Is 450 ppm (or less) politically possible? Part 2: The Solution

In this post I will lay out “the solution” to global warming, focusing primarily on the 14 “stabilization wedges.”

Part 1 argued that stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide at 450 ppm is not politically possible today, but that it is certainly achievable from an economic and technological perspective. It would require some 14 of Princeton’s “stabilization wedges” — strategies and/or technologies that over a period of a few decades each reduce global carbon emissions by one billion metric tons per year from projected levels (see technical paper here, less technical one here). The reason that we need twice as many wedges as Princeton’s Pacala and Socolow have said we need was explained in Part 1.

I agree with the IPCC, which concluded last year that “The range of stabilization levels assessed can be achieved by deployment of a portfolio of technologies that are currently available and those that are expected to be commercialised in coming decades.” The technologies they say can beat 450 ppm are here. Technology Review, one of the nation’s leading technology magazines, also argued in a cover story two years ago, “It’s Not Too Late,” that “Catastrophic climate change is not inevitable. We possess the technologies that could forestall global warming.”

I do believe only “one” solution exists in this sense — We must deploy every conceivable energy-efficient and low carbon technology that we have today as fast as we can. Princeton’s Pacala and Socolow proposed that this could be done over 50 years, but that is almost certainly too slow.

We’re at 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year — rising 3.3% per year — and we have to average below 18 billion tons a year for the entire century if we’re going to stabilize at 450 ppm. We need to peak around 2015 to 2020 at the latest, then drop at least 60% by 2050 to 15 billion tons (4 billion tons of carbon), and then go to near zero net carbon emissions by 2100.

That’s why a sober guy like IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri, said in November: “If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.” Or as I told Technology Review, “The point is, whatever technology we’ve got now — that’s what we are stuck with to avoid catastrophic warming.”

If we could do the 14 wedges in four decades, we should be able to keep CO2 concentrations to under 450 ppm. If we could do them faster, concentrations could stay even lower. We’d probably need to do this by 2030 to have a shot at getting back to 350 this century. [And yes, like Princeton, I agree we need to do some R&D now to ensure a steady flow of technologies to make the even deeper emissions reductions needed in the second half of the century.]

I am not going to focus on the politics, policies, market factors, or mindset needed to achieve these 14 wedges. That will be the subject of Part 4. But, needless to say, none of this can happen without a serious price for carbon dioxide and a very aggressive technology deployment effort.

So here is the basic solution. I have thrown in a couple extra wedges since I have no doubt that everybody will find something objectionable in at least 2 of these wedges. This is what the entire planet must achieve:

  • 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 — ~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 photovoltaics — 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.

That should do the trick. And yes, the scale is staggering.

Why not more than 1 wedge of CCS? That one wedge represents a flow of CO2 into the ground equal to the current flow of oil out of the ground. It would require, by itself, re-creating the equivalent of the planet’s entire oil delivery infrastructure. I also think that CCS has practical issues that will limit its scale, not the least of which is that I doubt it will be among the cheaper solutions. But that is another blog post.

Why not more than 1 wedge of nuclear? Based on a post last year on the Keystone report, to do this by 2050 would require adding globally, an average of 17 plants each year, while building an average of 9 plants a year to replace those that will be retired, for a total of one nuclear plant every two weeks for four decades — plus 10 Yucca Mountains to store the waste. I also doubt it will be among the cheaper options. And the uranium supply and non-proliferation issues for even that scale of deployment are quite serious.

Note to all: Do I want to build all those nuclear plants. No. Do I think we could do it without all those nuclear plants. Probably. Therefore, should I be quoted as saying we “must” build all those nuclear plants, as the Drudge Report has, or even that I propose building all those plants? No. Do I think we will have to swallow a bunch of nuclear plants as part of the grand bargain to make this all possible and that other countries will build most of these? I have no doubt. So it stays in “the solution” for now. [Note to self: Are you beginning to sound like Donald Rumsfeld? Yes.]

This is not to say the two wind power wedges (4000 GW peak total) would be easy — we only built 20 GW last year. We would need to average 100 GW/year through 2050. But I do think it is ecologically and economically possible, as I think all the other wedges are, too.

But none of the wedges is easy. That’s why getting to 450 ppm is not yet politically possible. Not even close. As noted, part 4 will discuss the politics, policies, market factors, or mindset needed to achieve these 14 wedges.

Three more points: First, it bears repeating that the wedges are not analytically rigorous (as I explained in Part 1), but they are conceptually useful. We might need a few more or a few less.

Second, based on comments posted on this blog, it seemed to make more sense to present the total solution first before posting on each individual wedge in detail. But I do expect to blog in detail on each of these wedge in the coming months.

Third, if you don’t like one of those wedges, you need to find a replacement strategy. Other possibilities can be found here, but I think the ones above are the most plausible by far, which tells you how dubious some of Princeton’s other wedges are [— I’m talking about you, would-be hydrogen wedges]. Could a bunch of breakthrough technologies substitute for some of the above wedges? That is far more implausible, as I will discuss in Part 3.

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102 Responses to Is 450 ppm (or less) politically possible? Part 2: The Solution

  1. Eli Rabett says:

    Most importantly the solution will be composed of multiple solutions. All eggs in one basket is a loser.

  2. John Mashey says:

    Can we have a wedge or wedges for non-CO2 issues like nitrous oxide & farming practices, methane (cows & maybe different rice strains), soot reduction, albedo changes in buildiings to reduce UHI (and hence air-conditioner load).

    A friend of ours, a retired vice-chairman of a very large oil company and I were at dinner with him last week. He volunteered:
    – efficiency is #1
    – forget about hydrogen

    albeit at much greater length.

  3. This is a very apt way to put it, especially the idea that we need to do what we’re going to do now, with what we’ve got. I often find myself expanding on it during the Q and A after organizing speeches for People say: ‘don’t we need a new economic system?’ ‘don’t we need to get a new nature-based spirituality?’ And I say: in the relevant time frame, we’re going to be using the tools provided by markets, and in this country by Christianity. They are perhaps sufficient, and we’ve got to put them quickly to use.

  4. Rumor says:

    This post is ridiculously succinct and helpful. A fantastic summary piece of information. Will be passing out the link…

  5. Ken Levenson says:

    Given the promise of solar thermal why not tack a few more wedges on?

  6. Ken Levenson says:

    I should add that I propose trying to add to solar thermal, if at all possible, to try and relieve pressure specifically on: flattening miles driven and building so many nuclear plants – the most difficult goals, of many difficult goals, it seems to me.

  7. Patrick M says:

    “We’re at 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year — rising 3.3% per year — and we have to average below 18 billion tons a year for the entire century if we’re going to stabilize at 450 ppm. We need to peak around 2015 to 2020 at the latest, then drop at least 60% by 2050 (to 4 billion tons a year or less), and then go to near zero net carbon emissions by 2100.”

    Wrong. We never have to go zero to stabilize CO2 levels, they will decay lower at zero emissions. In fact, since sinks absorb about 50% of emissions, any reduction lower than 50% would get us to minimal growth.

    And what would be the point of going lower than status quo of 380ppm?
    cooling may do more harm than good.

  8. JMG says:

    Why did you absolve the aviation industry from any need to change? How did something that very few people had ever done by 1950 (and that most people will never do today) become an unquestioned necessity by 2008?

    See today’s Xian Science Monitor for an interesting story on the Swedes, green at home but jetting all over for vacations …

  9. Patrick M says:

    “1 of nuclear power — 700 GW plus 10 Yucca mountains for storage”

    This silliness again. Why 10- Yucca mountains, when nuclear used fuel is moslty kept onsite and is doing just fine? When Yucca isnt even open, let alone full? When used nuclear fuel is 95% actinides that are recyclable fuel? Keep 1 Yucca mountain and *recycle* the fuel to MOX. boom, problem solved and we can expand nuclear power generation by a factor of 20 on the *same* amount of uranium mined with status quo.

    That means you can have 4-6 wedges of nuclear power.
    2800 GW of nuclear energy. Over 50 years, it is only $50 billion/yr, doable, and it will cost much less (and use up much less space) than this:
    3 of concentrated solar thermal – ~5000 GW peak.

    It also way outcompetes coal+CCS economically.

    even this “We would need to average 100 GW/year through 2050.” commitment on wind is ‘overblown’. 100,000 turbines or so built a year?
    That alone will cost $200/billion a year or more.

    All such options should be considered, by treated on an even-playing-field basis.

  10. Ken,
    I’ve figured that CSP/solar thermal electric might with sufficient transmission and electrification of transport and industry cover about 50% of emissions so 7 wedges in this format. However there are a number of different interdependencies that make attribution of GHG mitigations to single technologies difficult. That’s why I use the Renewable Electron Economy concept, which links the shift of energy supply with shifts in energy demand. I think though keeping a diversity of technologies in the mix, as Joe has done, is a more conservative option.

    However many wedges you attribute to it, CSP with storage should be pushed to the front of the policy agenda if we are serious about phasing out coal plants.

  11. CEA says:

    Great post – a very useful clarification of the wedge idea.

    One quick question (and one the applies to the Princeton work as well), what is the time-line of implementing a wedge? If we start on wedges in 2010, when does a wedge have to be fully in place by to be effective?

    Sorry if I’m missing something.

  12. Joe says:

    Ken + Michael — 5000 GW of CSP is staggering by itself. It certainly is more scalable than any other form of base load or load following power, as I’ve argued. When we get up to 50 GW/year, I’ll revisit this.

    JMG: I haven’t left out aviation — some of the biofuels will no doubt be used by jets.

    Patrick: I am simply using the Keystone analysis, which everyone on both sides of the debate tells me is the fairest analysis out there. You tell me where their assumptions are wrong. It is hard to see how nuclear could be the low-cost option. At current rates of construction and usage, the cost of the plants and the uranium have shot through the roof. I just don’t see how nuclear will complete with CSP or with wind for plug ins. “Recycling” as you put it has serious nonproliferation implications if we are going to build thousands of plants. Heck even hundreds more will be problematic.

  13. Earl Killian says:

    I think it is key to realize that we start out on a program such as yours, starting immediately, but we continually adjust it based upon costs, successes, failures, new technology (if any), etc. The point in having a plan is that (1) it tells us what incentives, policies, infrastructure, and regulations are necessary; (2) it tells us how had it is to accomplish and motivates starting today rather than procrastinating.

  14. David B. Benson says:

    Joe — There is no need to use even one additional hectare of agricultural cropland for biofuels. There are plenty of suitable plants which will grow nicely on soils too degraded for crops and in areas with too little precipitation to practice agriculture. For example, Jatrophra will grow on poor soils with little moisture.

    The biofuels potential is much larger than the one wedge you assigned. Very much larger world-wide, even leaving out the improvements in algial production of biofuels.

  15. David B. Benson says:

    Patrick M — We are currently killing corals by over-heating the oceans, not to mention the problems that ocean acidification is bringing. So we need to stablize emisions as rapidly as possible and then reduce the amount of carbon in the active carbon cycle as quickly as may be.

    While that will take many decades, so there is plenty of time for research, discussion and policy-setting, here are two pieces of data, boht from the Swiss alpine glaciers:

    (1) In 1850 CE, with CO2 at 288 ppm, the glaciers were still slowly advancing;

    (2) By 1958 CE, with CO2 at 315 ppm, the glaciers were retreating at about 4 m/y.

    So based on just this, somewhere in between these two values appears best to me.

  16. Oh, wait, my bad, I posted it to the other blog.

  17. Joe says:

    Michael — I didn’t delete that post. It’s in a different thread (here). I promise I will get to it. It took me longer to write this post than I thought — and my readers wanted this post up first. I will address some of your questions in Part 3. And then after Part 4, I may do a separate post on any unanswered questions.

  18. Mike Treder says:

    “The point is, whatever technology we’ve got now — that’s what we are stuck with to avoid catastrophic warming.”

    Joe, I don’t understand the reasoning behind this statement of yours. Granted, we must begin right away with everything we have in order to slow the additional release of greenhouse gases. But isn’t it reasonable to assume that new technologies may well be developed in the coming decades that could economically extract large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere?

  19. Ronald says:

    I’ve got a question about these stabilization wedges.

    You wrote in the post ‘And yes, the scale is staggering.’ It sure is, with a million 2MW wind turbines for power and another million for all those plug-in vehicles. And 5000 GW of concentrated solar thermal. But aren’t all those wind turbines and CSP plants just substitutes for other power plants, mostly what would be coal plants.

    A few days ago you posted this;

    which mentioned that we don’t have to have to talk about absorbing 2 to 3 percent of GDP to low and non carbon energy, but just redirecting that 2 to 3 percent of GDP from high carbon energy sources.

    To mention one million 2 MW wind turbines as one wedge, I say holy crap, that’s a lot of wind turbines. But isn’t that wedge just a substitute from putting in some hundreds or thousands of coal plants that will be burning millions of tons of coal. I think that the one million 2 MW wind turbines will look less staggering if it’s mentioned how many coal plants don’t have to be built. Because it seems that people are going to demand their energy, it would just be better if they were supplied with low and non carbon energy.

    So if we were to calculate the cost of the one million 2 MW wind turbines wedge, we’d add up the cost of that minus the cost of all those coal plants and coal. Also then all the cars at 60 MPG would have to be minus all those oil refineries that wouldn’t have to be built because the fuel mileage was better.

    I don’t remember a discussion on that in other articles I’ve read on stabilization wedges and I was wondering if I was wrong thinking that would be helpful. Because if people read just the one million wind turbines, they just might forget about all that coal and coal plants.

  20. With liquid-fluoride thorium reactors you could do a lot more than one wedge, and you wouldn’t need those Yucca Mountains.

  21. John Mashey says:

    “new technologies may well be developed in the coming decades that could economically extract large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere?”

    Maybe, but while working 10 years in an R&D organization whose historical record for breakthroughs is pretty good, we had a mantra:

    “Never schedule breakthroughs” because *we* couldn’t.

    Some things we thought were, were not [bubble memories, photonic computing], while others were relatively minor when they first happened [transistors, modern PV cells, lasers]. A huge number of things were tried that didn’t work out, but of course, the trick was to manage an R&D portfolio the right way, with progressive commitment, rather than just throwing money at things. There were a few projects where people did the latter, and they were disasters.

    Do you have something in mind? Needless to say, such technology would be one of the world’s most important breakthoughs this cenury, along with much-improved batteries.

  22. The article clearly, yet *reluctantly*, accepts nuclear energy as a wedge.

    In a way, this is the party line of the Nuclear Energy Institute and most pro-nuclear politicians, CEO’s, labor unions, etc etc.

    I find this strange. If the advantages of nuclear power outway all other forms (debatable, obviously: economics, effects on carbon effluent, reliability, availability, etc etc) then I’m not sure why it is deemed to have only one, reluctant, “wedge” in the climate change solution model?

    If the US built another 100 NPPs over and above the ones on line now, it would reduce *specifcally* over 1/5, and more like 1/4 of ALL the CO2 (not to mention scads of partulate) by being able to shut down KW-per-KW of coal. NO other non-CO2 emitting power source can make this claim. The cost would be less than we’ve spent on the war in Iraq fighting for someones elses oil. About 300 billion bucks. *Probably less* since they actually get cheaper as you build more of ’em.

    If we were to start, along with this scenerio to transition into the LFTRs that Kirk mentions, not only would costs plummet (because they use about 1/3 the material, fuel costs are almost non-existent and waste is about 1/35 the amount from current LWRs) we could go over to a completely thorium economy and no worry about wind turbines or closing off the deserts to mirror-farms. We could end ALL electrical generation caused CO2 emissions and start, with the LFTRs to produce non-carbon liquid fuels.

    David Walters

  23. mz says:

    Yeah, the thorium molten salt reactor does need more publicity. And it needs government research funding which it doesn’t have practically at all anywhere. It’s the young badly treated sibling in the nuclear family, a hugely talented genius shoved to the corner when the more brash bask in the limelight.

    It has been demonstrated decades ago and is a solution tens to hundreds of times better and more sophisticated than existing nuclear power – and infinitely better than coal.

  24. Some background on how fluoride reactor technology lost out to what the AEC really wanted back in the 1960s: weapons-grade plutonium.

    Of particular interest is a chapter titled “My Biggest Mistake.” Morgan was increasingly concerned about the newly developed liquid metal fast breeder reactor (LMFBR). He was convinced that the (liquid-fluoride thorium reactor [LFTR]), that had been developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), provided a safer and more acceptable means of producing nuclear power.

    In July 1971, Morgan arranged to deliver a paper on the dangers of the LMFBR at an international meeting of radiation physicists. He intended to express his view that the LMFBR offered a relatively easy means of access to an atomic bomb and that he much preferred the (LFTR). “It was frightening to think of tons of plutonium as spent fuel from reactors being shipped through New York and other big cities to processing plants, then to fuel fabrication facilities, and finally back to LMFBRs all over the world.”

    He pointed out that plutonium-239 served as the operating fuel in the LMFBR and would be bred in relatively large concentrations in the natural uranium, U-238. By means of a relatively simple procedure one could separate the plutonium and construct a low-level atomic bomb. The plutonium-239 produced by the LMFBR would not only serve as an incitement to terrorists, it also used plutonium, one of the greatest hazards of all radioactive materials.

    (LFTR), using U-233, held much less appeal for terrorists since it is very difficult to produce. Also, it can be denatured and rendered unsuitable for use in bombs. For this and other reasons, he considered (LFTR) to be preferable.

    Morgan sent 250 copies of his paper to the meeting chairman. But in his absence on vacation, the decision was made to destroy his 250 copies and substitute a revised version. He was instructed to say nothing about the superiority of the (LFTR) over the LMFBR. He was told that “the president has decided to allocate $30 million of extra money to expedite building a demonstration LMFBR. You are jeopardizing the welfare of the laboratory.” It was implied that if Morgan gave the original speech, hundreds of Oak Ridge jobs would be lost.

    Morgan then states: “Here, I made the biggest mistake of my life. I reasoned that if I fought the issue and hundreds of people in Oak Ridge lost their jobs, I would be one of them–I would lose not only my job, but also the retirement benefits I had labored over a quarter of a century to obtain. I feared that powerful elements within ORNL management would destroy my reputation in the scientific community. . . . Red-faced, I bowed my head and described the risks of plutonium exposure, but without mentioning the (LFTR) or the LMFBR.” When I returned to ORNL, my fellow employees, disgusted with management, deplored the incident. W. S. Snyder, my assistant director, said it constituted censorship. Snyder was right. I should have stood my ground regardless of the consequences. Had I done so, perhaps the world would never have had reactors such as those at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.

    There’s a reason we don’t have wedges of thorium available right now–a conscious, concerted effort to make it so.

  25. Thom says:

    Roger Pielke Jr., your numbers do add up. How much silver did the Cato Institute drop in your lap to get you to publish in Regulation? Also, why do you think that they invited you to write for them and not somebody with more credibility like Jim Hansen or Michael Mann?

    Just wondering. Regulation served a very important function for the tobacco industry in delaying any regulation on second hand smoke, and I’m wondering if the sponsor for their climate change articles might be Exxon Mobil.

  26. Eli Rabett says:

    Well, as Roger Pielke Jr. himself admits, the numbers are sensitive to the rate at which you assume emissions would grow without any effort to reduce emissions, so let us ask Roger, where would we be if we adopted his lay back and enjoy it while praying to the technology fairy policies.

    I might point out that the original technology fairy fan, Newt Gingrich, appears to have jilted the creature, or at least is not going out with her as much.

    The facts are that even if you believe in technology fairies or ponies, the longer we delay on policies such as Joe Romm outlines, the more the fairy is going to have to deliver. There are serious procrastination penalties associated with non-action on climate change, and a large cliff that our grandchildren will fall off of.

  27. Joe says:

    Roger — Thanks for catching my C vs CO2 error. I fixed it.

    And thank you for your post. I probably should have elaborated on this issue already — so I’ll just do it in a new post, which will take me a few hours to put together.

    As you’ll see, there actually isn’t a gap in my math — there is a gap in Socolow’s and Pacala’s math that most people (you included) miss. Stay tuned.

  28. john says:

    Great post, Joe. I do believe we could eke out another wedge from transportation — it’s technologically possible to get to 100 mpg now with phevs; and between that, land use policies, and mass transit and I think we could get it. I also think there’s another to be had from efficiency … between CHP and building efficiency, the potential is certainly there, if we had the right set of policies.

    I would also focus on the boreal forests as much or more as on the tropical forests — they hold more carbon, for starters.

    But these comments are just noise … the real issue, as you’ve so admirably laid out, is to push on multiple (all?) fronts as hard as we can, recognizing that some things won’t pan out. And yes, BI, let’s do research, but let’s not use it as an excuse to do nothing now, and for god’s sake, let’s not bet the ranch — or the Earth — on it.

  29. Joe says:

    But then again, I could be wrong. The IPCC case for attribution was an exercise in curve fitting. 450 ppm would then be “putting the cart before the horse”>

  30. Earl Killian says:

    Kirk wrote, “With liquid-fluoride thorium reactors you could do a lot more than one wedge, and you wouldn’t need those Yucca Mountains.” The problem is that we don’t have a prototype LFTR (you might counter with MSRE, but note the “E” in its name and its small size), so it is premature to call this the solution. The idea is to proceed on a plan based upon deployable technology, and then add in new technology to the mix as it becomes deployable. Thus if the government builds a LFTR, and it then looks as good as you suggest, the mix would presumably change to reflect its strengths and weaknesses. However, to do nothing in the years until such a prototype exists would be sheer folly. We are adding 2 ppm to the atmosphere every year. We must start reducing that immediately.

  31. Guys — This is a very important conversation. Thom, this kind of comment makes you, not Roger, look bad: “Roger Pielke Jr., your numbers do add up. How much silver did the Cato Institute drop in your lap to get you to publish in Regulation? Also, why do you think that they invited you to write for them and not somebody with more credibility like Jim Hansen or Michael Mann?”

    Thom, Roger has never accepted money from any corporate interest. He is a university professor. He has long called not only for mitigation but also for immediate deployment of existing technologies. So please, disagree with him, but stop the personal attacks.

    Same for you, Eli Rabett. This is disgusting: “Roger, where would we be if we adopted his lay back and enjoy it while praying to the technology fairy policies.” The phrase “lay back and enjoy it” is an allusion to rape.

    Joe, respectfully, I’d ask you to call on your readers to keep the tone civil. That was my effort with my last long comment (under your post on Kristof). I’d say the tone is improving, slowly and steadily, and we’d all do well to prevent a backsliding here.



  32. tidal says:

    just thought I would add this comment via Paul Krugman’s blog yesterday (via ) w.r.t. energy technology advances, and his experience researching that landscape for Bill Nordhaus back in 1973:

    [[And the estimates — mainly from Bureau of Mines publications — were optimistic. Shale oil, coal gasification, and eventually the breeder reactor would satisfy our energy needs at not-too-high prices when the conventional oil ran out.

    None of it happened. OK, Athabasca tar sands have finally become a significant oil source, but even there it’s much more expensive — and environmentally destructive — than anyone seemed to envision in the early 70s.

    You might say that this is my answer to those who cheerfully assert that human ingenuity and technological progress will solve all our problems. For the last 35 years, progress on energy technologies has consistently fallen below expectations.

    I’d actually suggest that this is true not just for energy but for our ability to manipulate the physical world in general: 2001 didn’t look much like (the movie) 2001, and in general material life has been relatively static. (How do the changes in the way we live between 1958 and 2008 compare with the changes between 1908 and 1958? I think the answer is obvious.)

    But anyway, while the Limits to Growth stuff of the 1970s was a mess, the history of energy technology doesn’t support extreme optimism, either.]]

  33. Earl Killian says:

    Kirk, in regard to “Some background on how fluoride reactor technology lost out” I have only a two word oxymoron to sum it up: Military Intelligence.

  34. Earl, I certainly don’t propose a “do-nothing” strategy until LFTR technology comes (which may be never if political winds don’t shift) but on this thread we’re talking about “wedges”–huge chunks of CO2 reduction, and LFTR technology is extraordinarily promising to be one of more of these chunks.

    Yes, I agree with you that the MSRE does not represent a prototype LFTR. Not even close actually. But what is really interesting about the MSRE is just how much the technology was advanced for what was essentially pocket-change for the AEC in the early 1960s. They took a revolutionary technology to the point where they demonstrated its safety and versatility for very little money.

    I think that terrified the AEC, who saw how much LFTR technology threatened their plans to build weapons-grade-plutonium-fueled liquid-metal fast breeders, and until the heavy hand of Milton Shaw they moved to can Dr. Alvin Weinberg of ORNL, discredit the reactor research there, and terminate further work in fluoride reactors and thorium.

  35. Earl Killian says:

    Kirk, thank you for the clarification. I don’t see any real disagreement then.

    I cannot help matching the “pocket change” comment up with with the cost of decommissioning it (they may still be working on it, since years ago they didn’t expect to finish until 2009). One of the things I worry about is the decommissioning any nuclear reactor will end up being a tab picked up by the public. I very much doubt the funds supposedly set aside for this purpose will prove adequate.

  36. Earl Killian says:

    I agree with Michael. People should refrain from speculative ad hominem attacks. Target the opposing argument, not your opponent.

  37. Earl Killian says:

    Michael, BI suggests that we need to invest (in R&D I think you mean) to make “clean energy” cheaper than “dirty energy”. However, this does not deal with the legacy of existing “dirty energy” infrastructure, which has the potential to bring ruin to Earth’s ecosystems without ever building a new “dirty energy” plant. I can see how cheap “clean energy” could eventually stop new “dirty energy” plants from being built, but it is much harder to see how it prevents sunk-cost “dirty energy” plants from being operated once they have been built. What is BI’s proposal to shut down “dirty energy”?

    Next, how long do you project it will take for the investment you advocate to yield new clean energy cheaper than new dirty energy? How do we prevent new dirty energy from being built during this interregnum? What level do you project GHGs reaching by the time clean energy is clean enough to dethrone dirty energy through cost alone?

  38. Earl, I agree with you that the expense of “decommissioning” the MSRE (~$300M) is really crazy. A couple of things were really done stupidly that led to the trouble we’re in today, and they’re things that aren’t typical of what you might expect in a decommissioned LFTR in the future.

    The biggest mistake they made when they shut MSRE down in 1969 was not to fluorinate the fuel to remove the uranium. They had done this previously (right before fueling MSRE with U-233) and it only took a few days. But when they shut down in 1969 they hoped that more AEC funding would be right around the corner, and at the time defueling the reactor didn’t seem like a good idea.

    Well, we know now that the AEC was moving to kill the technology, which they finished doing by 1974. Without funding, the money wasn’t there to do anything, and all the expertise in fluoride reactors drifted away from ORNL. They reasoned that because the salt was chemically stable, things would be fine. Well, over time the decay of the fission products led the salt to get cooler and cooler until it finally froze in the drain tanks. Years passed and the decay of fission products led the salt to get cooler still. When uranium-bearing fluoride salt gets below 150C, free fluorine can actually stay as free fluorine rather than chemically recombining. And that’s not a good idea.

    So radiation from the fuel caused radiolytic fluorine gas to be generated. That fluorine gas (F2) reacted with UF4 in the salt to form UF6, which is gaseous (and is the basis of uranium enrichment). That UF6 was now mobile enough to get out of the drain tank and move through the lines of the reactor. Where it accumulated and condensed was unknown, but in the 90s people began to realize (as the gas pressure went up in the lines) that fluorine gas and UF6 was in there.

    Long story short, the remediation has been a mess because they’ve spent an enormous amount of time trying to find out where the UF6 is in the system. The whole reason it got out in the first place was because they let the fuel salt sit there for 20 years without doing anything. Thanks, Milt Shaw!

    At any rate, any LFTR would be defueled easily at shutdown by removing uranium by fluorination. That would easily prevent a repeat of this problem, which took many years of neglect to materialize.

    If we would simply take the $300M we’re spending on remediation and use it for fluoride reactor development, we would be much closer to LFTR technology readiness, and we could fold the whole remediation task into it. Last year I visited the MSRE and talked to some of the chemical engineers working there. Each of them told me that when they started working on the remediation project, they didn’t know about fluoride reactors and thought the MSRE was some dumb old reactor experiment gone awry. But after studying the design intensely, each of them told me that we should be restarting the MSRE rather than remediating it! They said, “this reactor is the future and no one even knows about it.”

  39. Eli Rabett says:

    Michael Schellenberger can tell us how his strategy avoids procrastination penalties. Indeed had the world taken action in the 1980s when a scientific consensus had formed, the costs would be much lower than we confront today. As Oreskes points out, William Nierenberg put together a report featuring the economics of William Nordhaus, Gary Yohe and Thomas Schelling which essentially said that any problems could be taken care of later at lower cost. This strikes me very much along the same lines as you and the BI are selling.

    The question further occurs, that since one cannot guarantee success of any research program what actions should we take now to limit emissions now and in the future.

  40. Thom says:

    Michael Schellenberger, this is a very important conversation. That’s why it’s important for everyone to disclose their financial interests. When you attempt to deny that money has an impact on scientific outcomes….it doesn’t make you clever; it doesn’t make you look authoritative;

    It makes you look like a guy suffering from historical scientific amnesia. I suggest you acquaint yourself with federal regulations covering disclosures of financial interest that regulate scientists who receiving funding from the NIH and NSF.

    Otherwise, you’ll make yourself look like a dope.

    Mr. Pielke, back to you. Please disclose how much money you were paid by Cato to write for Regulation. And please, pontificate on why they hired you to write for them and not someone like Jim Hansen.

  41. Thom: I never denied money had an impact on outcomes. I denied that Roger has taken money from interests that affected his science. And yes, it is science. He was the lead author with two other top notch scientists, including Tom Wigley, one of the most cited authors in the IPCC. If you have proof to the contrary, then present it. Otherwise, stop with your slanderous personal attacks.

    Joe, again I would ask you to call on you readers to stop with the slander. If you want this to be a community, then there has to be some respect for civility.

    Eli: Get your facts straight. Ted and I have consistently called for deployment of existing technologies, a price for carbon, and large sums of money for RD&D. If you’ve got some complaint with Ted’s uncle, take it up with him, not with me.

    Earl: Thanks for your thoughtful questions. This discussion has been focused overwhelmingly on policy, and yet it is politics that will determine which policy options get implemented. Honestly, after today’s news in the Times about Europe turning back to coal, I felt pretty despairing. Whether you accept the numbers put forward by Romm or Pielke et al., it’s a pretty gargantuan task. While we are certain that a major government investment in RD&D, as well as deployment and procurement, is needed, I am less certain about your other questions. I’ll attempt to answer them, but the farther into the future, the more the uncertainty grows, so I offer that caveat.

    It is conceivable that we will build enough CCS to constitute a single wedge, as Romm proposes, or far more, as others have suggested. Perhaps Keith and Lackner will succeed in driving down the price of air capture. I am becoming increasingly skeptical that humans will leave much if any coal in the ground, and thus see those two technologies as crucial.

    I also think a new global compact is required, one focused around global development and energy technology innovation, primarily motivated by economic and national security concerns domestically, that results in both driving down the price of clean energy and establishing a price for carbon. I’m not optimistic about a global optimized carbon price; that seems rather utopian, or at least very, very distant. But if the G-8 could bring China and India into such a compact, and the developed world investment were somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 billion a year, I could see China and India embracing some kind of price for carbon, especially if a decent portion of the investment went into modernizing their energy infrastructures and thus creating jobs and increasing their energy security.

    The key is that it be a win-win so that when Lou Dobbs goes on TV to complain about U.S. taxpayer money going to build energy infrastructure in India and China, most Americans roll their eyes because they support the core value proposition, not the demagogic Dobbs.

    You asked about price. Tech innovation and adoption — think of the nonlinear s-curve — is notoriously unpredictable. We’ve never suggested “waiting for breakthroughs,” and we explictly criticize market fundamentalists, who suggest that “getting the incentives right” is all that matters.

    Obviously, tech learnings come from doing, so getting the doing going as quickly as possible is imperative. I don’t have much confidence that a price on carbon will have that impact. I think the history of tech innovation shows that governments play a leading role, and that private firms follow, not the other way around.

    We’ve been reluctant to make lists of wedges and policies or prices and suggest that the latter will necessarily lead to the former. And I don’t think we need to. What we need is a politics that mobilizes the public to support a large investment — larger, perhaps, than we suggested in our book — something on the order of $50 – $80 billion per year, starting immediately and continuing into the future, to scale up the new energy technologies and bring down their price as quickly as possible, not just here but also in other G-8 countries, in China and India, and eventually throughout the developing world.

  42. Fran says:

    Well done Joe

    This is some of the best discussion on the topic I’ve seen in … well just I’ve seen.

    I do like the idea of LFTRs as a big wedge, and I certainly like any of the current generation of nuclear plants to any of the current generation of coal or gas plants, at least, in those countries where a sufficiently robust regulatory regime plus a grid is in place. CCS is simply inferior on almost every ground. If people are worried about storing nuclear waste, what should they make of storing liquified CO2 until the end of days? Are there anything like the storage reserves one would need to do this? Apparently, Australia alone turns out about 1 cubic km of CO2 (assuming the kind of pressure that would be used) every 2 years and 9 months, and yet, China is building an entire Australia-sized capacity every six months. Apparently, CCS reduces EROEI by about 20-25% and presumes a carbon cost of about $100 per tonne.

    I do think sunk cost is an issue which will slow down the roll out of new technologies, particularly given the breakneck spped with which new coal-fired capacity and new ICE vehicles are being rolled out.

    I also like the idea of using pumped sea water storage in concert with intermittent power sources (or even non-intermittent ones to replace spinning reserve). This could allow sources like wind and wave and tidal to operate as true baseload and in places where potable water was short, you could choose between stored power and potable water, thus saving you the cost of an energy hungry desal plant.

    On biofuels, I think algae is the key. Let’s get going on that, bigtime.


  43. Fran says:

    Patrick M Says:

    “Wrong. We never have to go zero to stabilize CO2 levels, they will decay lower at zero emissions. In fact, since sinks absorb about 50% of emissions, any reduction lower than 50% would get us to minimal growth.”

    Your assumption is mistaken, because it’s based on the sinks continuing to operate at 50%, but what if the sinks reach saturation? What if they start declining for any reason — e.g. ocean acidity, continuing UV through the thinned ozone layer, warming of the upper thermal ocean cline etc. What happens when warming accelerates decomposition on forest floors and when drying conditions change the composition of plants?

    We are currently increasing CO2 at about 2.4PPM per annum and rising. The perturbation associated with that is going to be about for hundreds of years. We need to cut savagely and quick. 450 PPM or better yet 400 PPM by 2050 should be where we aim and declining to about 1850 levels by about 2150.

    Interestingly, CH4 also went up this year for the first time since 1998 — that’s the sleeper in all this. What’s happening to that permafrost?

    Patrick Says:

    “And what would be the point of going lower than status quo of 380ppm?
    cooling may do more harm than good.”

    It might, but the margin for error would be nice and acid seas are a huge problem. At 280 PPM, humanity survived modestly well despite primitive technology. Today, we’d be a lot better off.

    It’s also a lot easier to keep warm with minimal energy than fend off the heat.


  44. Thom says:

    Michael, again. So that you will come to understand it. Again. The question was for Roger Pielke Jr. to reveal how much money he took from Cato. It makes you look awful to try and label such a request as “slanderous.”

    Again, it shows that you still do not grasp the concept. Whether such money has affected Pielke Jr.s’ science is a completely different issue from whether or not he took the money.

    Again, please acquaint yourself with federal regulations covering NIH and NSF grantees. You might also try reading a new book by David Michaels titled, “Doubt is Their Product.”

    Roger Pielke Jr., how much money were you paid by Cato to write for Regulation?

  45. jcwinnie says:

    Vehicle efficiency
    Agreed, with the addition of grams per CO2 equivalent as a further standard besides distance per dollars. 120 grams of CO2 equivalent per kilometer is a good start with 100 gCO2e being a better target sooner rather than later.
    Wind power
    Agreed, with an upgrading of the Grid to better handle more renewable energy, too.
    Big Electric, Little ICE
    Booyah! And, please tell me where could I find some affordable batteries to replace the dead ones in my electric car.
    Solar thermoelectric
    Excellent, but how does that get the crackers on board?
    Yup, to include better mass transit and shipping those bananas by rail.
    Yer momma
    Nuclear power
    Yer momma’s momma’s …n (where n = 15 generations) momma
    Photo voltaics
    Yes, and as with wind, we need to foster distributed power
    Waste to energy
    Maybe, it depends upon whether 3Es are met
    End deforestation
    Do it for the orang-utans
    Back to the Soil
    Funny, you don’t look like an edaphologist.

  46. Eli Rabett says:

    Michael Schnellenberger: If you drill deeply enough in Roger Pielke Jr.’s writings you find that he is advocating mitigation (at least at the buzzword level) as well as adaptation. If you read newspaper and magazine reports of interviews he gives (and he gives a lot), you read that he advocates adaptation and maybe in the 23rd paragraph there is a word about mitigation, but usually with the caveat that it won’t do anything for your lifetime. Pin Roger down and he is sensible (well ok, he is a bit starry eyed about air capture). Put him in front of a microphone and you get adapt, adapt, adapt.

    The same with you and Ted Nordhaus. You have had a lot of press. If you accept the premise, it is incumbent upon you to convey the urgency of the problem, that we will have to ameliorate (my new favorite word) damage from climate change and that includes mitigation, research and adaptation, and that adaptation only buys time and there is no guarantee on research.

    Building a firewall against criticism in a footnote in an obscure journal (yeah I exaggerate, but how much) will not buy you credibility. Fundamentally, as Roger has long recognized, public awareness is built and manipulated through the mass media, and now the internet.

  47. Eli Rabett says:

    Apologies for mis-spelling Michael Schellenberger’s name

  48. Paul K says:

    Before you childishly demand that Pielke “come clean” let’s have all the sources of your income and even better, identify yourself beyond an anonymous screen name (most serious commenters here do either by full name or webpage link). Of course you wouldn’t ever ask Joe to reveal his compensation from the Center for American Progress, an advocacy group parallel to Cato. There’s a wonderful discussion on the way to a solution going on here. If you don’t have anything substantive to add, sit back and absorb. Reasoned debate among those who disagree is always informative.

  49. Earl Killian says:

    jcwinnie, In case it helps, California’s passenger car GHG emission standard (which would apply to half of the US population if the White House stopped blocking it), calls for 205 gCO2e/mi by 2016 (this is 127 g/km). EVs in California already get about 120 gCO2e/mi (75 gCO2e/km), and that number improves every year as the grid improves. (My EV is closer to 0, if you count the PV on my roof.) I think this is the reason Joe is enthusiastic about EVs.

    I’ve heard that LiFePO4 batteries from China cost about 500/kWh in hobbyist quantities. A123 says they see that price soon too (and I like what I hear from Bill Dube about A123’s qualify, safety, and performance).

  50. Earl Killian says:

    Michael, thank you for your response. You said a number of things, but I don’t think you answered most of my questions. In case it helps, my questions come from your webpage only and the only purpose is clarification of your position (which in my mind is unclear based upon what I’ve read). They are unrelated to the discussion in these pages or outside sources. You mentioned CCS, but I don’t see the relevance to my questions. CCS will never be cheaper than non-CCS unless there is a price for carbon. Your response here suggested you did not think a price for carbon likely (“utopian or very distant”). That makes my question about old dirty energy all the more important.

    Also, I never asked about breakthroughs. (You sort of responded as if I had.) I have deliberately avoided the word, and instead concentrated on the language on your webpage (under “Ideas”) about investing in clean energy to reduce its price. You said the same sort of thing in your response above (last paragraph).

    Your stated goal, both on your webpage and your response is to “Bring the real price of clean energy down as quickly as possible.” Does “down” mean below the cost of dirty energy?

    I believe you believe that this policy is necessary, but I would like you to answer whether you believe this policy is sufficient? If it is not sufficient, what other policies are necessary? Your last paragraph in your response above seems to suggest that R&D investment in cheap energy is sufficient, but I would like to be more sure that this is what you intend (much confusion has resulting from reading too much into tea leaves in this discussion). Let’s remove the uncertainty if possible.

    How many years do you think the investment program on your webpage will take to make new clean energy cheaper than new dirty energy? (Not a firm number, just an educated estimate.)

    What do you think the world should do about GHG between now and then? What level of GHG do you think Earth will experience in this timeframe?

    Is the investment program on your webpage also targeted at reducing the cost of new clean energy to less than cost of old (paid-off) dirty energy? If so, how long is this likely to take? If not, does BI have a proposal to shut down existing dirty energy plants, since you suggest carbon pricing is unlikely? If we don’t shut down existing dirty energy plants, how do we prevent reaching disastrous GHG levels in the atmosphere?

  51. Earl Killian says:

    Michael, one more clarification, if I may: when you suggest above investing 50 to 80 billion per year “to scale up the new energy technologies”, do you mean having the Federal government fund deployment of these technologies, or do you mean research and development? If a mixture, how much for deployment do you think is appropriate, and how much for R&D?

  52. Eli Rabett says:

    Earl Killian makes an excellent point. Is it possible to make the cost of non-fossil fuel energy less than that of fossil fuel energy. The second layer of this is, to do so, will we have to increase the cost of fossil fuel energy to include the externalities (carbon tax, emission trading regime, etc.)? I strongly suspect that in the short run it will be necessary to do so. I gather that Schellenberger and Ted Nordhaus don’t, but I don’t understand the basis of their optimism.

  53. hapa says:

    joe, you said no wedge nits without replacements but if i say you’re double-booking reforestation, i’m a helpful fact-checker, right? providing an ecosystem service service? hansen’s yaleglobal paper said 350 came via 50 removal through geogardening and ag changes. so you can’t use a chunk of that to prevent the peak, too, methinks?

    bunny et al, when pricing carbon globally, for generating adaptomitigational revenue, forget not historic carbon, for yea has this translated to GDP per capita and thus unto capability to pay-to-replace.

  54. jcwinnie says:


    Thanks. That probably would be ABAT for the Chinese lithium iron phosphate. As to A123, I understand that they work better when you avoid running the motorcycle into a wall.


  55. Joe says:

    Hapa — good question. But I think we’ll need a technology to suck CO2 out of the air post-2050.

  56. hapa says:

    need columns: “flora food” and “i think you should be more explicit here in step two.”

    (have you read lester brown’s book?)

  57. Earl Killian says:

    jcwinnie, Yes, crashing is a bad idea (but it was a minivan, not a wall, I think). There are about 3 Chinese manufacturers of LiFePO4 batteries. LiCo may be fixable as well (e.g. the addition of Mn seems to help). That would be nice, because I think LiCo is more like 270/kWh.
    But of course this is too new to be in commercial LiIon batteries.

  58. swc1983 says:

    What are the environmental impacts of wind and solar? I hear a lot of talk about how green they are because they are renewable. What about the space for solar panels or wind generators? Will land have to be cleared? If most are in the sea, will that have an effect on currents/marine life? Will forest have to be cut down to accomodate solar panels or wind mills?

    just ?’s for thought. i am not sure of the answers

  59. Earl Killian says:

    swc1983, as far as your marine life question, please see

    CSP is typically located in the desert, and so little needs to be cut down. Desert is of course habitat too, so it is important to use as little as possible. NREL’s Fuel from the Sky report estimated 0.5% of the land in the areas they looked at could provide 2098 TWh per year of power. That is why efficiency is so important. Efficiency could reduce the U.S. power needs by over 40% (proven by states that have done it). The land use impacts are an important reason not to waste energy by storing it as hydrogen (that wastes a factor of 2-4 of the the energy).

    Wind is typically located in open areas, or offshore. It can coexist with farming and grazing land, which are typically already cleared.

  60. Ted says:

    Sir, you completely leave out geothermal heat pumps, one of the fastest growing of the renewable energy technologies (or is it a conservation technology? Or an efficiency technology? No matter). Replacing electric resistance heating with geo would cut electricity by about 65% in those applications. Replacing gas and oil heat with geo and pairing it with hydro, PV, wind or (yes, I’m “sorry”) nuclear, would nearly eliminate GHG emissions from building heating and cooling, which is a large chunk of emissions.

    Geothermal heat pumps are here, they are something every homeowner can use when designed and installed by a qualified designer and contractor, and they already deliver tremendous benefits to society every day. Please investigate!

  61. Joe says:

    I am a big advocate of geothermal heat pump. Have been for over a decade. I tend to see them as an efficiency strategy, but they could also be in the geothermal slice. I might give them more prominence in the future.

  62. hapa says:

    ok it took me a little backward work but now i can look at this more closely. can i stack them how they seem to me, by time?

    THINGS that can be done quickly, overhaul-style, that would greatly bring down the curve:

    – vehicle efficiency / wind for vehicles
    – wind for power
    – solar photovoltaics
    – small solar thermal for space/water heat (lester estimates this at a slice; is it included in “efficiency”?)
    – immed. air-tightening of building codes for rentals, renovations, new stock; anti-sprawl etc; also green strings
    – get a grid-of-grids plan quick and install demand management quicker
    – outlaw wasteful tech, don’t wait for pricing to get it
    – focus cogeneration on facilities that require fossil fuel heat, move others straight to the clean grid

    THINGS over the longer term:

    – concentrated solar thermal
    – efficiency

    THINGS with vulnerabilities:

    – nuclear power. this and river-hydro have a related problem.…
    – coal with CCS. if there’s coal left standing by the time CCS is practical, we probly blew it.
    – cellulosic biofuels (and later). this seems like another water problem. regardless, what do you think of burning most of the fiber instead of fermenting it?

    thank you for helping me understand.…

  63. Todd McKissick says:

    There are many ways of using alot less energy. For starters, we could use motion sensitive LED street lights with PV on their tops. We could inform drivers of impending greens so they could better time their approach to avoid stopping. We could run a DC power bus around our house wiring to eliminate the dozens of 70% or less efficient AC to DC power supplies in all our latest digital (DC based) equipment. We could make use of the .99 to 4.99 mhz of unused internet bandwidth in most households to make a smart grid today, instead of way in the future. We could integrate a point-to-point lightweight maglev rail in a majority of densly populated and high transportation areas which could also serve as a driverless frieght system. We could also encourage more local food products as opposed to shipping it half way around the world. These are all in addition to the efficiency/conservation pushes currently underway.

    Of the remaining energy needs, we have a number of things available to help meet the demand. We could spread out large scale wind (towers and high altitude farms), geothermal, solar thermal, hydro, tidal and possibly a few others across the landscape as their resources allow. We can’t forget the solar thermal aluminum foundries going in in the ‘other’ countries. On the smaller scale, we could continue with PV and wind, but build up the market for solar thermal and ground source heat pumps while waiting for fuel cells, hydrogen / methane / compressed air and run-of-river turbines to make it. Many of these systems produce capturable waste heat which effectively doubles it’s usable energy output. For the still unhappy commuter, there’s the HEV and PHEV and the latest round of pure BEVs that rival a porsche in ‘fun’. For those STILL unhappy, we can grow genuine gasoline in greenhouses from photosynthesized algae or refine our veggie oil. For rail, we won’t need as much to transport as today since my neighbor’s train runs averaged 88% coal last year. For them and the airline industry, we can direct our biodiesel towards for their power. Since the personal rapid transit system is private and point-to-point at high speed, I’m guessing air travel will be more limited to overseas.

    Since storage on a small scale is virtually identical as demand reduction (DR) and distributed generation (DG) is an extension of storage, as far as the grid cares, we only really have DR. No one cares if I shut off my 1000w light or my neighbor kicks on a 1 kw genset. The same is true for large scale systems where hydro can cover peaks better except that there’s more of a coherant intelligence behind the timing. What’s needed is a way to extend this purposeful decision making down to the small scale where economies of scale (unit quantity vs. unit size) take effect to make a massive collective difference.

    Currently, our energy is being used in many ways that make no sense at all and I would guess we can cut that usage by over half, THEN start looking at what energy needs we have left. How much of our oil, in barrels, goes to move other energy around? How about the daily shipments of fresh alaskan fish to most major cities in the US? How about the truck driver going all over town to fill a load before driving it to another city? I don’t even see anyone discussing traffic aggressiveness as opposed to the lame argument of speed alone. We’re all in for a long and redundant battle until we start to address these types of issues and dismissing them in favor of any one-size-fits-all approach is purely emotional passion. Any attempt to regulate a solution will miss many winners and they will die on the vine. I say get the government as far out of the game as possible and let the markets decide on all levels what works best for them. Donate some no-strings money to your favorite renewable startup. I’m sick and tired of paying my middle-eastern counterpart so much money.

  64. John Johnson says:

    This discussion on Global Warming is crazy. It seems that you are offering “scientific data”, but in reality it is not accurate. The Earth is always changing there have been cycles of warmth, and cold throughout this planets history. Everything is not centered on the earth. The biggest generator of heat is the sun. The oceans if you can believe compromise 75% of the earth’s surface. It takes a significant amount of energy to raise, or lower the temperature of the earth’s oceans. Can you imagine heating water at a depth of 4000 feet or greater. This all has an impact on the atmosphere. The current “global warming movement” is really a political movement to control people. Look at the price of gas, food, and energy. For years the powers that be have been trying to convince people to move closer to the cities, and develop public transportation. Humm – looks like the mew tactic is working. The theme seems to center it self around live in an agrarian society, but let me keep my 30,000 sq ft mansion with all the amenities. Conservation for the masses, and affulence for the few.

    The conversation is turning from whether there is climate change to what must be done to address it. However, Americans are confused by too much information and haven’t connected the issue with their own need to change. Environmentalist non-profits are finally recognizing that engaging people is at least as important as technical issues/solutions. However, many address individual behavior change as an end in itself.
    Most people now believe climate change is a big problem. We now need to focus less on communication and education and more on initiatives that engender behavior change. Organizational Development, Community-based Social Marketing,the Tipping Point and successful social movements provide methods and tools to do this.
    Behavior change is necessary but not sufficient. Root cause analysis shows that Americans can most help by influencing public policy on a local and national level.
    We should appeal to people’s fundamental values (security, health, wellbeing) and self-interest, rather than positions or principles. We should also connect with local issues people most care about.
    We’re finally learning that we have to market sustainability: segmenting our target market, understanding what drives key segments, and developing messages and mechanisms that appeal to each.
    The 1000s of organizations working on climate change are duplicating efforts, drawing from the same funding sources, conveying overlapping messages, etc., This wastes time and resources, reducing our impact and leverage. The environmental community isn’t focusing on the highest-leverage stakeholders and activities. Also, there are many sustainability indices; both general and specific. These things waste time and resources, reduce our impact and leverage and create confusion.
    There are a number of actions we can take to better coordinate and get leverage from limited resources:
    Implement a more formal coordinating mechanism based on an association or similar model.
    Convene forums where NPOs with overlapping missions can reach agreement on how best to leverage their efforts and resources.
    Rate NPO’s in terms of their efficiency and effectiveness, to help funders make more informed decisions about where they can get the “biggest bang for the buck”.
    Strongly encourage philanthropists to make collaboration among organizations a criterion of grant awards, as some have started to do.
    Learn from how “the Right” gained ascendency in the political sphere.
    Rather than trying to get every corporation on board, there’s more leverage in focusing on those few industries most responsible for CO2 emissions which would have the most to lose in de-carbonizing. We need a concerted effort to develop solutions that will meet the needs of these industries, and ways to counter the influence of those who won’t come around.
    Use efforts like ISO and Baldrige in the Quality space to point the way to a consolidation of the indicators.
    Zero-sum thinking permeates the environmental movement.
    While we need to address many issues in parallel, we also need to push on the few pressure points that will have the biggest impact in the shortest time. One way is to ask who has the power. My sense is that big investors like pension funds, CEOs of major corporations and the media all have outsized influence on what gets done. Our strategy must focus on persuading people in these positions to use their power to forward the environmental agenda.

  66. I thank you for educating me, a non scientist and just an artist/builder/veteran. I am totally out of my element but find this post and your conversation absolutely necessary to the preservation of life on Earth.

    My Question is what about geothermal energy? Is it true that it is a great alternative to carbon emitting and nuclear sources. Would the time factor involved make it worth considering as one of the items on your list? and is it Sweden that is the country already run on that energy source. It not then what is that country and what are the emmision results?

  67. That means you can have 4-6 wedges of nuclear power.
    2800 GW of nuclear energy. Over 50 years, it is only $50 billion/yr, doable, and it will cost much less (and use up much less space) than this:
    3 of concentrated solar thermal – ~5000 GW peak.

  68. David Lewis says:

    Where do people get the idea that the planetary system is not committed to catastrophe already? If you accept that things were fine at the preindustrial 280 ppm, and understand that the current value including all greenhouse gases is somewhere around 430 ppm CO2 equivalent, and you’ve thought about what the ice core data means, things do look rather grave. No one can know until it happens, whatever is coming, and I think it would be better for all if better ways were found to talk about this issue that incorporate this truth.

    So, hoping that catastrophe isn’t already in the cards, and even if it is, I would also like to point out, which many of you obviously already know, that it is likely that Hansen will get more support for his 325 – 350 ppm position, i.e. from some future IPCC report, which makes all this 450 ppm discussion seem a bit irrelevant in some ways. Hansen himself has been describing a target of 450 ppm as “a recipe for global disaster” since around December 2007.

    And on to my points. One, I see some think market forces can’t accomplish amazing things if an overall direction is set by government in the form of putting a price on CO2 and other gases.

    Step through the looking glass and think about what is going on from the opposite perspective. Market forces are driving human beings at this moment to destroy the stability of the climate system using no other mechanism than leaving out the relevant price on the ecological damage from transactions. The main problem with relying on market forces is that governments will have to enact a price on greenhouse gases that is high enough and globally implemented enough to get the job done, but why this should be more difficult to achieve than any other proposed solution to the problem isn’t clear. Once an effective price is put on greenhouse gases, all individuals on Earth will then have a new motivation to change their behavior in very many ways to avoid paying these prices. To illustrate the power of price, note that US gasoline consumption and driving miles actually declined for a while when the price went high enough to hurt recently. GM and Ford shut down plants left and right and are busy retooling to build smaller cars and a more electric fleet. Nothing else other than a price rise has caused a reduction in miles driven in the US.

    Point 2: seeing hope in technological development is reasonable, notwithstanding the caveats published by some above. Obviously, when sizing up how difficult a task might be it is wise to assume we will have to rely on what is available now. However, experience in war when the survival of the US was deemed to be on the line as in WWII was quite startling – technological development leaped ahead on any number of fronts from the invention of nuclear bombs to aircraft detection to code breaking to military strategy to the design and construction of all types of equipment for the simple reason that people put their best effort forward as a matter of survival backed by the entire resources of a very powerful state. The language still has the phrase “war time effort”, etc, to describe research and development projects that produced incredible results in very short time periods. As for the motivation required for a best effort: almost to the day before Pearl Harbour most college educated men in the US were isolationists. After that, they signed up en masse and fought in the Pacific for instance as almost no other people in history have ever fought, allowing their commanders to throw them onto islands where they stood up to casualties in excess of 85% in some cases , they were so fired up to defeat their enemy at whatever cost to preserve their home land.

    Point 3: in the tech development I find promising department that I see few talking about is the development of ultracapacitors to replace batteries as EEStor in Texas (backed by Lockheed Martin and Kleiner Perkins) say they are about to unveil. Lockheed Martin is the largest defence contractor by revenue in the world and they say “they are very impressed with” EEStor noting “they are taking an approach that lends itself to a very quick ramp-up in production”. Kleiner Perkins are venture capitalists from the Valley who paid $25 million for 20% of Google in its early days: they also have done similarly well with startups once thought to be insignificant such as Amazon, Genentech, Netscape, Sun, etc. They are said to have the biggest equity stake in the EEStor startup.

    EEStor has yet to sell a product, however what they say they have is fascinating: a 5 minute recharge is possible under optimum conditions, they claim a greater than 300 mile range for a small car, they say they have achieved a higher energy density to weight than any battery, approaching 1/4 of the useful energy density of gasoline, and, they say their product will be capable of taking a practically unlimited number of recharges over an expected lifetime of more than 15 years.

    Engineers and their backers are waking up all over the world even now, and the world has yet to lift one finger to take this problem on. A recent graduating class of a Canadian engineering college donated its collective final semester work into the public domain: a state of the art electric car motor controller. The kids want a future and they want to be put to work. Don’t sell them short.

    I read Joe Romm’s dump on the Los Alamos proposal to extract CO2 from ordinary air for conversion to gasoline at $4.50 a gallon. This kind of thing could be left to the market if greenhouse gas emissions were taxed high enough. Why reject nuclear power based on the mistakes of the Soviet Union? They didn’t use containment buildings. James Hansen is circulating the ideas of an engineer who says a new generation of nuclear could be built that would use the high level waste of the previous generation as fuel. What is wrong with nuclear if a design that could not melt down that consumed the wastes of the past was proven to be possible?

    In any case, it won’t be up to today’s bloggers and campaigners to make the decisions when the time comes. The entire civilization will be involved in what it will then be seeing as the central problem that it faces. What would happen if the entire resources of the world were brought to bear on a situation deemed to be nothing less than the survival of civilization?

    No matter when it starts, at some point this is what will happen. So, have faith. A lot may be lost before action starts, but it will feel a lot better when the biggest problem is just what to do about the problem, rather than how to persuade people to take this problem on.

  69. cce says:

    Is there a scholarly reference for the “1 Wedge CCS infrastructure = Oil infrastructure” tidbit? Thanks!

  70. Earl Killian says:

    cce, a wedge is a reduction of 1 GtC/year at the end of the period (50 years in the original, 25 in Joe’s accelerated version). 1 GtC is 3.7 GtCO2. Current world petroleum production is around 84 million barrels a day. A barrel is 0.140 tonnes. Thus current world petroleum production is 4.3 Gt/year. It’s not exactly equal, but pretty close.

  71. We have enough nuclear fuel for FIVE THOUSAND YEARS according to “Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy”, by B. Comby. “Breeding” fissionable fuel and recycling nuclear fuel greatly extends the supply. We have many possible uranium mines that we haven’t started mining. The reasons we are not doing so are political and psychological. Most people have an irrational fear of anything nuclear caused by coal industry propaganda. Rather than waste fuel by putting it in Yucca Mountain, we should be recycling.

    Everything, including yourself, is made of atoms. All atoms have nuclei. You have many atomic nuclei inside yourself since you are made of atoms. The simplest nucleus is one proton [hydrogen]. That would be a hydrogen atom. An oxygen atom has 8 protons and either 8, 9 or 10 neutrons in its nucleus. All other nuclei also have neutrons. Uranium has 92 protons and either 143 or 146 neutrons. If it has 143 neutrons it is U235. If it has 146 neutrons, it is U238. Nuclear fuel is only 2% to 8% U235, the kind that fissions/divides, providing energy. The rest is U238 that doesn’t fission. A nuclear reaction happens when a neutron is captured by a nucleus. If a U235 nucleus captures a neutron, the nucleus and the atom split approximately in half and 2 or 3 neutrons are released because the 2 smaller nuclei don’t need so many neutrons. If a U238 nucleus captures a neutron, it ejects an electron and the neutron becomes a proton. The U238 thus becomes Plutonium 239 [Pu239]. In a power reactor, the Pu239 quickly captures another neutron, becoming Pu240. Pu240 is useless for making bombs, which is why governments that have plutonium bombs have their own special reactors to make Pu239. Plutonium is fissionable, which means that plutonium is a good fuel. If you add Thorium to the fuel, you can make more fissionable uranium. If a Thorium atom nucleus captures a neutron, it ejects an electron and the neutron becomes a proton. The Thorium atom thus becomes U233. U233 is fissionable.

    Depending on the design of the reactor and the mix of the fuel, the fuel % in the reactor can either grow or shrink. It is kind of like the fuel gauge can go either up or down, but it is more like the reactor can run hotter or cooler over time. The temperature is kept constant by adjusting the control rods. A breeder reactor is a reactor designed to make the fissionable part of the fuel load grow rapidly. In the US, fuel is left in the reactor for about 10 years, or 10% of the fuel is replaced each year. The reprocessing step sorts out the fuel and puts the percentage of fissionable fuel back to the starting percentage. In the process, plutonium may be removed and either wasted or used as fuel. If we add thorium to the fuel, we can make more uranium than we put in. Since the earth contains more than twice as much thorium as uranium, it would be wise to make thorium into uranium. By reprocessing nuclear fuel, we get an enormous, many centuries long fuel supply. The products of fission are also removed when fuel is reprocessed. These are just other ordinary atoms that are no longer useful as fuel. The quantity is very small. We should reprocess fuel to keep the fuel load at the correct percentage of fissionable fuel for the particular reactor design. Instead, we go through the expensive process of making more “virgin” fuel for each new fuel load. This greatly increases the price you pay for electricity. We are not reprocessing nuclear fuel for political reasons. France reprocesses fuel and France has a nuclear waste repository.

    I have zero financial interest in nuclear power, and I never have had a financial interest in nuclear power. My sole motivation in writing this is to avoid extinction by H2S gas. H2S is how global warming kills everybody if we don’t act.

  72. “Power to Save the World; The Truth About Nuclear Energy” by
    Gwyneth Cravens, 2007 Finally a truthful book about nuclear
    power. Gwyneth Cravens is a former anti-nuclear activist.

    Page 13 has a chart of greenhouse gas emissions from electricity
    production. Nuclear power produces less greenhouse gas [CO2]
    than any other source, including coal, natural gas, hydro, solar and
    wind. Building wind turbines and towers also involve industrial
    processes such as concrete and steel making. Wind turbines
    produce a total of 58 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour. Nuclear
    power plants produce a total of 30 grams of CO2 per kilowatt
    hour, the lowest. Coal plants produce the most, between 966 and
    1306 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour. Solar power produces
    between 100 and 280 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour. Hydro
    power produces 240 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour. Natural gas
    produces between 439 and 688 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour.
    Remember the total is the sum of direct emissions from burning fuel
    and indirect emissions from the life cycle, which means the
    industrial processes required to build it. Again, nuclear comes in
    the lowest. Nuclear would produce even less CO2 per kilowatt
    hour if the safety were lowered to the same level as other sources
    of electricity. Switching from coal to nuclear is a 97% reduction in
    electricity’s 40% of our CO2 output.

    Page 15: The Sierra Club used to favor nuclear power over hydro
    but switched for political reasons.

    Page 17: Coal kills 24000 Americans and 400000 Chinese every
    year. Nuclear has killed ZERO Americans total. Hydro has
    killed 1000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Chinese.

    Page 35: Your golf clubs may contain depleted uranium [DU].
    Don’t worry, and don’t confuse DU with spent fuel. DU is what is
    removed from the uranium to make it enriched in U235. DU is
    pure U238. U238 has such a long half life that it is almost not
    radioactive. DU is safe to handle, but don’t eat it because it is a
    chemical poison. Heavy metals in general are poisons, radioactive
    or not. DU has other uses that depend on its high density.

    Page 50: Power reactors make Plutonium 240 [Pu240]. Pu240 is
    useless for making bombs. Plutonium bombs require Pu239.
    Pu239 is made in reactors that are specialized for making Pu239.
    Governments own Pu239 makers, not power companies.

    Page 60: 0.0007 pounds of uranium enriched to 4% without
    recycling produces as much energy as 149 gallons of oil or 157
    gallons of regular gasoline or 17000 cubic feet of natural gas or
    1780 pounds of coal.

    Page 70: Natural background radiation where the author happens
    to be at the time is higher than what people living at Chernobyl are
    getting. The US national average background radiation is 360

    Page 71: The natural background radiation in northeastern
    Washington state is 1700 millirem/year.
    The natural background radiation on the Zuni uplift is 500 to 700
    The natural background radiation in New Mexico is greater than the
    calculated dose from the Three Mile Island meltdown, if you were
    next to the reactor.
    A chest x-ray gives you 10 millirem.

    Page 72: The natural background radiation inside Grand Central
    Station is 600 millirem/year because Grand Central Station is made
    of granite. [ALL rocks are radioactive.]
    The allowed exposure to the public from a nuclear power plant is
    15 millirem/year.
    A set of dental X-rays gives you 39 millirem.

    Page 74: Smoking a pack and a half of cigarettes a day gives your
    bronchial airways 1300 millirems/year according to the NCRP OR
    8000 millirems/year according to the National Academy of

    Page 75: A coal fired power plant gives you 100 to 400 times as
    much radiation as a nuclear power plant. Worldwide, an average
    person gets 0.01 millirem/year from nuclear power plants, the same
    as eating one banana. Bananas contain potassium and some of the
    potassium is radioactive potassium 40. This has always been the

    Page 76: The cancer rate in New Mexico is much lower than the
    national average but the natural background radiation is much
    higher than average. The highest rates of cancer are around heavy
    industry, chemical factories and petrochemical factories. [Benzene,
    a petroleum distillate, is a very powerful carcinogen.]

    Page 77: Natural gas contains radon, a radioactive gas.

    Page 86: Among 80000 nuclear bomb survivors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the cancer rate was only 6% higher than expected. Radiation is very weak at causing cancer.

    Page 90: At Chernobyl, only 13 to 30% of the reactor’s 190 metric
    tons of fuel evaporated. .13X190=24.7 tons.
    .3X190=57 tons. [Much lower than the previous estimate of 200
    tons, and trivial compared to what coal fired power plants give you.]

    Page 98: There is a table of millirems per year from the
    background in a list of inhabited places.
    Chernobyl: 490 millirem/year
    Guarapari, Brazil: 3700 millirem/year
    Tamil Nadu, India: 5300 millirem/year
    Ramsar, Iran: 8900 to 13200 millirem/year
    Zero excess cancer deaths are recorded. All are natural except for

    Page 99: There was an epidemic of PSYCHOSOMATIC illnesses
    caused by the Chernobyl accident.

    Page 100: Only 50 deaths can be directly attributed to radiation at

    Page 140: “Troublemakers know we humans instinctively tend to”
    think of the worst case as the prediction. People think the false
    urban legends about Chernobyl are the norm. [Human instincts
    were evolved over the past 400 Million years of pre-stone-age.
    Human instincts are no longer applicable, but, without training as a
    scientist, most people operate instinctively. Your instincts, and
    mine, are just plain wrong.] Probabilistic Risk Assessment is a
    much better method of making decisions, but it requires a lot of
    science, math and computer time. We have accumulated 12
    Thousand reactor years of safe operation. [Chernobyl is unlike any
    reactor in the western world. American reactors can NOT do what
    Chernobyl did.]

    Page 144: “[A] terrorist trying to crash a jet into a spent-fuel pool
    would fail to cause a disaster.”

    Page 153: “By 2013 a total of 500 metric tons, or the equivalent of 20,000 warheads, will be turned into low-enriched fuel with the energy equivalent of three billion tons of coal (thirty million coal cars).”

    Page 173: “The life span of people in lands with electricity is double that of people in places where there is none,”

    Page 178: A discussion of the generations of reactors. The author omits Generation Zero, the very first reactor ever built, in 1944. The reactors at Chernobyl [there are 3 left at the same site] are much like Generation Zero and lack true containment buildings.

    Page 179: The USA is now on Generation 4 reactors. Generation 4 reactors are impossible to melt down, no matter what the operators do.

    Page 180: “”In 2006, more than 435 reactors in thirty two countries supplied 16 percent of the world’s electricity with a safety record far superior to that of fossil fuel or hydroelectric generation — and that’s including the Chernobyl fatalities.”

    Page 181: The core of the reactor at Three Mile Island melted down as badly as the core at Chernobyl, but the reactor at Three Mile Island had a containment building. The containment building did its job. NOBODY was injured.

    Page 183: A helicopter above Three Mile Island measured radiation. [If the radiation released from a nuclear plant was deuterium or tritium, the hydrogen goes straight up and leaves the planet earth, never to return. Deuterium and tritium are “heavy” hydrogen. The earth does not have enough gravity to hold hydrogen or helium. A release of deuterium or tritium gives you and the earth zero radiation.] There was never any danger to people on the ground at Three Mile Island.

    Page 184: The New York Times wrote 120 articles per year on automobile accidents covering 50,000 deaths and 200 articles per year on nuclear power plant accidents covering ZERO deaths. TV news coverage uses inflammatory language regardless of the fact that nobody died and nobody was injured by accidents at nuclear power plants.

    Page 187: The health effects of the Three Mile Island meltdown were psychological.

    Page 190: “In over twelve thousand cumulative reactor-years of nuclear plants making electricity in thirty two countries, there have been only two major accidents in the history of nuclear power, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island-2.” [Reactor number 2 at Three Mile Island.]

    Page 193: Gwyneth Cravens visits a coal fired power plant. It is everything she expected of a nuclear power plant.

    Page 195: The coal fired power plant at Riverbend, North Carolina makes 500 megawatts. It requires 14,300 train cars of coal per year. Coal is 44% of the tonnage for Class I railroads and provides 21% of the railroad’s revenue. There were 154 coal mining fatalities from 2002 to 2006. The Riverbend plant consumes 4,500 tons of coal per day. The plant is super dirty and super noisy.

    Page 196: The captured fly ash [from a COAL fired power plant] includes arsenic, lead, molybdenum, cadmium, chromium, uranium and thorium. The fly ash is mixed with water, then dried out. Coal waste goes into bowling balls, golf balls, wallboard, paving materials and land fills. Mercury is an invisible gas as it exits the stacks. “Coal-fired plants are the biggest producers of mercury emissions in the country, spouting fifty unregulated tons per year.” “A 1,000-megawatt coal plant also freely disperses about twenty-seven metric tons of radiological material a year, exposing people to much more low-level radiation than a nuclear plant would.”

    Page 197: “If you live within fifty miles of a coal-fired plant, you’re exposed to 0.03 millirem a year. Living near a nuclear plant exposes you to 0.009 millirem a year.” “Those [soft coal burning] plants give off four hundred times more radio nuclides a year than a nuclear plant-one to four millirem.” “In the United States in 1999, coal combustion produced over 1,000 tons of uranium and 2,500 tons of thorium. This is enough fissile material to exceed the amount consumed by all the nuclear power reactors in the country in a year. After World War II, when scientists believed uranium to be rare, they considered extracting it from fly ash.”

    Page 198: “Every year a single 500-megawatt coal-fired plant alone sends up into the sky the same amount of carbon dioxide as 750,000 cars do.”

    Page 199: “The average American city-dweller today is responsible for about four tons of coal a year going up as smoke. Since electricity generation accounts for 92 percent, or 1.039 billion tons, of the coal we burn, it’s our reliance on it that helps make our nation the biggest single per capita contributor to the earth’s burden of anthropogenic greenhouse gasses. Our nation’s 626 coal-fired plants, over 500 of them quite old, are major offenders. America’s coal production reached a record 1.133 billion tons in 2005, while consumption reached a record 1.128 billion tons.”
    “[C]oal combustion…..causes an estimated twenty-four thousand premature deaths a year.”

    Page 200 “The industry is planning about 154 new American coal-fired plants.” “Gregory H. Boyce, Peabody’s president and chief executive officer, and one of the biggest donors to the Republican Party, served as chairman of a Department of Energy advisory panel that recommended exemptions to the Clean Air Act that boost coal’s clout over the next two decades.”

    Page 201: “Two truckloads of uranium ore contain the same energy to make electricity as two million tons of coal. “To get a million BTUs, fuel oil costs nine dollars, natural gas six dollars, coal a dollar-eighty-fife, nuclear fifty cents.”

    Page 202: Gwyneth Cravens visits a nuclear power plant. She is amazed at the quiet, the cleanliness, the safety and the security.

    Page 208: “To replace the power generated by Indian Point with a wind farm would require three hundred thousand acres.”

    Page 211: “In 2005, the production cost of electricity from nuclear power on average cost 1.72 cents per kilowatt-hour; from coal-fired plants 2.21; from natural gas 7.5, and from oil 8.09. American nuclear power reactors operated that year around the clock at about 90 percent capacity, whereas coal-fired plants operated at about 73 percent, hydroelectric plants at 29 percent, natural gas from 16 to 38 percent, wind at 27 percent, solar at 19 percent, and geothermal at 75 percent.” The costs per kilowatt hour for solar and wind are 600 or more times the cost for coal, and that is in sunny and windy places, respectively.

    Page 214: “[T]he [nuclear] industry is self-insured.” Liability insurance is NOT paid by tax payers.

    Page 216: Barriers. Terrorists will never get into a nuclear power plant. Quit being paranoid.

    Page 227: “The containment structures for power reactors,… are among the most durable structures on the planet: they’re constructed to withstand 200-mile-per-hour hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, all of which can provide a more energetic impact than anything terrorists would have at their disposal apart from a hydrogen bomb.” [What a waste of a perfectly good H-bomb!]

    Page 238: “As of 2006, nuclear powered submarines and ships had safely traveled a total of 134 million miles, and registered 5,700 naval reactor-years of safe operation of a total of 254 reactors.”

    Page 244: To replace our gasoline with hydrogen in the US, we would have to build 4,000 new nuclear reactors to provide power to make hydrogen and oxygen from water.

    Page 245: “Gasoline is denser and contains thousands of times more energy than its equivalent [volume] in hydrogen, so you can have a relatively small gasoline tank in your car.”

    Page 246: “Even a few watts from time to time have been found to make a difference in health and life expectancy.”

    Page 249: “The manufacture of photovoltaic panels requires highly toxic heavy metals, gasses, and solvents that are carcinogenic. …….. If a residential fire burns a solar panel, people would be at risk for exposure to toxic vapors and smoke, … . If modules are dumped into municipal landfills, then heavy metals such as arsenic and lead can leach into the soil and water table. Hundreds of thousands of years from now, some of those substances will still not have decayed: their life spans are essentially eternal.”

    Page 250: “Solar farms big enough to supply 1,000 megawatts per year [sic] or more would cover over fifty square miles and produce a quantity of toxic waste that would be significant.”
    “For the 70 to 80 percent of the time when nature isn’t cooperating [with your solar power scheme], you need the grid or a fossil-fuel generator.”
    “The largest systems of unsubsidized solar energy in a sunny place range from 22 to 40 cents per kilowatt-hour, in other words, solar is the costliest alternative energy of all.”

    Page 251: Solar power requires cutting down trees to keep the trees from shading your solar panels.
    “Wind tends to fail during heat waves. … Wind power turned out to be highly unreliable, with capacity plunging from its usual 33 percent to 4 percent during the time of peak demand.”

    Page 257: World CO2 emissions from electricity generation come to 9,500 million metric tons a year. Using a small footprint, hundreds of nuclear plants in more than thirty countries cut carbon emissions by 600 million metric tons every year.”

    Page 269: “[E]very day the collective households and industries of America throw away nearly a million tons of garbage containing toxic heavy metals and dangerous chemicals, as well as plastics that will never break down. That garbage will be our culture’s real legacy, enduring for millions of years after all the present nuclear waste has decayed.”

    Page 290: There is a mistake: She says that the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico is the only nuclear waste repository in operation. France has one.

    Page 363: France can build a nuclear power plant in 5 years.

  73. cce says:


    Thanks! Although I presume pumping CO2 around is harder than pumping oil!

    In the event anyone is interested, I’m working on a summary of Global Warming issues intended for a layman audience. The last three sections deal with policy:

    “Why Now?” (feedbacks, tipping points, and energy)

    “Facing the problem” (what needs to be done, high level policy decisions)

    “Technologies and Strategies” (specific solutions)

    The final format will be a narrated flash-based presentation, using the html versions as a basis. I may also create versions for Google Video. I’m hoping to get as much feedback as possible before I record the narration, which is a very time consuming process. I’d appreciate any suggestions! (contact info on main page).

  74. Cyril R. says:

    What about olivine sequestration? Seems pretty simple and ecologically benign. I’d attribute at least 10 wedges to that in a 2050 timeline.

  75. Busby Guy says:

    “Second, based on comments posted on this blog, it seemed to make more sense to present the total solution first before posting on each individual wedge in detail. But I do expect to blog in detail on each of these wedge in the coming months.” I totaly agree with this statement.

  76. We’re at 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year — rising 3.3% per year — and we have to average below 18 billion tons a year for the entire century if we’re going to stabilize at 450 ppm. We need to peak around 2015 to 2020 at the latest, then drop at least 60% by 2050 to 15 billion tons (4 billion tons of carbon), and then go to near zero net carbon emissions by 2100.

  77. and very helpful,thanks

  78. It’s better to shoot for a lower number such as 350 ppm that James Hansen and other say is safe. 450 ppm is too much, not safe, and will still lead to mass extinctions. Why talk about 450? Start lower, then maybe we can get them to at least 400ppm. If you talk too much about 450 it’s like the PIckens Plan, everyone will want to settle for one thing when we could do so much better!

  79. And as far as the Stabilization Wedges…. the pdf (less technical one) states:
    “The Carbon Mitigation Initiative is a joint project of Princeton
    University, BP, and Ford Motor Company to find solutions to the
    greenhouse gas problem.”

    You are using BP and an automobile manufacturer for advice on this?????

    I heard a scientist from BP give a lecture on climate change recently (via itunes) and he is advocating 500ppm or even 550 ppm, at which rate the human race will all be dead in 100 years. Advice like this is not what we need. Stick to scientists and scholars when giving out information — anything else is greenwashing!

  80. I would never read something that long again it was completely a waste of my time it took more than an hour to read it

  81. it was the most boring article I have ever wasted my time reading no one will ever read something that long

  82. cuocthiseo says:

    The post and all comment give a lots of useful informations about the health of our house, thank you very much.

  83. msn nickleri says:

    ThankSs What about olivine sequestration? Seems pretty simple and ecologically benign. I’d attribute at least 10 wedges to that in a 2050 timeline.

  84. Sam White says:

    Let’s remember the energy issues with wind power in areas that do not have feasible wind sites during the peak power months of July and August. We should avoid building wind in these areas(Appalachia Mtns for example), until we have an equivalent amount of power being generated by CCS Coal, nuclear, and/or photovoltaics.

  85. It seemed to make more sense to present the total solution first before posting on each individual wedge in detail.

  86. cet says:

    thanks you good

  87. 350-001 says:

    Thank You for this :)

  88. ShellyT says:

    OK, the political picture has changed.
    Do you think that stabilizing at 450ppm is politically possible now that Obama is in office?

    All I know is that this is dire and since Obama isn’t stupid, there must be some hope for this goal.

  89. e-okul says:

    Thanks you webmaster

  90. Abdulkerim says:

    Thanks you site admin..

  91. What about biomass to methane? Cow manure, sewage treatment plants, landfills, etc. How big a part could this play?


    A company called Converted Organics turns food waste into fertilizer. Basically composting on an industrial scale.

    Is it possible that there are several smaller solutions, maybe like these, that together add up to a wedge?

    Hemp for paper as part of the reforestation wedge.

  92. This post and all replies is a great climate resource.
    Thanks all of you.

  93. Barackoli says:

    i have read this post. Interesting

  94. student says:

    We could easly build cars the get gas milage close to100 miles per gallon
    I am working on a design to convert a Geo metro to a 3 wheel motor cycle 3rd whell will be electric and it shoudget well over 100 MPH and still get 80 + gas only mode we just need smaller cars

  95. I suspect a solid case can be made for a wedge of reduced vehicles miles traveled (VMT), providing carbon savings in reducing both transportation fuel consumption and roadway infrastructure costs.

    VMT can be reduced first and foremost through improved land use, capitalizing on the inherent geography of VMT in and around metropolitan areas, as Oregon pre-visioned and California has started to legislate. A range of other techniques will contribute.

    Like other base level consumption reductions, and unlike fuel substitutions, the savings multiply through the system. So I’ll trade you a wedge of savings through reduced VMT for a wedge of cellulosic biofuels, which are still increasingly dubious as to actual net carbon savings.

  96. ahmet says:

    Thanks for the excellent post and the kind words about me.