Breaking: Socolow reaffirms 2004 ‘wedges’ paper, urges aggressive low-carbon deployment ASAP

Still asserts “existing technologies could affordably limit warming”

In 2004, Princeton Profs Socolow and Pacala published a paper in Science, “Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years with Current Technologies.”  The abstract 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.

Figure 2I spoke to Socolow today at length, and he stands behind every word of that — including the carefully-worded title.  Indeed, if Socolow were king, he told me, he’d start deploying some 8 wedges immediately. A wedge is a strategy and/or technology that over a period of a few decades ultimately reduces projected global carbon emissions by one billion metric tons per year (see Princeton website here).

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.”

You’d never know any of that from reading the false narrative industrial complex today.  They jumped all over a piece in National Geographic News by a reporter who apparently heard a recent talk of Socolow’s, but perhaps didn’t quite understand precisely what Socolow meant.

Socolow was not disavowing his original analysis in the least — nor providing any comfort to the do-little breakthrough bunch.  Quite the reverse.  He thinks they are members of a “Cargo Cult” waiting for “pie in the sky” answers (see “The breakthrough technology illusion“).

UPDATE:  This post has been updated to included comments by Socolow.  Also, Socolow sent me (and Revkin) a long reply to the various pieces published, which I reprint in full at the end.

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.

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).  Socolow dismissed Pielke’s latest attack on me in his interview and his written reply.

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

NYT blogger Andy Revkin seems so intent on avoiding any endorsement of strong action now that he writes stuff like this:

Some climate campaigners, notably Joe Romm, warned that the original wedges energy template was inadequate, but maintained that the core notion “” that existing technologies could affordably limit warming “” was valid.

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.

Revkin notes that he included the wedges in a 2006 article, but writes:

But along with the wedges, which we described as near-term, I added a second column denoting what would have to happen simultaneously to build the capacity to take the carbon out of a growing global energy menu. Without both, all that’s accomplished is building a campaign around an entirely inadequate set of policies that distract from the scope of the necessary “energy quest.”

The wedges aren’t “near-term.”  For Socolow they are the central activity of the next 50 years.  To call them “entirely inadequate” is to miss the point.  Aggressive deployment starting now is the sine qua non — without this, no livable climate.

It’s important to remember what Socolow 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.

UPDATE:  Socolow told me the only word he would delete in the paper is “simply.”

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 was shooting at 500 ± 50 ppm CO2 with his 7 wedges.  Now he would be over-delighted with 8 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.  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 8 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.

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 wedges now, I would again be utterly overjoyed if the world started 8 now, since it gives the world a fighting chance, something that the cargo cult strategy does not.

Similarly, while Socolow would start with 8 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 8 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.

Here is the statement Socolow sent to me and to Revkin (italics added):

Re the National Geographic blog by Doug Struck.

A.  Look closely at what is in quotes, which generally comes from my slides, and what is not in quotes. What is not in quotes is just enough “off” in several places to result in my messages being misconstrued. I have given a similar talk about ten times, starting in December 2010, and this is the first time that I am aware of that anyone in the audience so misunderstood me. I see three places where what is being attributed to me is “off.”

  1. “It was a mistake, he now says.” Steve Pacala’s and my wedges paper was not a mistake. It made a useful contribution to the conversation of the day. Recall that we wrote it at a time when the dominant message from the Bush Administration was that there were no available tools to deal adequately with climate change. I have repeated maybe a thousand times what I heard Spencer Abraham, Secretary of Energy, say to a large audience in Alexandria. Virginia, early in 2004. Paraphrasing, “it will take a discovery akin to the discovery of electricity” to deal with climate change. Our paper said we had the tools to get started, indeed the tools to “solve the climate problem for the next 50 years,” which our paper defined as achieving emissions 50 years from now no greater than today. I felt then and feel now that this is the right target for a world effort. I don’t disown any aspect of the wedges paper.
  2. “The wedges paper made people relax.” I do not recognize this thought. My point is that the wedges [paper] made some people conclude, not surprisingly, that if we could achieve X, we could surely achieve more than X. Specifically, in language developed after our paper, the path we laid out (constant emissions for 50 years, emissions at stabilization levels after a second 50 years) was associated with “3 degrees,” and there was broad commitment to “2 degrees,” which was identified with an emissions rate of only half the current one in 50 years. In language that may be excessively colorful, I called this being “outflanked.” But no one that I know of became relaxed when they absorbed the wedges message.
  3. “Well-intentioned groups misused the wedges theory.” I don’t recognize this thought. I myself contributed the Figure that accompanied Bill McKibben’s article in National Geographic that showed 12 wedges (seven wedges had grown to eight to keep emissions level, because of emissions growth post-2006 and the final four wedges drove emissions to half their current levels), to enlist the wedges image on behalf of a discussion of a two-degree future. I am not aware of anyone misusing the theory.

B.  I did say “The job went from impossible to easy.” I said (on the same slide) that “psychologists are not surprised,” invoking cognitive dissonance. All of us are more comfortable with believing that any given job is impossible or easy than hard. I then go on to say that the job is hard. I think almost everyone knows that. Every wedge was and is a monumental undertaking. The political discourse tends not to go there.

C.  I did say that there was and still is a widely held belief that the entire job of dealing with climate change over the next 50 years can be accomplished with energy efficiency and renewables. I don’t share this belief. The fossil fuel industries are formidable competitors. One of the points of Steve’s and my wedges paper was that we would need contributions from many of the available option. Our paper was a call for dialog among antagonists. We specifically identified CO2 capture and storage as a central element in climate strategy, in large part because it represents a way of aligning the interests of the fossil fuel industries with the objective of climate change.

Re the Revkin blog

Andy Revkin revisits the multi-step process that Steve’s and my paper envisioned. Our two steps toward stabilization were each 50 years long, as described in item 1b above. We strongly advocated R&D to develop further options. We also affirmed that R&D would be required to implement the wedges listed in our paper and to bring down their costs. Eventually, just about everyone involved became comfortable with the idea that both evolutionary deployment of what we already understand and revolutionary new knowledge were essential. I hope we don’t need to get mired in this non-issue again.

Andy refers to reducing emissions below today’s level as “the real heavy lifting.” By implication, holding emissions 50 years out to today’s level is not heavy lifting. Andy calls it “merely” the first step. I think this could be construed as an example of finding achieving eight wedges “easy.” On the contrary, both are heavy lifting. Each successive wedge represents a deeper change in today’s global economic trajectory than the one before, on the one hand, but gaining commitment and getting policies right and sorting through alternatives within the various wedges are all formidable assignments, and arguably this aspect of achieving wedges becomes a little less monumental with successive wedges. Somewhere, there is an optimum pace. Pacala and I were thinking about optimum pace when we drew our Figure.

For the record, there was no National Geographic interview. I gave a talk and apparently Doug Struck was in the audience. I left quite promptly after the talk, speaking briefly with several people, perhaps including him.

Re Pielke

Pielke writes “it is hard to imagine that Socolow’s comments can be in reference to anyone other than Romm.” I am not a close follower of Joe Romm’s blog. I did not have him in mind.

It is distressing to see so much animus among people who have common goals. The message of Steve’s and my wedges paper was, above all, ecumenical.

If Revkin supports 450 to 500 ppm, I’d love to see his solution, rather than his umpteenth critique of those of us who understand, like Socolow, that the only chance we have at getting anywhere near 500 is aggressive deployment of multiple wedges starting now.

It is true that Pielke claimed on this very blog to have a similar goal to me — stabilizing at 450 to 500 ppm.  But he simply refuses to propose a solution that could possibly get us on that path and he vilifies those of us who do.  Tobis directs us to this devastating review of Pielke’s latest book in IEEE Spectrum:

Significantly, Pielke agrees with the rest of his field on the need to stop emitting carbon dioxide and to stabilize its concentration in the atmosphere at somewhere between 350 and 500 parts per million; he just doesn’t want scientists to tell the rest of us how to get there.And so with all the “debunking” of prominent science, by the book’s end his readers won’t have learned very much at all. If you didn’t know that there were uncertainties in climate science before, then yes, you will definitely know that now. Pielke’s actual “fix,” on the other hand, comes so late in the book and is so poorly highlighted that it might not get noticed at all.

What is that fix? Well, it involves an obscenely low price on carbon (US $5 per metric ton) that will pay for further innovations in renewable energy. Other than that, Pielke advocates setting specific goals, monitoring progress, and focusing on technology advancement. Yawn.

If Pielke’s first tenet is the completely unrealistic and potentially counterproductive divorce of science from policy, his second, as evidenced by the meager carbon price, seems to be aiming low in the name of political expediency. He suggests five bucks only because it seems feasible and cites the support of Exxon Mobil’s CEO as evidence. Seriously, Exxon Mobil. “The precise amount of the tax itself””whether $5 per metric ton, or $10, or only $3″”is less important than that the tax be implemented at the highest price politically possible,” Pielke writes.

Such “pragmatism” amounts to bargaining ourselves down in advance of the bargaining that we have to do with others. Pielke’s carbon price will force fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil to do absolutely nothing differently. Pielke admits this, noting that the point is simply to raise money for renewable energy technology innovation. Such a path, though, ignores the vast scientific consensus that we need to start lowering emissions yesterday. Even if his carbon tax could raise $150 billion per year, as Pielke suggests, the pace of innovation can’t match the pace of current emissions and subsequent temperature and sea level rise, ocean acidification, and various other problems. At its root, Pielke’s climate fix is to do almost nothing.

Sounds like the very model of a modern cargo cultist.

41 Responses to Breaking: Socolow reaffirms 2004 ‘wedges’ paper, urges aggressive low-carbon deployment ASAP

  1. BR says:

    Joe – I’ve given you a hard time in recent months, but you’re dead right with this. I also interpreted Socolow’s interview as you did – he was saying that people misinterpreted his wedges as making it seem like there was an easy tech fix, so the urgency evaporated in their minds.

    Thanks for following up with him on this.

  2. David Britt says:


    The problem with this line of reasoning, as I see it, is that it displaces technological innovation for social innovation, but doesn’t consider that the difficulties associated with the latter are potentially just as formidable as those associated with the former.

    [JR: It just proves that even after a 3,000 word piece, people still say I left stuff out. I have written about the social side in my links. But big social change won’t come until we’re desperate — and the deniers and McMedia have put that off for another decade perhaps two. Until then, we gotta start with technology.]

    I know this blog is no opponent of technological innovation, but sentences like “Humanity can solve the carbon and climate problem… simply by scaling up what we already know how to do,” are extremely problematic when you consider what the word “can” means in that context (not to mention “simply”). Since we are purportedly an evidence-based crowd, what is the evidence that this scaling up will actually happen in the necessary quantity? If we lack reasonable evidence of this fact, we had better keep social solutions in the same category as technological ones.

    [JR: I forgot to add that Socolow told me the only word he would delete in his original paper is “simply.”

    But “can” doesn’t mean “will.” I thought that was clear.]

    An even deeper problem is that social and technological solutions are much more intertwined (I would argue, one and the same) than it would seem. PV R&D groups limit the scope of their projects based on what cost they must achieve to be competitive. Their work would change significantly if social factors came into play that increased the competitive cost. Likewise, this paper would have to be updated in the face of a major technological change. Isolating those two fronts seems like it might be a mistake.

    [JR: The social factors I foresee will lower cost, since they will remove market barriers. Also, don’t forget peak oil.]

  3. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Stabilisation at 550ppm does look, on current knowledge, to be way too high. The level of weather extremes encountered already with about 1 degree of warming is pretty unsettling. The positive feedbacks, the albedo flip in the Arctic, the release of Arctic methane, the droughts in the Amazon, the newest research on methane-water vapour feedback etc all look very grim. Of course this is clearly a rational plan, one that, if it had been implemented soon after 2004, might yet have already been showing some success.
    But it wasn’t, and judging by the disinformation being spread by the usual suspects, they don’t want it to go forward now. This, naturally, is where you begin to have dark thoughts concerning the motivations of the denialists and obstructionists. These wedges all entail massive investment and massive potential profits. Why are capitalists not slavering at the prospect? Why do they prefer business-as-usual, destroying humanity in the process, rather than move their capital to other equally lucrative purposes?
    And an even darker thought enters here. Say we do succeed in decarbonising through these wedges and new discoveries from R&D. Suppose great new industries grow, enriching new generation plutocrats. Suppose we miraculously escape (and climate destabilisation is just one of scores of crises caused by ecological collapse). If this miraculous salvation leaves us with the neoplastic capitalist system of endless growth to feed elite avarice still intact, is it not just a matter of time before we either face another crisis of over-consumption, or, instead, descend into a social nightmare of neo-feudal privilege, debauched ‘democracy’ stripped of authenticity and credibility and a global caste system where the harijans scrabble about in the waste excreted by their Overlords. In short, without radical social change, greater equality and justice, is the human world as currently configured worth saving?

  4. Jason S. says:

    I’d love to see Andy Revkin’s solution as well. I really would.

  5. Ziyu says:

    To permanently solve the energy crisis, we must become a type 1 civilization. That means completely abandoning finite fossil fuels as an energy source. If humanity wants infinite growth, this is the only way. Fossil fuels are finite and cannot support infinite growth. Moving on to renewables and hopefully nuclear fusion will allow infinite growth to happen, well, until we run out of room and non-energy resources on Earth. Then we’d have to colonize other planets and the nuclear fusion would come in handy there, fueling the rocket way better than fossil fuels ever could.

  6. Lou Grinzo says:

    A few not-quite-random thoughts…

    This has to be the most thought-provoking piece on this site in quite some time, which is saying a lot. Thank you, Joe. I’ve said countless times over on my own site that in climate change “timing is everything”, usually with reference to the warming that’s already “in the pipeline” before we (someday) get serious about addressing climate change, and this deeper discussion of the wedges is a much more complex and critically important aspect of the timing factor.

    If I hear Revkin pushing his idea of an “energy quest” without any serious detail, I’m going to scream. Unless I’ve missed it, he’s never provided nearly enough detail to make it anything but comforting hand waving.

    While I’m definitely on board with Joe’s and Socolow’s urgency re: deployment of existing technologies, that has to be informed by an examination of the time to implement each contributor to any one wedge and the expected lifetime of the infrastructure and capital involved. This is why I’m so against the wholesale conversion of everything possible in the US to natural gas. Yes, it’s cleaner than coal and oil, but not by enough to use it as a broad brush. We don’t want to lock into a “solution” that will quickly become part of the problem when it keeps us “above the line” 10 or 20 years from now. (CNG vehicles are particularly bad, since they deliver only a 20 to 25% reduction in CO2/mile driven.) I suspect this would mean fine tuning implementation of any plan, but with such large flows of money and resources in play, it’s still important.

    Yes, we definitely need a rising CO2 price. Optimally, we would have a preset schedule for price increases, so that decision makers throughout the economy could make smarter changes in the short run. Where does Socolow get his $50 to $100/ton price? Is that from an economic analysis or is it his guess? I’m not challenging it, merely trying to understand, as that’s a number based on a bargeload of assumptions. I know that many economists (including me) wouldn’t want to go near coming up with an estimate of the “right” carbon price to have the desired effect.

    Is Pielke so utterly tone deaf that doesn’t realize how fruitloops he sounds???

  7. Jeff Huggins says:

    Not Really “Up To Us”

    I’m not sure if that’s the best title for this comment, but it’s pretty close. Amidst all of the science and technical talk, I’d like to offer a point or two from a human and ethical standpoint.

    IF we were all hitting the streets, not buying products that generate GHGs, sitting in front of the gates to oil refineries, closing down coal mines via activism, camping out in front of the White House until the Pres listened, and so forth, and IF (in that situation) society’s actions to address global warming were still such that it looked as though we’d only stabilize at 550 ppm or 500 ppm, THEN we might be permitted to sadly conclude (while continuing to try to do better, with all of our might) that it might be “politically impossible” to do any better than 550 ppm or 500 ppm.

    But UNTIL we are trying our very best, in those sorts of ways and others, we are not really permitted to give ourselves permission to conclude, from behind our comfy computers and desks, that we’ll just have to be satisfied shooting for 500-550 because, “after all”, “anything less will not be politically possible”.

    You see, we are not merely “playing with” our own lives, health, and etc. This is why climate change is a MORAL issue. Other people’s lives, health, and livelihoods are at stake. Future generations. Other species. And so forth. To “judge” that, “realistically speaking”, it will only be possible to achieve 550 ppm, but not 350 ppm, would be to make a huge moral mistake — a very real and very huge one! It is not up to us, quite literally, to give ourselves permission to only stabilize at 550 ppm if we understand (as we do) that such a level will cause immense, immense harms. We SHOULD — and I mean a literal moral “should” — demand of ourselves and of each other that we keep the level down to 350 ppm or whatever level is largely deemed safe.

    This is especially true from where we are “sitting”, i.e., behind our computers, still buying gasoline, not even having risked a job or an overnight stay in jail, if need be.

    This is not a theoretical or unimportant point. Indeed, amidst all of the striving for scientific accuracy and validity, and technical/technology accuracy and validity, it is a gargantuan mistake in moral thinking to think that we can “grant” ourselves permission, based on the argument of “be realistic”, to be satisfied to achieve 550 ppm or 500 ppm. Doing so would be a bit like Frodo Baggins granting himself permission to go on a two-year vacation to Hawaii instead of striving as hard as possible, with blood sweat and tears, to throw the evil ring into the depths of Mt. Doom ASAP.

    If we (Prof. Socolow, Joe, or anyone else) have in mind that we can “conclude” that 550 ppm or 500 ppm or even 450 ppm will have to be “good enough”, because anything less would be (according to us?) “not politically possible”, we should clear that confusion up right away, before doing anything else, and certainly before repeating that notion in future posts and presentations as if it’s a given. I’m not suggesting, of course, that I know the precise figure. Not at all. What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t think that we have the moral right to give ourselves permission to stabilize the climate at any level that we think would be dangerous or unhealthy to other people and to future generations until AFTER we have tried everything possible, FAR MORE than writing and blogging and sending letters to politicians. After we’ve stopped buying gasoline, closed as many coal-fired plants as we can, risked losing a job or two, and spent some nights in jail for peaceful (but effective) civil disobedience, and after we’ve done our full best to get all of our friends and family on board, and after we’ve camped out in front of the White House for weeks on end, and so forth, then we can talk more about what is or isn’t politically possible.

    If he’s reading, it would be great to get Donald Brown into such a conversation.

    Be Well,


  8. I will start by saying that I like and respect Rob Socolow for his many contributions to sensible thinking about this and other issues.

    The wedges are very useful for explaining the issues to non technical folks, and I generally agree with what Socolow writes above, but I think that he shouldn’t accept keeping emissions constant for 50 years as a good or likely outcome. Judgements about what is likely (3 degrees or 2 degrees) are besides the point. We need to focus on the end goal (2 degrees C or better) and outline the aggressive set of actions we’ll need to get there. If we fail and only limit temperature to 3 degrees C rise then that’s the way it goes, but I think it is a mistake to arbitrarily limit what we think is possible based on our incomplete knowledge (it’s like agreeing to one of a negotiating opponent’s terms without getting something in return).

    What we know for sure is
    1) we need aggressive action
    2) we won’t know for sure what is possible until we actually try
    3) we need to get started ASAP.

    We can’t tell exactly what is possible or likely until we try, so let’s not give up what is our best judgment of what the science says because we think it is impractical to get there. That judgment of practicality is based on a lot of assumptions and terribly imperfect knowledge (which is the nature of all predictions about the future). We need to try many things, fail fast, and learn as rapidly as we can. Learning by doing only happens if we DO, so let’s get going!

  9. #7 Jeff Huggins: I agree with you 100%!

  10. Andy Hultgren says:

    @Jeff #7,

    Exceptionally good point. Well said. We do not know what is possible. All we know is what we can do today.

  11. Lewis C says:

    While Scocolow’s paper has plainly gained relevance since being written in 2004, I’m unable to agree with his apparent lack of discrimination between the numerous options for non-fossil energy deployment. This is primarily on grounds of ecological efficiency – some options are far more practical at replacing fossil energy than others: e.g. concentrated solar power over wind; but also in terms of options’ global replicability: e.g. wave energy over geothermal; as well in terms of their local legitimacy: e.g. afforestation for village-scale biochar-CCS & syngas over cellulosic ethanol.

    Joe has already made the point that some options warrant far more wedges than others – I’d go a bit further and point out that we need to identify a set of very robust practical selection criteria (to be applied after assessing local energy potentials) and actually forego some options as being simply untenable. Bliar’s boast that the UK had “world leadership in battery chicken dung power was one case in point; the reported methane emissions from mega-hydro besides its appalling social, agricultural and ecological impacts make it another. Plainly not all non-fossil energy technologies are worth investing in – i.e. an ‘all of the above’ approach would be disfunctional – investment needs to be focussed onto the more benign, replicable and efficient options within a given area.

    The paper’s title refers to a “Stabilization” whose meaning seems to me unclear.
    – If it means the arrival at a steady atmospheric level of CO2 ppmv, then what has either decelerated, or sequestered the output from, the major interactive feedback loops that are now accelerating just on the timelagged warming off ~335ppmv CO2 in the mid-’70s ?
    – Alternatively, if stabilization actually means the ‘peaking’ of CO2 at 500ppmv +/- 50, then what would remove several GTC/yr thereafter to achieve that decline of ppmv, as well as decelerating or sequestering the feedbacks’ outputs ?

    Thus if anyone can explain the sense in which Socolow uses ‘stabilization’, I’d be grateful.



  12. Richard Miller says:

    I also agree with Jeff Huggings 100%.

    I would encourage Joe to invite experts on the conditions necessary for social transformation to start dealing with the social transformation piece. You might invite Jeffrey Stout at Princeton and a host of others to start to describe what needs to be done.

    It would also be good to invite people who have written on climate change and psychology. I know that is a lot to ask from a very busy blog, but the social transformation discussion needs to start in full force.

  13. Mark Shapiro says:

    Indeed: deploy, deploy, deploy.

    Clearly the wedge concept is powerful. But as Struck, Pielke, and Revkin each demonstrate, it is “simple” (or “easy”) to misinterpret.

    Perhaps one point they miss is that to work at all, the point of each wedge starts at time zero: today.

    There is nothing easy about this. Nothing.

  14. Mark Shapiro says:

    Side note to our ever provocative Mulga: can we please worry about one civilization-destroying catastrophe at a time here?

  15. Wonhyo says:

    As presented, the stabilization wedges will slow climate change, which is a good thing, but is unlikely to stop it. A fundamental shortcoming of many progressive campaigns is that we tend to start with what is politically feasible, then compromise from that point. In the case of climate change, there is a huge gulf between what is perceived to be politically feasible and what is absolutely necessary. To have a realistic hope of climate stabilization, we should focus on moving the boundaries of political feasibility closer to the boundaries of natural necessity. For example, it is naively optimistic to think the climate can be restabilized at 550, 450, or even 350 ppm. We should target a value below 280 ppm, the previous stable concentration.

    When we start with what is politically feasible, we make dangerous compromises, like including nuclear and “clean” coal as one of the wedges. Even in a stable political/economic/social/natural climate, the risks of operating a nuclear power plant and caring for the waste is immense. With the political/economic/social/natural turmoil that is already in the pipeline, it is doubtful that society will be able to manage the nuclear plants and nuclear waste that we have even today, let alone further increases in nuclear power.

    Similar warnings apply to “clean” coal. Unless the carbon that is captured can be sequestered stably and reliably, the uncertainty and duration of risk associated with carbon sequestration from coal plants is comparable to nuclear.

    What is absolutely necessary is an immediate zeroing of emissions, followed by active CO2 removal from the atmosphere. If we make that our starting point and make absolutely necessary compromises, we might actually have a workable solution. For example, through carpooling and telecommuting, we should be able to dramatically reduce passenger vehicle emissions, and that can be done much sooner than waiting for everyone to switch to electric cars. This magnitude and immediacy of this level of sacrifice is greater than even the most ardent environmental advocates are willing to push for. That implies we’ve given up on actually restabilizing the climate, although we delude ourselves into thinking it can be done with much more modest measures.

  16. Roger says:

    I agree with Jeff and others above: We need aggressive action now!

    And we’re not seeing that is because of the tragedy of the commons, plus most folks thinking climate change isn’t real, or a serious problem.

    And the reason that’s true is because of human nature, and there are no clear signals from our normal news sources, nor from our leaders.

    And the reason for that is all the money being spent in Washington and on Madison Avenue by the people making all the money from fossil fuels.

    And the reason for that is the short-term focus of Wall Street and of corporate management, combined with the fact that no one likes change.

    Yes, it is much easier to write about all this than it is to change it.

    Warm regards,

  17. Barry says:

    Both Socolow and Pacala are heroes in my book.

    While most climate activists know about their wedges paper, fewer are aware of follow up research that Pacala did on the link between carbon emissions and wealth at the individual level. Here is a summary of what he found:

    — the wealthiest 7.5% of humanity emits 50% of ghg
    — the wealthiest 15% of humanity emits 75% of ghg
    — the wealthy are spread throughout the world including china
    — if you did cap & trade at the individual level, people making less than $30,000 wouldn’t have to cut anything.

    Here are some quotes:

    “The 3 billion poorest people…emit essentially nothing. The take-home message here is that you could increase the emissions of all of those people by putting diesel generators or anything you wanted into their lives and it would not materially affect anything I’m going to say… In other words, the development of the desperately poor is not in conflict with solving the climate problem, which is a problem of the very rich. This is very, very important to understand.”

    “In contrast, the rich are really spectacular emitters. …the top 500 million people [7.5% of humanity] emit half the greenhouse emissions. These people are really rich by global standards. Every single one of them earns more than the average American and they also occur in all the countries of the world. There are Chinese and Americans and Europeans and Japanese and Indians all in this group.”

    “Lets suppose there’s a limit placed on individual emissions. Anybody under the limit is free to emit what they want, anybody over the limit is supposed to reduce down to the limit. …the earnings of a person at the threshold throughout that entire period (the period in this case is 2007-2030) are between $30,000 and $40,000. So these people are all wealthy by international standards. The poor never run afoul of the green line.”

    The hopeful side of this to me is that:

    a) the number of people who need to make big carbon cuts is a tiny slice of humanity
    b) these are the people with the money to make the changes
    c) much of this carbon is for luxury not essentials
    d) development of the poor isn’t in conflict with climate mitigation

    The downside is that these are the most powerful people (many of us reading this blog are in the group). The rest of humanity is unlikely to be able to force the wealthy to change…it will need to be voluntary. In addition, the wealthier you are the more insulated you are from climate impacts.

    We have a carbon-obesity problem but can’t seem to start on the diet the doctor says we must if we want to keep living a healthy, sustainable life.

  18. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Mark Shapiro #11, I can see your point, but, alas, they won’t leave us alone. We have to come up with a ‘silver bullet’ to slay all the beasts at once, and I am convinced that it lies in the heart or psyche of man, and will be mediated only through radical social and economic change. Any other action is just re-arranging the pillows on the deckchairs on the Titanic.

  19. Wonhyo says:

    Barry #14: Thank you for highlighting such insightful information!

    On the one hand, that’s great news because the greatest burden of decreasing emissions will be placed on those who are best able to afford that burden.

    On the other hand, we’re having a hard time closing tax loopholes, and raising the nominal tax rates, on the top 1-2%.

    What this boils down to is that climate change is first and foremost a social problem.

  20. Barry says:

    Lou (#6), I just read some economic modelling done by the Canadian National Round Table on Environment and Economy (a government group) on carbon pricing by 2020.

    It say ~$50/tCO2 gets USA to Copenhagen pledge of 17% below 2005 (aka 3% below 1990) by 2020. Maybe even less is needed (hint: oil price rise). Canada needs $30 now rising to $80 by 2020 to do the same (hint: oil sands).

    So that modelling says $50-$100 by 2020 is the range to get both USA and Canada dropping below 1990 levels finally.

    That would be dramatic drop from where they were just a few years ago. In 2007 Canada was 26% over 1990 and USA was 17% over 1990.

    Many EU nations have seen emissions flat or dropping with carbon prices well south of $50.

  21. Ian says:


    Thank you so much for your tireless reporting. Hyperbolic words like “unbelievable” are thrown around casually, especially in reference to all things climate change, but it truly is unbelievable how committed you are to this cause. Thank you so much for your time and effort. Take a vacation day, dude.

    @ 7 Jeff Huggins and everyone who agrees with him:

    Respectfully disagree. If you are interested in combining morality and realism then ask yourself: is peaceful civil disobedience “have(ing) tried everything possible”? Is sitting in front of the White House the very highest possible moral action one can take to stop climate change? Spending a few nights in jail? In order to stop slavery, did soldiers before the Civil War say to themselves, “camping in front of the White House is the greatest moral action I can take”?

    If you are honest about the answers to these questions then you will see that there are far more purely moral actions one can take to stop climate change than just risking losing your job.


  22. prokaryotes says:

    In January 1991, Sweden enacted a CO2 tax of 0.25 SEK/kg ($100 or EUR 72 per ton) on the use of oil, coal, natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, petrol, and aviation fuel used in domestic travel. Industrial users paid half the rate (between 1993 and 1997, 25% of the rate), and certain high-energy industries such as commercial horticulture, mining, manufacturing and the pulp and paper industry were fully exempted from these new taxes.

    In 1997 the rate was raised to 0.365 SEK/kg ($150 per ton) of CO2.[100][101] In 2007, the tax was SEK 930 (EUR 101) per ton of CO2.[102] The full tax is paid in transport, space heating, and non-combined heat and power generation. Owing to the many exemptions, oil accounts for 96% of the revenues from the tax, although it produces less than three-quarters of CO2 from fuel combustion.

    The tax is credited with spurring a significant move from fossil fuels to biomass. As Swedish Society for Nature Conservation climate change expert Emma Lindberg said, “It was the one major reason that steered society towards climate-friendly solutions. It made polluting more expensive and focused people on finding energy-efficient solutions.”

    “It increased the use of bioenergy,” said University of Lund Professor Thomas Johansson, former director of energy and climate at the UN Development Programme. “It had a major impact in particular on heating. Every city in Sweden uses district heating. Before, coal or oil were used for district heating. Now biomass is used, usually waste from forests and forest industries.”

    Economic growth appears to be unaffected. Between 1990 and 2006, Sweden’s economy grew by 44 percent.

  23. paulm says:

    @22prok what is sweden’s emissions today then?

  24. #21 Ian: The main point Jeff Huggins #7 made is that climate change is a moral issue and we shouldn’t pre-emptively decide what is possible before we’re really tried to take serious action (a point that I also made in a different way before reading his post). The question of what actions are more or less moral is not mainly what he’s addressing in his comment, simply that we have no right to acquiesce to an arbitrary (and probably ill informed) judgment about what is feasible. The only way we’ll know what is feasible is if we try hard to fix the problem, learn from our mistakes, and do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

  25. Merrelyn Emery says:

    This is a very important posting and so are the comments.

    Of course it is a social change problem. If the answer is deployment, deployment, – ask yourselves, why is the deployment so slow? Does the technology deploy itself?

    The decisions are being made by people. It’s just too facile to say that people are greedy. Why are people so greedy today when they weren’t yesterday? Why are so many people so passive today when they weren’t yesterday? We need to go beyond the phenotypes. There are two major sources of influence on decision making:

    The first influence is the global field of values, ideal and expectations that is composed of all the perceptions of events and actions of others that all human beings carry around with them all the time, although much of this knowledge is tacit, unconscious. This field changes day by day. It is currently characterized by ‘relevant uncertainty’.

    This field was hardening towards action on climate change until the denial machine really swung into action. This campaign did huge damage because it caused confusion about the science in a section of the population that had always respected the science and scientists although they didn’t understand the science itself, and still don’t. Also implicated here is TV combined with our authoritarian education systems which have managed to turn our natural curiosity and wonder about the world around us into a ‘boring’ subject. A lot of people now are just ignorant and confused.

    The second influence is the fact that most of our populations are organized into hierarchically dominant systems where the only realistic responses are the basic assumption of dependency (submission, passivity, apathy) or the basic assumption of fight/flight. Both the dynamics of dependency on the ‘leader’ and fight/flight arise because our currently dominant system creates ‘them and us’, inequality of status.

    Fight/flight is what you get when purposeful systems (people) see that the ‘leadership’ is acting in ways that are inimical to their future. When the fight response doesn’t work, people resort to flight. Fight is still common at the top of the heap but has taken a dive more generally because there is only so long that you can give up fighting for a lost cause and when unemployment is high, you want a job. Therefore, you have the flight response, passive resistance, which in practice is often indistinguishable from dependency.

    The origins of this maladaptive system are not mysterious. It was brought into being on a widespread scale at the beginning of the industrial revolution when people were forced to work in the factory system rather than follow the natural rhythms to which they were adapted. We resisted this (flight) over the years and this resistance boiled over in the cultural revolution of the 1960s and 1970s when people power reasserted itself.

    Even though the cultural revolution failed, the bosses realized the threat and pulled out all the stops. Then they added in the devilish idea that people are perfectly rational individuals, devoid of emotion and social ties and devoted to self interest, the economic version of the dominance of rampant individualism over concern about the commons, i.e. the theory of economic rationalism.

    Economic rationalism was only another practical step in the process. Remember the MAI that was fortunately stopped at the last minute. But by that time, it didn’t matter because by then, most of the population in Western industrialized countries were now so brainwashed and inured to a life of slave-wagery that the streets are empty, the people are sitting in front of their TV screens as they were depicted in ‘Fahrenheit 451’ while our warehouses of accumulated knowledge are burnt to the ground.

    We know how to change organizations and communities into participative democratic systems and have been demonstrating this for yonks now. Once people are working together as equals on a desirable future, the human ideals kick in and change happens because people want it to.

    The future is about human motivation. Yes, we have the tech but do we have the motivation? It is too late now to deliberately go around trying to convince every organization to change their design principle and help every community get organized, and generate that motivation in the process. But I know that the awakening is at hand – people are not stupid – they will get it together. The only questions is whether it will be too late, ME

  26. Mike Roddy says:

    Excellent post today, and great bunch of comments. I’m really in awe of this blog.

    The weak 3C target, even if more politically “realistic”, does not make scientific sense. It assumes that we reach that plateau and then somehow adjust to the hotter weather. Recent science (see Hansen’s book) demonstrates that 500+ ppm and 3C means unpredictable and possibly runaway warming, even in the short term from that point. Forest death alone could send many additional billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere, with reduced regrowth capacity due to ecosystem collapse and too little time for trees to adapt. Methane could blow well before we hit 3. 350 and 2C must be the benchmarks.

    When scientists talk about what’s “politically possible”, that’s another way of saying, “I surrender. The oil and coal companies are just too tough”.

    This is no time for cowardice. Our ancestors faced the guns of despots. We seem to be afraid of a bunch of greed crazed hillbillies who happen to be running our fossil fuel companies. Maybe the scientists are just too abstract and timid to lead us after all.

    I don’t know who is going to step up here, but it better be soon. In the meantime, Pielke, Nordhaus, and even Revkin may be doing more damage than a whole boatload of Rush Limbaughs. It’s about time that the urgency of what we are facing- and the need to act, in the form of deployment- is aggressively communicated.

    This might have to occur at the retail level- editorial boards, personal meetings with key corporate owners, and so on. This is the real “energy quest”, and, like all important movements, it’s going to have to come from us humans, from the bottom up.

  27. Mike # 22 says:

    Consider all the background knowledge a citizen or politician needs in order to grasp the wedges concept. One must have a working understanding of: modern industrial infrastructure and the investment in it; ready right now efficiency and the lag time to deploy it; the full range of renewables; modern building performance; housing stock–renovations and new builds; modern power transmission; global forest stocks; CO2 capture/sequestration; existing fossil fuel infrastructure and our dependence on it; next generation transportation; and so on. One must also have a clear and unbiased understanding of how increased CO2 threatens just about everything.

    Next, that citizen needs some confidence that government can do their part in this well. The undercurrent of distrust (manufactured, I believe, in large part by persons opposed to environmental regulations) works against this, plus lets face it the government that threw away 3 trillion in Iraq is obviously malfunctioning. I also tend to think that the sheer size of the US works against good government in that consensus building is nearly impossible between, say, Texas and New Hampshire.

    Next, that citizen needs to have some way of visualizing the end results of all those wedges where they live . This is a major obstacle to growing wedges. I do converse with people as much as possible about what wedges are ready, and how cool a lot of this tech is, but generally, they just can’t stretch to seeing themselves in it. People touring a zero energy house can’t translate what they see into their own homes. For some reason, PV does capture people imagination.

    Germany is somehow overcoming these obstacles and deploying now. They are investing, they have a consensus, there is leadership and enthusiasm. Perhaps they are more cohesive, and better educated on the issues underlying the wedges.

    The wedges are a fine tool for informing policy makers, but how do we reach main street? Americans need to see these wedges working in their cities and towns.

  28. John L. McCormick says:

    RE # 27

    Mike, I agree:

    “Americans need to see these wedges working in their cities and towns.” But, that doesn’t begin to address GLOBAL warming.

    Chinese, Indians, Barzilians, South Koreans, etc” must also “see these wedges working in their cities and towns.”

    US and EU reduction of fossil fuel use, (coal and oil) will be readily consumed (and at a lower cost) in South Asia. So, where are we then?

    The wedges discussion cannot be addressed in the US unilaterally. WE all hold hands and embrace a wedges strategy or we all go down dreaming about those wedges.

    John McCormick

  29. Anonymous says:

    Re the many comments about what is politically realistic. The pendulum swings on that. Right now, nothing on the scale necessary is “realistic.”

    I’ve asked myself, what would be the biggest and fastest game changers of what’s politically “realistic.” (It’s not sitting in front of White House or going to jail.)

    Obama showing leadership seemed obvious, but it’s now just as obvious that he won’t. We need CONSERVATIVE leadership–desperately. Republican candidates who at least accept the science–e.g., Huntsman is a small start. But, I can’t think of anything that would change what’s realistic faster than a change in FOX news on air coverage. Could that happen? Maybe.

    Other ideas?

    I forgot to say–great article and comments. (And, FYI, “cargo cult” link doesn’t go anywhere.)

  30. Ken Johnson says:

    Re “$50 to $100 a ton of CO2”: Those words alone translate to “non-starter” in U.S. politics, but effective climate policy does not require high carbon fees. Case in point: Germany has created regulatory incentives for decarbonization equivalent to a carbon price of order $50-100 per ton, not by trying to make carbon-based energy very expensive, but rather by making renewable energy inexpensive. Because renewables represent only a small portion of the overall energy market, the subsidies impose a comparatively minor economic burden compared to, e.g., an across-the-board $50-100/ton carbon charge on all energy sources. (Even Pielke’s “obscenely low” $5/ton price on carbon could fund renewable incentives equating to $50-100/ton in the U.S. market if the carbon-fee revenue were used specifically for that purpose.)

    Competition from subsidized renewables tends to impose downward price pressure in the energy market while spurring innovations and economies of scale that progressively reduce the reliance of renewables on subsidies. Because renewable-energy technology is currently high and declining, an effective decarbonization policy would be based on initially high and declining price incentives (not a rising price), which is essentially what Germany is doing with its feed-in-tariff policy.

  31. Jeff Huggins says:

    Thanks for your comments Jonathan, Andy, Richard, Roger, and others.

    Just a few thoughts (picking up on, and seconding, points that you’ve made):

    Yes, it IS time to get much more into the social transformation side of things. And there is an important parallel here. Just as one should also write/talk about the technological solutions (to climate change) rather then merely writing/talking about the problem of climate change, one should do the same when talking about the social/human side of the matter. In other words, even as we should do more to diagnose and understand the present social dynamics and the barriers to change, we should also talk about SOLUTIONS: the smart ways by which we can make social change happen. We have barely begun talking about those except by way of intermittent comments.

    Of course, talking about those things isn’t easy, for hosts (CP) or sometimes for commenters. Why is that? First of all, in situations like this, many of the things that will be necessary (to bring about the necessary degrees of social change and action) will fall into the category that many would call “activism” and also, in some cases, civil disobedience, although hopefully of a peaceful sort. It is perhaps possible that blogs associated with official organizations, and with advertisers, and so forth, may tend to want to shy away from hosting such topics and conversations. But if so, that’s a problem. Much of today’s discussion takes place on the internet, and blogs that are serious about climate change will have to enter into such discussions (of such topics) wholeheartedly, as sometimes occurs here but (in my view) we need much more of. And one should keep in mind the sorts of folks who engaged in activism and peaceful civil disobedience (when necessary) in past social-change efforts from which we now benefit: Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and George Washington; Gandhi; Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and etc.; Susan B. Anthony; and on and on.

    There is another factor that probably influences the tendency of some climate change blogs — especially those run by scientists, perhaps — to shy away a bit too much from the “social change” and activism topics: most scientists have a deeply ingrained notion (assumption and paradigm) that science (and scientific understanding) and values — or actions that must be based in values — are two entirely different things from two entirely different universes. Never the twain shall meet. As the not-quite-correct (and sometimes quite debilitating) story goes, put in moral terms, “There is an insurmountable gap between ‘is’ and ‘ought’.” Sometimes it’s put this way: “You simply can’t ‘derive’ any ‘ought’ from an understanding of ‘is’, i.e., from an understanding of how the world and people work.” So people who are deeply scientific hesitate (far too much, when the stakes are big) to get into what we need to do, what we ought to do, what we should (literally) do, what moral responsibility requires of us to do. This is especially true if it turns out that what we’ll need to do and should do involve more than writing letters or attending once-yearly events.

    In a recent talk — the one in Washington, I think — Bill McKibben made a passing (and probably polite, in terms of style) reference to peaceful civil disobedience. Can we hear from Bill, candidly, here on CP regarding what he thinks will be necessary at this point and what he and we should do to try to bring it about? Can we get the latest word and activism message from Jim Hansen? Can we hear from Al Gore? Indeed, can CP request and host a guest post from “Bidder 50” (or whatever the number was), even if he has to write the thing from jail? (One of the most memorable things ever written by Martin Luther King Jr. was his Letter From Birmingham Jail. Sir Thomas Malory wrote Le Morte D’Arthur mostly in jail. Boethius wrote The Consolation of Philosophy while under house arrest, I think.) So let’s hear from Bidder 50.

    Let’s hear from Steven Pinker and Jared Diamond — what they think will be necessary to bring about the necessary action and social change?

    Perhaps CP could request candid guest posts from people like Paul Ehrlich and Kathleen Dean Moore. The latter is the editor (along with Michael P. Nelson) of the absolutely great book, ‘Moral Ground: Ethical Action For a Planet In Peril’, and a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Oregon State University. It would be great to hear from her, on ClimateProgress. And of course it would be super to hear from Paul Ehrlich. His latest book is also a great one: ‘Humanity on a Tightrope’.

    I also think — as I’ve written in other threads — that a group of people should call (strongly request) a meeting with President Obama ASAP. Perhaps the group, to meet with the President together, should include (in no particular order) Bill Becker, Joe Romm, the head of the NAS, Jim Hansen, Paul Ehrlich, E.O. Wilson, Roger Shamel (of GWEN), Dale Jamieson, and Kathleen Dean Moore. That would be a great group. The point of such a meeting would be to “help the President understand” (I’ll put it nicely) that he should and must greatly “up” his focus and strategy regarding climate change and the related energy issues, including making active and passionate use of the bully pulpit and other measures, starting now and well ahead of the next election cycle. I’d suggest that the message and mission of such a meeting should include informing the President that such a change in his approach and strategy regarding climate change is a CONDITION upon which many millions of votes in the next election (including ours) will depend. It is time to show “tough love” and “CONDITIONAL support” (support tied to conditions) for the President such that he finds his courage and clarity regarding climate change, NOW.

    In any case, I’d like to see much more, here on CP, regarding understanding social change, what it takes, and etc., and regarding strategies and methods to achieve it — including posts from the various folks mentioned above.

    Cheers for now, thanks again for the comments, and Be Well,


  32. MiMo says:

    A tax of $50 per ton of CO2 means around 50 cents per gallon of petrol (gasoline) – wouldn’t it?

    Is it politically feasible anytime soon in the US?

    [JR: No. You’d rebate the money back to people.]

  33. Philip Eisner says:

    First, we must elect as many Democrats as possible in the next election in your towns. That includes people in your local government and school board. Every Democratic elected worker helps in the struggle.
    Second, we must reelect Obama and as many Democrats as possible in the House and Senate in 2012. We must elect state officials and governors.
    Third, after the election we must pressure Obama to the utmost to continue the never-ending fight to reduce CO2 emissions in the U.S. through Government laws, regulations, and money. State governments must be similarly pressured to help.

    Stopping global warming is an all-out Political War. Yes, we must communicate and Joe Romm and the rest of you do a good job communicating. But very little will be accomplished without political strength against the Republicans.
    We have no other practical political party other than the Democratic Party in the U.S. to help us in this War. So let us get with it!!

  34. Thanks for the in-depth point-counterpoint.

    I followed your “refuses to propose a solution” link back for a refresher on Pilke’s thoughts on solving global warming. The “here” link you refer to in your older blog is no longer active. Any thoughts on where his documents that he says describe his solutions now reside?

  35. David Britt says:

    [JR: It just proves that even after a 3,000 word piece, people still say I left stuff out.]

    I didn’t mean to come across as hyper-critical.. I’m basically trying to make a point about framing. Implicit in Socolow’s and Pacala’s work is the assumption that a social possibility is more achievable than a technological possibility. I know they probably don’t agree with that when stated as such, and certainly this website covers both angles (and in fantastic depth). But the framing really pops out in their work, even despite a few nods to technological development. To say, as they do, “here is what is technologically possible right now, so we just need X social action (i.e. implementation) to solve the problem,” is no more correct than to say “here is what is socially possible right now, so we just need X technological development to solve the problem”. My problem with their work is that they hold one variable (technology) constant and examine the effect of the other (implementation). I think that framing things as an either-or like that is a bad idea because they are both so interdependent that you can’t really “hold one constant.” But apart from that framing issue, I really appreciate what they have contributed, as I appreciate this website’s contribution daily.


  36. Joan Savage says:

    This is not directed at any one in particular, but I’m having the uncomfortable feeling that I got a few years back when someone tried to quickly give me a complex reason to support carbon tax versus cap-and-trade. Haste and muddle made a less-than-wonk like me just back off.

    My reaction was that I wasn’t ready to stand on somebody’s doorstep with a clipboard and a leaflet, and try to regurgitate my friend’s complex rationale.

    The wedges image is not very helpful for that doorstep encounter. One must simplify, put things in a prioritized sequence.

    [JR: The doorstep message varies by who is at the door. The wedges remain a useful but limited way to understand the solution — but of course our own little value if the person you are talking to doesn’t believe there is a problem.]

    I actually agreed when Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX) commented about the National Academy of Sciences ACC paper, “I see nothing substantive in this report that adds to the knowledge base necessary to make an informed decision about what steps — if any — should be taken to address climate change.”

    [JR: I don’t agree. It says to start aggressively reducing emissions now — and that requires a carbon price and programs to deploy low carbon energy. Since Barton is uninformed on the problem, though, such recommendations are water off of a polar bear’s back.]

    He might be interested in action items that aren’t in the techno wedges at all. Emergency management and disaster relief are hot topics for Southwest and Mississippi Valley. In 2008 we had about $9 billion in weather disasters, and we are past $5 billion already in mid May 2011.

    I don’t want to make it any messier, but a carbon-related tax that was to be allocated to relief and rebuilding activities would be simple enough to understand.

    In 2009 the US emitted 6633 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent (EPA numbers, executive summary A $5 fee on tons CO2 equivalent (not on just carbon) might stretch to cover how much 2011 will end up costing in emergency response and rebuilding, and do some preventive measures to boot. I saw that Joe Romm felt that $5/ton of carbon proposed by Pielke Jr. was too low, and indeed it would be scarcely enough to cover the weather disaster costs in 2009. A tax on CO2 equivalent would not let methane get off lightly. The tax per ton could be adjusted to disaster relief needs, and it would probably increase, sad to say.

    Like a tax on cigarettes it would have a strange relationship with its use, but it is “easy” to understand.

    Anyone have a simpler place to start?

    Maybe I’m just venting my frustration with having so many wedges pointing at me.

  37. Ken Johnson says:

    Re MiMo’s comment and Joe’s response, “[JR: No. You’d rebate the money back to people.]”

    This would not have much effect if the people simply apply their rebate to offset the $0.50/gal price increase without reducing their fuel consumption, or if they apply their rebate to other equally GHG-intense consumption. The objective would be to motivate people to spend their rebate on some low-carbon alternative to gasoline. That can be achieved more directly and more effectively by applying the $0.50/gal revenue to subsidize that alternative. If the alternative has 10% market share in the transportation fuels market, the subsidy would give it a price advantage equivalent to $5.00/gal.

  38. prokaryotes says:

    Aren’t these $0.50 now already committed “stealthy”, through oil subsides anyway?

  39. prokaryotes says:

    Re paulm #23 “@22prok what is sweden’s emissions today then?”

    A list of Co2 emissions per person, from 1990 (enacted Co2 tax in sweden to 2007, sweden cut their per person Co2 from 6 to 5.1 tons.)

  40. sailrick says:

    I went from here to Desmogblog and found this. I think the boy I spoke of is involved in iMatter.

    “iMatter Marches Prove Younger Generation Is Ready To Fight Climate Change”

    more encouraging news

    (I’m assuming my other comment got through moderation?)

  41. adelady says:

    When it comes to implementation there’s a good reason why PV is so attractive. My 86 yr old mum has recently installed PV, as have just about all her neighbours in the retirement village. She’s thrilled to bits just going outside and checking the readout to see how much power her roof has produced each day and the accumulating total.

    Cards, mah jongg and bingo evenings always produce at least one conversation about who’s got the biggest credit on their power bill. (Makes me feel like a stick in the mud with my 20ish year old solar water heating system when I hear about all this, no fancy readouts on my back wall.) Most importantly, she doesn’t ‘believe’ in climate change and neither do many of her friends (Oz is the land of droughts and flooding rains after all). But all of them think it’s insane that Germany produces more solar power than we do.

    Morality is one approach. Practicality is another. National pride has its place. Frugality is another virtue, esp of the survivors of WWII rationing and the preceding depression. For younger people, fascination with technological wizardry is an angle worth pursuing.