An introduction to the core climate solutions

This post will serve as an introduction to climate solutions as well as a gateway to my ongoing series on the core solutions.

By core climate solution, I mean a technology-based strategy that can provide at least one half of a “stabilization wedge” by mid-century. Even half a wedge is huge — some 350 Gigawatts baseload power (~2.8 billion Megawatt-hours a year) or 160 billion gallons of gasoline. For the record, the U.S. consumed about 3.7 billion MW-hrs in 2005 and about 140 billion gallons of motor gasoline.

The world needs to deploy 12 to 14 wedges by 2050 if we want to keep total global warming at or below 2°C and avoid crossing the carbon cycle tipping points that would drive us inexorably toward catastrophic climate impacts (see “IEA report: Climate Progress has the 450-ppm solution about right“). The core climate solutions I have been detailing are the ones put forward in “Is 450 ppm politically possible? Part 2: The Solution.” They include:

I am also in the process of going through each of the links above and making sure they are “one stop shop” posts with updated lists of related posts written after they were posted. So, for instance, the energy efficiency and nuclear power pieces now have links to all of the subsequent posts in their multipart series.

I am always interested in suggestions as to other solutions to write about. Yes, I am planning a series on (the cruel hoax of) geo-engineering.

I tend to focus on technology-based solutions because behavior-based solutions are much harder to analyze and frankly much harder to achieve through government policy — at least for now. In ten years, when gasoline prices are well past $5 a gallon and even conservatives see that the painful reality of human-caused global warming has come faster and harder than they ever imagined, many strategies that are not politically feasible today will be desperately pursued as the world descends into what I have called Planetary Purgatory.

I hope people find this post useful and link to it or send it friends.

[I’m sticking this on the front page for a few days for the new readers here from Tom Friedman’s column.]

36 Responses to An introduction to the core climate solutions

  1. alex says:

    You missed one – “austerity” (just accepting that we need to tread more lightly on the planet).

    The US way of life is not negotiable. That’s fine, because nature doesn’t negotiate. When Gaia has had enough of us she will shrug us off and get on with a new project.

  2. hapa says:

    JR: yes thx!!! after watching “heat” lasy night, maybe it might be time to start talking about how states and provinces in north america stand to fare under an aggressive sustainability program? and how easy it will be for the different p/layers to collaborate?

  3. Sadly, it is not just a matter of figuring out the wedges, and taking action.

    Yesterday I happened on 3 separate reputable media sources giving false information about congress, that will lead to more poor voting choices.

    The SF Chronical described the energy plans of McCain and Obama as “two peas in a pod” the NYT, a similar misrepresentation, and on PBS last night, the opposition to the L-W cap and trade was portrayed as if it was opposed by all of congress, and in response to gas price rise this summer (and was the only climate legislation).

    The opposition has been to ALL climate change legislation from Gores BTU tax in 93 through renewable portfolio standards to production tax credits, it has always been lined up almost exactly on party lines, and it has not wavered since at least 1993. Current gas prices: pfffhht!

    So it is unlikely that the averagely informed voter can make the correct choice – even if they want to stop climate change!

    Our media is the biggest obstruction to getting climate safety.

  4. rpauli says:

    1. Tax Global Warming. Tax inefficient energy usage
    2. Nationalize all Carbon Energy Companies.
    3. Mark the carbon shoe size for all goods and services

  5. David B. Benson says:

    Use those tax funds to permanently remove some carbon from the active carbon cycle.

    The best method I have found is carbon dioxide mineralization via olivine. We could start doing some of this today for about $38–40 per tonne of carbon dioxide.

  6. Scatter says:

    I’d be interested to hear your views on high altitude wind. I feel it will form a big chunk of the wind wedge.

    And what about freight transport?

  7. David B. Benson says:

    Scatter — What about freight transport? Please amplify.

  8. Not to quibble, Susan, but at least 16 Senate Democrats have voiced their opposition to the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act (and they weren’t pissed because it wasn’t strong enough). Unfortunately, with about 1/3rd of the entire Senate Democratic caucus currently opposed to even a bill as crappy as Lieberman-Warner, the political battle for climate solutions requires more than just a stronger Democratic majority in Congress. It’s unfortunate, but those are just the facts, and it doesn’t do us any good to ignore them.

  9. Scatter says:

    Well it forms a significant chunk of energy consumption and carbon emissions. I can’t find a good number for global freight transport emissions though.

    There is some work to be done in cutting emissions but maybe it’s small in comparison to the others?

  10. p.s. thanks for collating your posts like this Joe. It’s definitely helpful as a resource.

  11. David B. Benson says:

    Scatter — In the 4–5% range of total carbon emissions are

    cement production
    USA cars and light trucks
    ocean vessels (includes cruise ships)

    Try the International Energy Agency (IEA) website to see if you can find what you are after.

  12. Ronald says:

    What I’d like is a little more information on the costs and cost benefits of each of the wedges.

    If I see a extremely low carbon and non-carbon energy source or savings, each wedge is usually listed as ‘1 million wind turbines at 2 megawatts each.’ And that’s alot of wind turbines, but it doesn’t go on to explain how many coal plants don’t have to be built because of it. What is the standard cost of a carbon fueled wedge and then what is the cost of a non-carbon fueled wedge that replaces it. Example, a 100 million BEV’s and PHEV’s cost x amount over 30 years compared to 100 million regular gasoline vehicles cost 80 percent x.

  13. Jesse, true, that L-W cap and trade did attract unusual bipartisan opposition, but that is a real standout, isn’t it?

    Of the 50 votes on clean energy since 1993, there have been very few times when Democrats voted dirty: Kyoto was the one shocker.

    But, cap and trade is hardly the only way to effect change. Feed in tariffs, a nationwide RPS like the 26 states have, zero energy building codes, long term PTC etc, all work, all of which all the Democrats have tried to pass multiple times.

  14. David B. Benson says:

    Ronald — It is clear that energy efficiency is always a money-maker. Not enough businesses have be doing it, but more are doing so now.

  15. Jim Bullis says:

    I am still holding my breath waiting for a monstrous political scare story to come out, sponsored by Boone Pickens, Harold Simmons, and friends. Hopefully all the possibilities have been exhausted.

    So when Boone tells us about the “abundant natural gas” I wonder what the real story is. I know there are big investments being made in liquified natural gas systems, where that commodity is brought here on ships. How would that be happening if there was so much already here?

    I wonder what the real story is with wind. Ontario Canada data shows a very low rate of electricity production coming from their wind systems. We also observe from time to time in California that the older wind tower equipment is substantially ineffective.

    Of course, the new towers are amazingly big, and I remain hopeful that this type of generation will be practical at some time in the future. I could see a plan where these were brought on as coal plants were replaced as they wore out. In this way major capital expenditures for wind are conceivable.

    In comparison, people wear out cars much faster, and the replacement rate can be expected to result in a much faster change-over process.

  16. jtberman says:

    How about a separate list – Core Policy Solutions? Or, if you can summarize it in one bullet point, add it to the list of Core Climate Solutions.

    Sounds like you favor something other than a cap or massive gov’t investment – would like a summary of your thinking on that.

    [JR: I’ll get there, sometime in the next few months. I do have a bunch of posts on policy solutions. ]

  17. Ravi the rat says:

    As far as I know the reasons for these drastic weather changes in australia and other parts of the world varies from water levels out of their normal bounds, surface evaporation level caused by building dams around the world, deforesting and also our popular carbon emmisions that is the main character in global warming.. no clods no rain… I have a hare brain idea… in areas of australia that have inland bound winds most of the year.. is it possible to build huge water heaters inside the sea hot enought to evaporate water (close to shore) and let the wind blow the vapour back inland.. calculate how much was the cloud density from past records and “make the clouds” go back to where they were… I dont know just a thought… I have more of these silly ideas here … by the way I am from malaysia.. but my fiancee is from victoria.. so I know how bad it is at the farms…

  18. This list needs to be coupled with an evaluation for policy options that can get us there (or not). One of the most successful existing programs is the tax incentives that have boosted investment in renewable energy and sales of hybrid vehicles. However, it seems like everyone is ignoring the possibility of expanding on this success by enacting far more aggressive, broad tax cuts for green energy, vehicles, infrastructure, energy effieicency products, etc. If you want more of something, the best thing to do is tax it less.

    You can read more about this approach at

    It is a shame that most folks are fixated on approaches that will either not be anywhere near as effective (direct federal investment) or will act as a drag on the economy (carbon tax or trade) when the sharp green tax cuts could offer a massive boost to the economy and save the auto industry at the same time.

  19. Rich says:

    I want to respond to this post, and to the following comment in particular:

    “I tend to focus on technology-based solutions because behavior-based solutions are much harder to analyze and frankly much harder to achieve through government policy — at least for now.”

    Friends of mine have written a paper which proposes a low-tech solution to this chrisis. Please read the abstract below, and then read the paper. Its amazing science, and the ramifications should not be underestimated.

    — Rich

    *Soil Restoration, Ocean Anoxia, & Menhaden Reduction – New Considerations for Climate Change Dynamics and Mitigation*

    By Seth J. Itzkan & Jim Laurie
    September 2008


    There are three emerging areas of research that we believe hold promise for helping to understand and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Although they stem from diverse fields of inquiry, we believe their effects are tightly coupled. These concern the following: (1) the role of soils in
    climate stability and their potential for significant, permanent, and viable carbon sequestration of up to 10 gigatons per year, (2) the role of ocean
    anoxia as a predecessor to extinction episodes, and its troubling rise in
    today’s seas, and (3) the role of algae eating fish, such as menhaden, in
    controlling estuary eutrophication and rapid expanse of ocean “dead zones”.

    Seen together, these three areas of research show that restoring degraded soils while putting a moratorium on the fishing of algae eaters, may in fact be the most efficient way to reduce atmospheric CO2 to below dangerous levels (350 ppm) while avoiding perilous trigger events, such as ocean anoxia. These measures can be achieved without great sacrifice or cost, and in a fashion that supports improved yields, reduced environmental impacts, and new sustainable economies.

  20. msn nickleri says:

    Sounds like you favor something other than a cap or massive gov’t investment – would like a summary of your thinking on that

  21. Jim Newberry says:

    Other suggestions:
    Remove $50 billion plus annual federal fuel subsidies (Historically $trillions)
    Defund military spending and attendant fuel use and economic waste
    Tax shift from labor to fossil fuels
    Phase out insurance indemnification for atomic fission
    Urban planning for rail transit based redevelopment and greenways
    Conservation, such as the dark sky initiatives to reduce excessive lighting
    “We are faced with insurmountable opportunities”
    Energy is presently based on federal economic fraud. As for politics – Revolution is the founding principal of the nation. Time to revolt against corruption of our democracy and our economy.

  22. cet says:

    yes The best method I have found is carbon dioxide mineralization via olivine. We could start doing some of this today for about $38–40 per tonne of carbon dioxide.

  23. Charles says:

    The most effective method to lessen climate impact is to lessen the number of people-population control. Less Children.

  24. brent says:

    May I suggest you consider another wedge – reducing emissions of Synthetic Greenhouse Gases (or as I prefer to call them PIGGS – Potent Industrial Greenhouse Gases)? Although much overlooked, these are a significant and very rapidly growing slice of the emissions pie.

    CFCs and HCFCs are at least 12% of the ‘stock’ of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and there is much that can be done to reclaim emissions of these gases before they are released from the installed bank of existing equipment.

    Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are around 2% of the annual ‘flow’ of emissions, and are forecast to grow very rapidly in the abscence of concerted efforts to prevent them replacing the ozone depleting CFCs and HCFCs by using natural refrigerants such as ammonia, carbon dioxide and hydrocarbons instead. These genuinely climate friendly solutions are well proven, widely available in some markets (such as Europe), and in need of rapid expansion throughout the world. SF6, PFCs and NF3 are also gases that have no place in a safe climate, and require much greater attention.

    There are efforts to seek much greater action on PIGGS from the Montreal and Kyoto Protocols that are well documented at

    I would be very grateful for any comments on the importance of addressing these issues by taking on the largely US based fluorochemical industry.

  25. Pulverized coal plants provide most of the baseload power for our modern conveniences, such as TV and electric cars. Natural gas, nuclear and hydro account for nearly all of the rest. Solar and wind are too unreliable for baseload power (because they are intermittent, with no energy storage) and in any case make a tiny contribution — together, about 1%.

    We’re stuck with pulverized coal plants for the near term, and it is in the near term (before 2050) that solutions must be found and massively deployed worldwide to reduce CO2 emissions. Simple and high volume (i.e. non-chemical and non-compression) post-combustion carbon capture and dissociation or mineralization should therefore be the top priority. Biofuels, IGCC, hydrogen cars, solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, etc. may make some contribution some day, but they can’t be the near term solution for the world’s energy demand, and dollars spent on them are not going to the top priority. Here is one idea, for mechanical carbon capture by a novel gas centrifuge:

    Conservation is a great goal, and an immediate necessity, but few Americans are aware and austere enough to cut back, and the rest are easily persuaded by the deniers that no conservation is necessary. So don’t count on public education and conservation to save us.

    Outside the US, in China and India, pulverized coal is what keeps the lights on, and expecting them to give up modern living to save the polar bears is not realistic, especially when they see the opulent and wasteful Americans doing nothing.

  26. vivek says:


    great list of resources
    Off recent i came across a road tour, dedicated to climate change and creating awareness. I guess these links should interest you.

  27. Fabian says:

    Hi Joe

    I just stumbled on your blog after reading Friedman’s article in the NYT.
    One thing I’m looking for are suggestions how an individual can help prevent carbon emissions. Simple suggestions about what to do in daily life.

    I’m sure there are a ton of such lists out there but it would be nice to have some suggestions from an expert like you.

  28. aafisher says:

    Another wedge:

    Women’s access to reproductive health care and non-coercive family planning. One could write a book and many, such as Robert Engleman of Worldwatch Institute, already have.

    Suffice it to say that as women’s health goes, so goes the health of the planet. All of our solutions won’t add up to much if there are too many of us. Overpopulation only exacerbates everything else.

    Historically women have limited fertility when the option is available, so this is not exactly based on changing behavior. Modern birth control is based on modern medical technology.

  29. uçak bileti says:

    realy thanks for posting. i like this Joe. It’s definitely helpful as a resource.

    James Hansen is advocated a move back towards 350 ppm at ground level, the link above , also at under bloggers under my name, lists a several year old blog about climate solutions…..
    Now people are advocating using aneutronic fusion, like bussard fusion to get rid of coal and natural gas plants, and power cities with boron plus proton fusion to excited carbon, then to beryllium, and final products are three heliums, and no neutron radiation, but 8.5 million electon -Joules out for a small amount in.
    The post discusses if we use this technolgy to sequester liquid CO2 in safe trenches in the deep ocean, from the southern saturated ocean, which follows the Revelle factor and Henry’s law and allows us to achieve efficiency estimates of 1 million over pumping air and separating Co2 from air compared to the efficiency of pumping up water from 100m to 500 metres down and letting it off gas in controlled conditions, then liquify and transport to a safe trench. The ocean circulation currents are key to this discussion, as are the geography and location of the safe trenches. With these two processes in place, around 2018 we can avoid going much above 400 ppm and can steadily reduce ppm to 350 ppm re James Hansen. this would save the web of life incluiding the plankton and krill in the oceans, which will really go extinct around 450 ppm as the ocean becomes too acidic and the calcium carbonate buffer starts to break down from insufficient calcium carbonate. I recommend most of your core solutions, in parallel and also remember the deep ocean only connects with the atmosphere between 100 and 500 years form now, if we sequester in downwelling areas that do not have volcanic and thermal vent or earthquake activity for longer periods of time, there should be little movement from the trenches of liquid CO2.
    I will be updating the tables to reflect the Revelle factor, pH, alkalinity and the calcium carbonate buffer. But at the moment it is reasonable, but will become more accurate. There is a spreadsheet available as well.

  31. dougo says:

    Let’s not forget improved forest management, which has significant potential for climate mitigate, but it also has a whole greenwashing industry devoted to misinformation, trying to justify business as usual, short-rotation clearcutting as climate friendly. e.g.,

    Here is a slide show clarifying many misconceptions about forests, logging, and carbon:
    (For full effect click “full” in the lower right.)

    Here is a more detailed foot-noted report on forests, carbon and climate change:

  32. Advocates of biomass have forgotten about the myriad advantages of industrial hemp as a solution for much of what causes global warming.

    Talk to an industrial hemp expert. Someone who can explain how we can get 500 gallons of fuel from and acre of land and that we can get all of our transportation and heating and cooling energy from industrial hemp within the next three years if crises management techniques are employed.

    We don’t have to sacrifice land used for food crops. We in the U.S., can use land in the Soil Bank, we can also use some of the 500 million uncultivated acres in America, and do so with no pesticides or herbicides or chemical fertilizers, and we can grow hemp… harvest after harvest on the same land. Rotation not needed. And, in warmer climates get three to four harvests per year.

    We could eliminate all the raping of our forests and their ecological systems because hemp was the world’s first paper. We shut down hundreds of coal fired plants, eliminate the desacration of mountain tops, prevent the fools’ errand of pumping CO2 underground, and eliminate the constant seepage of CO2 and NO into the atmosphere from pipelines and drilling sites.

    Moreover, the buildup of methane hydrates would be eliminated and less methane (20-30 times more powerful than CO2 as a warming agent) would seep into the atmosphere as oil drilling ceased.

    Ya, get someone who really knows how in the next year we could plant 140-150 million acres to industrial hemp and solve so many of our ecological, environmental, energy and economic problems. Look at the jobs that would create.

  33. Ali says:

    I can’t believe that no one has added the plant-based diet to your solutions. I think you must understand that there simply isn’t time for the type of technological changes needed.

    Part of the problem is the way we are accounting for methane in the Co2 “equal” system. In practical terms, it weighs more than double what it’s recognised. We need to update the GWP of methane to reflect reality. Then we need to get s*h*i*t* scared and make some really effective climate policy aimed at diet (it’s only healthier to eat less animal products anyway so it will be like patting two birds with one hand).

    At the very least this solution should be presented in your list and the lists of others. Realistically, everyone should be informed that the best thing they can do to ensure the continuation of humanity on earth would be to eat a plant-based diet.

  34. Scatter — In the 4–5% range of total carbon emissions are

    cement production
    USA cars and light trucks
    ocean vessels (includes cruise ships)

    Try the International Energy Agency (IEA) website to see if you can find what you are after.

  35. Walter Peterson says:

    My nickname is Know2Solve, because I have solved the 70-75 drought three days after I SENT in how to do it to the gov. Hurricanes shut down with a simple system I can easily describe. Nor Easters too. I also have plans to shut down pollution by sending it to the Sun. Pole warming by freezing it and fast! Earthquakes by speeding up the rotation of the earth and volcanoes reduced and stopped the same way. Most importantly now is stopping Ice Age Weather. Stop it by returning the pole rotation powering system electric current, to come in on the South and out on the North pole. The poles will refreeze, the earth can be sped up in rotation, which will stop earthquakes, and volcanoes. Keeping powering the earth rotation through the poles, will return the current powering the Ice Age away from freezing major parts of America and the world on its circular latitude. As well as other mentioned benefits. When people ran the rain maker out of the city he almost flooded, they lost his skills for controlling the earth which we have had to now learn over again. I don’t claim that I know all he knew but I think I am on the right track for doing everything I have mentioned. If you would like some other papers recently written. I will be glad to send them. ph. 520 344 9062. Dr. Walter O. Peterson

  36. Furthermore,, If we don’t stop the Ice Age now in action, our whole earth will suffer the results far more destructive than Hatti.