WWF, Global Warming, and the Point of No Return
I put together a Microsoft Excel interactive pie chart that can be opened or downloaded (file downloaded from this link is guaranteed not to have a virus) that may help people to put into perspective various efforts (like doubling the efficiency of the US car fleet, or the elimination of coal for electricity generation) to reduce greenhouse gases.
I read the WWF study last night. At first I was a little shell-shocked, but as I read on I grew numb hopeful. At least now we have a decent study that clarifies what needs to be done, how fast it has to be done, and most importantly, when these efforts need to get started. It’s now or never. There will be no going back and no way to fix this if we don’t get started now.
Following are several highlights I took home from the study.
There are four main drivers: Clean energy generation, energy efficiency, low-carbon agriculture and sustainable forestry.
Bioenergy comes with the following caveats:
“…no deforestation, no competition for land between bioenergy production and food production and protection of biodiversity and nature conservation.”
Bioenergy is potentially CO2 neutral. However, the expansion of palm oil and tropical crops, such as sugarcane, for biofuel production could become a significant driver of deforestation. Bioenergy developments must therefore be appropriately regulated to prevent further deforestation.
We will all have get to drive electric cars!
Since there are alternatives for land-based transport – but not for air and sea, as it stands today – the priority allocation of sustainable biofuels must be to the aviation and shipping sectors …energy demand from the land-based transport sector is met through grid-connected renewable sources…
They demonstrated that once renewable energy industries reach an economy of scale (a critical mass of sorts) they would from that point on become much cheaper than fossil fuels. Everything will cost less because energy will cost less. Investors are going to get their money back and then some. Fossil fuels will be left in the ground because they are no longer the cheapest option (or only option).
In the beginning, coal fired power plants must rapidly be retrofitted to burn natural gas. It produces about half of the CO2 as coal. Later, natural gas will have to be phased out as renewables come on line. We will have to limit other uses of natural gas to have enough to displace coal. Again, we will all have get to drive electric cars!
Growth of nuclear power was not assumed. They gave a few reasons for this. One is that the WWF has historically been opposed to it for all of the usual reasons. Another reason is that nuclear power can only grow fast enough to make a modest contribution in any case. They also noted that thanks to massive government meddling with subsidies, nobody has a clue what it really costs.
They mention the fact that a terrorist attack on some nuclear power plants could kill hundreds of thousands and cost hundreds of billions. After watching religious nutballs fly jets into the Twin Towers and Pentagon I don’t know how anyone can still deny this possibility. By their calculations nuclear power is not a make-or-break part of the solution so why bother? These are all good arguments and if they are wrong on too many of their assumptions, well, we can build nuclear plants as well, accepting the risks as the lesser of two evils. A global warming tipping point trumps all.
Burning some fossil fuels but capturing the carbon (Carbon Capture and Sequestration) is one of the 24 main solutions although the authors acknowledge that this might not work and that there is a risk we will waste a lot of time and money to find that out.
They began by asking, “Is it is already too late to avert a catastrophic temperature rise? If the answer were yes I probably would not be doing this post. They concluded that it isn’t too late but only if we land on our feet running within the next four years.
To figure out when we need to get started they looked at the history of free market industrial growth. By assuming industries like wind turbine manufacturing and efficient technology growth will grow at maximum known historical rates for industry, they could back off roughly when it will be too late to do anything. In other words, if we don’t hit the ground running in the next four years, industries like wind turbine manufacturing will be incapable of growing fast enough to avert this coming train wreck.
There are a few graphs on the report that you might want to check out. See pages 13, 16 (return on investment), 36 (or 58), 105 (point of no return).
This scenario would take unprecedented political will. Political will is a function of what voters want. Politicians will not martyr themselves for the greater good if their ignorant constituency wants the opposite.
A recent poll has indicated that only 57% of Americans think there is solid evidence that the earth has been warming (down from 71% a year ago). Another poll taken on Darwin’s anniversary earlier this year found that the majority of Americans (61%) don’t buy the theory of evolution. On the other hand, we still teach the theory in our high schools.
If you have quit worrying about global warming because your favorite lay media outlet told you that the Earth hasn’t gotten warmer for the last ten years (global warming has taken a break), you need to start worrying again. Maybe the first step to fight global warming should be to get rid of TV news and printed newspapers. This would force people to read blogs for information. At least the opposing viewpoint is there if you choose to look for it.
This article is cross-posted from Biodiversivist