This is a guest post by noted NASA climate scientist James Hansen. ----- The captains of industry, perhaps more than anyone else, have the ability to solve the global warming problem, so they deserve attention. But different strategies are needed for a Mr. Rogers or a Darth Vader. Some may argue that Mr. Rogers, $28M/year chairman of Duke Energy, is just another executive focused on short-term profits, with any concern for his children and grandchildren directed toward their portfolios rather than the world they will inherit. I have a different impression. Mr. Rogers attended a talk on climate change that I gave in North Carolina. That doesn't prove much. And the words in Duke newspaper ads ("Cliffside [coal-fired power plant] -- Good for the Environment and North Carolina") have the same ring as those of celebs and other well-to-dos who purchase "carbon offsets" to "balance" their carbon emissions. Mr. Rogers, in using the rationale that new coal plants are more efficient than old ones, is misguided, but he does not deserve the enmity that Darth Vader has earned. (The problem, in the thinking of both celebs and Mr. Rogers, is failure to recognize that burning fossil fuels adds CO2 to the air that we cannot practically get back. A large fraction of the elevated CO2 will remain for many centuries. Potential offset by growing trees is limited and that drawdown potential will be needed to reduce airborne CO2 back beneath the dangerous level, to avert centuries-long overshoot of the dangerous CO2 level [PDF]. We simply cannot put the CO2 from most of the remaining fossil fuels into the air. Most of the remaining coal must be left in the ground or used with CO2 capture and storage. It does not help to burn the coal more efficiently or more slowly, because of the long lifetime of the airborne CO2.) Last week, I sent the following letter to Mr. Rogers:
Rainforest Action Network's Matt Leonard provides this roundup of Fossil Fools Day actions targeting coal plants, coal minings, and the banks funding it all. Rising Tide (North America, U.K., and International units) spearheaded these efforts and others. Cliffside: 8 Arrested as North Carolina residents shut down construction at Cliffside coal plant At 6:30 a.m., North Carolina residents locked themselves to bulldozers to stop the construction of Duke Energy's massive Cliffside coal-fired power plant being built 50 miles west of Charlotte, N.C. "In the face of catastrophic climate change, building a new coal plant is tantamount to signing a death sentence for our generation," said local farmer Matt Wallace while locked to a bulldozer. The concerned citizens also roped off the construction site with "Global Warming Crime Scene" tape and held banners that read "Coal Fuels Climate Change" and "Social Change, not Climate Change." (more)
The WSJ reports today: The U.S. taxpayer forks over a $1 subsidy for every gallon of biodiesel that is blended in the U.S. for export later. The idea was to give a nudge to the U.S. biofuel industry. But it is boomeranging, as the Guardian reports today in the latest installment on biodiesel "splash-and-dash." ... Increasingly, traders ship biodiesel from Asia or Europe to U.S. ports, where it is blended with a "splash" of regular diesel, the paper reports. That qualifies the shipment for U.S. export subsidies. Then it is shipped back to Europe where it is also subsidized. European biofuels organizations talk about between $30 million and $300 million in U.S. subsidies being exported that way to Europe. The result? Biofuel's already-tarnished environmental reputation comes under more fire, because round trips across the Atlantic add unnecessary transport emissions to the mix. And Europe's own biodiesel industry has been shutting plants, despite its own efforts to ramp up production to meet political mandates. Imports are undercutting local producers on price. The Christian Science Monitor has more details:
Sean Casten and Adam Stein have been discussing when it is important that a carbon savings be additional -- that is, when it is important that we not pay for a saving that would have happened anyway. You guys are making this way more complicated than it needs to be. Iron-clad additionality is critical when you're selling a permission for someone else to pollute. If you are reducing emissions, generating a financial instrument from that fact, and then selling it to someone else to use as a substitute for reducing their own emissions, your reduction had damn well better be additional. Otherwise, you are almost certainly increasing pollution. You're welcome.
The short answer is: "Not today -- not even close." The long answer is the subject of this post. Regular readers know that the nation and the world currently lack the political will to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide at 450 ppm or even 550 ppm. The political impossibility is also obvious from anyone familiar with Princeton's "stabilization wedges" [PDF] -- and if you aren't, you should be (technical paper here [PDF], less technical one here [PDF]). The wedges are a valuable conceptual tool for showing the immense scale needed for the solution (although they have analytical flaws). Of course, if solving the climate problem were politically possible today, I would have found something more useful to do with my time (as, I expect, would you). But 450 ppm or lower is certainly achievable from an economic and technological perspective. Indeed, that is the point of the wedges discussion, since they rely on existing technology, and the conclusion to Hell and High Water. The purpose of my last post on the adaptation trap was to make clear that 800 to 1,000 ppm, which is where we are headed, is a catastrophe ar beyond human imagining, one that makes a mockery of the word "adaptation," that has a "cost" far beyond that considered by any traditional economic cost-benefit analysis. It is a rationally and morally impossible choice. So too, I think, is 550 ppm, assuming we could stop there -- which as I argued, we probably can't, thanks to the carbon cycle feedbacks like the melting tundra. What needs to be done?
While it is not true that Al Gore is running for president (honestly, how do these rumors get started?), it is true that his Alliance for Climate Protection has officially launched a new “we” campaign. The ad campaign aims to spend $300 million over three years to create a sense of both urgency and solvability around the climate crisis. The first ad hits TVs on Wednesday, likening the fight against climate change to historical efforts including civil rights and the moon landing. Future ads will aim to dispel the myth that climate is a partisan issue, cozying up unlikely allies …
RealClimate has a good introductory post on air capture, which they explain as: The idea would be to let people emit the carbon dioxide at the source but then capture it directly from the atmosphere at a separate facility. This is going to be a relatively expensive and complicated strategy for decades -- and, of course, you need a place to put the carbon dioxide. That said, a lot of work is going on to see if one can do air capture driven by heat. Why does that matter? The world has a lot of zero carbon waste heat not currently being used for anything. Indeed, U.S. thermal power plants alone throw away as much energy in waste heat as Japan uses for every purpose! That's more than 20 quads. And that doesn't even count the heat thrown away in industrial processes. Now, the smartest thing to do with that heat, for the next few decades, is obviously either generate electricity with it or use it for heating buildings or industrial processes.
Joseph Romm has made a number of very good points in his new Salon piece (and accompanying Gristmill post) on the problem of peak oil. He is, in my view, quite correct that oil prices will continue to increase based on supply and demand fundamentals. He is right that alternative oil source development would be a monumental mistake, and that biofuels are unlikely to be much help either. And I’d like to strongly associate myself with his statement that a solution to the climate problem is also a solution to the peak oil problem. But I strongly disagree with him …
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