Socolow Re-Reaffirms 2004 ‘Wedges’ Paper, Urges ‘Monumental’ Levels of Clean Energy Deployment ASAP

The crucial climate strategy is aggressive deployment of every last bit of available low-carbon technology starting ASAP.  Anyone who isn’t in favor of that strategy understands neither climate science nor the current state of clean energy.  Sadly, that covers most of the traditional media and so-called intelligentsia.

Even the traditionally staid and conservative the International Energy Agency explained two years ago that “The world will have to spend an extra $500 billion to cut carbon emissions for each year it delays implementing a major assault on global warming.”

Princeton Professors Robert Socolow and Stephen Pacala became leading champions of the “deploy now” strategy with their 2004 in Science paper, “Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years with Current Technologies.”

A wedge is a strategy and/or technology that, over a period of a five decades, ultimately reduces projected global carbon emissions by one billion metric tons per year (see Princeton website here).  “The 2004 wedges paper assumed that the objective of global mitigation would require a flat emissions rate for 50 years, followed by a falling rate. Making the same heroic assumption today would result in substantial additional emissions.”

The abstract of the Science paper read:

Humanity already possesses the fundamental scientific, technical, and industrial know-how to solve the carbon and climate problem for the next half-century. A portfolio of technologies now exists to meet the world’s energy needs over the next 50 years and limit atmospheric CO2 to a trajectory that avoids a doubling of the preindustrial concentration. Every element in this portfolio has passed beyond the laboratory bench and demonstration project; many are already implemented somewhere at full industrial scale. Although no element is a credible candidate for doing the entire job (or even half the job) by itself, the portfolio as a whole is large enough that not every element has to be used.

Socolow’s views were misreported back in May, and I interviewed him at length for a post (which he reviewed):  “Breaking: Socolow reaffirms 2004 ‘wedges’ paper, urges aggressive low-carbon deployment ASAP.”

He made clear he stands behind every word of that abstract — and the carefully-worded title.  Indeed, if Socolow were king, he told me, he’d start deploying some 8 wedges immediately.

Socolow has updated that now to deploy 9 wedges starting immediately — in a paper titled “Wedges Reaffirmed,” published this week by The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and Climate Central. You can find a number of interesting responses to the new paper at those links.

I have spent a lot of time talking to Socolow over the years.  We agree on the vast majority of things, but take a slightly different view of the science, which I’ll discuss below.

First, though, the wedges look simple, but they aren’t, and if you don’t spend time reading the supplementary material and talking to Socolow, you’ll probably get it wrong.  Folks like Roger Pielke, Jr., who has teamed with the hard-core anti-science crowd to spread disinformation, have misanalyzed them completely (see here).

I have written a great deal about the wedges over the years because, despite their analytical complexities, they simplify the process of describing what needs to be done.

If there is any doubt as to what Socolow believes today, he wanted me to remind people he is a signatory to the recent National Academy of Science report that calls on nation to “substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions” starting ASAP.

Socolow told me we “need a rising CO2 price” that gets to a serious level in 10 years.  What is serious?   “$50 to $100 a ton of CO2.”

I asked Socolow point blank if he still believed “existing technologies could affordably limit warming” — and he said yes.  Of course he supports more on R&D, as he always did (see below).  Everybody supports more R&D (well, other than most top conservatives politicians), and some of us have spent decades pushing for it.

The issue is whether, in addition to R&D, you understand that limiting global warming requires aggressive deployment of every last bit of low-carbon technology that you have today starting now — and that this is really more important than the R&D since if you don’t do it, all the R&D in the world can’t help you.  Also, deployment is probably as important if not more so for lowering the cost of low-carbon technology than basic research.  Learning by doing is faster than learning in the lab — and many “breakthrough” aspects of cost-reduction, such as innovative financing, only come after mass deployment, after a technology has reached a certain level of maturity in the marketplace.  More on that in a future post.

It’s important to remember what Socolow and Pacala wrote in 2004:

The debate in the current literature about stabilizing atmospheric CO2 at less than a doubling of the preindustrial concentration has led to needless confusion about current options for mitigation. On one side, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has claimed that “technologies that exist in operation or pilot stage today” are sufficient to follow a less-than-doubling trajectory “over the next hundred years or more” [(1), p. 8]. On the other side, a recent review in Science asserts that the IPCC claim demonstrates “misperceptions of technological readiness” and calls for “revolutionary changes” in mitigation technology, such as fusion, space-based solar electricity, and artificial photosynthesis (2). We agree that fundamental research is vital to develop the revolutionary mitigation strategies needed in the second half of this century and beyond. But it is important not to become beguiled by the possibility of revolutionary technology. Humanity can solve the carbon and climate problem in the first half of this century simply by scaling up what we already know how to do.

Socolow told me the only word he would delete in the paper is “simply.”   As he writes in his new paper:

The wedge concept fosters parallel discussion of alternatives and encourages the design of a portfolio of responses. Each wedge is an immense activity. In talks about this work, I like to say that we decomposed a heroic challenge into a limited set of monumental tasks.

In short, in addition to a hopeful message that humanity is not helpless, the paper contains the sobering message that the job ahead is daunting.

No argument here.  I try to avoid using the word “easy” to describe what needs to be done.  I prefer the word “straightforward.”  It isn’t easy to do this, but it is straightforward.

The original paper stated:

What Do We Mean by “Solving the Carbon and Climate Problem for the Next Half-Century”?

Proposals to limit atmospheric CO2 to a concentration that would prevent most damaging climate change have focused on a goal of 500 ± 50 parts per million (ppm), or less than double the preindustrial concentration of 280 ppm (37)….


In confronting the problem of greenhouse warming, the choice today is between action and delay. Here, we presented a part of the case for action by identifying a set of options that have the capacity to provide the seven stabilization wedges and solve the climate problem for the next half-century. None of the options is a pipe dream or an unproven idea…. Every one of these options is already implemented at an industrial scale and could be scaled up further over 50 years to provide at least one wedge.

So Socolow and Pacala were shooting at 500 ± 50 ppm CO2 with his 7 wedges.  Now he would be over-delighted with 9 wedges and staying below 550 ppm.

His priority back in 2004 — and still today — is avoiding the catastrophic warming we face on our business-as-usual emissions path of 5°C to 6°C (9 to 11 °F).  That’s why he says we need to start aggressive technology deployment now, along with a CO2 price that rises within a decade to serious levels of “$50 to $100 a ton of CO2.”

He strongly supports R&D.  That’s why the article says, “We agree that fundamental research is vital to develop the revolutionary mitigation strategies needed in the second half of this century and beyond.”  But he scoffs at the notion that we should delay deployment now waiting for those revolutions — and, as noted, called those who see those hoped-for revolutions as a replacement for action now as members of a “cargo cult” [who, as Wikipedia notes, believe in “obtaining the material wealth (the ‘cargo’) of the advanced culture through magic and religious rituals and practices”].

Indeed, he called this view “doubly deceptive.”  It requires believing the “pie in the sky” stuff will be available sometime soon and that if it becomes available, “we can take the other stuff off the table.”  He said that was “quadratically unlikely.”

One key point Socolow makes that the breakthrough bunch don’t understand is that “very few people working on zero-carbon solutions, like fusion or air capture, expect it to be cheap.”  Again, let’s all hope there are breakthroughs and let’s all push to invest more money in them, but we can’t take our eyes off the prize of deployment, deployment, deployment.

Finally, let me touch on the one area where we disagree a bit.  Socolow thinks that a 3°C target is the only realistic one that we can achieve now.  That may well be true politically.  I have tried to make as clear as possible that what is required to stabilize at 2°C is not currently politically possible (though that is also true of the 3°C target).  Remember, 1 wedge of nuclear power would require adding globally, an average of 14 new plants each year, while building another 7 plants a year to replace those that will be retired, sustained for five decades.  The scale is staggering for any wedge — one million large (2 MW peak) wind turbines.  Again, I know of nobody who said that deploying even seven wedges would be easy.

Socolow believes we can afford to pursue the 3°C target until we know with far greater confidence that it is untenable.  I don’t really buy that.  He is it certainly aware of the risks of the carbon-cycle feedbacks, but his knowledge about the degree of difficulty of achieving even 9 wedges in the coming decades leads him to believe that pressing for substantially more may be counterproductive.  He acknowledges that is primarily a political judgment, but notes that recent events at the national and international level would seem to support his view.

If you want a 2°C target, then the world needs to do some combination of the dozen or so wedges laid out here:  “The full global warming solution: How the world can stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm.”  Not bloody likely, for sure, but a report by the International Energy Agency came to almost exactly the same conclusion as I did, and has relatively similar wedges, so I view that as a vindication of the overall analysis.  Note:  My wedges are accelerated to four decades, rather than Socolow’s five.  Again, time is of the essence.

Finally, in practice, my differences with Socolow are, as we both agreed, closer to counting angels dancing on the head of a pin — especially compared to our mega-differences with the do-little crowd.  I would gladly have ‘settled’ for pursuing 7 wedges starting in 2005 as Socolow and Pacala proposed then, but which the deniers and the breakthrough bunch opposed fiercely.  And while I’d love to start 12 accelerated wedges now, I would again be utterly overjoyed if the world started 9 regular wedges now, since it gives the world a fighting chance, something that the cargo cult strategy does not.

Similarly, while Socolow would start with 9 wedges now, he views the interaction between science and deployment policy as “iterative.”  If the scientific case for more rapid deployment becomes significantly stronger, he’d quickly start adding wedges.  My guess is that he would be adding wedges pretty darn soon — certainly by the time the tundra actually starts emitting significant amounts of methane (see “NSIDC bombshell: Thawing permafrost feedback will turn Arctic from carbon sink to source in the 2020s, releasing 100 billion tons of carbon by 2100“).  Again, if we start with 9 wedges now, then we aren’t hopelessly lost in the 2020s as we are likely to be if we keep doing nothing.

Deployment, deployment, R&D, deployment, deployment.


Much of Socolow’s new paper is taken up with a discussion of why he thinks the nation and the world have failed to act, including a discussion of messaging.  Long-time Climate Progress readers will quickly realize that I don’t agree with much of his analysis.  Rather than repeating my views on the subject, I’ll repost the comments by someone in the front-lines of the fight to pass a climate bill, one of the people in this field I respect the most:

David Hawkins, Director of Climate Programs, Natural Resources Defense Council:

Rob Socolow and his colleague Steve Pacala did the world a great service with their 2004 paper setting forth the “wedges” framework for understanding how to tackle the problem of greenhouse gas emission reduction. In his above essay, Rob muses about the reasons for the failure of action (at least action by the Congress of the United States), and he offers some suggestions as to how advocates for forceful action might change the dynamic by talking about the need for action in different ways.

Rob is a friend and a mentor, but I disagree on several counts with his arguments.

First, Rob attributes the lack of action (presumably the failure of Congress to pass a federal cap-and-trade bill) to “public resistance.” I disagree. Based on my observation of the process, the failure of the Senate to take up the House-passed climate bill (or some variant of it) was not due to “public resistance,” but rather due to a very aggressive and organized opposition led by the Chamber of Commerce, American Petroleum Institute (API), and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). The senators influenced by this opposition were primarily Democrats (the Republicans having decided well in advance of the interest group opposition campaign that they would oppose legislation as a matter of political strategy). The Chamber/API/NAM opposition convinced wavering Democrats that anyone who voted for a climate bill would be attacked aggressively for that vote in the 2010 campaign and elections. Those senators were unconvinced that supporters of the legislation would be able to mount a sufficient counter campaign to offset these attacks. So I regard the failure of climate legislation as due more to a lack of strong calls for action by the public rather than public resistance to action. This is an important distinction, because it has implications for what messaging, if any, can turn this situation around. I am skeptical that there is any way for supporters of action to talk about climate protection so as to generate a general public demand for action that is intense enough to cause swing politicians to vote for legislation if it is as aggressively opposed as were the cap bills in the last Congress. Removal of this impediment to action may lie not in efforts to get the public to demand action, but in efforts to ease the opposition of those who are fighting action.

There is also the efficacy of Rob’s call for more nuanced descriptions of the climate problem. Rob’s essay appears to suggest that it is uncertain members of the public who are the target audience, and his three message suggestions appear to be aimed at persuading that audience that supporters of climate protection action are not unreasonable zealots. To do this he suggests we should 1) not suggest that protecting the climate involves only good news; 2) acknowledge that the range of consequences from increased greenhouse gas concentrations is large and uncertain; and 3) that there are dangers presented by cutting emissions too fast.

While I share his discomfort with the message that fighting climate change means nothing but good news for everybody, I don’t see any evidence that a more nuanced message would do anything to increase the demand for action from the public or reduce the opposition from groups like the Chamber, API, and NAM. We should acknowledge that protecting the climate is hard work, but we should not do so with the expectation that this will produce a consensus for action.

On the issue of describing the uncertain range of outcomes, I think that most advocates who are influential already do acknowledge this fact. We do not argue that science proves a particular set of disastrous impacts are certain to occur at some particular level of greenhouse gases. Rather we argue that the higher the concentration, the greater the risks are of significant damages, and that we cannot rule out that many of these impacts could be truly catastrophic. That risk profile warrants action now.

The most puzzling aspect of Rob’s essay for me is his treatment of the issue of how fast to reduce emissions. He appears to argue that resistance to action will diminish if supporters acknowledge that some climate protection actions could have negative consequences. But the three examples he mentions –too rapid an expansion of nuclear power; wholesale conversion of lands to bio-energy production; and geoengineering to block sunlight – all have been the subject of substantial warnings and even opposition by strong advocates of climate protection. Ironically, an aggressive embrace of nuclear power has been argued by politicians like senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham as essential to get support for action from conservative politicians.

On this last question of how fast to cut emissions, Rob goes beyond advice about communication and presents conclusions about what level of emission reduction is advisable. He says the lowest global emission target for 2050 that he is comfortable endorsing is a level equal to today’s emissions. And he concludes, “[g]iven present knowledge, that goal is probably ambitious enough; pursuing tougher goals could lead us to opt for cures that are worse than the disease.”

This is a very provocative statement, and I would expect someone who is careful with analysis as Rob is to provide some support or citation for the proposition that setting a tighter target for 2050 will create significantly higher risks that unwise mitigation approaches will be pursued. But he provides no such support. Indeed, I believe that in connecting ambitious targets with unwise implementation actions, Rob is linking two aspects that need not and should not be linked. The proper response to the risk of taking stupid actions in the pursuit of appropriate goals is not to weaken the goals to inappropriate levels; it is to make the case that certain actions are stupid and should not be in the portfolio of responses unless modified to avoid the risks that they present.

The recent scientific literature makes clear that inaction eliminates much of the uncertainty about our future (see “An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts: How We Know Inaction Is the Gravest Threat Humanity Faces“).

The single biggest failure of messaging by climate scientists (until very recently) has been the failure to explain to the public, opinion makers, and the media that business-as-usual warming results in simultaneous, ever-worsening impacts that, individually, are each beyond catastrophic, but combined are unimaginablly horrific .

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33 Responses to Socolow Re-Reaffirms 2004 ‘Wedges’ Paper, Urges ‘Monumental’ Levels of Clean Energy Deployment ASAP

  1. Davos says:

    Unfortunately, would you agree that you might have to be closer to having a monarchy to get the sort of rapid deployment that is sought?

    I know I’ve brought this up a few times, but the fact remains that simple due process afforded to all citizens to reject and appeal these installations is one of the primary reasons why these wedges are more ‘pie in the sky’ than you might be willing to admit.

    [In America anyway, for the Chinese, it’s all simple]

    Until you can find enough places where not one single environmentalist will be opposed to themselves living next to a biomass, natural gas, or wind farm (etc.) … How can it work??

    Just take the Yucca Mountain project as an example. If we can’t agree on a single place to store Nuclear Waste, and a plan can be derailed by things like “doesn’t have a proper plan for what happens 10,000 years from now”… How can we POSSIBLY achieve this ‘rapid’ or ‘massive’ deployment without eliminating or restricting due process for NIMBY environmentalists?

    With nuclear, biomass, and natural gas all getting falling grades among those who they are built near, this demands at least some sort of a reality check.

  2. Wonhyo says:

    When the most ardent supporters of climate action are talking about goals like 500+/-50 ppm, 450 ppm, or even 350 ppm, we’re in trouble, because we know that’s not going to be enough and we know that any compromise will raise those target ceilings even higher. There’s really no point in fighting for an end goal that is a losing proposition.

    If we’re going to fight to save humankind, we should have a goal that realistically has a chance of doing that. This is not a situation where it makes sense to settle for a goal that is politically feasible. In the present political climate no voluntary reduction in emissions is politically feasible. If we’re going to fight for a politically impossible goal, we should at least fight for a goal that would actually save humankind.

  3. Wonhyo says:

    Lots of good points, there. The situation with nuclear waste is it’s probably already too late find an effective solution. We should have thought about and solved the waste disposal problem before we started producing that waste.

    Sadly, climate is in a similar state. There is a huge gap between the solutions that have a chance of actually stabilizing the climate, and the solutions that have a chance of political acceptance. Sadly, even the most ardent advocates of climate action are starting with what might be politically acceptable, rather than insisting on what nature requires. This is no way to negotiate a way to save humankind.

  4. John Tucker says:

    Lets be realistic, nuclearś problems are a drop in the bucket.

    The largest wind farm in Texas is 100,000 acres and over the year has around ONE THIRD the output of a modern nuclear plant.

    The Largest solar project, the Ordos Solar Project in China is expected to cover 6.000 acres and makes just under HALF the electricit­y of a modern nuclear plant.

    Low energy intermittents are wonderful but they take an incredible investment in resources to be viable solutions.

    This article makes a point of pointing out how much nuclear would be necessary to make a difference, multiply that by five for solar and three for wind with the above realities to match capacity to get an idea of how big this needs to be. And how nightmarishly far we are from it.

    Realistically now we are installing a gas replacement for coal with token renewables.

    The problem is we are also replacing large scale clean energy with it when we adopt a anti nuclear agenda.

  5. mikkel says:

    Joe what do you think is the best way for us as a community to start doing this? Yes we need a carbon tax or feed in tariffs but those are nowhere in sight. Until they are then I think it’s up to the groundroots community to provide the business opportunities and (perhaps even) financing to start the roll out where it makes sense.

    Reading about Northern Europe has invigorated me because they are aggressively rolling out on renewables on the community level. Yes the national policy makes it favorable, but it is often local co-ops that are financing and operating the energy production.

    Here is an example of a German village that is fully meeting its needs through a variety of renewable technologies and is running a large profit. It is operated by companies that are formed by citizens in the village.

    Here is another German village running off biogas, again started through a local cooperative. And then there is a larger operation in Sweden that produces gas to run the public transport for a city of 140,000; again a coop between the city and the farmers.

    I think there is way too much emphasis on electricity production and price when it comes to renewables. Cogeneration and coproducts should be heavily considered in the economics, and several technologies that come close to being competitive on pure electrical generation make economic sense when the full products are used.

    I have a lot of biogas links because I’ve been heavily researching its potential for community sourced programs. As long as the remnants are sold for organic fertilizer and the majority of the heat is sold for productive purposes (district heating, greenhouses, industrial processing, whatever) then they have immense ROI. The Northern European countries show that this is possible.

    I have been in contact with biogas companies that are installing these throughout Asia and they lament the fact that in the US there isn’t the cooperation needed to make them economic because people aren’t working together to find uses for the heat and fertilizer. All communities could process their organic wastes in digesters (and plastic/wood wastes in gasifiers) and make a great profit. Feedlots can also have all their wastes processed, leading to immense benefits, but few farmers have interest in running them and there is little cooperation to run a regional outfit despite the EPA and DOE recommending them.

    I feel the exact same way about concentrated solar. There is no reason that we have to have giant plants in the middle of the desert when smaller ones could be closer to the community and support local businesses that used the waste heat.

    When it comes to a lot of home technology such as PV and geothermal heat pumps/insulation, it’s entirely a financing issue. It’ll be interesting to see how Google’s foray into PV ownership plays out, but there is no reason that climate progress type investment groups couldn’t do the same thing.

    The doors will be wide open to everyone when the correct policies are in place, but as it stands perhaps the climate hawk community should look into developing business models where it can tap into capital of its members and deploy them to communities that see the wisdom of cooperation.

  6. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Old Ma Nature is sending the most convincing ‘messages’ at the moment as the Onion said. Our strategy now must be to capitalize on the growing awareness that the crisis is real and is Now; that it is happening as predicted by climate science; and is intensifying globally; as predicted.

    Re the urgency, let us do a little systems thinking. Deploying the current technology on a large scale requires mining, energy and money as well as healthy, productive people. As Queensland learnt last summer, you can’t operate flooded mines and you also can’t transport minerals along train lines or roads buckled by heat.

    As there is no sign that the global economic system is going to change its spots any time soon, there is very little chance it is going to recover. Forget the stock market: that is a measure of human emotions rather than a measure of any sort of authentic or productive value. As national economies fail to recover and accelerating disasters extract even greater cost, we can expect an even greater down turn in production.

    People sitting on roof tops or wandering around the wastelands of their ruined, flooded, burnt out, or blown away communities, are not productive people. Nor are most of them going to be rescued in any timely or constructive way. A spokesperson for Oxfam said last summer in Pakistan to this effect: “if we had two of these simultaneously, we couldn’t cope. There are not enough aid resources in the world to go around.”

    Then there is the small matter of food and water shortages and healthy people, and mentally healthy people. May not be a major problem for rich countries at the moment but many of our imports come from poor or developing countries.

    None of these are separate problems, they are interdependent aspects of our dependence on the biosphere. If we do not make a massive and concerted effort to deploy now at the global level, we will find that we no longer have the requisite conditions to do it at all, ME

  7. prokaryotes says:

    In other word this is the most importance for national security. Which leads to the question, how to deal with the conspiracy about climate change , spread by deniers. Paid by companies such as ExxonMobil or Koch Industries.

    Plus why do they receive taxpayers money. And why do they have so much support, when in fact they threaten the survival of the species with their organized actions.

    And while switching to renewables, clean energy generation, you only participate from the next industrial revolution(2.0).

  8. John Tucker says:

    Getting people to accept the reality of the scinece of climate change might have been the extremely easy part.

  9. Joe Romm says:

    A very lame comment.
    No power source is more land efficient than wind.

  10. John Tucker says:

    Do you think possibly there is a better way to convey that? Was I incorrect, or are you in denial – not really sure from that statement. Thought the capacity factor was 30-40 percent for wind.

    Also is part of its attraction its low level of deployment now – Ive heard zero ecological impact to problems for migratory birds. I think there could be legitimate concerns in some areas.

    Ice throw can be a problem in northern climates. Mechanical failure, although rare can get rather messy

    Then on the anti science side, which has been so fostered in the anti nuclear movement everything is up for grabs.
    The reasoning ranges from aesthetics ( ) to medical claims.
    ( ).

  11. Paul Magnus says:

    “Socolow thinks that a 3°C target is the only realistic one that we can achieve now. That may well be true politically. I have tried to make as clear as possible that what is required to stabilize at 2°C is not currently politically possible ”

    Whatever we do we are on for probably something in the region of 2.5C-2.8C. Societal break down is going to happen before 2C increase. Guaranteed!

  12. David B. Benson says:

    Unfortunately there is a good case to be made for that, based on how bad things are already but I don’t know of any guarantees.

  13. David B. Benson says:

    I see no impediments to scaling up to building 21 NPPs per year, globally.

  14. I’ve always been impressed and thankful for the wedges work that Socolow and Pacala have done. However, I just don’t think his goal of 0% cut by 2060 is remotely adequate to what will be required.

    I also strongly disagree with Socolow’s view that the denier-industrial-complex would have given ground if scientists and climate activists had been more laid back. I too agreed most with the Hawkins rebuttal of the many posted with the paper.

    Finally I think it would be a good messaging exercise to create some “abandonment wedges”.

    That is where we are heading but nobody seems to be levelling with public about it. All the wedges are about cool new stuff to replace old stuff. Put if climate sensitivity is at the higher end…or feedbacks are faster and stronger than we guessed (like they have been!) then we are going to have to start jettisoning fossil fuel infrastructure faster than we can replace it.

    How about a fuel rationing wedge? And a flight rationing wedge? And a rolling power out wedge?

  15. How about a “meat twice a month” abandonment wedge?

  16. John McCormick says:

    Davos, you nailed it!

    ““doesn’t have a proper plan for what happens 10,000 years from now”
    says it all.

    That statement is the enviro blueprint for failure to adapt. Ask Joe Kennedy. He’ll tell you what hell would be like looking out onto Cape Cod Bay and seeing those dang windmills.

    I followed the Yucca Mountain debate disaster and tightened my head vise another turn every time I heard a waste storage opponent demanding to know how we can be sure the waste will be safe and secure 10,000 years from now. As if the cockroaches will care.

    Me, I am asking how our children will find enough to eat 50 years from now.

    The NIMBY disorder (disconnect) will be our doom.

  17. Davos says:

    So what will happen the next time a Biomass facility is proposed for a community (or YOUR community)..? Are you going to march into the city council meeting armed with air dispersal charts and chemical samplings and argue that they will hurt our children (and property values)? Or are you going to let it happen (sacrificially if needbe) for the greater good?

    What about a wind-farm? Are you going to issue another delaying appeal because of an improper due-diligence to assess the environmental impact of a rotating blade SHADOW on the foliage below? Or are you going to help it to happen despite the change in your vista view?

    What about a natural gas installation? Worried about fracking below your water table, or worry about your nation’s carbon footprint?

    When some environmentalists lament the inability or infeasibility to massively deploy green energy… the biggest culprit is staring back at them in the mirror.

    The problem becomes even more complicated when these same people demand non-green energy installations in faraway land be taken down or stopped despite their acceptance within the backyards of those who live there.

    If anyone thinks no one sees the disconnect, they’re wrong.

  18. Davos says:

    …except maybe over-riding siting concerns that are capably voiceable by a minority of citizens in democratic countries.

    21 NPPs per year… all in Communist/Monarch countries perhaps.

  19. Davos says:

    …Again, perfect for Communist countries and Monarchies.

    Even qualifying it as a National Security issue isn’t going to work (recall that people don’t even want to stand infront of a screen at the air port in the name of National Security… I’m sure they’ll be just fine with fuel-rationing).

    Everyone in American is entitled to due-process. Eliminating it by fiat and mandate may be desirable, but it’s (a) constitutionally unlikely, and (b) may result in a political paradigm-shift that negates all the changes in the next election cycle (if the courts don’t first) because of the inability to properly convince while mandating.

    “But it has to happen” and “Alternatives aren’t good enough” are hand-waving that won’t work in democracies. Someone’s going to either have to do some mass-electorate convincing, or someone’s going to have to make sure due-process rights are removed in order to get it done. In America, the Supreme Court is the only entity that can step in and finalize due-process in light of a mandate. This has helped various civil rights causes, but I’m not sure it is able to handle all the concerns of climate change in a way that will satisfy you. If FDR couldn’t even get that kind of court make-up installed, no one can.

  20. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Excellent post Joe.

    Socolow’s reticence is [snip] not usual in analysts of his standing, or an acceptance of self-censorship that is greatly to his discredit. Viz:
    – He says the lowest global emission target for 2050 that he is comfortable endorsing is a level equal to today’s emissions. And he concludes, “[g]iven present knowledge, that goal is probably ambitious enough; pursuing tougher goals could lead us to opt for cures that are worse than the disease.” –
    In proposing a peak and return to 395ppmv CO2 by 2050 he pretends ignorance both of the reality of the feedbacks now accelerating off the timelagged warming from 335ppmv of CO2 in the mid-1970s, and of their well-proven interactive capacity for mutual amplification. His fear of “cures worse than the disease” is the Monbiot Fallacy (on biochar) writ large: that regardless of the existential threat of standard remedies’ deficiency, potentially pivotal additional mitigation policies should be refused (and their proponents derided) for fear they might be done badly.

    The nearest Socolow gets to justifying self-censorship is not explicitly about appeasement of those opposing effective action, but instead he proposes better messaging to the public, as if only having 70% public support for action were the critical obstruction rather than the fully informed national policy preferences. Yet it is appeasement of the status quo to trim the science and the proposed remedies to accommodate those preferences in hopes of gaining influence. – Merely raising the ‘stabilization wedges’ from 7 to 9 (28%), though welcome, leaves the fundamentally deficient approach unchanged: in reality the stabilization of airborne CO2 is not available at any level capable of driving a significant warming feedback.

    Socolow has much company in his self-censorship – science seems pretty rife with it. Neither the NAS, nor the Royal Society, has published a clear overview of the critical relevance of the feedbacks to the timescale and requisite scope of mitigation strategies, while the recent NSIDC projection of tundra-melt emissions both excluded its own warming feedback effects (!) and was measured not in GT CO2e but in gigatonnes of carbon and, by ignoring Siberian observations of water saturation maximizing the peat’s methane production, thus lowballed the implications by around 100-fold. Meanwhile the IPCC is clearly failing in science’s duty to inform society of the threat, with its tiny secretariat and thousands of scientists deferring instead to a political preference for their self-censorship – by excluding any comprehensive overview of the feedbacks from its next Assessment Report.

    It needs saying that the Enviro NGOs and the climate movement are at least as complicit in self censorship – as a lay-peoples’ blog CP seems almost unique in regularly publishing info on the relevance of the feedbacks to climate protection. To what extent the establishment has infiltrated/co-opted NGOs’ strategy planning is unclear, but in Britain over $20M was spent on getting spies and agents of influence just into fringe climate groups, so it seems predictable that the majors will have been targeted.

    The NGO’s quietness on the feedbacks’ relevance reflects two problems: promoting knowledge of them would harden calls for bringing their millions of subscribers onto the streets – which they seem loth to do – and it would also force them to engage in discussion of the need for Geo-E via both Carbon Recovery and Albido Restoration, which most abhor. Yet behind their acceptance of the Monbiot Fallacy (that they would be done badly) is a dubious timidity of fearing that any acceptance of Geo-E would simply cede the right of industry to continue polluting and block climate legislation.

    In reality, it’s very obvious that there will be no global UN mandate for Geo-E before an effective binding climate treaty is in operation – (even aerosols research pumping 100gls of water up a hose to a balloon at 3,300ft has just been halted). Moreover, beside its untargeted climate effects precluding UN agreement, the case against abusive Geo-E by sulphate aerosols is very robust: we cannot afford the loss of the oceans’ food production due to carbon acidification, nor can we afford the resulting decline of its carbon sink capacity, nor can we afford the impact of continued anthro-carbon marine input’s re-emergence in the future. In short, fear of the abuse of Geo-E does not remotely justify the enviro-NGOs’ self-censorship on the urgent reality of the feedbacks’ threat.

    Yet the self-censor in chief of course resides in the White House and runs a well censored government. His silence on climate overall, let alone on data on the feedbacks’ interactive acceleration that’s emerged since he took office, sets the pace both for the degree of public concern and for politicians’ response to the issue. I’ve often laid out the case for the head of an imperial nation – faced with the inexorable growth of a rival power – having the novel policy option of merely enforcing BAU stringently to see that rival destabilized by extreme climate impacts ruinously hitting food supply and infrastructure. That Obama inherited this policy from Bush doesn’t lessen his responsibility for its continuation – despite info from Holdren et al on the potentially terminal threat to the US posed by the feedbacks which, if they become ‘self-fuelling’, will not be amenable to control by geo-engineering.

    This rationale for Obama’s self-censorship is not even controversial as it has yet to attract much discussion. But now that his excuse of “lack of public acceptance of AGW” has been debunked, the fact that most Americans, even here on CP, would rather view their Democrat president as merely sleazily corrupt than as being capable of playing climate poker with China to advance what he sees as the national interest – is puzzling to me. Particularly in view of America’s recent triumphal history of playing poker in international affairs – with nuclear missiles as chips – under the strategy of “Push them up an arms race until they go bust.”

    Given that neither the great academies of science, nor the enviro-NGOs, nor the elected US government will provide the people with a cogent overview of the track-record and prognosis for the interactive feedbacks’ effect on global warming, and on the potential relevance of carbon recovery and albido restoration as the necessary and sufficient complements to emissions control, I suggest it falls to Joe here at Climate Progress to do so. It would make a fitting second unique cornerstone for the archive that is now in preparation.



  21. Joan Savage says:

    The kernel of the update is that the costs are compounded by delay.

    Each wedge still has a democratic peaceful path to full implementation.

    The word “deploy” evokes a central command decision and a level of obedient preparedness. That verb alone pulls in the onerous and potent metaphors of dictatorship and suggests an impatience with democratic process, which is genuinely very hard work.

    Wouldn’t we want to survive and limit climate change with our humanity and democratic process intact?

  22. prokaryotes says:

    I think what is missing in the process of getting aware of the problems and irreversible implications, a strong government message about the highest risks. Just like the Pentagon did when they warn about the muliplying threats.

    But the fight against terrorism or corrupt governements is the main focus, when at the same time all thses things are interconnected.

    If nothing is done the system is collapsing from the inside. On day 3 without food/water people will go and take what they need.

    So when messaging about climate change and national security, one has to talk about all these things in one.

    But as long parts of the governemental spectrum, outright deny the BEST SCIENCE the EARTH has to offer, not enough will change.

    And soon there are so many terrorist, climate refugees, failing states and simply anarchy wrecking havoc. Just look at the London riots or Canada riots this year, how fast things can develop. Just needs a few major droughts or killer heatwaves and people praying for food.

    Collapse or Progress, this two options we have with climate change. There is no conservation with status quo.

  23. I love the idea that we have a 50 year window of opportunity. It might even be so.

  24. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Mikkel, you have put your finger on the critical key for unlocking progress – cooperation. And communities are the natural unit within which to get started.

    Methods are available for starting this process [] and you only need about 30 people in a community to come together as equals, decide what they want for their desirable future commmunity and plan some actions to start making it happen.

    When people come together as equals around a common purpose, they generate a lot of motivation and energy which is contagious. It spreads through the community as the original group involves others in the actions. When it is task oriented and action based, there is no room for people to start arguing about what they do or do not believe in – they can all see ways to improve their community and several projects can be worked on at the same time, ME

  25. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Joan, that connotation of ‘deploy’ is not in my OED. ‘Deploy’ means to unfold or display.

    I don’t think we need red herrings in this debate and quite frankly, if the current form of American ‘democracy’ is the best we can aspire to, we mosewell all give up right now.

    If humanity is to survive in any shape at all, I would hope they would choose a better alternative than the one that led us to this crisis. Representative democracies may be all the rage at the moment but participative democracy produces far superior outcomes, ME

  26. Sasparilla says:

    Another excellent article Joe and Mr. Hawkins lays it out pretty well with regards to what was stopping things in the Senate.

    For those that are talking about the folly of implementing these wedges just due to NIMBY issues based on what we’ve already seen for wind and solar over the recent couple of years – that’s valid in todays climate, absolutely – you couldn’t do this even from NIMBY standpoint, but you couldn’t do this from alot of standpoints in todays world.

    The article is focused on what we need to get done to save ourselves, not what’s politically possible. As Joe and others have mentioned, to move forward with the Wedges at this rate would require a literal wartime (World War 2) footing, not only in industrial guidance – but also a wartime footing from the standpoint of this stuff will happen and most objections will have to be tabled cause this is that serious.

    We are so far from all that (still in retreat at the US Federal level for the time being), but that is what it will eventually take.

  27. Sasparilla says:

    Lewis, that was a very important point you had – the next IPCC report in 2013 will not be including major feedback data (which almost defies imagination that it won’t).

    I could not believe the big ones (permafrost melt, clathrates would not be included) when I heard that (again Joe’s site here was the resource). Presumably the next shot for the IPCC will be 2020 or so and by then we’ll be living the initial melts (no forecasts necessary).

    Joe, thank you for this site and thank you for allowing the public of the world (myself included) to have access to what the latest information is on these feedbacks (as well as other climate change information).

  28. Roger S. says:

    This is a great paper. Yes, the longer we wait to act, the steeper the path we must follow. So, why don’t we act, one asks.

    With all due respect, I think David Hawkins is mistaken or misleading when he states that “…the failure of climate action legislation is due more to lack of strong calls for action by the public rather than public resistance to action.”

    It’s not that this is wrong, per se, but that one needs to ask, “And, why is that?” until one arrives at the underlying reason.
    To wit, “Why do we lack strong calls for action by the public?” I’ll tell you why.

    Strong calls for action are not coming from the public because the vast majority simply do not understand the stealthy, slow, real, critically important, urgently-needing-action nature of global warming.

    And why is that? Becau$e $o much money i$ being $pent by fo$$il fuel intere$t$ to cloud the i$$ue, with a counter view that they would rather believe, all with no loud and clear refutation by our national leader.

    What’s the solution? Einstein and other great thinkers have hinted that one can benefit by thinking outside the box when faced with huge problems, as with AGW.

    Since AGW is unprecedented, we need an unprecedented action from our president. We need to get at many Americans informed about AGW as we can, as quickly as we can. This could be done in a one-hour, nationally-televised, prime-time, Oval Office, “State of the Climate” address, to be replayed at taxpayer expense, until understood.

    Properly worded, including consideration of some of the key points in Socolow’s paper, and backed up by the proper experts (including Rob, John Holdren, Steve Chu, etc.), such an address could provide enough information, from credible enough sources, to motivate millions of misinformed Americans to support the types of actions that are proposed, and urgently needed.

    Right now the biggest enemy of action is the lack of appreciation that most Americans have for the magnitudes of the opportunities and risks presented by global warming.

    Again, far too much money is being spent by those who would prefer to preserve the status quo, for a clear picture to appear.

    Global warming is a stealth black swan, visible to only a few.

    As a small step in the right direction, please “like” this somewhat novel idea:, and spread the word widely.

    For another new idea to give climate-concerned citizens some added visibility, and possibly some leverage, think about the “civil obedience” idea described at

    Warm regards,

  29. Davos says:

    So it sounds like quite a pickle.

    Because you could continue to discuss/lament that it’s going to take increasingly monarchical action to get ‘what must be done’ done, which is not possible in democratic countries but enjoyably realizable in places like China…

    Or you could push for getting as much as is possible, and achieve something that is openly admitted to be not nearly enough, but still more than the nothing that will result from a shot at the moon.

    It seems like the eventual progression of the conversation will just turn more shrill, as insufficient moves of pragmatism will be increasingly denigrated as ‘what needs to be done’ will be increasingly herculean…perhaps only eclipsed by its even worse political/civil feasibility.

    My point has been that there have been literally hundreds of projects and ideas that have been put forth, permits pulled, etc. that have resulted in failure for no other reason than there was a small group of knowledgeable and well-heeled NIMBY environmentalists pursuing their due-process rights. Somehow, the message needs to get to them that they need to get behind these projects (even at their personal sacrifice) so that its larger but more diffuse benefit can be realized.

    Perhaps instead of tabling the rights of citizens, we can get those who know the dangers of climate inaction to be willing to self-suspend theirs (which has much more Constitutional palatability). Consider it akin to those who willingly throng to the airport patdown.

  30. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Despite your five off-topic attempts so far on this thread to make nymbyism look like a mountain of a problem, in comparison to the thread’s subject
    – the refusal of Socolow et al to address and inform society of the actual scale of the global changes required –
    your nymbyism issue still looks like a molehill to me.

    Your interest in stirring infighting between environmentalists is unexplained, though maybe a pro-nuclear bias has something to do with it ? Your claim of how nimbyism makes renewables require imposition by monarchies or communist govts seems quite brazen enough – particularly given that the massive renewables deployments in European democracies in both republics and parliamentary monarchies shows it to be obviously untrue. Scotland for instance is heading for 100% renewables by 2020.

    Notably your posts exemplify just how useful the focus on intrusive intermittent renewables’ deployment – at the expense of the discreet baseload options – has been to nuclear corporations, both as a driver of division in the opposition to nuclear and as an easy shill-point about nuclear’s baseload capacity.

    But maybe you’re not pushing the pro-nuclear memes at all – in which case you’ll no doubt share the delight of many here in Japan and Germany’s repudiation of nuclear energy, and in France’s cessation of nuclear exports to any country with less than Japan’s nuclear-disaster response capacity ? The diversion of these countries’ world class R&D capacities into advancing the baseload renewables, including offshore wave, biomass, geo-thermal and solar thermal, will give new and better global options than the absurdly deficient false choice between nuclear and wind turbines.



  31. Davos, you misunderstand what I’m saying. I agree that you can’t force people in a democracy to do stuff the majority really doesn’t want to do. My point on creating “abandonment wedges” is *not* that anyone could force them on Americans. My point is that Americans have not been educated with the range of options they will have available if they don’t act now. People are choosing by delay to pass the point where only “good” wedges are possible solutions. They don’t understand this because they aren’t being told that we are approaching the limit of what “good” wedges can do. So my point is there needs to be a discussion of what other wedges would be available should they at some point decide on their own that they are freaked out by the dangerous weather system and want to act — in the majority — at a later date.

    It is about education and full information…not communist control. Geez.

  32. “Consider it akin to those who willingly throng to the airport patdown.”

    I think the more appropriate analogy here is to climate hawks who give up their rights to air travel until the airline industry takes responsibility for its over-sided climate pollution. Are we going to do something meaningful to stop this climate meltdown or dance around the edges?

  33. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Any chance my reply to Joan Savage yesterday can be rescued from moderation? Thanks, ME