global warming problem by reducing human greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is "too hard" generally stems from the belief that (i) our technology is not sufficiently advanced to achieve significant emissions reductions, and/or (ii) that doing so would cripple the global economy.


Pacala and Socolow (2004) (PS04) investigated the first claim by examining the various technologies available to reduce GHG emissions.  Every technology they examined "has passed beyond the laboratory bench and demonstration project; many are already implemented somewhere at full industrial scale."  PS04 examined what would be required to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations at 500 parts per million (ppm), which would require that GHG emissions be held near the present level of 7 billion tons of carbon per year (GtC/year) for the next 50 years. 

PS04 used the concept of a "stabilization wedge", in which "a wedge represents an activity that reduces emissions to the atmosphere that starts at zero today and increases linearly until it accounts for 1 GtC/year of reduced carbon emissions in 50 years."  Implementing seven such wedges would achieve sufficient GHG emissions reductions to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide at 500 ppm by 2050, and emissions would have to decrease linearly during the second half of the 21st century.  PS04 identifies 15 current options which could be scaled up to produce at least one wedge, and note that their list is not exhaustive.

  1. Improved fuel economy: One wedge would be achieved if, instead of averaging 30 milesper gallon (mpg) on conventional fuel, cars in 2054 averaged 60 mpg, with fuel type and distance traveled unchanged.  Given recent advances in hybrid and electric vehicle technology, this is a very plausible wedge.

  2. Reduced reliance on cars: One wedge would be achieved if the average fuel economy of the 2 billion 2054 cars were 30 mpg, but the annual distance traveled were 5000 miles instead of 10,000 miles.

  3. More efficient buildings: One wedge is the difference between pursuing and not pursuing known and established approaches to energy-efficient space heating and cooling, water heating, lighting, and refrigeration in residential and commercial buildings.

  4. Improved power plant efficiency: One wedge would be created if twice today’s quantity of coal-based electricity in 2054 were produced at 60% instead of 40% efficiency.

  5. Substituting natural gas for coal: One wedge would be achieved by displacing 1400 gigawatts (GW) of baseload coal power with baseload gas by 2054.  Given recent natural gas price decreases, this is another very plausible wedge.

  6. Storage of carbon captured in power plants: One wedge would be provided by the installation of carbon capture and storage (CCS) at 800 GW of baseload coal plants by 2054 or 1600 GW of baseload natural gas plants.

  7. Storage of carbon captured in hydrogen plants: The hydrogen resulting from precombustion capture of CO2 can be sent offsite to displace the consumption of conventional fuels rather than being consumed onsite to produce electricity.  One wedge would require the installation of CCS, by 2054, at coal plants producing 250 million tons of hydrogen per year (MtH2/year), or at natural gas plants producing 500 MtH2/year.

  8. Storage of carbon captured in synthetic fuels plants: Large-scale production of synthetic fuels from carbon is a possibility.  One wedge would be the difference between capturing and venting the CO2 from coal synthetic fuels plants producing 30 million barrels of synthetic fuels per day.

  9. Nuclear power: One wedge of nuclear electricity would displace 700 GW of efficient baseload coal capacity in 2054. This would require 700 GW of nuclear power with the same 90% capacity factor assumed for the coal plants, or about twice the nuclear capacity currently deployed.

  10. Wind power: One wedge of wind electricity would require the deployment of 2000 GW of nominal peak capacity (GWp) that displaces coal electricity in 2054 (or 2 million 1-MWp wind turbines).  This would require approximately 10 times the current (as of 2010) deployment of wind power by mid-century.  Note that global wind power deployment increased from approximately 40 GW in 2004 to 158 GW in 2009.

  11. Solar photovoltaic power: One wedge from photovoltaic (PV) electricity would require 2000 GWp of installed capacity that displaces coal electricity in 2054.  This would require approximately 100 times the current (as of 2010) deployment of solar PV power by mid-century.  Note that global solar PV power deployment increased from approximately 3 GW in 2004 to 20 GW in 2009.

  12. Renewable hydrogen: Renewable electricity can produce carbon-free hydrogen for vehicle fuel by the electrolysis of water. The hydrogen produced by 4 million 1-MWp windmills in 2054, if used in high-efficiency fuel-cell cars, would achieve a wedge of displaced gasoline or diesel fuel.  However, use of renewable energy to power electric vehicles is more efficient than powering hydrogen vehicles with hydrogen produced through electrolysis from renewable power.

  13. Biofuels: One wedge of biofuel would be achieved by the production of about 34 million barrels per day of ethanol in 2054 that could displace gasoline, provided the ethanol itself were fossil-carbon free. This ethanol production rate would be about 50 times larger than today’s global production rate, almost all of which can be attributed to Brazilian sugarcane and United States corn.  The potential exists for increased biofuels production to compromise agriculturaly production, unless the biofuels are created from a non-food crop or other source such as algae oil.

  14. Forest management: At least one wedge would be available from reduced tropical deforestation and the management of temperate and tropical forests. At least one half-wedge would be created if the current rate of clear-cutting of primary tropical forest were reduced to zero over 50 years instead of being halved. A second half-wedge would be created by reforesting or afforesting approximately 250 million hectares in the tropics or 400 million hectares in the temperate zone (current areas of tropical and temperate forests are 1500 and 700 million hectares, respectively). A third half-wedge would be created by establishing approximately 300 million hectares of plantations on non-forested land.

  15. Agricultural soils management: When forest or natural grassland is converted to cropland, up to one-half of the soil carbon is lost, primarily because annual tilling increases the rate of decomposition by aerating undecomposed organic matter.  One-half to one wedge could be stored by extending conservation tillage to all cropland, accompanied by a verification program that enforces the adoption of soil conservation practices that work as advertised.

PS04 concludes "None of the options is a pipe dream or an unproven idea....Every one of these options is already implemented at an industrial scale and could be scaled up further over 50 years to provide at least one wedge."  While the study has identified 15 possible wedges, PS04 argues that only seven would be necessary to stabilize atmospheric CO2 at 500 ppm by mid-century.  The list in the study is also not exhaustive, for example omitting concentrated solar thermal power and other renwable energy technologies besides wind and solar PV.

However, Dr. Joseph Romm (Acting Assistant Secretary of Energy for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy during the Clinton Administration) argues that at least 14 wedges would be necessary to stabilize atmospheric CO2 at 450 ppm.  Romm proposes what he believes to be the most plausible way to achieve 16 wedges:

  • 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 MWp) 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 — ~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.
  • 1 of coal with carbon capture and storage — 800 GW of coal with CCS
  • 1 of nuclear power — 700 GW plus 10 Yucca mountains for storage
  • 1 of solar PV — 2000 GW peak [or less PV and some geothermal, tidal, and ocean thermal]
  • 1 of cellulosic biofuels — using one-sixth of the world’s cropland [or less land if yields significantly increase or algae-to-biofuels proves commercial at large scale].
  • 2 of forestry — End all tropical deforestation. Plant new trees over an area the size of the continental U.S.
  • 1 of soils — Apply no-till farming to all existing croplands.

The bottom line is that while achieving the necessary GHG emissions reductions and stabilization wedges will be difficult, but it is possible.  And there are many solutions and combinations of wedges to choose from.


Working Group III of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report focused on climate change mitigation, and a substantial portion of the report focused on the economic impacts of mitigation efforts.  The key finding of the report is as follows.

"Both bottom-up and top-down studies indicate that there is substantial economic potential for the mitigation of global GHG emissions over the coming decades, that could offset the projected growth of global emissions or reduce emissions below current levels (high agreement, much evidence)."

The report found that stabilizing between 445 and 535 ppm CO2-equivalent (350–440 ppm CO2) will slow the average annual global GDP growth rate by less than 0.12%.  Additionally, this slowed GDP growth rate is in comparison to the unrealistic business-as-usual (BAU) scenario where climate change has no impact on the economy.  By 2030, the IPCC found that global GDP would decrease by a total of no more than 3% compared to the unrealistic BAU scenario, depending on the magnitude of the emissions reductions. 

The report also found that health benefits from reduced air pollution as a result of actions to reduce GHG emissions can be substantial and may offset a substantial fraction of mitigation costs.  Some other key findings:

"Energy efficiency options for new and existing buildings could considerably reduce CO2 emissions with net economic benefit."

"Forest-related mitigation activities can considerably reduce emissions from sources and increase CO2 removals by sinks at low costs."

"Policies that provide a real or implicit price of carbon could create incentives for producers and consumers to significantly invest in low-GHG products, technologies and processes. Such policies could include economic instruments, government funding and regulation."

In short, there are numerous opportunites to reduce GHG emissions at low cost, some of which result in a net economic gain.  Overall, emissions can be reduced at a cost which will not cripple the global economy.  Moreover, these emissions reductions would have a significant positive economic impact by slowing global warming.

We have the necessary technology.  The net costs to implement them will not be crippling.  The question remains - do we have the will to put forth the effort and initial investment to solve the problem?

This post is the Advanced version (written by Dana Nuccitelli [dana1981]) of the skeptic argument "it's too hard".  Basic and Intermediate versions are also available.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 176:

  1. "One wedge would be created if twice today’s quantity of coal-based electricity in 2054 were produced at 60% instead of 40% efficiency."

    How is that proposed (technically)?

    Assuming you did it overnight (obviously not practical), you gain a 20% advantage. Population growth and cheaper electricity results in more consumerism, the 20% is eaten up by the demand and the building of more power stations.

    Result, you produce the same amount of emissions as you did before the efficiency improvements, CO2 emissions continue to rise.

    What you really need is more expensive energy and improved emissions reductions!
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  2. "Substituting natural gas for coal"

    I think you mean Substituting coal with natural gas??

    The carbon footprint of gas fired power stations is around 500 gCO2/kwh, Coal is about 1000 gCO2/kwh.

    So you cut some emissions by half. For how long??
    In any case it is a short term solution.
    Here in the UK we are just about out of gas, none left. We are squeezing the last dregs out of the North Sea.
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  3. Natural gas will never sacale to replace coal - coal has to be replaced by nuclear and/or renewables such as wind and/or solar baseload (CSP) as wel as PV. Just replacing coal alone will be the first and easiest target technologically, however politially and economically its going to be a major fight for coal has deep pockets and lobbying is their forte with decades worth of experience in arguing for its future.

    Replacing oil and the automobile industry is not as easy as getting everyones next car to do 60+ MPG but although many cars achieve that now and more will as oil gets more expensive its going to take politics to get everyone off of em and when it comes ot flying you can forget any presently available replacement regardless. Electric cars are a better prospect that hydrogen but aeroplanes are up for grabs with a new liquid fuel, bio or hydrogen.

    Replacing gas is another matter completely and herein lies the issues with fossil fuels:solid, liquid and gas can be readily used, transmitted and transported - what else as yet can be except enery carriers such as electricity itself, thats what coal is used or after all, electricity generation so its achieveable technologivally but politicially its a nighmare hence CCS being offered as an olive branch but its too expensive we are told.
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  4. I would be suspicious of any wedge attributed to biofuels...especially ethanol. There are a number of drawbacks associated with biofuels, not the least of which is the problem of using our agricultural space to feed cars instead of people! The EROI (Energy Return On Investment) is not too exciting, either.

    Check out this very informative video by David Fridley of Lawrence Berkeley Labs and San Francisco Oil Awareness:"The Myths of Biofuels"

    There is a thought-provoking comment in the very last seconds of the video, when the use of horses is under discussion. Fridley says "...ultimately they [horses] will be extremely necessary."

    Kind of makes you wonder where we're going, doesn't it?
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  5. [A little PS: Maybe a sister site for solutions would be a good thing - this is going to be a big topic!]
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  6. Some of the numbers are out of date. For example on wind, total world installed capacity at the end of 2009 was 158 GW, of which almost 40 GW was added in that year. That's a factor of 12, not 50, to get to 2000 GW. And by now it should be down to a factor of about 10, not 12.

    See here for this data:

    I think a better source than Pacala and Socolow are the various McKinsey studies that also consider the economics, rather than just technical feasibility:

    in particular their GHG abatement cost curves:

    and this 2009 report on "Pathways to a low carbon economy":

    The interesting thing is that the first chunk of carbon abatement actions actually *pay for themselves*: they are worth investing in independent of any government incentives or support.
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  7. I must admit in this area I am very skeptical indeed. The “wedges” idea is based on the wrong assumption that you can change one parameter of the system and keep all the rest constant.

    I am frankly amazed that climate scientists, who are used to work with complex, chaotic mathematical models seem to think that simple sums suffice to calculate the effect of drastic economic and technical measures on human society.

    Mind you (before someone reads me wrong), I am not claiming at all that we cannot achieve some of the points that are mentioned. We could for instance produce a substantial amount of biofuel to replace fossil fuels. What I am doubting is the effect such measures will have against climate change, because I think that next to the desired effect (reduce CO2 emissions) there will be a myriad of unforeseen and undesired effects that may very well render the whole operation useless.

    My skepticism is not entirely unfounded. We have already seen at least one result of this simplistic thinking: the massive promotion of biofuels (particularly in Europe) has lead to rapidly increasing deforestation in many parts of the world, thereby negating any positive effect that could have resulted from using biofuels in the first place.

    Another example: “improved fuel economy. One wedge would be achieved if, instead of averaging 30 milesper gallon (mpg) on conventional fuel, cars in 2054 averaged 60 mpg, with fuel type and distance traveled unchanged.”

    The question that immediately comes to mind is: Did improving fuel economy of cars in the past reduce CO2 emissions ? Between 1975 and 1985 the fuel economy of an average car doubled, from 13,5 to 27,5 miles per gallon. Did this reduce overall CO2 emissions ? Of course the trick is the phrase “with fuel type and distance traveled unchanged”. Unfortunately, this is not what is going to happen. If people pay less for their fuel, they will in general drive travel longer distances. Such side effects must be taken into account, instead of setting unrealistic preconditions.

    I am not advocating despair, but you need more to convince me than this kind of 1+1=2 logic. Climate scientists wouldn’t dream of linearly adding up climate forcings and feedbacks to arrive at a predicted climate change – at least I hope so. Why use this simplistic logic when trying to predict how human society reacts to certain measures ?

    To evaluate the impact of the proposed measures on human society, a mathematical model should be constructed that is in every way as complex as any climate model. The relevant parameters are at least: population growth, economic rules like supply and demand, total available global and local resources (e.g. food and energy, with food being heavily dependent on energy), etc., economic growth, ecological footprint, government subsidies etc.
    This should give us some insight in the interactions that exist between abovementioned parameters. And then you could start truly evaluating the actual effects the proposed actions may have on CO2 emissions.
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  8. Ville - assuming that coal power prices will drop is unrealistic.

    Ville and forensicscience - the reason natural gas prices have been dropping is that more reserves have been identified, particularly from unconventional sources like shale gas.

    KeenOn350 - that's why I specifically made a note about biofuels coming from non-food crop sources.

    apsmith - good point, thanks. I just used the numbers in PS04, but obviously that's now 6 years old.

    Ann - the wedges have to assume some sort of baseline, so they assume all else is equal. Of course if not all else is equal, then the numbers have to be adjusted accordingly. But since we can't forsee every change in response to a wedge action, and human responses are not very predictable, the simplest and best assumption is 'if all else is equal', and in the future we can adjust the numbers as necessary.
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  9. I'm sure many on here will already have come across David MacKay's Sustainable Energy - without the hot air. He gives a number of scenarios showing different combinations of sustainable energy solutions. I'd be interested to hear how people think this stands up.

    The PriceWaterhouseCooper's report showing how Europe could be powered entirely by renewable energy by 2050 is also interesting reading.
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  10. Ann, what you are saying is not very reasonable to be fair. Its the we cant do it attitude. Coal can easily go technologically but its the economics and politics that are the issue. Lots of power in coal, its an old industry with lots of political know how and finance to see that its interests are met.
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  11. Dana1981, Shale gas is a pipedream regardless of what is said. Its just not sound science to suddenly up the reserves based on a dubious method drilling.
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  12. All those wedges 16 of them required concurrently to stabalise at 450 ppmv is unlikely considering that a lot of car enriching countries such as China are not doing it now but could with persuasion but capatalism states that you can make money and drive what you like. Can a 2 tonne car do 60 MPG
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  13. forensicscience - China is investing in green tech more than the USA right now. They see the writing on the wall.
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  14. Great write-up Dana,

    One thing worth mentioning as it relates to both 14 and 15 - Cleveland and Townsendm (2006) did an interesting study where they fertilised rainforests with phosphorus (many rainforests are have very limited P). This lead to much of the carbon in litter being lost through CO2 emissions rather than being used by the forest or stored. P fertilisation of agricultural land adjacent to forest has the potential to alter mineral cycles and cause P fertilised forests to become net emitters rather than sinks of CO2.
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  15. China may be investing in it all but its still using increasing amounts of fossil fuels too and that is one of the big issues, growth. Growth is measured by the log2=70 so divide any annual growth rate into 70 and you get the doubling time. So lets say presently the annual growth rate of fossil fuel usage is 2% then in 70/2=35 years we will have doubled our fossil fuel usage and more than likely our emissions to 60 billion tonnes of Co2 per annum up from 30 today. Add it all up and in just 35 years time (2045) we will have added another 1.5 trilion tonnes leaving around half of it in the atmosphere.

    Thats is a lot more than is presently there by humans. Combating it is a time issue as well as a political, economic and technological one. Any unproven technology not demonstrated to be scalable to industrial proportions cant be viable, thats leaves csp, wind and nuclear really at the moment.
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  16. forensicscience.... The folks in power in China are no dummies. They clearly see that fossil fuel use is not going to carry them through the rest of the 21st century. Oil is going to be a dwindling resource during a period where they are continuing to try to bring their entire nation up to first world standards. The ONLY way they can to that is by getting off carbon based energy.

    Honestly, the issue is not just climate change. It's population, resource availability, energy demand, pollution issues, geopolitical issues... all oriented toward a massive crisis.

    Like it or not, one of the big advantages China has right now is their political system. Their government is not beholden to established energy interests. Ours, in the US, is.
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  17. @ Dana1981

    re: "biofuels coming from non-food crop sources."

    I defer here to Fridley's expertise - he suggests that experimental non-food crop sources are a long ways from being scaled up to commercial use - and other factors come into play, such as water use, even for non-food crop sources. The referenced video is quite long - but chock full of information.
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  18. Fair enough KeenOn350, but the wedge refers to a goal nearly 40 years in the future. I wouldn't write it off just yet.
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  19. Miles??? Per gallon??? What happened to metrics?

    Are we really going to move into the future with a mixture of unrelated units, used since the Middle ages or since the Romans; units that were based on fingers, feet, baskets, barrels, the weight of a coin or a seed, and what have you?

    The metric system was developed 200 years ago, with the purpose of standardizing all units in different fields, and making them connected to each other in logical ways. Let us use 'The International System of Units'! The US is now the only nation in the world that does not officially use the metric system (with the possible exception of Burma and Liberia).
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  20. I have a more rhetorical comment, which may be important as this is the first post in an important (IMO) new direction for the site. I wonder if it's maybe more sensible to refer separately to climate skeptics and solution skeptics rather than lumping them together. Otherwise, your first sentence implicitly equates skepticism about the solutions to climate change with skepticism about the science concerning the effects of CO2 on climate. Uncertainty about how the problem should be solved is not trivial -- it requires breaking new ground technologically and in terms of political cooperation. However, whether one thinks those challenges are duanting or not should have absolutely no bearing on the veracity of the scientific evidence for climate change. We should not perpetuate the confusion by using the same term for these two positions, even if it is true that many that are initially solution skeptics decide to become climate skeptics as a result. It will only hinder the focus of the discussion...
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  21. China has no alternate energy sources to the USA, it needs all of them. 16 wedges is a vast undertaking.
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  22. I am skeptical about such credence to CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage). Even if possible (a very big IF) it reflects little change to a system destroying life on the planet as we know it. Particularly with coal, it is an insidious misdirection, or have we forgotten the recent coal ash spills?

    There is a greater concern. This article jumps ahead without consideration of a critical parameter: when? If the cavalry arrives after the massacre, all they can do is bury the bodies.

    Quite a coincidence that the time frame chosen by PS04 approximately equals how long U.S. policy makers have delayed since nations convened and acknowledged the problem.
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  23. Over at Climate Progress there was a lot of discussion about carbon wedges.

    On cars and biofuels. If society adapts fuel efficiency as a cultural value, 60 to 100 mpg won't be a huge problem. At the moment in the United States leading that charge is political suicide. Even boosting efficiency standards are being resisted.

    The progressive X prize saw a winner who got 100 mpg with a one cylinder engine, it can go 100 mph, carry 4 people, designed by formula 1 engineers. In production it will sell in the twenty thousands. From that point of view the x prize was a success.

    With cultural change anything can be done. Easier said than done though.
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  24. One thing to keep in mind is these projections are very long term and the scientists do not know what will work. It is very unlikely that the 16 wedges proposed will actually be the ones that work out best. Maybe wind will end with 5 wedges and solar thermal only 1. The point is that a reasonable scenario can be put together. Every 5 years the wedges should be adjusted to reflect what has been learned. Additional adjustments will have to be made to counter Ann's issues. As time passes we will learn what needs to be done in the next decade. First we have to get started. Spain and Germany are showing us ways to get started. From their experience we will learn better what works and what doesn't.
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  25. Stabilising CO2 emissions really means 2 things – using electricity more efficiently and replacing fossil fuels with other ways of generating electricity.

    While there is scope for improving the efficiency with which we use electricity, something which can be achieved by increasing its cost to consumers, a major drawback is the present inability to store it.

    Development of a light, durable and affordable battery able to hold a significantly larger charge than can present batteries must is achieved. When this is done, it will be possible to replace fossil fuel used by vehicles with electricity. It will also be possible to store electricity required for domestic use and re-charge batteries during off-peak periods or from more efficient pvc’s. It will also be possible for national grids to draw on this storage to meet peak demand

    Generating electricity by using fossil fuels, particularly coal, has first to be stabilised, second reduced and third stopped, while meeting the energy needs of an expanding global economy. Ability to achieve these stages in Australia is assisted by use of geothermal energy to generate base load power but few other countries have easy access to this source. Others must depend on solar energy as a means of replacing fossil fuels or go nuclear with all its waste problems.

    Solar technology in its present form generates electricity directly using pvc arrays or thermally, concentrating solar energy onto heat storing materials. PVC’s are inefficient and as noted above, with insufficient ability to store electricity they do not provide a viable alternative to fossil fuels. Concentrator technology, particularly for countries in the tropics and semi tropical areas does offer an alternative to fossil fuels but until improved not a cheaper alternative.

    Until we tackle development of electricity storage devices, more efficient pvc’s and improved concentrator technology, we are unlikely to make significant inroads into replacing fossil fuels, the major source of greenhouse gases.
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  26. As far as Bio-fuels go, just look no further than High Density Vertical Algal Biomass. The CO2 sequestration density of certain types of algae is absolutely phenomenal. Also, once you've extracted the 50% lipid content to make bio-diesel, you can gasify what's left & burn the resulting gas for electricity-effectively doubling the amount of kw-h's of electricity per tonne of CO2 generated.
    Methane Gas derived from natural sources-like landfill, sewerage, farm & forestry waste, to name just a few-could also be an excellent source of relatively low Carbon electricity (& heating/cooling), especially if combined with things like Thermal Storage (subjecting methane to varying degrees of heat-from the sun, say-can either boost the energy potential of methane by around 20%, without thermal decomposition, or even cause it to break down to by-products that can be later re-reacted to get back the stored heat) & Algal bio-sequestration.

    Of course, another benefit of many renewable energy technologies-including bio-gas-is that you can build them on a much smaller scale, & built up from multiple smaller subunits. This has the double benefit of reducing-or eliminating-the almost 12% of electricity lost through transmission & distribution, & allows you to scale the electricity supply back to meet the much lower, off-peak levels of demand.

    Other things we could look at are placing solar panels on more of our streetlights-& making those streetlights more energy efficient. A properly hooded streetlight can cast 30% more illumination than a light of identical wattage that is unhooded. Also, streetlights converted from High Pressure Sodium to Low Pressure Sodium (or is it the other way around-I must look that up!) can get higher numbers of lumens from an identical number of watts.

    Back on the energy supply front, more use of Co-generation would also help to lower the CO2 footprint of our economy!

    I know some people have suggested nuclear power, but I think this is a fools errand (short of some massive, *massive* breakthroughs). Even if we ignore the long-lived waste by-products at both ends of the nuclear cycle, there is the simple fact that uranium reserves are only expected to last til the end of the century-even at *current* levels of use. Proponents have said that global nuclear capacity would have to *triple*, just to achieve a 15% reduction in CO2 emissions!
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  27. Oh, & though its somewhat out of date now (at least in terms of raw technology), I'd recommend people here read the book "The Big Switch" by Gavin Gilchrist. An excellent expose on how Australian Governments (primarily Labor) stymied even limited attempts to "Green" our energy grid throughout the '80s & 90's-just to keep the existing electricity industry happy (most of which was still State owned at the time the book was written).
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  28. Unfortunately, Stephen Baines, I've noticed that they're often one in the same. Usually, when Climate Change skeptics run out of valid arguments, they use the "well we can't do anything, because it will *wreck* the economy" argument. Yet according to what I've read, Germany has achieved massive increases in its levels of renewable energy, yet electricity bills-for the average family-were only $12/month more in 2008 than they were back in 1998-hardly an economy wrecking increase! Indeed, I halved my own CO2 emissions just by becoming more energy efficient-& ended up saving myself roughly $100 per quarter. Then I halved it again by switching to a 50% Green Energy Scheme-yet I'm still paying less for my electricity bills than I was 10 years ago! My point is that, even in the absence of technological improvements in the future, the solutions to our problems are not going to be *nearly* as painful as the skeptics would have us believe-& probably much less painful than adaptation to a warmer climate!
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  29. Here's a quick question-how much vegetable oil do you think the Fast Food industry goes through in a week? How about a year? How much waste vegetable oil do households usually generate every year? Right there we have an immediate, & viable, source of bio-fuel. All you need is methanol & a little bit of heat & you have the perfect substitute for petrol. The Germans already do it, & sell it at petrol stations alongside conventional petrol & diesel.
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  30. #28

    Usually, when Climate Change skeptics run out of valid arguments, they use the "well we can't do anything, because it will *wreck* the economy" argument.

    Which tends to be the stock response to every form of regulation among people of that mindset. Addressing the ozone hole was supposed to send us back to the Stone Age, too, as was nearly every regulatory approach to pesticides.

    (Though to be fair, it really would be terrible if some shortsighted group of self-styled "experts" wrecked the economy by taking enormous risks based on an opportunistic misinterpretation of dubious data. Let's pray it never happens!)
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  31. Phila @ #28: It already *has* happened - if you consider the lack of regulation of the finance sector and the resulting economic chaos of the last few years...

    Marcus @ #29: Wikipedia suggests that in the US, at least, waste vegetable oil could substitute for as much as 1% of fossil oil consumption. Only a very small part, but still, 1% of however many $billions is a lot of potential value. (~20million barrels per day, at ~$80/bbl, = $1.6billion per day, so 1% of that would be $16m per day, or $5.8billion per year worth of oil)
    0 0
  32. Something coming out of MIT recently gives a pointer as to how solar energy can (and, no doubt, will) be stored more efficiently and effectively :

    Catching the sun’s heat -
    Storing thermal energy in chemical form has the potential to make it indefinitely storable and transportable.

    "This is the thermo-chemical approach, in which solar energy is captured in the configuration of certain molecules which can then release the energy on demand to produce usable heat. And unlike conventional solar-thermal systems, which require very effective insulation and even then gradually let the heat leak away, the heat-storing chemicals can remain stable for years."
    0 0
  33. Marcus @ #29: Our company produces biodiesel and bio-oil from waste fat and oil. It is easy when you have a good point source of raw material. But collecting small amounts from here and there ruins both the economy and energy balance of the fuel production. Fast food industry is already (at least in Europe) producing fuel from their waste oil. Collecting the oils from households is not an option at the moment.
    Producing fuel from waste has a very good energy balance and is definitely a part of the solution.
    0 0
  34. Dana:
    "Ville - assuming that coal power prices will drop is unrealistic."

    That obviously wasn't the point I made.

    A 20% reduction in emissions, roughly equates to 20% reduction in fuel used per kwh, which equates as a 20% cut in electricity prices, which equates to less efficient gadgets and people not worrying about leaving lights on. So for a short time, you have emission reductions, until cheaper energy prices result in emissions increasing again.
    0 0
  35. "Miles??? Per gallon??? What happened to metrics?"

    Indeed. We have mixed metrics here.

    Suggest that the following are used as standard:

    gCO2 equiv/kwh - electricity
    gCO2/km - transport
    gCO2/passenger km - individual passengers
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  36. JMurphy @ #32: The link doesn't seem to work. Here's an alternative. The molecule that's caused interest is called fulvalene diruthenium.
    0 0
  37. You're right, Grim_Reaper - thanks. It was due to putting a '2' at the beginning of the link, rather than the " from the same key. It should have been
    0 0
  38. What The Ville is describing in #34 is commonly known as Jevons paradox... which, as it happens, was first formulated in relation to coal usage. Basically, economist William Stanley Jevons showed that when efficiency improved it led to an increase in usage so great that the total fuel consumption went UP. His specific example was the use of coal after James Watt vastly improved the efficiency of coal powered steam engines. They went from being an expensive niche product to cheap and widespread use... with corresponding greater total coal consumption. The same effect has been seen repeatedly with efficiency improvements since then... to the point that it is often considered a given in economic theory that efficiency improvements will lead to increased consumption.

    That said, there is a proven method of preventing the Jevons effect. Specifically, if fuel costs are somehow held steady (e.g. by enacting a carbon tax) then the increased efficiency does NOT lead to lower costs and usage does not increase.
    0 0
  39. Relating Jevons paradox back to the wedges and issues raised by The Ville and Ann would go something like this;

    Wedge 1 proposes doubling fuel efficiency from 30 mpg to 60 mpg (bother me not with metric conversions). Of course, if you did that gasoline might still cost $2 per gallon (or whatever)... but that gallon is going to allow you to drive twice as far. Thus, if you drive the same amount you did before you are going to spend half as much on gasoline. When gas prices shot up a few years ago people drove less. Ditto during the current recession. Thus, it seems clear that if gasoline prices were cut in half people would drive more. Indeed, Jevons paradox suggests that they would drive more than twice as much as they did before... mainly due to more people driving more often. For instance, people who previously took mass transit might drive because it was now actually cheaper. In any case, it is clear that doubling gasoline efficiency will not halve gasoline consumption and thus wedge 1 would fail... UNLESS gasoline prices were increased to keep the cost of driving high enough that people would not drive more.

    The same logic applies to wedges 3 & 4 and any other efficiency improvements. Increased efficiency inherently leads to lower cost and higher usage... unless costs are artificially inflated.
    0 0
  40. CBDunkerson - thanks, that's what I was driving at about Ville's unrealistic assumption. As Ann has pointed out, we're not operating in a vacuum where all else is held constant other than these wedges. There will no doubt be some sort of mechanism to put a price on carbon emissions eventually, which can be adjusted as necessary to address Jevons paradox.

    I just didn't want to come out and say it because I don't want the discussion to devolve into shouting about a carbon tax.
    0 0
  41. #39 CBDunkerson

    Important point that has far reaching implications, and shows why the climate problem is so difficult. Increasing energy prices (in this case petrol) will certainly curtail consumption but will have adverse economic consequences. That may be perfectly acceptable up to a certain point, but extended further could lead to major economic crisis. In that context, environmental concerns including climate go to the bottom of the list of priorities.

    It it possible to conceive of a future caught between energy poverty due to peak whatever and environmental collapse, in permanent economic crisis that is very difficult to break out of.

    The conclusion - energy must have very low emissions AND reasonable price to keep the humans happy.
    0 0
  42. How is it not so that a plot of land designed for collecting solar power, isnt one plot less for growing food? (with exception of mushrooms perhaps) The same could be said about displacing land for forests.
    0 0
  43. RSVP - Not a lot of viable cropland in the Mohave Desert, the Sahara, or large chunks of Northern Africa. Plenty of places to put solar collectors without interfering with cropland.
    0 0
  44. quokka 41
    "The conclusion - energy must have very low emissions AND reasonable price to keep the humans happy."

    I remember a TV documentary years ago about how Eskimos burnt whale blubber in a tiny jar sufficient to keep the igloo nice and warm. The energy was just right so that it igloo didnt melt. They looked happy, and achieved this without computers.
    0 0
  45. KR
    "the Sahara, or large chunks of Northern Africa"

    Where all the natural gas is??
    0 0
  46. quokka #41: "Increasing energy prices (in this case petrol) will certainly curtail consumption but will have adverse economic consequences."


    If it used to cost you $800 per year to buy 260 gallons of gasoline needed to commute to and from work each day why would there be adverse economic consequences if in the future it cost you $800 per year to buy 130 gallons of gasoline to commute to and from work each day?

    Yes, the price of a gallon of gasoline has doubled... but the amount of gasoline you use has been cut in half. So the end result is no change in the cost to you.

    Less fuel consumption, no impact on the consumer, and a significant revenue stream which can be devoted to cleaning up the problems caused by the fuel. That's a powerful way to utilize efficiency improvements.
    0 0
  47. CBDunkerson #46
    "So the end result is no change in the cost to you."

    Except that you had to buy a new vehicle every how many years?
    0 0
  48. RSVP, the projection is for 2054. Very few people are still going to be driving the same car in 2054 that they are today... even without fuel economy standard changes. Thus, the need to buy new cars is a pre-existing condition rather than something introduced by improving the fuel economy of those new cars.
    0 0
  49. Another wedge that I would identify is human behavior. My specific bone of contention is that in the pre-global-economy world, every office worked from 9-5, and everyone was there at the same times the same days of the week, so that everyone with whom one might need to have contact was simultaneously available.

    In today's global economy, as likely as not the person you need on that conference call is on the other coast in another time zone, or even another continent and another date (and perhaps in a country with a different work week).

    There are a number of easy changes here. The first is simply for businesses to stagger their hours more, lowering commuting times and road usage peak volumes. This equates to less congestion, time spent idling, less asphalt and road maintenance, and less human hours wasted listening to talk radio.

    Similarly, everyone works Monday to Friday, except that a lot of businesses now operate 24-7, so again the old 5 day work week approach is somewhat outdated. I already know people that share cubicles to let the company save money on space (mostly sales reps and managers who are only in the office part time). I frequently choose to work weekends, to take advantage of smaller crowds for leisure time spent during the week (a luxury I have by being self-employed).

    Beyond this, telecommuting and other options are far more viable than they once were.

    In general, the point is that we are stuck in a 1950s paradigm that no longer fits and is no longer necessary. All it would take to change is some very cheap tax credits for businesses that comply (based on staggering work hours and days, and the actual use of telecommuting options).
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  50. Dana:
    "thanks, that's what I was driving at about Ville's unrealistic assumption."

    What planet are you living on?

    "Specifically, if fuel costs are somehow held steady (e.g. by enacting a carbon tax) then the increased efficiency does NOT lead to lower costs and usage does not increase."

    Fine, if you want to regulate prices (communism??).
    I suggest that renewables and nuclear (for the fans of) would do the job better than messing around with fossil fuel prices and trying to improve efficiencies of fossil fuel power stations.
    0 0

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