Climate

# Is 450 ppm politically possible? Part 2.5: The fuzzy math of the stabilization wedges

[Warning: This post has lots of numbers in it and isn’t short. But I hope this will be a “Eureka! I finally get it” post for those who read it to the end, as I’m going to unlock the final mystery of the wedges.]

I’d like to thank (!) Roger Pielke for his post, “Joe Romm’s Fuzzy Math.” Not because his analysis is correct — it isn’t. Not because of the tone — he says my climate solution is “fantastically delusional,” which better not be the case or our children and the next 50 generations are screwed. No, I’m thanking him because explaining why he isn’t correct will illuminate two key points in the climate solutions debate:

1. Princeton’s Socolow and Pacala make an important but surprising assumption in their wedges analysis (here) that few people realize. Anyone who wants to come up with their own 14 wedges (as opposed to accepting my solution laid out in Part 2), must understand what they did.
2. When you understand what Princeton did, then you’ll understand why Pielke’s critique is fundamentally wrong, and then I think you can understand at a more intuitive level why his Nature article is wrong, too.

THE WEDGES’ FUZZY MATH

Let’s start with what looks to be a major analytical mistake in the Princeton analysis. Recall that one wedge is a climate strategy that ultimately saves 1 billion tons of carbon a year or 1 GtC/year.

If you look at the original paper (here), they identify a typical wedge (#9 on their list) as “Nuclear power for coal power.” That “would require 700 GW of nuclear power with the same 90% capacity factor assumed for the coal plants” [which means the plant delivers power 90% of the time, or 8760 hours/yr x 0.9 = ~7900 hours/yr.]

But wait, you say, everybody knows a typical coal plant has a carbon intensity of 290 kilograms per Megawatt-hour. Or at least everyone who reads page 9 of the online Supplemental material (available here with subscription), much of which is now on their website, wedge by wedge, here. As they explain in the “efficient baseload coal plant” wedge (here), citing the IEA’s World Energy Outlook, 2002:

Year 2000 carbon in and electricity out for coal-based power plants were, respectively, 1712 MtC/y and 5989 TWh/y, resulting in a carbon intensity of 290 gC/kWh.

I have always preferred to use tons per MW-hr, so 290 gC/kWh = 290 kgC/MWh = 0.32 tC/MWh.

[For those who prefer CO2, that is ~1.2 tons/MWh for a typical coal plant — which, by the way, is a handy number to keep in your head for back-of-the-envelope calculations.]

But wait. If the 700 GW (= 700,000 MW) of nukes are replacing 700,000 MW of coal running 7900 hours a year and spewing out 0.32 tons of carbon per MWh, then this wedge yields 700,000 MW x 7900 hrs x 0.32 tC/MWh = 1.77 billion tons of carbon.

Oops. Isn’t a wedge 1 billion tons of carbon? This would seem to be a big mistake. Ah, but you didn’t read the fine print:

Princeton clearly states it is assuming that, in 2054, the nuclear plants are displacing “efficient baseload capacity.” And they clearly state (well, “clearly” if you look hard enough, in this case in Option 5) that is a coal plant whose “efficiency has improved to 50%.” Now, if you read the supplemental online material, which nobody I have ever met has except Socolow himself, then you know from page 14 that such a plant “has an average carbon intensity of coal plants in 2054 of 185 gC/kWh” = 0.20 tC/MWh. Avoiding or shutting down those coal plants gets you roughly the traditional wedge: ~1 billions tons of carbon saved by the 700 GW of nuclear.

WHY DID PRINCETON MAKE THIS “DANGEROUS ASSUMPTION”

Why did Princeton do this? Well, they don’t say exactly — and as I noted in Part 1, they don’t have an analytically rigorous baseline. So to make up for that flaw, they presumably wanted to incorporate some of the normal technological improvements that you would expect over 50 years. Indeed, if they kept technology frozen, people would no doubt have accused them of overstating the challenge. But yes, this does mean that they assumed that Business as Usual (BAU) included improvements in decarbonization — the same “dangerous assumption” Pielke criticizes the IPCC for. As we will see, however, this assumption isn’t all that dangerous, and ironically, it has the reverse impact on the wedges analysis than you (or Pielke) might think.

[NOTE: Stay with me readers, we are close to the crux of the entire debate that unlocks the final mystery of the wedges.]

Princeton says “Our BAU simply continues the 1.5% annual carbon emissions growth of the past 30 years.” That is fundamentally why they assume coal plants will be 50% efficient in 2054 when they are only about 30% efficient today.

But in fact, since 2000, carbon emissions have grown much closer to 3% per year. Does that mean we need twice as many wedges? Does this mean Pielke is right that I am assuming 16 (!) free wedges? Is he right when he states (here):

… the only way that Joe Romm’s ambitious solution even comes close to the mark is by assuming a significant spontaneous decarbonization of the global economy.

No.

To repeat the key point, it is not me who makes the spontaneous decarbonization assumption, it is Princeton. As I have exlained, the wedges already assume “a significant spontaneous decarbonization of the global economy” when they make the 2054 reference baseload coal plant for the wedges 50% efficient, or 0.20 tC/MWh.

What happens to the analysis if that decarbonization doesn’t occur for, say, the reason that a certain huge Asian country starts building an unimaginable amount of traditional coal plants rather than, say, superefficient, partially decarbonized coal plants. The number of wedges doesn’t change at all!

Why? Because now, when the world builds a “wedge” of nuclear plants or concentrated solar thermal plants, it is avoiding 700 GW of relatively inefficient, un-decarbonized coal plants. And that “wedge” is worth 1.77 billion tons of carbon.

In other words, the wedge in a world without “significant spontaneous decarbonization of the global economy” is worth 1.77 wedges from the world Princeton imagined where steady decarbonization has been assumed.

In other words, in a coal-mad recarbonizing world, you can get a 1 GtC wedge with a lot fewer nukes, CSP plants, efficiency, and so on.

REDOING (briefly) THE SOLUTION TO GLOBAL WARMING IN A WORLD THAT AVOIDS SIGNIFICANT SPONTANEOUS DECARBONIZATION

Imagine we’re in a world of 8 GtC that has gone mad for old coal, so emissions are rising 3% per year. Assume no “significant spontaneous decarbonization of the global economy” (i.e. we stay mad for old coal for decades). That means the BAU projection for 2050 is about 28 GtC. But we need to be at 4 GtC in 2050 for the 450 ppm path. So we need to cut 24 GtC off of BAU, which is 24/1.77 = 14 wedges!!

That’s right. If we use Princeton’s BAU assumption of steady decarbonization of coal plants, which returns us to their BAU assumption of 1.5% annual increase in carbon emissions, we need 14 wedges to get down to 4 GtC in 2050. And if we use Pielke’s assumption that does not allow “significant spontaneous decarbonization,” which means that BAU is 3% annual increase in carbon emissions, we still need the same exact 14 wedges to get down to 4 GtC in 2050. In Princeton’s world, those 14 wedges are worth 1 GtC/yr each in 2050 because they replace efficient, futuristic, decarbonized coal plants. In Pielke’s world, those 14 wedges are worth 1.77 GtC/yr each in 2050 because they replace traditional, inefficient, undecarbonized coal plants.

I really hope that is clear.

And that I think is another way to explain why the IPCC’s assumption of spontaneous decarbonization is not “dangerous,” since it doesn’t affect the outcome of their analysis. If we posit a “frozen-technology” scenario as Pielke does for his baseline in the Nature article, then all of the low carbon technologies the IPCC believes we need to deploy to stabilize at 450 ppm are all suddenly much more effective — since they are replacing 2000-era technology, and not future technology that has spontaneously decarbonized.

And I hope that is now clear, too.

I am not, however, going to accuse Pielke of fuzzy math in his post because, really, anybody could have made that mistake. I myself had to read the wedges paper and its supplemental material several times — and talk to Socolow a couple of times — over the last few years to figure out what they were really doing. I really think Socolow and Pacala should have spelled this out much more clearly up front. Pielke concludes:

Joe’s fuzzy math explains exactly why innovation must be at the core of any approach to mitigation that has a chance of succeeding.

Since my math isn’t fuzzy, you won’t be surprised that I believe my analysis here is yet more grist for my argument that we don’t need major technologies breakthroughs (at least in the first half of the century) to stabilize at 450 ppm. And as for my solution being “fantastically delusional,” well, I suppose that is for others to judge … I have always said it is not close to being politically acceptable today. But as we will see in Part 3, which discusses the possible role of breakthrough technologies in getting to 450 ppm, if my solution is fantastically delusional, then I do not think there are words to describe Pielke’s strategy.

[Note: Yes, I did everything in this post in terms of carbon even though I said I wouldn’t (here) because Princeton does everything in carbon, and I wanted to use the numbers they use in order to minimize the possibility of inconsistencies or mistakes. As an aside, I can’t tell whether what they label “tons” are or are not metric tons, which should be labeled “tonnes” — if anyone knows for certain different please let me know. A ton = 907 kg = .907 metric tons. It is only a 10% difference — and as is probably clear by now, Princeton’s analysis is simply not precise to better than 10% to 20%, if that, so it doesn’t really matter.]

#### 53 Responses to Is 450 ppm politically possible? Part 2.5: The fuzzy math of the stabilization wedges

1. Matthias Zeeb says:

Joe,
the link to Roger Pielke’s post on your math is not working.

2. Roger Pielke, Jr. says:

[JR: I’m going to put my comments here in italics, though I must confess, it would have been nice if you could just admitted you were wrong, rather than throw a bunch of new red herrings or Non sequiturs out there.]

Joe-

Thanks for the exchange. You appear to have identified another case where assumed efficiency gains contribute to the emisisons reductions challenge.

[JR: No, Roger, you have that backwards. Assumed efficiency gains reduce the challenge. You missed the whole point.]

If we can find just a few more of these assumptions then there may be no problem left to solve ;-) Seriously, here are a few comments:

1. Of your proposed 14 mid-century wedges, only 6 involve the production of energy. Given that the world will need more energy under all scenarios your displacement of coal is therefore limited to 6 wedges, and cannot reach 14 unless you come up with 14 involving the production of energy.

[I don’t get this comment at all, Roger. Of the 16 (!) wedges I list, 10 involve direct energy production. Cogen/CHP I lumped with efficiency, but it is really zero-carbon power generation. Another two are electricity efficiency, which directly substitute for the production of electricity. I don’t know what point you are making here, but your statement “your displacement of coal is therefore limited to 6 wedges” simply makes no sense.]

2. According to the EIA currently coal is responsible for about 3.0 GtC of global emissions, or about 36% of the current total global emissions. In 2050 using your data, of the 28 GtC, only 10 GtC would come from coal (using current technologies). So you can’t get 14 wedges from 10, so even if you came up with 14 on the production side you can’t get more than 10. Of course we could assume a faster rate of growth for coal, and then replace all of that (another creative use of assumptions!)

[Again, Roger, you missed the whole point of my post. You can’t take EIA’s fraction of coal today and use it in 2050 — the whole point is that the re-carbonization is occurring because the world is building a disproportionate amount of coal. Thus I would say probably 100% of the extra tons in 2050 are coal. By extra tons, I mean the ones beyond the 15 GtC that we would otherwise have if we stayed at the 1.5% carbon growth of the previous three decades that Socolow had assumed in their BAU. So in the heavily carbonized scenario you are positing, probably some 18 GtC are coal. So you are quite wrong and my analysis stands.]

3. If Pacala and Socolow are counting the increasing efficiency of coal plants BOTH as a contribution to the 1.5% per year increase in emissions (rather than a higher rate) and ALSO as a wedge, then they are engaged in double counting. You cannot have both! If this is true then they lose a wedge.

[Wow, Roger, have you even read any of my posts? This comment is a real non sequitur. Who cares if Pacala’s and Socolow’s more efficient coal plants wedge is double counting? I don’t use that wedge. I only use a few of their wedges. I thought it was clear that I’m only using the framework of their otherwise flawed analysis.]

4. You shaved 0.3% off the growth rate from your earlier post. That was worth 4 wedges.

[Actually, it would be 3 wedges in 2050. But I hardly think we know global emissions in 2000 and 2006 well enough to say that it was 3.3% annual growth vs. 3%. I really don’t think that using the round number is a big deal. Plus I provided 16 wedges anyway.]

Also, you use a 42-year short wedge, rather than 50 as do P&S, that is worth another 7 wedges.

[Another non-sequitor. I’m not defending their flawed approach. I’m proposing my own approach using their framework. I have repeatedly said we need to do this faster than 50 years.]

We can play the assumption game all day long. I will grant you that there are indeed a combination of assumptions that you can put together to get your math to work out. You haven’t yet done so, but I’m sure you can.

[I didn’t realize this was a game to you. For me, avoiding catastrophic global warming is the most serious thing we could possibly be doing. My math clearly works out. I guess it was overly optimistic of me to assume you would concede you were wrong, but at least my readers know that my 14 to 16 wedges are the solution I promised.]

But playing the assumptions game is why the “emissions reduction” framing is a little bit like balancing future gov’t budgets — it encourages the creative use of rosy assumptions. A more useful strategy would be to talk about how to meet the worlds future power needs using carbon free energy. You’ve proposed 12.5 TW for 2050. This won’t be nearly enough.

[Again, I haven’t made any rosy assumptions. One would have to say that assuming emissions growth of 3.3% per year for the next 42 years is pretty unrosy, though. In any case, you assert “I’ve proposed 12.5 TW for 2050” but you haven’t shown any analysis to support the 12.5 claim, nor have you shown any analysis why it wouldn’t be adequate. In any case, all of my numbers stand, so afraid we’ll just have to agree to disagree at this point, because you clearly don’t understand what I’ve written, and I must confess I don’t understand what you are now saying.]

3. Teryn Norris says:

Joe, in Part 2 you defined your 14 wedges in the following way:

“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.”

So just to clarify, this should have said your 14 wedges reduce global carbon emissions by 1.77 billion metric tons per year from projected levels, correct?

[JR: Not quite correct. If you assume we would have returned to 1.5% annual carbon growth 2010 to 2050, then the wedges are 1 GtC. At 3% growth, then yes, you’re right. At an intermediate growth rate, then you get an intermediate wedge.]

4. Earl Killian says:

I admit to not having read the supplementary materials. So Socolow and Pacala are assuming that the world’s existing set of coal power plants get shut down and a whole new set are built; one cannot retrofit such a large efficiency upgrade. The most efficient coal plant in the world is only 44% or so, and the average is much less (only 30% in China). True, the Japanese think they can get to 50% (http://www.env.go.jp/earth/cop/cop13/data/side-event/electricity.pdf), but they don’t really say how. See also Figure 8 of http://www.ecofys.com/com/publications/gate.asp?fn=documents/Ecofys-Comparisonfossilpowerefficiency_August2007.pdf

5. Roger Pielke, Jr. says:

Joe-

To summarize:

At 8.4 GtC in 2008 (which is too low, but OK), at 3% growth to 2050 this results in 29 GtC. If we allow your new and improved super-sized wedges of 1.8 GtC, you get 6 of these, or about 11 GtC. You have 8 remaining regular-sized wedges for another 8 GtC. Thus you are 29 minus 19, or 6 GtC short of your 4 GtC target in 2050.

[No, Roger, I don’t get 6. I get more than 10. Your assumptions are off. See my previous comments. In your 3% growth scenario, probably all of the extra tons (above the 1.5% scenario) are coal. But I may need all of my other 6 to get down to 4 GtC in 2050.]

If you had stuck with your original 3.3% emissions increase that would add 4 GtC, and if we went out the full 50 years add another 7 GtC. This results in another 11 regular sized wedges.

[Your phrase “the full 50 years” is a complete non sequitur. How many times do I have to repeat this point? I’m not defending Princeton’s flawed approach. Quite the reverse. I’m proposing my own approach using their framework. I have repeatedly said we need to do this faster than 50 years. You can keep attacking Princeton’s approach all you want if it makes you happy.

And Again, let’s not claim we know the carbon emission from 2000 to 2006 so precisely. I think 3% is a pretty damn conservative assumption.]

So I count you as still being either 6 or 17 wedges short, depending on assumptions, and granting you these super-sized wedges that you have come up with.

[Actually, maybe this was a useful exercise after all. I probably need 16 wedges, not 14. But that’s it. Thanks for the help, even if it was sort of unintentional.]

6. Earl Killian says:

I think what is necessary is spreadsheet giving the energy mix and emissions by year. That would make it clear, and it would allow you to generate some pretty graphs. Assign it to an intern ;-)

7. Joe says:

Earl — and all my readers — I’m sorry if this post was too mathematical.

But it was necessary for me to be clear in my own mind that my 14 to 16 wedges analysis was correct. And it has stood up to the best/worst Roger could throw at it. The Princeton analysis is simply too flawed to permit more precise statements.

The 14 to 16 wedges is the right ballpark and is fairly resilient to assumptions. If someone wants to say the right answer is 12 to 18 wedges, I would have no problem with that. You could also say, we need to get these wedges finished sooner, maybe 2045 or 2040. You would get no disagreement from me, obviously.

If we had a WWII mentality, we could do it by 2030. But, of course, we don’t.

Finally, Roger Pielke, Jr., has NEVER proposed his own detailed solution, so I think people should take all his comments with a large grain of salt. Until he does that, his largely irrelevant potshots at my solution are not worthy of much attention.

I won’t get to Parts 3 and 4 until next week.

8. Kiashu says:

The wedge is an interesting way of looking at things.

I don’t think your ongoing feud with Pielke is interesting. I’m interested in reading your ideas and why they’re good, not his ideas and why they’re bad. One or two entries, fair enough, but it’s getting a bit tedious.

9. Raven says:

Joe Says:
“Finally, Roger Pielke, Jr., has NEVER proposed his own detailed solution”

I can’t speak for Roger but I think the solution is obvious to most climate realists: focus on adaption because mitigation is an exercise in futility.

Look at what is happening today to food prices due to the combination of high oil prices and land lost to biofuels. Artificially increasing the cost of energy would make these kinds of problems much worse. Starving people don’t give a damn about CO2 no matter what people like Joe say.

10. Joe says:

Kiashu — OK. Message received. Still, it is important that one’s ideas stand up against attack.

11. Roger Pielke, Jr. says:

Joe-

You promised a list of technologies that if deployed in the coming decades would lead to net global emissions of 4 GtC. When it was pointed out that your math did not add up you played with your assumptions as follows:

1) Increased the size of your wedge from 1.0 GtC 50 years from now to 1.8 GtC 42 years from now. The shorter time frame means that you need less wedges.

2) Decreased the baseline growth rate that you had first proposed by about 10%. (Recall that you suggested 3.3%, not me.)

3) Assumed that the proportion of future primary energy consumption from coal will more than double (!) over the next 4 decades, representing a 6-fold increase in coal consumption.

I may have missed a few new assumptions. So what you have shown is that a list of practically impossible steps (I know we didn’t discuss this) can be shown to be sufficient to the task of reducing emissions if and only if we accept a wide range of assumptions put in place/modified after the analysis was challenged.

Look, I understand that you believe that it would be feasible for each of your proposed wedges to be implemented with 100% success on the time scale that you propose, and that you further believe that the assumptions required to make your math work out will pan out. But I’d ask that you respect that I doubt your optimism on wedge feasibility and also on the rosy scenarios. On this reasonable people can disagree. So lets agree to disagree.

But I hope that you will understand that my view of the importance of innovation 9as a complement, not replacement) lies in exactly these doubts of the likelihood of success of your proposed strategy. You have said that if we don’t get started by 2012 we’re in deep trouble. Well, that isn’t too far away, and when global emissions are around 10 GtC near 2012, I’d expect that you’ll find an innovation-based approach a lot more appealing. We shall see.

12. Jon says:

“Raven” is either a deliberate troll or so obtuse there is no discernible difference.

Check the comment sections here, here, and entire thread here.

13. Kiashu says:

Absolutely, Joe – but you don’t have to devote so many posts to a particular individual. If you’re dealing with “wedges”, then you’re looking at the global picture – keep it global.

14. Kiashu says:

And by the way, you’ve been mentioned in an ABC article here, though they stuffed up the link so it probably won’t bring traffic…

15. Ted Nordhaus says:

Joe,

Let’s assume, as you argue, that all of the additional growth in annual emissions above S/P’s 1.5% projection is due to inefficient coal fired power generation. This is probably not wise. Much of the rise in emissions will likely be driven by efficient coal generation – the world will just build a lot more of it than S/P assumed both because the global economy will grow faster and because much of that growth will be in very energy intensive sectors of the economy as developing nations build modern economic infrastructure. But we’ll put those factors aside for the moment and assume that the growth of emissions above the S/P projection is all due to very inefficient coal powered generation.

As I look at your wedges it appears to me that wind for power, solar thermal, PV, nuclear, CCS and the three non-vehicle efficiency wedges displace power generation. Wind for vehicles also displaces power generation but that is because we are assuming we have made a massive shift to plug in hybrids so that is displacing what would otherwise be vehicle emissions not emissions from power generation. Please correct me if I’ve missed something in the wedges you’ve suggested.

Let’s use a 1 GtC value for all wedges and multiply those wedges that we assume are replacing power generation by 1.77. By this calculation it appears to me that assuming 3% annual growth in emissions and starting with 8.4 GtC in 2008, you are a little more than a wedge short in 2050. Fair enough, you’re in the ballpark so long as we don’t look too hard at what it will take to get most of those wedges (e.g. in a post last week you estimated the upper end of potential for PV in 2050 at half a wedge. Here you have it accounting for an entire wedge).

But if we assume 3.3% emissions growth then you are 5 wedges short. If we, as I think Roger correctly suggests, start with 2008 emissions at 9 GtC and assume 3% annual emissions growth then you are 3.5 wedges short. And if we start at 9 GtC and assume 3.3% annual emissions growth then you are 7.5 wedges short.

I think that Roger’s point about assuming away the problem is that what appear to be very modest shifts in assumptions (like say the difference between 3.0 and 3.3. percent growth in annual emissions) when compounded over time, have enormous implications on scale of the challenge. Assume 1.5% annual growth in emissions, as S/P do, and you get to choose your wedges. Assume 3% growth in emissions annually and you pretty much have to throw every wedge you have at the problem. Assume 3.3% and start at 9GtC and even after you’ve thrown every wedge you can come up with at the problem you’re still 7 wedges short – as many wedges as the orginal S/P analysis assumed would be necessary to acheive stabilization, only now you’ve already thrown every wedge you can imagine at the problem.

Now you can continue to try to prove that we can achieve stabilization with existing technology no matter the emissions scenario and we can try to prove that you can’t. But, as you’ve noted, wedges are an analytical tool and I think that what this tool is suggesting to us is that if current emissions trends continue, meaning that we don’t revert to the 1980 – 2000 emissions trajectory and rather have entered a new phase of global economic and energy development, a view that I think is imminently defensible and that will be pretty definitively validated over the next couple of years, then we are making a pretty risky bet if we are counting on current technology and currently proposed policies (cap and trade plus efficiency and renewables regulations) to achieve stabilization.

That bet is risky on two counts. First, we are betting that pretty much every renewable energy technology we have comes up sevens and can realistically be widely deployed at acceptable (meaning higher cost than present fossil fuel technologies but not so high as to cause very significant economic problems). And second that cap and trade along with efficiency regulations, portfolio standards, and modest subsidies will be sufficient to ensure that those technologies are broadly deployed.

I think the reality is that you recognize that the scale of the challenge has grown substantially beyond what most of us imagined it was even a few short years ago. You have repeatedly suggested that we will need 12 to 14 wedges, not the 7 that S/P originally suggested would be necessary. And in the analysis we’ve been discussing you identify 16 wedges. And we recognize the need to aggressively deploy existing technologies and support cap and trade and other regulatory policies to get them deployed.

But given that there is at least a significant possibility that we will need something more like 20 or 25 or even 30 wedges over the next four decades, a massive global R&D investment is at worst very good insurance and very possibly absolutely necessary to achieve climate stabilization. Moreover, given how uncertain we are about what the real deployed price of many alternative technologies are going to be, we would be well served to make a major investment in direct deployment of those technologies, rather than counting on indirect means, such as pricing and things like portfolio standards to get those technologies to market and scale, where the prices will start to really come down.

So here’s the rub Joe. We support cap and trade. We support pretty much every regulatory policy you’ve proposed. Do you support a massive federal investment in research, development, and deployment of clean energy technologies – let’s say \$30 billion a year over ten years? Do you believe it should be a major priority of climate policy? Do you support dedicating all of the funds raised by federal cap and trade legislation to research, development, and deployment of clean energy technologies?

ted

16. Joe says:

Roger: You keep misstating what I’ve done, so this is getting tiresome. You didn’t like the fact that my analysis was correct, so you’re trying to say it wasn’t correct — but you haven’t disproved what I wrote.

I didn’t change the size of the wedge — I explained why a larger wedge falls out of the analysis logically. I ALWAYS assumed a 4-decade wedge — read my original post.

I never “proposed” a baseline rate of 3.3% for the next four decades! I just noted that was what some people have reported has happened to date.

I haven’t “Assumed that the proportion of future primary energy consumption from coal will more than double” (!) over the next 4 decades. I merely pointed out that this is an inevitable consequence of YOUR assumption that CO2 emissions will continue at their anomalously high rate of 3% per year (or 3.3%) per decade, compared to the rate of the last 3 decades, 1.5% per year.

What I don’t understand is why you don’t realize that if my wedges are delusional, your innovation strategy is doubly so. That seems so obvious. But I’ll deal with it in my next post to spell it out.

17. Joe says:

Ted — I think this entire discussion, including your comment, shows that the longer we wait, the FASTER we must deploy the initial wedges. We may need to do the 14 to 16 wedges by 2045 if not 2040.

But your own analysis above shows why breakthrough technologies are hopeless for getting us out of the mess through at least 2040 — there’s just no time for them. I don’t know why that isn’t obvious to you, but I’ll discuss that in Part 3.

I support 10 times as much money for deployment as R&D. I’ll probably detail that in Part 4.

18. Roger Pielke, Jr. says:

Joe- We’ve both showed our work, and our assumptions, I’m happy to let readers decide on their own what they think, and leave it at that. Some views might be informed by the debate, others might think it silly. And as I said, I respect that you have a different view that I do, c’est la vie, no worries.

And Ted Nordhaus provides a great summary of the debate.

19. Ted Nordhaus says:

Joe,

I’ll look forward to your post. Current federal energy R&D spending is roughly \$3 billion per year. So unless you are proposing to cut federal R&D spending you are proposing at least \$30 billion annually for deployment. Even you have acknowledged that we need to increases federal energy R&D so I assume your total federal RD&D budget is probably significantly higher than \$30 billion annually. I hope you’ll also help me figure out where I find that in Lieberman Warner or any other climate legislation introduced in Congress as I seem to have missed it.

ted

20. Eli Rabett says:

First, let me point out that adaptation without mitigation is disaster delayed hardly at all. At best adaptation buys some time, but if we are not SIMULTANEOUSLY restraining emissions, we are just accelerating a bit more comfortably towards a very high cliff.

Second, US policy has been delay, delay, delay since the early 1980s. Many of the key players on the economics/policy part of this debacle have counseled delay and helped to bring about delay either on the grounds that it would be cheaper to handle the problem later, or because they claim that nothing can be effectively done so let’s do nothing. I specifically refer to William Nordhaus, Gary Yohe, Ted Schelling, Roger Pielke Jr. and now Ted Nordhaus and Michael Schellenberger. In this context, as Joseph Romm points out, research without implementation of currently available technology IS delay. We are already paying the severe procrastination penalties incurred by listening to these people. Why do we continue listening to them??

Nordhaus’ last comment is interesting in that regard. As I read Romm’s plan, he was talking world wide and governmental and private investment but Nordhaus, in order to deny that any action might be useful, particularizes to the US federal budget. A more relevant comparison would be total yearly investment in electricity generation. And so it goes.

21. Eli Rabett says:

A simple challenge to Roger Pielke, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Schnellinger.

Assume a 3.3 % emissions growth as business as usual. Under your policy suggestions what will emissions be in 2050? What will the atmospheric CO2 concentration be. Will they be higher or lower than if we adopted Joe Romm’s policies? How sure are you?

22. Simon D says:

Joe – Thanks for the analysis. I this line of yours captures the root problem: “Now, if you read the supplemental online material, which nobody I have ever met has except Socolow himself…”. In an effort to streamline publications and reduce costs, the important guts of many papers are published in online supplements. That’s ok, it saves paper, it saves costs. The problem is that in our collective rush to judgment on new research, few people – and I include academic researchers – bother to read the supplements and therefore do not properly evaluate research methods.

It’s a particular problem with the wedges work, which has been used and abused by countless people.

23. Robert says:

This is such a silly discussion. It’s like arguing over how you would spend your lottery winnings before you’ve won it.

The first battle is to get the world and the political representatives to take the problem on board and decide to do something about it. That hasn’t happened and probably never will.

The next big decision after that is to get them to decide to mine and burn less fuel each year, leaving as much as possible in the ground.

Lastly, we sit back and watch to see what the market can do with the coal, oil and gas that we release into it, reflected in high prices for prmary energy sources. It will find some good mix of research, deployment, conservation and so on, backed up no doubt by mass starvation and reducing living standards in poorer countries.

24. Joe says:

Robert — I don’t think it is silly to figure out there is an economically and technologically plausible solution for catastrophic problem. Many of us also spent a lot of time trying to convince people to take action, by explaining just how devastating in action would be.

25. Roger Pielke, Jr. says:

Joe-

Just so that you can be completely accurate in the future, we are in 2008 at an estimated 9 GtC emissions from fossil fuels (i.e., not including land use). See the ppt here:

http://www.globalcarbonproject.org/activities/AcceleratingAtmosphericCO2.htm

Starting at 9 GtC rather than 8 GtC means instead of BAU being 28 GtC in 2050 (as you have written) then this value is 31 GtC (using your 3.0% rate of increase per year, at 3.3% it is 35 GtC). So you should probably correct this error in the post above and then also tell us where these 3 extra wedges will come from.

My suggestion is to reduce the future baseline to 2.8%, and this will get you 3 free wedges in 2050 under your other various assumptions.

26. Joe says:

Let’s be clear, Roger. The numbers you cite are NOT facts. They are “assumptions.” And indeed, they are not numbers that either the EIA (here) or IEA (here) agrees with.

The GCP it’s certainly a very credible source for estimating these very hard to estimate numbers. IF EIA and IEA are wrong, and IF GCP is right, and IF 2007 and 2008 continue the 3% trend (I wouldn’t be surprised for 2007, but I probably would be for 2008), then 9 GtC in 2008 is a reasonable number to use.

But I think it is safe to say that the jury is out. If you want to cite the GCP numbers, and assume a continuation of the 2000 to 2006 trend through 2008, and then through 2050, that is your right — but I think you should clearly spell out to your readers that the base year and projected growth rate are on the very high side of all credible carbon numbers. Those are all “assumptions” too. They ain’t facts.

I am certainly happy to make clear whenever I can that GCP has higher numbers than other folks, and that they may be right, and that it is even conceivable that somehow the trend of the last few years is the new BAU trend pretty much forever — but I’m not sure what is to be gained by using such “unrosy” assumptions.

After all, from my perspective, your assumptions about climate impacts are incredibly “rosy” and that in fact an objective look at what the IPCC has written makes clear that the alternative to stabilizing at around 450 ppm or lower is an unmitigated catastrophe that renders the word “adaptation” meaningless.

I’m not looking for “free wedges.” I’m just looking for analysis that is the most plausible and defensible.

27. Joe says:

Ted — don’t make Pielke’s “mistake” of turning assumptions and 1 group’s numbers into facts.

If, for instance, the EIA or IEA numbers are closer to being accurate, or the 2000-2006 trend is the fluke and the 1970 to 2000 trend is in fact the norm, or we get a big global slowdown for a couple of years or there is something called “peak coal,” then Pielke’s core assumptions are wrong.

As I said, probably the safest thing to do is to put a bracket out there of 12 to 18 wedges (but, no, I don’t think that 30 is plausible) — and then say we need to put them in place in four decades (at most) rather than five. And possibly sooner, so we better get started now.

As I’ll explain in part three, though I would have thought it already obvious, all of this analysis — especially if you accept Pielke’s assumptions (which I don’t really) — renders breakthroughs utterly irrelevant to our problem.

28. Roger Pielke, Jr. says:

Joe-

Some peer reviewed research is indeed inconvenient. EIA data goes to 2004, and then its 2005 values are estimated. Canadell et al. 2007 includes actual data through 2006 and was published in PNAS:

http://www.pnas.org/cgi/reprint/0702737104v1

So yes, I’d say Canadell et al. is more authoritative than EIA (and IEA).

And further NOAA reported 2007 concentrations just this week, under the headline “Carbon Dioxide, Methane Rise Sharply in 2007”:

http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2008/20080423_methane.html

The press release says: “The 2007 rise in global carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations is tied with 2005 as the third highest since atmospheric measurements began in 1958.”

So it is pretty safe to say that 2007 saw steep increases in line with 2000-2006. Future rates of emissions growth may indeed be less than observed 2000-2007, but maybe they’ll be higher too. Who knows? I don’t.

As pointed out there in an enormous amount of difference on the magnitude of future emissions (hence the reductions needed) depending upon what assumptions one uses. My view is that policy success should be robust to assumptions. You have presented a set of policies that are contingent upon certain assumptions (i.e., those assumptions that make the size of the problem no more than 18 super-size wedges), and further, they require that they achieve 100% success in implementation on very short time scales (i.e., all of your wedges are implemented with 100% success in 4 decades).

If the vast literature on and history of policy implementation tells us anything it is (a) don’t count on 100% policy success in anything, and (b) don’t bet the farm on your assumptions panning out (e.g., “The Iraq war will pay for itself” or “They’ll great us with flowers”).

The point in having a conservative baseline for projecting future emissions is not to be right or wrong, it is to ensure that you have a view of the policy challenge that enables the development of robust policies, regardless of how the future evolves. I am 100% sure that if we look to create 30 wedges we’d have a lot better chance to get 18 than if our target is 18. You obviously disagree.

Look, I would love for the future growth in emissions to be 1.5%. I’ll like it even better if it were 0.1%. But as far as planning, I’d be far more comfortable with a rate considerably higher. Is that a prediction? No. It is just prudent planning.

29. Ronald says:

It just seems that to make the Breakthrough Institute argument, you would have to say that France building all those nuclear power plants to power 80 percent of their electrical consumption was from a global warming viewpoint not helpful. They took the nuclear technology of the time and instead of building coal plants and importing lots of coal, decided to build state of the technology nuclear plants which released less carbon dioxide.

If it’s 2038 and they look back on us, wouldn’t they say, why didn’t they try to employ the state of the technology non and low carbon energy instead of installing high carbon energy sources? Don’t we look back on 1978 and wish that they had installed more low and non carbon energy sources?

In BI’s one page paper on “Energy and Global Warming in a Nutshell” they write these things. Out of 9 paragraphs.

In the 5th paragraph they write; ‘The wrong model is past pollution control efforts.’ And ‘Regulation is useful but will accomplish little without major public funding.’

In the 7th paragraph they write; ‘Regulation can play a role, but the heavy lifting will be done through investment.’

In the whole paper they give reasons why regulation won’t work, never that it might.

BI isn’t for regulation and cap and trade because they are for them, they are for them so they can’t be criticized for being against them and then only being for spending public money for research and deployment.

I’m for as much money that can be spent on research, development and deployment. But we also have to actually do what we can now.

30. john says:

What I find fascinating about Pielke’s and Ted’s arguments is that if you take them to their logical conclusions, they clearly suggest the solution they embrace is little more than playing craps with the earth. One can see them with their massive federal R&D budget, dice in hands, rolling away and saying, “Come On, Breakthrough Technologies. Baby needs a new climate.”

And as for Pielke, his attempted rebuttals would have made a Sophist proud. Joe did not “change’ the value of a wedge — he simply used Socolow’s assumptions to assign the correct value to the wedges.

The irony, of course, is the more wedges and the greater “error” Pielke gins up with his Sophistry, the more flawed his approach is.

Joe’s bottom line is probably about right — 12-18 wedges are needed, and any attempt at greater precision is useless at this point. Whether 12 or 18, we need to get started now, and it has to be a serious all-out effort. And we can’t afford to wait for prospective breakthroughs that may or may not happen. In fact, Joe’s analysis shows clearly we don’t have to.

I personally believe there’s a couple of additional wedges to be had at little or no cost from combined efforts in building efficiency, transportation, and CHP.

I also believe that the most critical innovations we need to start this revolution are in the financial sector, not in new technology. At the end of the day, some key changes in SEC rules and a few subventions in mortgage, bonding, and tax policies , as well as increasing the transparency of risks associated with conventional energy investments could divert the several trillions going into energy from fossil fuels to renewables and efficiency.

If we want a change of the scale we need, then we need to find the big policy levers — nothing is bigger than the impact of market decisions and capital investments. That’s the macro level.

There are innovations at the level of the “deal,” too. Energy service contracts, Power purchase agreements, on-bill financing, etc…

31. Roger Pielke, Jr. says:

Joe-

Some peer reviewed research is indeed inconvenient. EIA data goes to 2004, and then its 2005 values are estimated. Canadell et al. 2007 includes actual data through 2006 and was published in PNAS:

http://www.pnas.org/cgi/reprint/0702737104v1

So yes, I’d say Canadell et al. is more authoritative than EIA (and IEA).

And further NOAA reported 2007 concentrations just this week, under the headline “Carbon Dioxide, Methane Rise Sharply in 2007″:

http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/ stories2008/ 20080423_methane.html

The press release says: “The 2007 rise in global carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations is tied with 2005 as the third highest since atmospheric measurements began in 1958.”

So it is pretty safe to say that 2007 saw steep increases in line with 2000-2006. Future rates of emissions growth may indeed be less than observed 2000-2007, but maybe they’ll be higher too. Who knows? I don’t.

As pointed out there in an enormous amount of difference on the magnitude of future emissions (hence the reductions needed) depending upon what assumptions one uses. My view is that policy success should be robust to assumptions. You have presented a set of policies that are contingent upon certain assumptions (i.e., those assumptions that make the size of the problem no more than 18 super-size wedges), and further, they require that they achieve 100% success in implementation on very short time scales (i.e., all of your wedges are implemented with 100% success in 4 decades).

If the vast literature on and history of policy implementation tells us anything it is (a) don’t count on 100% policy success in anything, and (b) don’t bet the farm on your assumptions panning out (e.g., “The Iraq war will pay for itself” or “They’ll great us with flowers”).

The point in having a conservative baseline for projecting future emissions is not to be right or wrong, it is to ensure that you have a view of the policy challenge that enables the development of robust policies, regardless of how the future evolves. I am 100% sure that if we look to create 30 wedges we’d have a lot better chance to get 18 than if our target is 18. You obviously disagree.

Look, I would love for the future growth in emissions to be 1.5%. I’ll like it even better if it were 0.1%. But as far as planning, I’d be far more comfortable with a rate considerably higher. Is that a prediction? No. It is just prudent planning.

32. Ted Nordhaus says:

Joe,

I haven’t turned anyone’s assumptions into facts. I think you know this. I wrote:

“Assume 1.5% annual growth in emissions, as S/P do, and you get to choose your wedges. Assume 3% growth in emissions annually and you pretty much have to throw every wedge you have at the problem. Assume 3.3% and start at 9GtC and even after you’ve thrown every wedge you can come up with at the problem you’re still 7 wedges short – as many wedges as the orginal S/P analysis assumed would be necessary to acheive stabilization, only now you’ve already thrown every wedge you can imagine at the problem.”

I do think that the actual trajectory over the next several decades is going to look a lot more like 3.3% annual emissions growth than 1.5%. We’ll be writing more about why in future posts at the BT blog. But we’ll see where we end up.

But I will point out that 3.3% annual emissions growth is a number suggested by you, not me or Michael or Roger. In your original post you wrote:

“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.”

No caveats anywhere in the post or suggestion that these were Roger’s numbers or someone else’s and you where just trying to prove a point. Now I appreciate that there are other scenarios where this assumption may be wrong and frankly, I genuinely hope we return to 1980 – 2000 emissions trends as it will make the effort to achieve stabilization a lot easier. But those numbers were offered by you and I think there’s good reason to think they are pretty close to what we will be facing in the coming decades.

Roger pointed out that your wedges didn’t add up to stabilization. You responded that they did – if you assume 3% annual emissions growth and not 3.3% AND you assume that each wedge is worth 1.77 GtC, not 1 GtC, because it is replacing coal fired generation that is less efficient than S/P assumed it would be when they defined what a wedge was. Now let me say that I really appreciate your pointing this out. I did not know that this was the case and it helps us reconcile some of the differences between the Nature analysis of Peilke, et. al. and the IPCC scenarios. But it doesn’t reconcile all of it.

Even if the average coal plant in 2050 is operating at 50% efficiency in 2050, if the global economy is growing much faster than S/P or IPCC projected AND much of that growth is occurring in very energy intensive sectors of the global economy AND much of the growth is powered by coal fired generation, then even if that coal fired generation is on average 50% efficient you still have much higher emissions levels in the BAU than have been projected but your wedges represent the same amount of emissions avoided, 1 GtC, as S/P originally assumed.

But even if we assume that every power generation wedge in your analysis is worth 1.77 GtC and not 1 GtC and we take the assumptions about the growth of emissions that you offered in your original post, you still come up over 5 wedges short where a wedge is defined as 1 GtC or roughly 3 wedges short if it is defined as 1.77 GtC.

Finally, you write,

“As I said, probably the safest thing to do is to put a bracket out there of 12 to 18 wedges (but, no, I don’t think that 30 is plausible)”

In fact, your original analysis assuming 3.3% growth in emissions results in a BAU for global emissions in 2050 of almost 33 GtC. To get to 4 GtC under this scenario you need 29 wedges, which last I checked, is pretty close to 30 wedges. If you start at 9 GtC in 2008 and assume the same 3.3% growth that you assumed in your original post you end up with a BAU of almost 35 GtC in 2050 and need 31 wedges. Now if we assume that every wedge is worth 1.77 GtC, including those that have nothing to do with the generation of power generation, we end up with 18 wedges. But of course a huge number of the wedges aren’t related to power generation at all. And, as noted above, I don’t think that you can assume in any of these scenarios that all, or even most, of your power generation wedges are displacing very inefficient coal fired generation.

So I think Roger’s original suggestion that the wedges you offered don’t add up to stabilization, even taking account that some of the emissions are originating from coal fired generation that is significantly less efficient than S/P assumed, still holds. Now if you want to retract the assumptions you used in the original analysis and make the case, as you have, that they overstate the likely BAU, please do. But don’t blame the assumptions you used on us or blame us for misrepresenting your analysis. I think the basic number laid out in this post are an accurate reflection of the BAU baseline you proposed and even using fairly generous assumptions about the size of power generation wedges the wedges you suggested don’t add up.

ted

33. David B. Benson says:

It would prove to be quite easy to obtain an additional 3–5 wedges from bio-energy:

http://jcwinnie.biz/wordpress/?p=2815

summaries the estimates of bio-energy potential, world-wide.

34. Joe says:

Ted and Roger — To repeat — I reported the CO2 growth rate GCP gives for 2000 to 2006. I never said I believed that it was sustainable through 2050. Indeed, if you read my other blog posts, it’s pretty clear that it isn’t.

Also, I guess I will have to blog on this again, but the Princeton analysis does not know what its baseline is for BAU. The fact that it assumes in 2054 that the baseline coal plant is 50% efficient, doesn’t mean that that is true. That’s a pure guess on their part.

Also, they Made other similar assumptions for their other wedges. They assumed the baseline car was 30 mpg. In the U.S., its currently only 20 mpg.

You are looking for more analytical rigor than Socolow or Pacala provided. I think I have made a reasonable case for why 14 to 16 wedges works at 1.5% and at 3%. Yes, I cited the GCP numbers, because they are credible. But they are only one set of numbers. Roger is always beating up people for taking one peer-reviewed paper and basing an entire analysis on. But if that’s OK with you folks, then we face 5 feet or more of sea level rise by 2100, rising 6 inches a decade at that point — it is in the peer-reviewed literature. And the SW will be a desert after 2050 — that’s in the recent literature, too.

35. Roger Pielke, Jr. says:

Joe- My comment still doesn’t appear to have shown up??

Sent at April 24th, 2008 at 11:15 am

Probably in the spam filter, can you rescue it?

36. Roger Pielke, Jr. says:

Thanks!

37. Ted Nordhaus says:

Joe,

Let’s be clear. You used 3.3% in your original analysis and you projected it out to 2050 not us. You argued that 16 wedges would be sufficient to get us back to 4 GtC by 2050 not us. And when Roger pointed out that your wedges didn’t add up, you argued that because higher emissions were being driven by dirty coal that was less efficient than S/P assumed we could assume 1.7 GtC per wedge instead of 1 GtC. And it’s you who has attempted to parse S/P with greater specificity than the analytical framework they offered can answer, not us. We are entirely comfortable using the commonly assumed value of a wedge at roughly 1 GtC. You are the one who suggested that given the emissions growth assumption you were using that you could value a wedge at the rather specific value of 1.77 GtC.

I think we can all agree that we should not rest our analysis on a single set of assumptions. But neither should we limit assumptions to scenarios and assumptions that validate the solutions that we’re already set on, like say limiting scenarios to those that fall within a 12 to 18 wedge solution set. As I said in my earlier comment, I’m happy to look at scenarios that require 7 wedges or 12 wedges or 18 wedges. But there are very plausible scenarios in which emissions substantially exceed those solution sets. Now you may want to “debunk” those but I don’t think doing so serves any of us. The fact that current trends suggest an emissions trajectory that substantially exceeds any of the scenarios that the IPCC presented to policy makers is significant and should not be dismissed.

ted

38. Eli Rabett says:

I repeat

A simple challenge to Roger Pielke, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Schellinger.

Assume a 3.3 % emissions growth as business as usual. Under your policy suggestions what will emissions be in 2050? What will the atmospheric CO2 concentration be. Will they be higher or lower than if we adopted Joe Romm’s policies? How sure are you?

39. Ted Nordhaus says:

With all due respect Eli, the question is asinine. Any of us can identify 20 or 50 or 100 wedges, offer them up in a list, and claim that implementing all of them will achieve 4 GtC in 2050 or atmospheric CO2 concentrations of 500 ppm or 450 or 350. That doesn’t make it so. The question is whether it is reasonable to expect, given the policies one proposes, that those wedges, whatever they consist of, will actually be implemented. Can you or Joe or anyone else actually tell us what emissions in 2050 or atmospheric concentrations will be if we implement the policies that Joe has proposed?

That is not the same as counting up the wedges he says they will result in. You know the answer is that you can’t and to claim otherwise is to substitute faith for any kind of credible analysis. Joe offers a set of policies and argues that if those policies are faithfully implemented they will result in a particular level of emissions reduction. We can evaluate his arguments. But we can’t make a statement with any confidence about what the level of emissions or atmospheric concentrations will be in 2050 if we do as Joe says. So we can compare plans for the best way to get to 4 GtC or 450 ppm. Goals that we share with Joe. Or we could argue as to whether 4 GtC or 450 ppm are the right targets for 2050. But you’d have to have that argument with someone else because we agree that they are the right targets. But we can’t compare which plan is going to reduce emissions more because NOBODY KNOWS.

Now we happen to believe that the way we are going to have the best chance of getting to 450 ppm and 4 GtC whether we end up needing 10 or 20 or 30 wedges to do it, is to deploy a whole lot of what we have now AND make a whole lot of bets on a whole lot of technology that is a lot further back in the RD&D pipeline than technologies that are ready to deploy now. If you think you need 18 wedges and you only have 10 or 12 technologies and other measures that you think are even anywhere close to being ready to deploy at any serious scale today, then you’d better deploy everything you have and try to move as many technologies as possible down the RD&D pipeline so that you expand your universe of possible wedges as rapidly as possible. Otherwise you are betting the planet on every technology you have now anywhere close to ready to deploy panning out at major scale.

We are working to define the details of a technology and investment centered strategy to achieve stabilization. We will gladly share it when we have completed it. But its not like Joe just came up with the policies he is advocating himself or overnight. There has been a twenty year effort to define a set of pollution focused policies to address climate. There has been much less work done to define alternative approaches.

While we don’t have all of the details, we can say that our approach will rely heavily on direct public procurement and deployment of clean energy technologies. It will incorporate pricing and other market pull strategies but will be much more focused on technology push than most current climate policy.

ted

40. Joe says:

Ted, it’s not that you don’t have “all of the details.” You don’t have any. Do you support my wedges, or not? It’s a simple question.

41. Ted Nordhaus says:

Actually Joe, that wasn’t the question. The question was whether I had a plan that would result in higher or lower emissions and atmospheric concentrations than your plan.

Did you actually read the comment? Sure I “support” your wedges. They all sound great. Do I think the policies you’re proposing, as I understand them presently, will result in the implementation of those wedges? No I don’t. Might I change my mind about that if you outline a serious investment focused deployment strategy in subsequent posts that dedicates public resources consistent with the scale of the wedges you’ve outlined. Maybe. Depends on what your actually proposing.

42. Eli Rabett says:

That’s kind of the empty answer I expected. First you go after Romm because his baseline is 3%, not 3.3% emissions growth, now you whine that it is unreasonable to expect anyone to predict what policies will be implemented, and even if they are implemented it is totally beyond the pale to estimate what their effect would be. It is the same sort of destructive argument that has plagued us for the last twenty five years.

We know something very important and very basic, if we do nothing, many humans are going to be dead, even more will be in very deep trouble and by your own admission, we know of several things that will have a positive effect. Given enough wedges and we can buy some time, given some more we can limit the damage. Given none, we are toast. We need to start working the problem right now to avoid procrastination penalties. If we have 10-12 or more or fewer wedges that we can put in place now, we need to do it immediately.

We can only estimate whether the ones we choose will be enough, too little or too much. We do know that sitting around arguing whether the BAU emission growth rate will be 2.5 or 3 or 3.3% is irrelevant, because the rate limiting step is NOT getting enough wedges implemented, but getting ANY of them implemented.

You still have not listed the current technologies/methodologies you consider most promising and easiest to implements. Which ones should we start doing now. You airily wave your hands and say ANYONE could come up with 20 to 50 or 100 wedges. What are your top ten?

43. Ken V says:

“Eli Rabett”

It is easy to be a troll, and you do it well, but for a professor posting under an assumed name (aka Joshua Halpern, Howard University) with nothing positive to add except complaints that others have views different than your own, maybe you should cut these guys a break?

They are having an open and honest discussion of differences and all you bring is a bullying effort to close it down. Go troll somewhere else.

44. Eli Rabett says:

Dear Ken, I am asking some simple questions. To quote Joe Romm

“Ted, it’s not that you don’t have “all of the details.” You don’t have any. Do you support my wedges, or not? It’s a simple question.”

45. Ken V says:

Dear Joshua, “Do you support my wedges?” Sounds like an oath of allegiance. Didn’t Ted Nordhaus already say that he did support Joe’s wedges but that they wouldn’t do the job? “Sure I “support” your wedges.” Win the battle lose the war, sounds like to me.

Is any deviation from Joe’s views a litmus test for your acceptability?

Please tell, what is your favorite policy Prof. Halpern? Or do you just come to ask questions in typical troll fashion?

Joe runs a nice blog with good discussion. Don’t ruin it. Be constructive.

46. Mark Shapiro says:

“Making predictions is hard. Especially about the future.” – Yogi Berra

“If you have to make a mistake, don’t make the wrong mistake.” – Yogi Berra (paraphrase)

We have exactly one (1) home planet. It will have one CO2 emissions trajectory, the lower the better. Me? I like negative 2-3% per year. Deploying efficiency, renewables, and conservation as quickly as possible is key. We have lots of tools; we can expect slow improvements. Policy matters.

Will the last gentleperson or this thread please turn out the lights?

47. Eli Rabett says:

Dear Ken, which ones first?

This actually is a story with a long history. Initial attempts to deal with all environmental issue for the last 30 years have been met with the same: “What you are proposing won’t do the job, so let’s not do it, besides which, we can adapt.” But the history of the thing is that you have to start somewhere. Perhaps the only exception to this was the Clean Air Act. Kyoto, for example was a very flawed treaty, but had it come into force early with US backing, it would have established a framework for more effective actions, and if it had been instituted early on, it would have bought time.

As to Eli’s favorite policy, it is Rabett’s simple plan to save the world. Before I introduce it, let me point out that Nordhaus and Schellenberger are proposing things that explicitly involve “picking winners” “governmental interference” “socialism” “cleaving to a radical leftist political agenda” “spending your money” and a whole lot of other things that, for example, various folk recently have complained about on dotearth. What kind of reception do you think that will get?

So the issue becomes how to take action in the face of the Inhofian imperative that rule much of the US. Now, Eli’s plan to save the world, is more of a policy proposal than a technical one. As for the technical wedges we need now, nuclear for base load, solar (probably not silicon based) for peak load and better transport and zoning policy strike me as good places to START, but the primary problem is to cost the externalities of carbon based fuels. Because all of that will be difficult, it is senseless to waste time and capital on pie in the sky technological development.

Nations wishing to make major progress on decreasing greenhouse gas emissions should introduce emission taxes on all products. These taxes should be levied on imports as well as domestic goods at the point of sale, and should displace other taxes, such as VAT, sales taxes, and payroll (e.g. social security, health care) in such a way that tax revenues are constant, and distributed equitably.

These should be introduced as an Emissions Added Levy (avoiding the bad jokes). EAL would be imposed on sale for emissions added in the preceding step and inherent to the consumption of the product, as would be the case for heating oil and gasoline. Manufacturers would pay the EAL on electricity they bought, and incorporate this and the levy on emissions they created into the price of the product they sell.

Imports from countries that do not have an EAL would have the full EAL imposed at the time of import. The base rate would be generic EALs based on worst previous practices in the countries that do have EALs, which would be reduced on presenting proof that the actual emissions were lower.

All countries with EAL systems would reserve a portion (say 5%) for assisting developing countries with adaptations (why not use acclimations?) and mitigating programs.

By basing the levy on emissions rather than carbon all greenhouse gases stand on a common level, sequestration is strongly encouraged as well as such simple things as capturing methane from oil wells and garbage dumps (that gets built into the cost of disposal). The multipliers would come from CO2 equivalents on a 10 year basis.

And no Kenny darling, Joe’s proposals are a concrete starting point that one can debate about. For example, co-generation has been around for a long time. It is not nearly enough used outside of large industrial plants. Why? Because it requires density and US housing policies favor low density. What I have seen from Nordhaus and Schellenberger to this time is piffle.

48. Dave Bryan says:

Joe –
I’m finding your numbers to be uncharacteristically optimistic. There must be something wrong with my analysis!
Using CAIT C02 equiv. emissions including land use: 2000 = 43.48 GT
3.2% growth to 2005 = 50.89
2.5 % growth to 2010 = 57.58
and 1.5% growth 2010 to 2050 = 4497 GT total emmission from 2000 to 2050. To meet a 1700 GT budget from 2000 to 2050 per Meihnausen for a 2C world, emissions would have to drop from 2010 to about 2 GT in 2050 – way below the conventional claim of 50% of 1990 emissions (which would be about 22 GT). This looks like it would take about 22 wedges each saving 25 GT C02e over 40 years. Comments? I’d be glad to send you the spreadsheet showing this.
Thanks
Dave

49. Dave Bryan says:

Comment to my previous comment: I meant 22 wedges each at 25 GT Carbon not C02e.

50. laptop battery says:

Joe’s proposals are a concrete starting point that one can debate about. For example, co-generation has laptop batteries been around for a long time. It is not nearly enough used outside of large industrial plants. Why? Because it requires density and US housing policies favor low density. What I have seen from Nordhaus and Schellenberger to this time is piffle.

51. Tim Curtin says:

Hi, perhaps I am too late into this one, but why is the whole thread devoted to reducing gross emissions? It seems none here has heard of photosynthesis, which as Canadell et al (2007, cited by Roger Pielke here above) admit has taken up at least 57% of emissions since 1959. So if there is a problem, it does not lie in reducing emissions from over 9 GtC now or 30 or so in 2050 to nil, but in reducing them to the uptake level of some 6 GtC now and growing (the growth of its terrestrial growth rate is even as high as 1.89% p.a. according to Canadell et al.).

52. msn nickleri says:

GT budget from 2000 to 2050 per Meihnausen for a 2C world, emissions would have to drop from 2010 to about 2 GT in 2050 – way below the conventional claim of 50% of 1990 emissions (which would be about 22 GT). This looks like it would take about 22 wedges each saving 25 GT C02e over 40 years. Comments? I’d be glad to send you the spreadsheet showing this.
Thanks

53. J4zonian says:

I know this comes months late, but I’m still reading these and catching up and maybe others are too. I hope you 2 (or 3 or 4) have since put aside the animosity that is apparent here and can debate technical points without forming the obligatory left wing circular firing squad. Save your venom for neocons and deniers, please. We’re all on the same side, pretty much, and have much more in common than in…uh, different.

The discussion of wedges is interesting, and may be useful as an intellectual exercise but in the real world it seems clear we need to use as many different wedges, as different as they can be from each other, as we can find. (to avoid overtaxing some resources and underutilizing others—tree-planting and windmill building, for example, don’t share many bottlenecks, while nuclear and concentrated solar might.) Two half wedges equals one wedge, after all, and 4 quarter wedges in the hand in 2015 are worth more than a wedge in the bush in 2040. It seems obvious to me also that a technology in the hand is worth a thousand in the eternal future, and we need to use what we have to do what we can, now. To rule out any help is counterproductive, but to count on something that may or may not happen, and is not likely to happen in time, is folly. So what’s the argument? Invest and hope for breakthroughs, celebrate and be thankful when they happen, and work our asses off with what we have in the meantime. Praise the Lord, but pass the ammunition.

In college I had a statistics instructor who walked in the first day, wrote his name on the board and said “The two parts of statistics are data collection and analysis. The most important and difficult of these two is collection. Therefore we will deal mostly with analysis in this class.” I started looking for the door.

Let us not argue about the number of wedges on the head of a pin, or deal mostly with analysis in this class. It’s easier and less anxiety-provoking in its hard science-ness but we need to concentrate on the important and difficult part of the problem—healing the systemic psychological pathologies that make liberals inarticulate wimps, and make conservatives oppose anything that doesn’t punish, coerce or imprison. We have to keep them from getting in the way of private and public funding of ecological alternatives, low-hanging fruit first, in all the applicable wedges at once, and keep them from sucking up capital and construction resources with far-off capital-intensive low-job-density goose-chases like nuclear. (See how I snuck that in?) We have to find a way to convince them there’s a problem and that it’s not just a liberal plot to take over the world. (See aforementioned psychological healing.) Can we talk about that for a bit?