Rethinking Wedges: We Need A Lot of Clean Energy To Stabilize Near 2°C Warming So We Better Start Deployment ASAP

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"Rethinking Wedges: We Need A Lot of Clean Energy To Stabilize Near 2°C Warming So We Better Start Deployment ASAP"

A new study underscores the point that we need to start deploying every last bit of carbon-free energy starting ASAP to have a reasonable chance of avoiding catastrophic levels of carbon pollution. But the paper, “Rethinking wedges,” suffers from two flaws.

First while it asserts “Current climate targets of 500 ppm and  2°C of warming” require “deploying tens of terawatts of carbon-free energy in the next few decades,” it seems to use this to argue for more research and development, rather than massive deployment. In fact, while everyone agrees we need to spend more on R&D, it’s our much vaster underspending on deployment that is launching us headlong toward catastrophe. And, of course, deployment is the best driver of innovation (as I discuss here).

Second, the paper appears to confuse what a wedge is and then compounds that confusion by introducing the concept of “hidden wedges,” which I don’t believe is a meaningful concept (if you understand what a wedge really is). The fact is that we probably need 1o to 20 terawatts of carbon-free energy over the next 50 years to have a shot at 450 ppm or lower — but a fair chunk of that can be efficiency and conservation (as I discuss here).

In any case, the need for massive deployment of carbon-free energy starting now is one that has been made by countless independent analyses. Even the traditionally staid and conservative the International Energy Agency explained three 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.”

A 2011 report found that “California can achieve emissions roughly 60% below 1990 levels with technology we largely know about today if such technology is rapidly deployed at rates that are aggressive but feasible.” A recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers finds we’re headed to 11°F warming and even 7°F requires “Nearly Quadrupling The Current Rate Of Decarbonisation.”

The abstract of this new study by Davis, Cao, Caldeira, and Hoffert, to be published Wednesday in Environmental Research Letters asserts:

Stabilizing CO2 emissions at current levels for fifty years is not consistent with either an atmospheric CO2 concentration below 500 ppm or global temperature increases below 2C. To achieve these targets, solving the climate problem requires that emissions peak and decline in the next few decades, and ultimately to near zero. Phasing out emissions over 50 years could be achieved by deploying on the order of 19 ‘wedges’, each of which ramps up linearly over a period of 50 years to ultimately avoid 1 GtC/yr of CO2 emissions. But this level of mitigation will require affordable carbon-free energy systems to be deployed at the scale of tens of terawatts. Any hope for such fundamental and disruptive transformation of the global energy system depends upon coordinated efforts to innovate, plan, and deploy new transportation and energy systems that can provide affordable energy at this scale without emitting CO2 to the atmosphere

This notion of needing 19 wedges to go to zero emissions in 50 years is very compatible with my analysis a few years ago that we need 12-14 wedges squeezed into four decades to take emissions down some 50% by 2050.

But of course I conclude, as do the original inventers of the wedge concept, that any hope for deploying so many wedges so rapidly depends crucially upon … rapid deployment, rather than R&D! See also “The breakthrough technology illusion.”

This ERL paper is a response to the original 2004 wedges paper by Princeton Professors Socolow and Pacala. The ERL authors (mistakenly) believe that “An unfortunate consequence of their paper, however, was to make the solution seem easy.” In fact, no serious analyst I know came to that view. Quite the opposite.

A 2007 Keystone report concluded that just one wedge of nuclear power “would require adding on average 14 plants each year for the next 50 years, all the while building an average of 7.4 plants to replace those that will be retired” — plus 10 Yucca Mountains to store the waste. Socolow himself often pointed out that one wedge of carbon capture and storage would require a flow of CO2 into the ground equal to the current flow of oil out of the ground.

So no, it was never going to be “easy.” Socolow has made that point to anyone who would listen to him — and I’ve interviewed him a number of times: See my May 2011 post, Socolow reaffirms 2004 ‘wedges’ paper, urges aggressive low-carbon deployment ASAP and my September post, Socolow Re-Reaffirms 2004 ‘Wedges’ Paper, Urges ‘Monumental’ Levels of Clean Energy Deployment ASAP.

What he and Pacala were trying to demonstrate was not that it would be easy but rather that it could be done using existing or near-term technology and that we had to start deploying immediately. The title of the paper was “Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years with Current Technologies.”

It is baffling that this new paper simultaneously asserts we need far more wedges than Socolow does — in part because we have delayed deployment for so long — and then concludes that means R&D is the big missing piece in our climate strategy. Indeed, the article asserts “After eight years of mostly delay, the action now required is significantly greater.” But then it focuses its recommendations on innovation and R&D, not on how we start the mass deployment ASAP.

Again, everyone thinks we need more R&D, but it is the deployment gap that is 10 times larger and far much more problemmatic. Indeed, if we increased R&D by a factor of 10 but left deployment the same, we would certainly fry our agricultural system and destroy modern civilization. If we increased carbon-free deployment by a factor of 10 but left R&D the same, we would at least have a serious shot at not destroying a livable climate. Obviously we should do both, but the deployment is far more important and for more urgent

It also appears to me the ERL paper confuses what a wedge is — a very common problem. That leads the authors to overstate how much carbon-free power is needed — a problem exacerbated by their failure to discuss or even mention energy efficiency or conservation, both of which will likely be major contributors to addressing the climate problem over the next 50 years. It also leads the authors to introduce the concept of “hidden wedges, which I believe is not a meaningful term (as they define it). Explaining how and why the authors were confused cannot be done simply or quickly. I’ll explain it as best I can in a later post — although readers who are keenly interested can get the gist of it by reading this 2008 post, “Is 450 ppm politically possible? Part 2.5: The fuzzy math of the stabilization wedges.” The key point is that Socolow and Pacala basically defined their original wedges in the power sector as requiring about three quarters more power than they in fact needed — if the goal is to deliver 1 GtC/yr of CO2 savings 50 years from now by replacing existing coal plants. More later.

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87 Responses to Rethinking Wedges: We Need A Lot of Clean Energy To Stabilize Near 2°C Warming So We Better Start Deployment ASAP

  1. Paul Klinkman says:

    Enough of any article that says “we’ve got to do something”.

    A. We’re not doing it. Nor are we about to start doing it.

    B. Nobody ever, ever, ever seems to have the good sense to ask why it’s never going to happen, and what specifically can we do, and what can the government do, so that it happens a bit more.

  2. prokaryotes says:

    And then read this article

    US Pumps Up Oil Output, Big Gains Seen for 2013

    ps. When does the USA plan to introduce the CT?

  3. DanB says:

    It seems Rethinking Wedges has gotten lost in the woods. (I’m skipping the ‘wedgie’ analogy..)

    I’m waiting for a study that details some simple things to ramp up now and rapidly – efficiency especially hits home since ‘our home’ just cut the heating bill in half while heating the basement -and- main floor. We got a ductless heat pump system and can’t believe that such amazing technology is already here! On top of that our electricity is 96% clean so we’re close to carbon free.

    Smart grids, solar PV, and wind are already on their way, or would be with a minor push.

    Two other broad categories would be good:
    A. Wedges that need some short-term research in how to most effectively deploy. Biochar is and example that’s on the verge with some promising new startups. What’s the financing and marketing strategy that’s the best fit? What regulations to protect communities would be best? Several others like community geothermal and wind turbines on floating offshore (and out of sight) platforms might be another.
    B. The last category is futuristic solutions like high altitude kite systems, molten salt storage, advanced batteries, etc. They could be important additions but would benefit from some real research funding.

    That gives us three categories that contain multiple wedges.
    1. Robust ready-for-the-road technologies.
    2. Solutions that need strategic research on best marketing, financing, and regulation.
    3. Promising but potentially problematic technologies – futuristic but worthy of more than dreaming about.

  4. David Goldstein says:


  5. William P. Gloege says:

    We prattle on about terrible, worsening events. Few in the general public have a clue of their future.

    The time for moaning about curbing emissions is over. The game is over, let’s get real.

    Time to devise exit strategies. James Lovelock probably the best environmental scientist ever, says man may survive in the polar regions.

    Time to plan for that exit, or will we get caught flat footed again, dreaming and moaning about emission control?

  6. William P. Gloege says:

    Paul, you are 100% correct. Why can so few face the fact the game is over? I guess a lot of blogs and programs based on the illusion it’s not over – but their gig would be dead if we faced where we are today on stopping global warming.

    It takes a “Pearl Harbor” to get a democracy like the US into action. That will definitely come, probably with sudden, vast shortage of food due to spreading heat waves in the temperate zones. By that time it’s way, way too late to worry about man made emissions.

    Time to plan for an exit strategy – a move to Arctic regions of millions. Let’s have a plan NOW. Is govt up to it? Probably not – it’s too politically sensitive. But a seriously funded private group could do it for a limited number of people. Are you billionaires listening?

  7. Ozonator says:

    Clean energy? Red State extremists are still using government to hire stupid. “La. officials deny EPA violation claim” (BY AMY WOLD, Advocate staff writer;, 1/9/13).

  8. Will Fox says:

    Meanwhile, the latest projection from the Met Office shows almost zero warming between 1998 and the end of this decade –

    Now don’t get me wrong – I am 100% pro-green, and a firm believer in global warming.

    But can somebody please explain why there’s such little warming in this new graph? I think if we’re being honest, it does appear to be a plateau. I asked this question in another thread, but was completely ignored.

  9. Superman1 says:

    You state: “Why can so few face the fact the game is over?” Following the money is always a good start. Those who profit from destroying the climate want to keep the scheme going until their last breath. Many who oppose the polluters will lose their followers if they admit we’re over the cliff already.

    I believe it’s still possible to avoid the worst damage, but, as I’ve pointed out previously, it wouldn’t be done voluntarily or democratically, and much pain and sacrifice would be required. What I find hard to understand is how the President, with two young daughters who will reach their professional peak in mid-century, and others in power in similar familial situations, can allow the destruction of our climate to proceed unabated. At a minimum, he and the other politicians could lay it on the line to the electorate as to how dire the situation has become. My only hope, and it truly is wishful thinking at this point, is that those whose hands control the physical levers of power will take whatever action is necessary so that their progency can have some semblance of a non-struggle in the decades ahead.

  10. Superman1 says:

    If you read Guy McPherson’s blog/Web site, there will be no escape. The atmospheric oxygen is substantially reduced compared to millenia ago, and with further CO2 generation and warming, oxygen may be depleted further, potentially leading to asphyxiation. I don’t know that I believe his time frame for this to occur, but continuing business as usual will eventually lead us to that point.

  11. Tom says:

    The non-linear effects that the IPCC talked about in their first report are what’s happening now. Temperatures will fluctuate and weather will (actually HAS) become chaotic and unpredictable. The problem is that this will be taken as license to continue pumping even more the GHG into the atmosphere and that global warming is somehow “wrong.” We’re on the road to extinction and stupid humanity is leading the way.

  12. John McCormick says:

    William, your idea — maybe driven by anger and anxiety — that millions, or however many find an exist strategy ‘a move to Arctic regions of millions’ is absurd for all the obvious reasons.

  13. Joe Romm says:

    Not what it shows. 1998 was supercharged El Nino year. Last decade (the 2000s) was easily the hottest on record.

  14. Will Fox says:

    But even if you ignore 1998, there’s still a plateau emerging on that graph.

    If we’re expecting a 6°C rise by 2100…

    … then we should expect at least 0.75°C by 2020 or so (relative to 1961-1990).

    Instead, this new projection from the Met Office appears to show things basically unchanged from 2005 and 2010 (current hottest years on record) until the end of this decade.

    Or am I wrong?

  15. Stephen says:


    Global Warming hasn’t stopped at all. The revised Met Office model merely indicates more of heat energy due to Global Warming will be dumped into the Ocean than was previously thought (and hence a bit less will be dumped into the atmosphere/land mass). From today’s Guardian…

    “Prof Chris Rapley, professor of climate science at University College London: I despair of the way data such as this is translated as ‘global warming has stopped’! Global mean temperatures – whether measured or predicted – are not the issue. What matters is the energy balance of the planet and the changes that an energy imbalance will drive in the climate system – as well as the consequences for humans.

    90% of the energy imbalance enters the ocean and is not visible to the global mean surface temperature value. The continuing rise in sea level demonstrates ongoing energy accumulation in the ocean (as well as a contribution from melting land ice).

    Even if the global mean temperature were to remain unchanged, if the geographic patterns of temperature and rainfall change, the consequences will still be potentially severe. We only need to look at what is going on in Australia at this very moment.”

  16. Joan Savage says:

    Let’s amplify on Joe’s comment, “…a fair chunk of that can be efficiency and conservation.”

    In chewing over the earlier CP post on Bill McKibben’s oped reply to WSJ’s Bryce, I noticed that no commentator seemed ready to tackle Bryce’s claim that global growth in energy demand has been far outstripping green supply, despite its continued growth.

    The obvious two-fold approach is
    a) moderate the demand (efficiency and conservation)
    b) increase rate of development of appropriate supply (deploy deploy deploy).

    How to persuade the rest of the world when the US needs to do this? US has been a leader in innovation, and we still have some teeth. Obama mentioned energy conservation, and I think we need to look at it in a huge way. If we can decrease our net demand for watts while increasing quality of life, that would be good to go. Some Europeans and progressive folk in the Western Hemisphere have demonstrated zero energy houses, and even net energy producers. Let’s put images of success out in front!!

  17. Joan Savage says:

    My apologies to Shakespeare who wrote,

    “I all alone beweep my outcast state”

  18. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    If you’re going to do the denialists’ work for them by posting defeatist prattle, you might at least have the courtesy not to misquote scientists.

    Lovelock remarked that without effective mitigation of AGW, mankind could be reduced to “a few breeding pairs near the poles”. He was speaking to an educated audience who understood full well the Ecology 101 that any species reduced to a few breeding pairs is on the verge of inevitable extinction.

    There is nowhere to hide from AGW. We either resolve the international obstruction of effective mitigation (after acknowledging that national action has been constrained by the paramount priorities of super-power rivalry, not by the US fossil lobby) or we face the consequences of failure.

  19. Guest says:

    Prof. Kevin Anderson from he U.K.’s Tyndall centre has been saying for a while now that Socolow drew his wedges the wrong way around.

    The greatest share of the emissions reductions need to happen now in the very short term, because of the problem of cumulative emissions.

    The only way of doing that quickly enough is by reducing demand for energy use.

    See here about 22 mins in:

  20. SecularAnimist says:

    William P. Gloege wrote: “Why can so few face the fact the game is over?”

    This is the fossil fuel corporations’ latest propaganda line.

    From “no need to do anything, because there’s no problem”, they have shifted to “no point in doing anything, because there’s no solution”.

    The point of both messages is the same: to defuse the will to act and thereby postpone action as long as possible.

  21. Joe Romm says:

    That is a short-term projection only (not what the models are good at), it may or may not pan out, and in any case will be undone by any el nino in the next few years.

  22. Niall says:

    You’re right if you cherry-pick a baseline and ignore the uncertainty bars. Otherwise, yes, you’re wrong.
    See here for an educated layperson’s debunk on the deniers.

    “If oceanic cycles do what the Met Office and others expect, then global average air temperatures will stay fairly stable – though still hotter than they have been in the past – until later this decade. The cycles will then flip into a new phase and the oceans will probably start releasing heat instead of soaking it up. Combined with continued accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, that could mean that sometime round 2020, warming will start to race away again as the atmosphere makes up for lost time.”

    Does that clarify it?

  23. Will Fox says:

    Thanks for the info.

  24. Will Fox says:

    Yes – very interesting. Thanks :)

  25. wili says:

    It is of course possible that some commenting on the grim state of our predicament are sock puppets for the ff industry.

    But the fact is that the reality is looking grim, and concerned voices ultimately will only lose credibility by claiming otherwise.

    What this means to me is that we need a Churchillian response–not that if we do some minor adjustments we can avert bad things from happening without having to sacrifice much.

    Rather, we need to accept that there is absolutely no guarantee of any kind of victory; we must take the attitude that the fight itself is its own justification:

    “…whatever the cost may be.
    We shall fight on the beaches,
    we shall fight on the landing grounds,
    we shall fight in the fields
    and in the streets,
    we shall fight in the hills;
    we shall never surrender!”

    He did not say that his citizens should go out and buy something to make it all better.

    He did not suggest that a tricky trading scheme would make it all better.

    He did not claim that playing nice with the enemy would make it all better.

    He did not guarantee victory or that there was any path that did not lead to great pain and great sacrifice for all.

    He called on all his fellow citizens to sacrifice and to fight for the distant chance that they may preserve at least some of their lives, and at least some of their children’s lives, and the very nation from being destroyed utterly.

    This is what we face now, and we must face the level of challenge squarely.

    The fact is that we can no longer avert many of the worst consequences of GW, any more than Britain in the late thirties could avert the many of the worst consequences of war.

    The consequences are upon us.

    Most of us and nearly all of our children will experience extreme hardship or death from the direct or indirect consequences of climate chaos–endless drought, unprecedented heat, infernal wildfires, beyond-biblical super-storms, famine…possibly sudden, extreme sea level rise (see Alley’s recent video…

    The climate ‘Luftwaffe’ are now bombing our cities (Super Derecho, Sandy, Katrina…) and ‘Blitzing’ our fields (heatwave, drought, wildfires…).

    Yet nearly everyone is still talking in Chamberlainish terms of various types of appeasement, or even denying that the ‘bombing’ or the ‘Germans’ even exist.

    To paraphrase Churchill again, the age of consequences in now upon us. The “game” is over of hoping for preserving anything remotely like the earth as it has existed for thousands if not millions or tens of millions of years.

    The time is now to fight, with no illusions, whatever the cost may be…and to never surrender.

  26. Superman1 says:

    Excellent post.

    “He called on all his fellow citizens to sacrifice and to fight for the distant chance that they may preserve at least some of their lives, and at least some of their children’s lives, and the very nation from being destroyed utterly.”

    Unfortunately, we do not have the leadership willing to call upon the citizenry to sacrifice, nor do we have the citizenry who would be willing to sacrifice. That’s why a Stalin may be more appropriate than a Churchill. While it’s a Hobson’s Choice, if we want to survive, we will have to do whatever is necessary to survive. We don’t have the citizenry that will do it voluntarily.

  27. wili says:

    Thank you for pointing out this essential video by Anderson. If anyone has not yet seen it, do so now.

    It is too late to wait for technological innovation. Even to wait for full employment of existing technologies.

    Only change in demand can be implemented quickly enough to make any significant change in carbon un-sequestration at the level needed.

    It should be pointed out that Europe manages to do quite well on energy use levels about half of those of the US; and Latin Americans, who show life-satisfaction levels higher than those of US citizens, on average, use energy at about a quarter of our rate.

    Alternative technologies near existing levels suddenly become viable as replacements for most or all fossil fuels (better, ‘death fuels’) if we get down to Latin American levels–even closer if we are actually called upon to sacrifice for the off chance of a marginally livable life for our children and get below Latin American levels.

    But no was is or likely ever will ask anyone to make any significant change, much less sacrifice.

    Most previous generations took it for granted that they would make sacrifices for the good of the next generations.

    Today, we are sacrificing all future generations for a lifestyle that most don’t even find particularly fulfilling.

    The only thing benefiting from our condition is the short-term profit levels of the monster-undead super-‘persons’ called international corporations, specifically the death-fuel corporations.

  28. SecularAnimist says:

    wili wrote: “It is of course possible that some commenting on the grim state of our predicament are sock puppets for the ff industry.”

    I did not and do not accuse anyone commenting here of being a “sock puppet” for the fossil fuel industry.

    I assume that those posting defeatist comments are sincere. I just think they have, in innocence and good faith, bought into the fossil fuel industry’s post-denial propaganda that (1) there are no solutions available, (2) doing what is needed will impose painful sacrifices and misery on everyone, (3) it’s too late to do anything anyway, and blah blah blah.

    Just as the fossil fuel industry’s denialist propaganda targeted and exploited the anxieties of those prone to object to “big government”, “regulation” and so on, the new defeatist propaganda is targeting those prone to despair.

    The reality is that the solutions are plentiful and powerful and already at hand, and that deploying them rapidly on the necessary scale will not only NOT require “painful sacrifices”, but on the contrary will be the engine of sustainable prosperity for all and the basis of the New Industrial Revolution of the 21st Century.

    The only real “pain” involved will be that of the fossil fuel oligarchs, as they watch trillions of dollars in wealth move from the fossil fuel industry to other sectors of the economy.

    We know what needs to be done, we have the means to do it, and we need to get on with it — not sit around whining.

  29. Superman1 says:

    in fact, ‘game over’ may be the honest statement. But, suppose we still have a chance. What is your plan for avoiding catastrophe, other than throwing out disjointed facts about solar?

    Specifically, let’s assume we have to minimize adding any new CO2 to the atmosphere, and we would like to convert to solar/wind in five years. What is the fossil capacity solar/wind would replace in the USA, how many people would be required, what would roughly be the total cost, how much CO2 would be generated in this conversion process?

    This would not be my preferred approach because it doesn’t address the CO2 reduction problem rapidly enough, but, it might be salable. It doesn’t involve the pain and sacrifice of my approach, but it could employ many people to do the conversion, companies could make big bucks on the conversion, and we could find the money to pay for it. But, we need some idea of what could be done by when, what resources would be required, and what further damage to the atmosphere would be done.

  30. Superman1 says:

    See my post; spell them out!

  31. SecularAnimist says:

    With all due respect, this is rubbish. We don’t need a “Stalin” to impose “sacrifice” and “pain” on the “citizenry”.

    Millions of people are already “voluntarily” doing the things that are needed — with no “pain” or “sacrifice” at all, and indeed are enjoying significant improvements to their lives from doing so.

    You are very insistent and even aggressive about ignoring that fact.

  32. SecularAnimist says:

    Superman1, what you call my “disjointed facts” about solar energy have (both here and at RC) included numerous links to detailed information and online resources about not only solar energy but wind power, electric vehicles, smart grid and efficiency technologies, as well as information about all of those industries and government policies that are supporting their astonishingly rapid growth.

    As far as I can tell you have consistently and assiduously ignored all of those links, preferring to endlessly repeat your repetitious, unsupported bumper sticker slogans about “pain” and “sacrifice”, the unwillingness of anybody in the world to do anything, and now your suggestion that only a “Stalin” — in other words, a brutal murderous dictator — can get the job done.

    Likewise, I have never seen you acknowledge or respond to other commenters’ links to detailed proposals for rapidly replacing fossil fuels with renewable, non-carbon energy, nor to news stories about the ongoing, exciting developments in these industries.

    As such, I regret to say that I consider your demand to “spell them out” to be a disingenuous invitation to waste my time reposting references and links that I have already posted, and which you have already ignored.

  33. John McCormick says:

    Yes. Thanks for clearing up that misinterpretation of the MET graphs. This is why we keep tuning into CP.

  34. Mark E says:

    please free me from the spam trap, or just delete Jim’s covert solicitation of funds

  35. Superman1 says:

    National action has been constrained because the voters don’t want the sacrifices it entails. There may or may not be a superpower rivalry issue, and the fossil companies certainly have exploited the situation for their own benefit, but until we recognize that we are the main problem, we will never make real progress.

  36. Superman1 says:

    At a general level, what is your plan that will satisfy the necessary components of the three-legged stool: stave off the impending climate catastrophe based on science; not destroy the economy and throw us into a world-wide Depresstion; be acceptable from a socio-political perspective (minimal sacrifices on the part of the populace)?

  37. Joan Savage says:

    Good writing. Good condensation.

  38. gingerbaker says:

    What sacrifice?

    We can afford to generate all our energy from PV and wind, and give the energy away for free. Al we have to do is have a massive Federal program to deploy the infrastructure, instead of sitting on our thumbs and hoping the ‘miracle of the marketplace’ somehow decides it is going to save civilization.

    That would increase our quality of life, not decrease it. Once all our energy comes from the sun and wind, which are free and unlimited we could be as profligate with our energy as we wish.

    Why do you keep trying to reinforce the denier talking point that a carbon-free future requires pain?

  39. gingerbaker says:

    Another way to think about it is – why in the world would we expect the laws of physics to be suspended and the greenhouse effect nullified? Answer – they can’t be and it isn’t.

    Every day, the greenhouse effect adds the heat equivalent of one million Hiroshima bombs to the planet. Where do you think that energy disappears to – Shangra-La?

  40. Superman1 says:

    Keep your eyes on the CO2 emissions and the CO2 atmospheric concentration. That’s what will do us in as a civilization, not how many people have implemented renewables.

    I’ve requested a plan from you as to how you would implement these renewables in a way that does not throw us over the CO2 limit, and again you referred to disjointed links. Wili has it right in his response to post 9:

    “It is too late to wait for technological innovation. Even to wait for full employment of existing technologies.

    Only change in demand can be implemented quickly enough to make any significant change in carbon un-sequestration at the level needed.”

    That’s the reason you won’t submit a plan; your approach cannot address the ‘significant change in carbon un-sequestration at the level needed

  41. Superman1 says:

    Think positive; we’re building a global Schvitz for free!

  42. gingerbaker says:

    “The only way of doing that quickly enough is by reducing demand for energy use.”

    That’s not the only way. Another way is to do what we must do eventually anyway – deploy enough solar and wind to completely power our country.

    We could do this in five years if we wanted to. All we have to do is make our Federal government our new 100% renewable-energy utility. All we have to do is demand a centralized Federal solution to our national emergency, instead of leaving it to market-based solutions, a strategy which has failed for the past 30 years to accomplish much of anything.

    214 billion solar panels, which now cost $1.00 apiece could replace every calorie of carbon-based energy we consume.

    If we put them where the sun shines brightly every day, and distribute it on a brand new smart grid, and actually pay people and industry and businesses to retrofit their homes and places of business to electricity, and pay to inductively-charge our highways, we could lick this problem in less than a decade. Even with giving all the resulting electricity away for free forever, it would still cost 1/100th of not doing it, and paying for the consequences of a 4C+ world.

  43. gingerbaker says:

    “Specifically, let’s assume we have to minimize adding any new CO2 to the atmosphere, and we would like to convert to solar/wind in five years. What is the fossil capacity solar/wind would replace in the USA, how many people would be required, what would roughly be the total cost, how much CO2 would be generated in this conversion process?”

    I have posted on this quite often. I am SO glad you are asking these questions – we should ALL be asking our leaders and environmental blog posters for the answers to these questions.

    I am no expert, but here are some guestimates:

    If we put a large-scale solar PV installation in the Mojave desert, we would need about 450 thousand square kilometers of PV panels to generate 100% of our energy needs as a nation – that is all heat, transportation, industry, cooling – everything. That works out to 214 billion solar panels. Wholesale cost of a solar panel is now $1.00.

    We would need to install it, which could give jobs to half a million+ unemployed men. I’m guessing total cost of that at 1 trillion dollars over 5 years.

    We would also need to upgrade to a national smart grid, retrofit our homes and businesses to 100% electricity, inductively charge our roads so we could drive our new 100% electric fleet without needing large battery packs. We could probably buy every household an electric car too, which would be inexpensive without the big batteries. We would give away the electricity for free. We taxpayers bought it, and sunlight is free, after all. And this is why people will vote for it.

    I’m guessing (guessing because no one is publishing the math of all this!) all those things would cost another 9 trillion dollars, for a total of ten trillion dollars.

    It almost does not matter what it costs – as Joe Romm has pointed out on multiple occasions – the cost of business as usual, ie, failing to stop adding CO2 to the atmosphere will cost civilization $1,240 Trillion dollars in costs by the year 2100. And we all would likely be dead within another 100 years.

    10 trillion bucks is the biggest bargain ever.

  44. Mark E says:

    In my view, the way to convince the rest of the world is to walk our talk:

    (A) If we want THEM to have no-or-low growth in energy demand, we have to ask them by reducing our own to that level.

    (B) If we want THEM to de-carbonize the way they safisfy the E-demand they do have, we have to ask them by de-carbonizing our own.

    When we have done both of those things, we have to accept that they will naturally want to grow their economies to have the same lifestyle we have. Since boosting the rest of the world to the lifestyle of the greenest of US consumers will still produce a catastrophic amount of warming, we can only ask them to accept a lesser lifestyle but first reducing our own to that level.

    The only way this can happen is if we convert our growth-addicted economic system (capitalism) into some form of steady-state economic system. If we do not do that, no amount of climate wedges will solve the overall problem in the long run. Instead the basic concepts of limiting factors and carrying capacity will impose a solution.

  45. Superman1 says:

    When I worked in the nuclear business in the 50s, the mantra was that nuclear would be ‘too cheap to meter’. Then the fusion people picked up that slogan. Now, sixty years later, you have applied it to solar.

    We need to cut CO2 emissions ASAP, irrespective of renewables we deploy, if we are to have any chance of survival. That’s where the sacrifice comes in. There will be a requirement for fossil energy to enable the transition to renewables. Mother Nature doesn’t really care if the fossil energy was used for a ‘good’ purpose or not. We’re in the danger zone already. Any more CO2, from any source, increases the probability of severe problems.

    I’ve asked some of the renewables advocates if they can show a high-level deployment plan, which includes the resources required and the CO2 generated. They always talk around it. Show me how the USA can replace its fossil energy generation with renewables in five years; if the plan is realistic, the money can be obtained.

  46. Mark E says:

    For the Christians among us,
    Matt 7:3-5

  47. sailrick says:

    To add to what Joe said about the next El Nino, I think a little explanation from Rob Painting at Skeptical Science might help.

    La Nina and El Nino

    “Note what happens during La Nina – a lot of heat gets buried below the surface in the western Tropical Pacific (tilting of the thermocline) and cool water wells up from the deep along the coast of North & South America. These processes cause cooling of global surface temperatures through the ocean-atmosphere heat exchange.

    With El Nino heats wells up to the surface in the central and eastern tropical Pacific, and the upwelling of cold water along the Americas shuts off. The end result is that a lot of heat from the ocean is given up to the atmosphere, which warms up abruptly and raises global surface temperatures. But much of this atmospheric heat is radiated out to space.

    So, although it seems counter-intuitive, La Nina is when the Earth gains a lot of energy, and El Nino is when the oceans loses heat to the atmosphere – and the Earth loses energy.”

    {Rob Painting at Skeptical Science}

    The 1990s were dominated by El Nino, while the 2000s were dominated more by La Nina. So, the next big El Nino should theoretically produce a spike in atmospheric temperatures.

  48. Turboblocke says:

    Oxygen depletion leading to asphyxiation through burning fossil fuels??? According to the Scripps Institute we’re losing 19 molecules of oxygen per million/year. If we keep burning FF at the same rate we will lose 1% of the atmospheric oxygen in 50 years taking it from about 21% of the atmosphere to 20.8%. The safe limit is about 16%.

  49. Turboblocke says:

    Time to remind people of “Going down the up escalator”…

  50. Sam says:

    Joe, I hope you or your staff will put out an updated blog that does not rely on links to older articles, and which explains for a general audience how to achieve rapid deployment and restates what wedges are needed and achievable, so that readers can send it to people who do not have any background, and they can read it without having to click back and forth in order to understand it. I always find the “solutions” articles of key interest here, but they are not always the easiest ones for me to share with friends and, I imagine, easy for non-specialist journalists and politicians to understand.

  51. Ken Barrows says:

    I agree with Superman1. But let’s get specific: how will solar/wind/other renewable reduce global carbon emissions by x% per year indefinitely? (I’ll choose 5%, although that may be insufficient.)

  52. Merrelyn Emery says:

    In a world already awash with depression and despair I just wish that those who preach ‘nothing can or will be done’ here understood that their comments could cause more people to lose hope, and that for people is a terrible thing, ME

  53. Paul Klinkman says:

    That’s a two part question: first, how do we tackle catastrophic climate change if motivated, and second, how do we get the politics right?

    Realize that, were it not for every individual government promising to pay back zillions of dollars to people who bought enough elections, we would be a wealthy human civilization. The U.S. puts three million men in jail at $40,000 a year, or $1.2 trillion per decade. The U.S. has trillions of funny dollars for oil wars of convenience. It turns out that money is just something the U.S. prints up when it feels like being rich.

    If we had an economy where everybody worked even thirty hours a week on really productive things, we’d be overrun with wealth. We can channel our rapidly exploding technological knowhow into inhibiting and then reversing climate change.

    In general we want to replace an ever increasing percentage of fossil fuels (calculated at their true cost to human civilization) with elbow grease of any kind, including technology jobs. Do you believe that we could use 50 million more jobs in America?

    Ray Kurzweil made a prediction that the cost of photovoltaic electricity would catch fossil fuel power in 2013. It isn’t that simple. We need power at night too. I expect the cost of solar electricity based on stored heat to steadily drop. This new solar electricity market can easily take over 80% of the remaining fossil fuel electricity market, maybe 95%.

    Heat lands on everybody’s rooftop right now, and the subsoil/rocks on everyone’s land can store heat. There are no energy transmission costs with solar. It’s all about getting home solar heat to work cheaply and robustly. This also goes for solar hot water.

    Every building should have enhanced daylighting. It cuts the world’s electricity bills.

    I believe that the algae people aren’t yet doing it right. Biodiesel from algae should drop into the $1.50/gallon range in about two decades. It can be grown in the desert in sealed bioreactors that maximize carbon dioxide extracted from the atmosphere.

    A cooperative government will pay people to grow biodiesel, to sell the biodiesel and to sequester gigatons of algae cell husks. As long as the government specifically pays working stiffs, the money won’t sit around locked in the Cayman Islands. The money will recirculate down the street to the home builders, to the CSA, to the clinic.

    Electric vehicles become much better cars when we have battery pack changing machines. This enables people to drive to California. However, the future is in an automated above-grade transit system hanging from cables. Expect the equivalent of maybe 5 times current electricity-efficiency per mile when there are no traffic jams at all, or bad roads for that matter. Our road system will be seen as horribly wasteful of our money in retrospect.

    I call for an invention workshop connected with a community-based business, with the goal of first surviving, but then its mission is to drive down the cost of alternative energy products through innovation.


    Energy Secretary Chu suggested that geoengineering is painting roofs white. We can paint private ranches white, with snow in winter, by using rather simple wind-powered in-place snow-making machines. Ski slope snowmaking is energy-expensive but doing the same job on ranches is a matter of using naturally strong winds to disperse tiny snowflakes over a wide area.

    Humans probably turned the North Africa grasslands into the Sahara Desert through hunting of other predators, which caused overgrazing of game animals. We could just as easily put it back. Greening deserts eats carbon. An action as simple as pumping salt water uphill through wind power and creating salt water mangrove swamps would green a desert. However, desalinization technology is going to take off. There isn’t any billion dollar incentive for Exxon to study desalinization, but lots of independents are making progress because it’s the right thing to do.

    The right thing to do is to take the egg cells of millions of species and freeze them in liquid nitrogen. Then extinction wouldn’t be forever. Somebody is going to do the right thing. The second best plan is to take the remaining members of any species going extinct into zoos and breed them in captivity, as people successfully did with the California Condor.

    Forests burning down in megafires is wrong. To mitigate megafires, we’re going to be hit with that proverbial 2×4 repeatedly 100 times in a row if needed, until we learn to cut more fire lines. Wham wham wham wham wham wham wait let’s try more fire lines! (and then no wham for once)

    Peat bogs eat carbon from the atmosphere. Perhaps we’ll invent more swamp wetlands simply to eat carbon.

    We can cool the Arctic Ocean when the winter air is -40 above the ice. What we need is a efficient heat transfer system, without putting excess moisture into the Arctic air and without putting excess oxygen under the ice. Wind power often works well during the Arctic night.

    Is that a good enough plan?

    Politically, the fossil industry and anyone that they are paying is squaring off against all the rest of us. It’s very much like the tobacco industry against the rest of us a few decades ago.

    We are going to declare the fossil fuel industry to be an immoral industry. We expect all businesses, if they don’t want to be associated with immorality, also if they want any customers, any workers or any investors, to also shun the fossil industry. Be a good corporate citizen or else you can go bankrupt for all 99% of the public cares.

    I notice how a number of climate troglodytes in the Senate are gone. The Republican Party can stick to their oil for a while (it’s really sticky stuff) but if we keep tossing the fossil stalwarts out of office, they are one extinct party! All of Christianity will soon forsake them if all they do is sin against our grandchildren and destroy midwest farms.

  54. At a general level, as Joe recommends, achieve as many wedges worth of decarbonization as possible through efficiency and conservation strategies, most of which can be implemented immediately at little or no cost.

    Then move to the Desertec concept of getting our energy from the sun through CSP.

    Then remove existing carbon from the atmosphere, primarily with biochar.

    The last two measures can become the kernel of a green economy, sparing people from having to make so many sacrifices that they might as well suffer from climate change.

  55. Stephen,

    I used the exact same quote from Rapley to post a comment on Dot Earth, where Revkin has raised the Met Report to the status of a News Item. Thanks for posting it here.

  56. You are definitely on the right track. We can get all the energy we need from the desert. But the enterprise would work much better with concentrated solar power (CSP) towers (with molten salt thermal storage) than with PV panels. For one thing, CSP takes up far less space. For another, the molten salt backup provides power 24/7, so the so-called baseload problem is solved. Finally, PV panels are made with nasty chemicals and last about 20 years, at which time they will have to be replaced. CSP plants can remain operative for several decades, minimum, with normal power-plant maintenance.

    This technology exists and is operative. See the Gemasolar plant in Spain, and the Desertec concept. (The world’s deserts can easily provide 6,000 times more energy than we need to run all of human civilization.) Also see SolarReserve, which is currently building the first US CSP tower in Nevada.

  57. Superman1 says:


    52 years ago, I worked on a similar concept for supplying power to space vehicles. That was the dawn of the Space Age, there was plenty of money available for Space projects, and we evaluated concentrated solar power as a reliable option. We used a large parabolic reflector for concentration, and a Rankine Cycle for energy conversion. I forgot all about that until you mentioned it. In reality, we had the technology then to build the CSP plants you describe. Talk about opportunities lost!

  58. Superman1 says:

    Good response; excellent starting point for further discussion. Paul Klinkman and Philip Wenz have also come up with some ideas on this thread, mainly solar-based. We still need to think about fossil energy generated in the interim transition period, and I’m afraid that’s where the sacrifice will be required. We are presently adding CO2 to the atmosphere with the equivalent of a fractional safety factor (in engineering terms), and because it is the cumulative addition of CO2 that is the problem, it has to be radically minimized. So, some hard rationing on fossil energy use in parallel with conversion to renewables might pull us away from the brink, if we are lucky. But, first and foremost, hard rationing!

  59. Superman1 says:

    Anyone whose motivation to save this Planet could be swayed severely by comments on a thread would probably not be of much help in the struggle that lies ahead!

  60. wili says:

    I sympathize with your frustration. Both sides need to pause to consider the following (at least):

    We are pretty much all doing quite a lot, actually, every day, every year, every decade–by the lifestyles we lead as the top 20% globally, we are adding significantly to the problem, adding to the tune of about one Hiroshima bomb of extra added energy to the system each of us has contributed on average over the last decade.

    If the top 20% stopped “doing” this “something,” that would take care of something over 80% of the problem.

    The other thing is that we must look unflinchingly at the grim and ever-grimmer facts as they stand and avoid sugar coating them, since any meaningful action must be based in reality rather than delusion of any sort:

    In spite of now decades of warning from scientists, we have increased our global contribution to the problem to the point that we are now pumping, what is it now, 35+ billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere and increasing that level by a billion or two tons a year. New alternative energy sources, wind and solar, in spite of calls to rapidly ramp them up that have been screamed by me and others for decades are still only a fraction of one percent of total energy use (for solar) and a bit over that for wind, and there is no evidence that any of that has actually displaced any coal and ff burning–probably just helped bring down its cost from where it would otherwise be.

    And in spite of decades of international, high level conferences to supposedly try to come up with a comprehensive response to this global problem, we continue to be moving rapidly as a planetary society in the diametrically opposite direction from where we need to be going, and at a rapidly accelerating rate. And this even as the beginnings of the harsh effects of climate chaos are directly effecting more and more people.

    So, on the one hand, its not the case that ‘there is nothing we can do’ exactly–we are all doing plenty to make the situation much much worse every day.

    On the other hand, there is no longer any room for false hope that the powers that be (especially in the US) in the process of ‘waking up’ to the reality of the gravity of our multiple grim predicaments, much less coming anywhere remotely close to the level required to even begin to reduce address the gravity of the situation.

    As Joe and others have pointed out so ably, and as is clear to anyone keeping track even a bit, the political party that still represents about half of the elected members of congress has come in the last very few years to be in total denial that there even is any such thing as AGW, much less that it is any kind of threat. Keep in mind that making fun of the notion that sea level rise was a problem was one of the biggest laugh lines at Romney’s acceptance speech, and that all of the final 7 or so candidates for the primary denied the reality of CC, even if they had made loud public statements to the contrary just months or years before.

    And many Dems are, of course, no angels on the issue either.

    I don’t think it does any good to deny these grim physical, economic, and political realities.

    But to (finally) rap up:

    >We _are_ doing something about the problem–making it worse–and we all have to scrutinize how we do _less_ of these things, and to encourage, cajole, harry others into similarly not-doing.

    >We have to take off any rose-colored glasses–by any measure, if the goal has been to get the world to put less GHG into the atmosphere, that effort has failed disastrously, and now we cannot avoid many horrific consequences of that failure–indeed, devastating consequences are starting to fall about our heads.

    But that must be a reason for firmer, grimmer, and more deeply determined resolve to do all we can to fight the powers that are most threatening our and our children’s well-being and our very lives.

  61. wili says:

    S said, “We don’t have the citizenry to do otherwise.”

    It is certainly true that our citizenry has been thoroughly marinated in a me-first, Ayn Rand ideology for a number of decades.

    But recall that radical isolationism was wildly popular during the 20’s and 30’s, yet with the right sparking event and the right leadership, we plunged into wars on two massive fronts and the whole country pretty much rallied behind the effort.

    Perhaps ours is even less amenable to change, but I think we might be beginning to see what can happen as Bloomberg and Christy, both Republicans, are coming out strongly stating that Climate Change must be addressed and that this must be a national, collective effort.

    Of course, the middle of the country, even as it being whacked over the head with an apocalyptic drought are supporting politicians that continue to have their heads deep up their…well, you know…

    But another summer of devastating drought may see some changes in attitudes even there.

    Very sad that we need such major doses of Armageddon to even begin to start to see the vastness of the hole we have dug ourselves.

    Fools that we be, we may need to learn from brutal experience; let us hope we can at least rise to the level of teachable fools.

    I never had very high hopes for Obama. But one distant hope was that he may have the rhetorical skills and bearing to both help heal deep racial divides that persist in our country, and to help put the global climate crisis in a context that even doubters (real ones, at least) will see the foolishness of not addressing.

    I have, so far, been disappointed on both fronts since he has come to office. Perhaps the time is right now or soon?

  62. wili says:

    Will, Skeptical Science also has a great new post on this, with a really nice, short graphic video, showing that, when you factor out known natural forcings like volcanic eruptions and El Ninos, the resultant graph is nearly a straight-line rise over the last few decades.

    Well worth the 2 minutes it takes to watch. Read, view and share it!

  63. Yes, the wedges are in need of an update. Deployment of what? Conservation, biofuels, solar thermal, and wind deployed in America will not offset the increased emissions from new coal plants in China and India. Chemical capture and underground storage of CO2 from coal plants — the largest culprit — is not a realistic wedge any more, despite all the money spent. In fact, sequestration will do more harm than good, by brine intrusion in the groundwater, even if it is feasible, which experts say it is not.

  64. Merrelyn Emery says:

    People are constantly influenced by all their perceptions and experience, it’s part of learning. Why else would deniers spend millions? ME

  65. Merrelyn Emery says:

    We do indeed live with some grim realities and the resolve you mention has been lost by those who are imbued with a sense of hopelessness. Those who encourage hopelessness, however inadvertently, are doing a grave diservice, ME

  66. Superman1 says:

    Consider the evidence from the last three decades, and lay out the case for being hopeful. I do not see one data point that offers any hope. Our President, probably the best orator of our time, has not even been willing to step up to the podium, and lay out the seriousness of the problem. Show me the basis for hope, not wishful thinking.

  67. Merrelyn Emery says:

    There are none so blind as those who will not see – close? ME

  68. wili says:

    Hope is of course a hollow term that means whatever the implied predicate is–hope for what?

    I agree that we are now past hope for avoiding lots of really extremely bad consequences of GW hitting us and our progeny–hell, the early stages are already in full swing. But, as Mann recently put it on the radio, just because we missed the first exit doesn’t mean we have to give up ever getting off the highway.

    What we do need to face is that the fact that society (us and our leaders) didn’t find a way to do the even remotely sane things so far, means that we have to look at new, more intense, intelligent, and effective tactics.

    And while it’s certainly true that it is hard from here to imagine how we will manage to get off on the next two or three ‘exits’ either, it is important to keep in mind just how quickly political structures and human attitudes can change–Arab Spring has just been a striking example, and the end of apartheid, fall of the iron curtain, end of slavery, and many others stand further back in history.

    As David Roberts said at the end of his beautiful and elegant brief video:

    “For the rest of your life, your job is to make the impossible, possible.”

  69. wili says:

    We are also decimating the population of phytoplankton that are responsible for producing about half the oxygen that is created by photosynthesis from CO2.

    Fortunately for us for the short term, the oxygen in the atmosphere is a huge reservoir so the process of deletion would likely take centuries if not millennia. But here as in so many other areas, we are clearly going in the wrong direction if we were hoping to preserve a livable planet for many generations of humans (and most other species) to come.

  70. Guest says:

    No, I don’t accept it’s possible to build all the extra renewables capcity quickly enough, even with a War effort type deployment (which I agree we need).

    It’s hard to understand how big the challenge of wha’s needed. Check out this blog post for some idea:

    To build about 11.5 new TW of clean energy capacity over the next 25 years the world would need:

    100 m^2 solar photovolatic every second


    50m^2 solar thermal mirrors every second


    A 100m wind turbine every 5 mins


    1 3GW Nuclear plant


    Three 100 MW steam turbines every day

    And that’s what’s needed without any growth in the world’s current energy demand.

    I shall repeat my point that in order to make the radical reductions in CO2 over the next 5-10 years that we need to avoid dangerous climate change of over 2C warming, the only way is to drasticaly reduce demand.

  71. wili says:

    Doesn’t this all get a lot easier if we cut back drastically on the amount of energy we use?

    Doesn’t that immediately get rid of the need for a lot of wedges?

    Isn’t that “change in demand” much more immediately employable in the very crucial next very few years?

    Can we stop arguing and just start sacrificing a bit for the sakes of our children and of creation?

    To paraphrase Nancy R:

    Just say no to flying.

    Just say no to (most) meat eating.

    Just say no to most driving (unless car pooling…).

    Just say no to over-heating our houses in the winter and over-cooling them in summer.

    With these and just a few other relatively minor and really not very painful adjustments in the lifestyle of the highest global consumers, we could reduce energy use and CO2 emissions drastically. What is left could much more easily be handled by renewables and technological innovation…than trying to keep powering our insanely wasteful and harmful levels of consumption of energy and materials.

    It would make us all healthier, happier, and just better people.

  72. Daniel Coffey says:

    We spend an enormous amount of time studying the environmental and habitat impacts of large scale solar and wind projects, all the while wasting the little time we have left to save ANY habitat by radically reducing emissions.

    In San Diego we have Sierra Club and Center for Biological DIversity fighting wind, solar and transmission projects, delaying deployment, and all based on endangered species and other trivia which takes years to sort out.

    Time to jettison the CEQA and NEPA time wasting studies. Yes, we will cause some harm, but its what stands between us and oblivion, either as a result of mass human upheaval or massive wildland losses or both.

    I have been saying this same thing for nearly 5 years, but environmentalists always want to study and say “no,” no matter the cost.

  73. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Wili, hope is not a hollow term requiring a concrete outcome: rather it is an atttude of mind that admits of possibilities for a better state. It is the opposite of despair which is what people feel when they can see no way out. Because it is a most painful affliction, many avoid it by committing suicide. It should not be promoted in any way, ME

  74. Daniel Coffey says:

    I don’t think that people really understand the true nature of the global warming problem. It is what is already in the atmosphere which is causing the energy accumulation we are now experiencing. That energy accumulation is equal to the energy released by 145 million Hiroshima atomic bomb explosions. Additional GHG emissions only add to the ever-rising scope, scale, duration, and intensity. That is why it is necessary to do everything today, put nothing off for tomorrow.

  75. Daniel Coffey says:

    A 145 MW solar PV plant was recently built in 5 weeks. We just need to get to the doing. Stop the studying and dithering, and get to the doing.

  76. Daniel Coffey says:

    Always with the jokes, oy.

  77. Daniel Coffey says:

    Excellent post. Thanks. The video was very useful and to the point.

  78. Superman1 says:

    That’s not what the ‘true believers’ want to hear. They want to present the image of a seamless transition to renewables with no pain or sacrifice. That’s why we never see an implementation roadmap as part of their proposals; the roadmap would show precisely the excellent points you made. And, that’s why there is little chance of halting the impending catastrophe; the citizenry is not willing to accept the pain and sacrifice required.

  79. Superman1 says:

    “Doesn’t this all get a lot easier if we cut back drastically on the amount of energy we use?”

    There are three main conditions that need to be met if we are to have any chance of avoiding the impending climate catastrophe: eliminate use of fossil fuels ASAP; reduce atmospheric GHG, CO2 in particular, ASAP; perform interim geo-engineering to quench positive feedback mechanisms and keep them from spiraling out of control. The first of these conditions is the most important, and there is infinitesimal chance that it will be done voluntarily.

  80. sal esman says:

    build nukes.

  81. carl says:

    I am indeed doing what I can. My yearly CO2 budget is a little short of 6 tons. I don’t fly, I don’t own car, dryer, dishwasher, smartphone etc, i don’t buy any new stuff if i can help it, and i heat only two rooms of the house in winter (and don’t use cooling in summer).
    I don’t know bout you, but my quality of life is NOT improved by my frugality. The only thing that’s probably positive on balance is having to walk and bike a lot.

  82. Robert Uttaro says:

    Great idaes and comments. You hit the nail on the head, though, as you point to the politics (or dysfunctional politics) of our democracy. What the Ghanaian nationalist Nkruhmah said 60+ years ago is as true today as then: “Seek ye first the keys to the political kingdom…” I believe we have the popular votes to go along with the already exisitng technology to begin the stabilization and reversal of carbon emissions. What we are facing is the walling off of Congress from the people by the fossil fuel industry and billionaire investors with their campaign contributions. So what I see as the necessary as well as sufficient steps needed are to first get our institutions right: constitutional amendment making all public elections publicly funded.

    At the same time, we have to counter the fossil fuel industry’s way of framing the debate as an either/or choice: heading to the caves if we reduce fossil fuel exploration/consumption or continue growing jobs and the economy because we either have enough time to “manage” climate change and new technology will be the cavalry that arrives just in the nick of time.
    In my opinion, most people, especially the younger generation, understand the grave seriousness. They see it as more like the cave or the cliff and neither offer any hope. What most Americans are not hearing is that it doesn’t have to be that way. The argument we have to push forward is that a nuch better future awaits us all if we act now.

    One way of making this happen is to argue that since solar, wind and geothermal sources are common resources and currently free, the energy we harnes from it should be free, too. No one should own them and once the infrastructure is built, then the government would bid out the maintenance of the system, which would be minimal. Essentially, the future would be a future of almost free energy.

    The question as to who would build this system in the first place if they could not own it does not pose an obstacle at all. Just as the government built the Hoover Damn, we would build the new energy platform and finance it through bonds, just like WWII. The bonds would be redeemed partially by the maintenance fees. Once fully redeemed, the maintenace fees would then only reflect the true costs on maintenance.

    Since energy = development, we could see an explosion of economic well-being for everyone in thie new green economy. There is even the real possibility that states across the globe would enter into a much more peaceful co-existence since the same energy platform we develop could become a global grid sytem with no country having control over energy. With cheap, renewable energy, we could possibly see the end of structural poverty.

    As many comments above rightly show, through conservation and deployment of existing technology we could begin the stabilization and reduction now. Less meat, less driving, less consumption, reducing energy loss in homes and buildings,etc. are easy steps with great impact. Regenerated soils by using less chemicals and reintroducing lost soil management techniques could sequester CO2 from the atmosphere by 40% and this would be another huge step forward.

    There are many real possibilities waiting for us if we rapidly deploy the transition. If more Americans could see that it isn’t the cave or the cliff but instead by acting mow a better, prosperous, healthier, peaceful, sustainable future awaits.

    There is just that one obstacle that needs to be addressed first: creating the political will in Congress. Frankly, the transition to the renewable and sustainable economy seems less daunting than retuning our political system to the people.

  83. Eric Strid says:

    Very good discussion here.

    I disagree that any sacrifice is necessary to go green. We’ve gone almost-vegan and buy local whenever possible; now we feel better, we’ve lost weight, and my cholesterol is down. We remodeled our house to be net-zero; now it’s more comfortable and the air is fresher. We bought a Leaf and found it’s superior to ICE cars in every way except range, so we use it for shorter trips. Yes, we sacrificed by investing in some deployment (the Leaf battery is the only thing that could be called new technology), but we would have been spending on new cars or other consumption anyway (and without doing any “payback” analyses!).

    I see our experience as a microcosm of the infrastructure deployment necessary on a national and global scale. The recipe for a net-zero house is straightforward: first make it much more efficient (like 60-90% less energy required), then add renewables to power the rest. Conservation is the biggest and quickest payoff.

    Obviously storage is the missing element in widely deploying a net-zero house strategy. This must be mitigated by more utility-level (or consumer-level) storage and by building out the grid to transmit renewable power more widely.

    Another topic to be quantified is the embedded carbon in all the infrastructure buildout.

  84. Mark E says:

    Very commendable! But do you really think earth can support – longterm – the same level of resource use as your family, multiplied by all families worldwide? Add in all the infrastructure, and the carbon footprint of everything, including the resource extraction, processing, shipping, manufacturing, market-shipping, retailing, and your own jobs that finance it all…… and when I say everything that includes the water flowing into the plants in china and the sewage disposal(or lack of) for the the water flowing out again. Cradle to grave of your entire impact.

    Multiply by enough times to give that same life to all 7 Billion people.

    You have done more than I to move int he right direction, so maybe I shouldn’t be the one to speak…. still, I gotta ask…. do you still “disagree that sacrifice is not necessary to go (truly) green”?

  85. Of course, the Hansen idea is best: A carbon tax that progressively increases – I would propose adding 1% per month, for a 12% tax the first year.

    Then permit tax free carbon usage only for the manufacture and deployment of clean energy.

    Otherwise we could just stay deluded, inactive and just die.

  86. Eric Strid says:

    The short answer is that I don’t know. But I think it’s possible with some more changes. I agree that our economic (and accounting) systems are about 50 years behind the needs of society. I didn’t mention the largest remaining part of my carbon footprint, which is flying to some bucket-list places–that will require new biofuels or just getting used to telepresence (over a network powered by renewables). And of course we’d have to limit population growth.

    I think we need to design global society with all the physical/environmental constraints first, then design the governance systems that regulate commerce to not trash the planet. Like capping GhG emissions at the sources, inventorying carbon inventories annually via satellite to incentivize carbon sequestration in soils, other pollution controls, and lots of other progressive things. I don’t see energy as a big constraint long-term, because there is about 5000X as much power incident on the planet as we use to power civilization; water and soil and pollution are bigger constraints.

    Probably the biggest change is between our ears–we must drop the Old American Dream of continuously increasing consumption and waste and insert a New American Dream that is much more respectful of each other, other countries, the planet, etc. “Nothing is good or bad but the mind makes it so.”

    Possible? Yes. Likely? A long shot. But we need a vision to have a chance.