Wedging our carbon bets
The current issue of Scientific American — “Energy’s Future: Beyond Carbon” (sorry, full text is subscription only) — features a series of articles on that topic by experts in the fields of energy research, transportation, ecology, and urban planning.
The first piece, “A Plan to Keep Carbon in Check,” is a reader-friendly rehash of an outstanding paper by Robert Socolow and Stephen Pacala that originally appeared in Science in 2004. That paper, deftly summarized by Jamais Cascio of Worldchanging, presents a long-term carbon reduction strategy in the form of “stabilization wedges” — each representing one billion tons a year of averted emissions.
A cool pie chart in the SciAm version shows 15 possible technologies, ranging from increased fuel economy to stopping deforestation, that the authors say could flatten out CO2 emissions by 2056. And Pacala and Socolow are decidedly optimistic about our ability to do this: “Holding CO2 emissions in 2056 to their present rate, without choking off economic growth, is a desirable outcome within our grasp.”
One interesting sidenote: the biographical blurb about the authors indicates that they lead the Carbon Mitigation Initiative at Princeton University, a project funded by BP and Ford. To their credit, the authors appear unswayed by this seeming conflict of interest, as they have drafted a radical overhaul scheme that leaves little room for oil or cars in their present incarnations.
Still, it is funny that just pages earlier, in the introductory essay, SciAm editor Gary Stix writes, “Stabilization of carbon emissions will require a more tangible blueprint for nurturing further economic growth while building a decarbonized energy infrastructure. An oil company’s ‘Beyond Petroleum’ slogans will not suffice.”
Other subjects covered in this comprehensive issue include transportation, nuclear fuel, hydrogen, coal, and renewable fuels. Readers will note a wide range of attitudes too. While Socolow and Pacala are almost uncannily optimistic, Heywood (“Fueling Our Transportation Future”) hedges almost every sentence with a disclaimer. Overall, however, the tone is positive and “can-do” — a much needed partner to gloom and doom when it comes to motivating forward action. Two thumbs up.