Can we stabilize atmospheric CO2 at safe levels?
As you probably know by now, the cover story of The Economist is on global warming, unimaginatively titled "The heat is on."
I commend you to the extraordinarily good op-ed that kicks off the package:
So is it really worth using public resources now to avert an uncertain, distant risk, especially when the cash could be spent instead on goods and services that would have a measurable near-term benefit?
If the risk is big enough, yes. Governments do it all the time. … a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the risk of a climatic catastrophe is high enough for the world to spend a small proportion of its income trying to prevent one from happening.
And the slice of global output that would have to be spent to control emissions is probably not huge.
The piece argues that the real difficulties are political, not technological or economic. It recommends two measures:
One is an economic tool which puts a price on emitting greenhouse gases. That could be a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system …. Ideally, politicians would choose the more efficient carbon tax …. The more volatile cap-and-trade system, however, is easier to sell to producers …
… To keep down [energy] price rises, and thus ease the political process, governments should employ a second tool: spending to help promising new technologies get to market. Carbon sequestration, which offers the possibility of capturing carbon produced by dirty power stations and storing it underground, is a prime candidate.
It makes me tear my hair out that sequestration, rather than simpler things like efficiency and conservation go unmentioned. And what about the grid? But whatever, it’s good overall.
Over at Prometheus, Roger Pielke Jr. is much less optimistic than the magazine; he argues, in effect, that stabilization of atmospheric CO2 at 550ppm — the level at which we can avoid "dangerous interference" with climate — is impossible, and that the sooner we realize that, the better. Depressing, but worth reading.
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