During one of our many discussions here at Gristmill around cutting greenhouse-gas emissions, I did some figuring and realized that, if we started in 2008, we would have three “halving” periods between then and 2050 if we could just cut emissions by 5 percent per year — not an unreachable goal for people who absolutely waste a buttload of energy.

I’ve been talking up what I’ve taken to calling “The 5% Solution” here in Springfield (where the Simpsons live), making contact with a local group to propose starting a campaign for it as a project of the organization, with the idea that it would spread to other towns, cities, and states, and then all over America (insert Howard Dean-like scream here).

This morning, the fellow I’ve been talking to sent me to this link about something I have not heard of, the Sierra Club’s “2% Solution.” What?! Have I been left at the gate? Did I invent something well after the patent had already been issued to someone else?

Turns out, no.

In a nutshell, what I proposed here at Gristmill is that we need to get everyone in rich countries to cut MORE than 80 percent by 2050 (h/t, Tom A, etc.), but that this is still doable because it only requires about a 5 percent year-to-year cut each year. That means 5 percent this year, and then 5 percent (on the 95 percent remaining) next year, and then 5 percent (on the approx. 90 percent remaining) in the next year, and so on.

In other words, the “5% Solution” requires a smaller and smaller absolute cut in emissions each year but still allows the planet to reach the goal. Moreover, it allows the poorest countries, the ones who have caused essentially none of the problem, room for some additional emissions growth before they have to start making cuts.

The problems with Sierra Club’s “2% Solution”:

  1. It calls for equal 2-percent-sized cuts (referenced to todays emission levels) over the next 40 years — that is, it calls for the same absolute amount of reduction in 2049 as in 2008; that’s going to be really, really tough to do, if not impossible. By using 5 percent per year (referenced to the prior year), the absolute cut you have to make keeps dropping each year; by 2036, you have to drop less than 1 percent per year (in absolute terms, referenced to today) from then on out to stay on track.
  2. Sierra Club’s “2% Solution” doesn’t go far enough. The “5% Solution” provides for three 50 percent reduction periods (each one about 14 years) between 2008 and 2050. That reduces emissions by 87 percent or so, which gives places like China, India, and smaller poor countries some room for further emissions and development. If the rich countries, who put 99 percent of the greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, only cut by the amount of the global average cut needed (80 percent, say), then no one else can emit any more than they are today, or else the world misses the target.
  3. The Sierra Club has to deal with its own conflicts when it comes to reducing emissions by the rich. Consider the “Get Outdoors” link on their page that promotes their trips, including “350 trips around the country and abroad.” In other words, promoting international jet flights to exotic locations. Cutting jet flights is one of the easiest reductions available to us.

So, while it’s interesting, I wouldn’t revise the “5% Solution” because of it. With luck, they’ll consider these points, change the “2% Solution” into the “5% Solution,” put me out of business, and save the world at the same time.