A recent National Academy of Sciences report [PDF] notes that CO2 lasts thousands of years in the atmosphere, so if we really want to limit the damage from climate change, we’ll need to drop the world’s energy system to near-zero emissions by 2050. Yet the U.N.’s climate chief, Cristina Figueres, recently admitted: “I do not believe we will ever have a final agreement on climate change, certainly not in my lifetime.”
Is it time to give up? No, but a better strategy might help.
First, any viable approach to solving the climate crisis is going to require both humility and patience. World energy use — the cause of most CO2 emissions — is expected to triple in the next 40 years, due to rising population and incomes in Asia. Given this growth rate, as Roger Pielke, Jr. has noted, we’d need to build more than 12,000 nuclear plants just to get our mid-century CO2 emissions to half of where they were in 1990. (For comparison, just 430 nuclear plants exist today.)
That’s not to say substantial change in energy systems would be impossible. In 40 years, the United States managed to scale up two ener... Read more