Energy Wedgists versus Technology Breakthroughists

The future of the world's economy and climate may depend on which side wins

This week the U.S. Senate is debating the Climate Security Act, a piece of legislation which would require the country to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 4 percent in 2012, 19 percent in 2020, and 71 percent in 2050 below what they were in 2005. The act rations the emission of greenhouse gases produced by burning fossil fuels by issuing an ever declining supply of emissions allowances. Emitters such as electric power generators, coal, oil and natural gas companies, and energy intensive industries like steel and cement manufacturers will be able to buy and sell the government-issued permits. This trading puts a price on greenhouse gases. The idea is that as energy produced from climate-damaging fossil fuels becomes increasingly expensive, industries, researchers and entrepreneurs will be encouraged to develop new climate-friendly, low-carbon and no-carbon energy technologies. But will this happen?

First, let's consider just how big a technological challenge it will be to cut greenhouse gases by 70 percent. Former General Electric executive Don Dears provides some sense of the size of the challenge when he points out that an 80 percent cut means reducing U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from about 6 gigatons (1 gigaton = 1 billion tons) today to 1 gigaton by 2050. One gigaton is the amount the U.S. emitted around 1920, when there were just 100 million Americans.

Now let's widen the focus to include cuts that the whole world will need to make in order to stabilize concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Currently, the world emits about 26 gigatons of carbon dioxide. In 2007, the International Energy Agency (IEA) projected that by 2030 carbon dioxide emissions will rise by 57 percent to 42 gigatons per year. Climate researchers estimate that in order to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide at 450 parts per million (ppm) (where there's a good chance that average temperatures would increase by less than 2 degrees Celsius) emissions must be cut by 80 percent from current levels by 2050. This means that the world will have to produce considerably more energy while emitting only 5 gigatons of carbon dioxide annually. If IEA estimates of future energy demand are accurate, this implies that the world would have to find the equivalent of 37 gigatons of carbon-free energy by 2030.

So just how big is a gigaton? Cutting a gigaton of carbon dioxide is equivalent to replacing 1,000 conventional 500-megawatt coal-fired electric generation plants with zero-emission plants. Zero-emission might mean coal-fired plants using carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies, perhaps costing as much as $80 per ton. By some estimates, CCS would increase the cost of producing electricity by 25 to 40 percent. Cutting another gigaton would be equal to building 500 one-gigawatt nuclear power plants. The world currently has 439 nuclear plants in operation. One gigaton more would require increasing the number of windmills operating in the U.S. by 150-fold, or increasing solar photovoltaics by 10,000-fold. It would take farming an area 15-times the size of Iowa to produce the biomass to replace 1 gigaton of carbon dioxide emissions.

The energy technology debate among those who are concerned about the dangers of man-made global warming divides into two camps—wedgists and breakthroughists. Wedgists are deploying the concept of "stabilization wedges" devised by Princeton University researchers Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow. They define a stabilization wedge as the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 1 billion tons of carbon per year by mid-century (1 billion tons of carbon is equivalent to 3.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide). In their analysis, each wedge of reductions is achieved using already commercialized technology, generally at much larger scale than today. The goal is for the world to emit no more greenhouse gases than we do today by mid-century and then steeply cut emissions to near zero in the last half of the 21st century.

Some proposed stabilization wedges include increasing the fuel economy for 2 billion cars from 30 to 60 miles per gallon (mpg); decreasing car travel for 2 billion 30-mpg cars from 10,000 to 5000 miles per year; deploying 2 million one-megawatt windmills occupying 74 million acres; building 700 one-gigawatt nuclear power plants; installing 2000 gigawatts of photovoltaic power on 5 million acres; and planting more than 600 million acres with biofuel crops.

Breakthroughists argue that the wedgist approach is a technical and political non-starter. In 2002, a number of leading energy researchers argued in Science that current on-the-shelf technologies cannot supply low-carbon energy at an acceptable cost. One of the co-authors, MIT engineer Howard Herzog, declared, "To reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our energy systems while maintaining energy prices at comparable levels to today will take revolutionary change as opposed to evolutionary change."

More recently, passionate breakthroughists like Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger claim that studies show that carbon dioxide emissions would have to be priced at around $100 per ton between 2010 and 2030, rising to $160-200 per ton between 2030 and 2050, to achieve deep cuts in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Thus they argue that the wedgists are framing the energy challenge "as a forced choice between poverty and environmental ruin. With a choice like that, it is no surprise that the world has failed to make real strides towards a cleaner energy future." They add, "If policymakers limit greenhouse gases too quickly, the price of electricity and gasoline will rise abruptly, triggering a political backlash from both consumers and industry."

Breakthroughists point out that polls regularly find that people around the world are unwilling to pay much more for green energy. In addition, higher energy prices would mean that more than a billion poor people in developing countries will have to wait even longer to gain access to modern fuels.

So breakthroughists Nordhaus and Shellenberger are proposing "a ten-year, $300 billion public investment into accelerating the transition to a clean energy economy. The goal of the program is to bring the price of clean energy down to the price of coal and natural gas as quickly as possible." Even breakthroughists agree that the price of energy produced using fossil fuels must increase at least somewhat in order to encourage energy suppliers to switch to whatever new breakthrough technologies are developed. Wedgists like Climate Progress editor Joseph Romm dismiss such breakhthroughist proposals as wishful thinking. Romm asserts that ramping up energy supply breakthroughs would take decades and that the climate change problem is too urgent to wait for such breakthroughs to emerge.

Although the Climate Security Act does direct some spending towards low-carbon energy research, it is basically a wedgist scheme. If something like it is adopted by the next presidential administration, we will find out which side is right. If the wedgists are correct, cutting carbon dioxide emissions will produce a modest increase in energy prices resulting in the deployment of a wide variety of readily available low-carbon energy sources over the coming decades. If the breakthroughists are right, energy prices will soar provoking a political backlash. In which case, perhaps one need only peer across the Atlantic to the spreading protests against higher fuel prices in Europe to see the future.

Ronald Bailey is reason's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.

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  • ||

    The Fuel tax protests in Europe are a sign that the religion of man made global warming is starting to find its skeptics coming out and being vocal.

  • ed||

    We're already past it. We just don't know it yet.

  • TallDave||

    The second decree: no more pollution, no more car exhaust,or ocean dumpage. From now on, we will travel in TUBES!!

    Get the scientists working on the tube technology, immediately.

    (Tube technology.) Chop, chop, let's go

  • Mike M.||

    I guess Congressional approval ratings aren't low enough, because they want to push them even lower by imposing new stealth taxes, wrecking the economy even further, and wasting their time on bullcrap instead of things that most people actually care about.

  • ||

    Global warming is a fraud. Let's expose the Climate Security Act and other global warming initiatives for what they are, a wedge for the implementation of the total socialist state. No sphere of human activity is outside its purview. All must bow to our new god, Gaia, for her demands expand without end. Just look at the silliness in the UK to watch our future bureaucratic overlords in action.

  • ||

    Cut emissions by 71% of 2005 levels...

    when was the last year we had those kind of CO2 emissions levels? 1895?

    I have never actually seen a full blown Tax revolt. I guess if this legislation ever passes i will get my chance.

  • rbenchley||

    Global warming is not a fraud, although some of the potential effects have been overstated. As Mr. Bailey stated in a previous piece, "Anyone still holding onto the idea that there is no global warming ought to hang it up. All data sets-satellite, surface, and balloon-have been pointing to rising global temperatures." The question isn't whether global warming exists, but how to take steps to address it that will have minimal negative impact on us economically or force us to give up any of our rights as individuals.

  • ||

    My goodness, the christian single in the ad on the side of the page certainly was given attributes generously by god!

  • ||

    If not for the fact that fossil fuels can pollute free of charge nuclear power would be the economic winner.

    Replace all fossil fuel plants with nuclear plants.

  • ||

    Global warming is not a fraud

    No, but anthropogenic global warming is a theory that has serious, serious problems.

  • ||

    I kind of giggle about the gas price protests in Europe.

    It's a classic "whose ox is gored" situation. Everyone is in favor of cutting C02 emissions, but wants someone else to pay the costs. What else is new?

  • TallDave||

    A warming trend is very likely, a significant anthropogenic component is fairly likely, significant net negative consequences from that putative anthropogenic warming before 2100 are fairly unlikely, catastrophic consequences from AGW are very unlikely.

    Unfortunately, we get movies from Al Gore where Florida is submerged because you're driving an SUV.

  • DannyK||

    Very interesting article, Ron, but aren't Manhattan Project-style megaprojects anti-libertarian as all get out? I mean, then you've got the govt spending public funds to pick winners. Isn't it much better to institute a carbon tax or cap'n'trade program and let the market do its thing?

    I'd be more optimistic if I hadn't lived through the 70's and observed the amazing ability of things like synfuels and fusion power to absorb any amount of money without any results.

  • M2||

    "I guess Congressional approval ratings aren't low enough, because they want to push them even lower by imposing new stealth taxes, wrecking the economy even further, and wasting their time on bullcrap instead of things that most people actually care about."

    If you think the blowback against Hillary-Care, which in 1994 returned the congress to the Republicans was big, just wait until people catch on to the fact that their utility bills will double.

  • M2||

    ""Anyone still holding onto the idea that there is no global warming ought to hang it up."

    Hey you heretical idiot, the temps been flat for 10 years now. Ten fucking years!!! Go peddle your bs somewhere else. 10 fucking years!!!

  • ||

    The second decree: no more pollution, no more car exhaust,or ocean dumpage. From now on, we will travel in TUBES!!

    Get the scientists working on the tube technology, immediately.

    (Tube technology.) Chop, chop, let's go

    THE THIRD DECREE, no more rich people and poor people, from now on, we will all be the same....Uh wait, I gotta think about that one....

  • Chad||

    I am definitely a "wedgist" under this dichotomy. What the "breakthroughists" get wrong is that renewable energy is largely out of the research phase, and well into the development phase. The technologies that will carry us forward - solar (concentrated thermal and photovoltaic), wind, and geothermal are already mature. This aren't lab projects that still have huge "breakthoughs" left in them. There will be incremental technical gains and notable cost reductions as production is scaled, but nothing radical. What these technologies need now IS wide-scale deployment and the economies of scale that come with it. Unfortunately, these technologies will probably never beat subsidized coal as long as there is any coal left to pull out of the ground. They won't be radically more expensive (a few cents per kwh) but anything more than zero means they aren't free. Of course, if coal lost its free-public-garbage-dump subsidy and had to fairly pay for all the forms of pollution spewing out the stack, the playing field would be a lot more level. Even as it is, I pay a whopping 1.6 cents per kwh to buy 100% green energy from my local utlity...and that is in a state with both poor wind and solar resources. Hardly back-breaking.

    Carbon capture and nuclear are probably no-go's. Capture is just too expensive and inefficient, and nuclear has so many hidden costs that it just can't get off the ground.


    Unfortunately, those only address electricity and heat. Liquid fuels are still going to be necessary for transport, particularly for heavy machines and airplanes. This is definitely an area where more research is needed, but there will be no huge "breakthroughs" that will save us from $5/gallon diesel. However, technologies such as cellultic and/or algae may well be able to hold the price from going any higher.

    The only real wildcard breakthrough technology out there is fusion. And we all know that fusion has been fifty years away for over fifty years...


    In short, more R&D isn't going to make renewables cheaper than coal or oil any time soon...and we simply cannot afford to wait that long.

  • TallDave||

    kevin,

    I'm definitely on board with the first decree, though.

  • TallDave||

    Hey you heretical idiot, the temps been flat for 10 years now.

    Not only that, but one of the latest models says they'll continue to be flat for another 10-15.

  • Chad||

    "TallDave | June 3, 2008, 5:30pm | #

    A warming trend is very likely, a significant anthropogenic component is fairly likely, significant net negative consequences from that putative anthropogenic warming before 2100 are fairly unlikely, catastrophic consequences from AGW are very unlikely.
    "

    How unlikely do you define "very unlikely"? Global warming caused four of the five mass extinctions that have occured (to the best of our knowledge), including the worst one, the pre-Cambrian, where 97% of life died and 90% of species went extinct.

    I don't know about you, but I think a 1% or .1% chance of an apocalypse is quite worth insuring ourselves against. And honestly, I don't think the odds are any worse than that.

  • Chad||

    Hey you heretical idiot, the temps been flat for 10 years now.


    But strangely enough, they are up sharply in the last 7 years, last 8 years, last 9 years, last 11 years, last 12 years...

    Nice baseline cherry picking, Batman...

  • ||

    I don't know about you, but I think a 1% or .1% chance of an apocalypse is quite worth insuring ourselves against.

    Then it might be worthwhile to throw a few billion dollars at researching geoengineering options that could be used to counteract such an apocalypse before it happens.

    There is no need to use the most expensive option on the table to insure against extremely unlikely events.

  • Chad||

    R C Dean | June 3, 2008, 5:20pm | #

    No, but anthropogenic global warming is a theory that has serious, serious problems.


    Yes, it is caused by magic pixie fairy dust, right? Or whatever the newest of the new crackpot theories is? Because all your old ones have been refuted. Hint: it ain't the sun or ionizing radiation.

    www.realclimate.org
    www.sciencemag.org
    www.nature.com

    Now, I am sure you will link to some crackpot website, and pull up a quote or two from one of the few denialists who have relevant credentials. There are about twenty of them in the world: here is a list

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_scientists_opposing_the_mainstream_scientific_assessment_of_global_warming

    Now, given that there are thousands of people with similar credentials, a list of twenty isn't very impressive. Additionally, after every paradigm-shifting scientific discovery in history (evolution, quantum mechanics, plate techtonics, Godel's theroem, etc), there were always a few people from the wrong side of the original debate who went to the grave denying the obvious. These twenty will either change their minds or join a list of sad, sad people.

  • ||

    Nice baseline cherry picking, Batman...

    Blame NASA...and you know falling global temperatures

    http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs/Fig.C.lrg.gif

    By the way why did you not mention 6, 5 ,4, 3, 2, and one years ago?

  • Chad||

    Then it might be worthwhile to throw a few billion dollars at researching geoengineering options that could be used to counteract such an apocalypse before it happens.

    There is no need to use the most expensive option on the table to insure against extremely unlikely events.


    Right, because while everyone is choking on poisonous fumes, dying of cancer because the ozone hole is gone, and starving because of mass crop failures, we will undertake a multi-trillion dollar effort to do whatever it is that said research says needs to be done.

    Hmm....I think I will stick with a prevention strategy, thanks.

  • ||

    Right, because while everyone is choking on poisonous fumes, dying of cancer because the ozone hole is gone, and starving because of mass crop failures,...

    Uh... I believe I suggested doing the research before everyone started dying of anoxia.

    ...we will undertake a multi-trillion dollar effort to do whatever it is that said research says needs to be done.

    There is a reason that William Nordhaus assigns a cost of zero dollars to geoengineering solutions for global warming: they are so incredibly cheap compared to the costs of either global warming or global warming mitigation that their costs are lost in the noise.

  • TallDave||

    How unlikely do you define "very unlikely"?

    Around the same likelihood as an asteroid strike, supervolcano, or megatsunami, all of which would be far worse.

    Global warming caused four of the five mass extinctions that have occured (to the best of our knowledge), including the worst one, the pre-Cambrian, where 97% of life died and 90% of species went extinct.

    Source? I've never heard global warming described as the cause of any mass extinction. Doesn't make any sense; how hot would it have to be to kill 97% of life? 150 degrees?

    OTOH, global cooling has very regularly made the Earth unsuitable for human civilization.

  • Chad||

    By the way why did you not mention 6, 5 ,4, 3, 2, and one years ago?

    Because it is a short-term phenomena related to solar cycles and La Nina/El Nino that is well understood.

    Again, you link to a cherry-picked graph that goes back only ten years. Why not include all the data? Heck, go back even one year and a layman would draw an entirely different conclusion from your graph.

    http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/img/climate/research/2007/ann/global-jan-dec-error-bar-pg.gif

    Amazing what happens when you quick cherry picking, eh?

  • TallDave||

    Sounds like the opposite is true:

    http://www.lakepowell.net/sciencecenter/extinction_events.htm

    The first extinction of the Precambrian, which largely affected stromatolites and acritarchs, has been correlated with a large glaciation event that occurred about 600 million years ago. This event was of such severity that almost all micro-organisms were completely wiped out.

    They mention glaciation in several others too. Warming is only mentioned once, in combination with drying and glaciation in other areas.

  • Chad||

    Source? I've never heard global warming described as the cause of any mass extinction. Doesn't make any sense; how hot would it have to be to kill 97% of life? 150 degrees?

    Under a Green Sky, by Peter Ward Ph.D, a paleogeologist.

    The greenhouse anomoly wasn't that big for any of the mass extinctions...in the same ballpark to which we are currently heading under the status quo. The basic breakdown of what happened was that volcanic eruptions increased dramatically due to techtonic issues, releasing large amounts of CO2 and methane, causing warming. This, in turn, shut down ocean currents and stopped oxygen-rich waters from reach the deeps. This allowed the takeover of the deep ocean by oxygen-hating, sulfur loving microbes, which eventually poisoned the whole of the ocean and atmosphere with hydrogen sulfide, a severe toxic and ozone-depleting gas. That which didn't choke on the fumes died of cancer anyway.

    The only mass extinction that was different was the end-Cretacous (ie, the end of the dinosaurs) which was caused by an astroid strike followed by a really really bad winter.

    OTOH, global cooling has very regularly made the Earth unsuitable for human civilization.

    I agree, and if we weren't flooding our atmosphere with heat-trapping gases, this might have actually been an issue in a few thousand years. It is of no concern now.

    I agree, megatsunamis and supervolcanos are also serious issues that need to be addressed. Astroid strikes are also a big concern, but we probably have the technology to avoid them now.

  • DannyK||

    There is a reason that William Nordhaus assigns a cost of zero dollars to geoengineering solutions for global warming: they are so incredibly cheap compared to the costs of either global warming or global warming mitigation that their costs are lost in the noise.


    Do you have a reference for this? I'm not aware of any theoretical geoengineering solution that's effectively free. A giant Mylar orbital shield would be expensive. Sulfates in the atmosphere aren't cheap, and the acid rain they cause is also expensive.

  • TallDave||

    Under a Green Sky, by Peter Ward Ph.D, a paleogeologist

    That's a fringe theory at best.

    "Crackpot" is probably accurate.

  • ||

    I'm not aware of any theoretical geoengineering solution that's effectively free.

    I've read no hard references -- only surveys. The solutions I am aware of are in the single-digit billion dollars per year range. Compared to the 23 trillion dollar NPV of global warming or the 30-40 trillion dollar cost of proposals like the Climate Security Act, the expense of geoengineering is truly noise.

    Sulfates in the atmosphere aren't cheap, and the acid rain they cause is also expensive.

    Remember that the scenario I gave for geoengineering was to preclude extinction-level atmospheric degradation. A little acid rain can be lived with.

  • TallDave||

    Here's the mainstream thinking on extinction events:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_extinction

    Global warming is mentioned, but not as a primary effect except possibly in a couple of the smaller events.

  • TallDave||

    Compared to the 23 trillion dollar NPV of global warming

    Source?

    That sounds like it would assume massive flooding, which is pretty unlikely.

  • TallDave||

    BTW, for comparison the entire global economy is about 65T.

  • TallDave||

    Global warming is mentioned, but not as a primary effect except possibly in a couple of the smaller events.

    And one of those doesn't bode too badly for us:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleocene-Eocene_Thermal_Maximum

    Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum

    The PETM is accompanied by a mass extinction of 35-50% of benthic foramanifera (especially in deeper waters) over the course of ~1000 years - the group suffering more than during the dinosaur-slaying K-T extinction. Contrarily, planktonic foramanifera diversified, and dinoflagellates bloomed. Success was also enjoyed by the mammals, who radiated profusely around this time.


    Yay mammals!

  • ||

    Compared to the 23 trillion dollar NPV of global warming

    Source?


    William Nordhaus's latest book. Now that it is for sale, better drafts have been removed from his website, but a PDF still exists. The $23T can be found at the bottom of page 171.

  • ||

    On the global warming induced extinction front...

    Given that a third of history since the last such extinction saw CO2 levels a full 10 times higher than levels today, I would think the probability of such an event within the next several centuries to be far below 0.1%.

    Furthermore, given that the earth apparently killed off the majority of its life via atmospheric poisoning several times without any help from mankind, some insurance that has nothing at all to do with how much CO2 we produce would be much wiser than believing we would stop any such event merely by reducing anthropomorpic CO2.

  • ||

    Why is Congress pushing this?

    For votes? Not a chance.

    As always, follow the money.

    Duke Energy, AEP, Shell, General Electric, Deere, Caterpillar, PG&E, Ford, and many others corporations support "cap and trade".

    (us-cap.org)

    As usual, you conservatives are clueless.

    I guess these companies are in on the "Marxist Conspiracy".

  • ||

    shrike,

    Are you actually suggesting that the largest and most politically connected companies in the world are trying to put themselves in a position to take advantage of a progressive movement for new government controls in the economy?

    In other news, the sky is blue.

  • ||

    ...anthropomorpic CO2...

    Not only did I not say 'anthropogenic', but I can't even spell 'anthropomorphic'.

  • ||

    Solar and wind? Are you nuts? Their energy density is too low, they're too unreliable, and use of these on a large scale would be an ecological disaster. Is destroying hundreds of thousands of acres of habitat by covering it with solar cells and wind farms the "green" thing to do?

    Why is Congress pushing this? Power Over Everything. As for companies supporting cap and trade, of course they are. They want to restrict and/or eliminate their competition. "We conservatives" reject that.

  • ||

    History shows that "conservatives" are the best friend of the monopoly.

  • ||

    History shows that "conservatives" are the best friend of the monopoly.

    I'm sorry. Did you think you were posting at redstate.com or something?

  • ||

    I criticize conservatives and progressives, MikeP. As a secular capitalist I don't have many political friends - and don't give a damn.

    AGW is real and NOT having some type of system to deal with it is like operating 15,000 flights a day among 150 airlines here in the US without an Air Traffic Control system.

    Libertarian purists be damned - some sort of ATC system makes flights work better.

    And yes - the profit motive will creep into anything.

  • ||

    Incidentally - I have never heard a purist argue against the ATC system. That is just the most appropriate analogy I could think of.

  • ||

    Libertarian purists be damned - some sort of ATC system makes flights work better.

    Certainly. ...which is why libertarian purists would tell you that the 150 airlines would figure out some sort of ATC system among themselves.

    But ATC is different from AGW because the costs of poorly handling the former are completely internal to the industry. AGW is problematic because its costs are not internalized.

  • Chad||

    TallDave | June 3, 2008, 7:01pm | #

    Under a Green Sky, by Peter Ward Ph.D, a paleogeologist

    That's a fringe theory at best.

    "Crackpot" is probably accurate.


    A professor and NASA research writing a book about his area of expertise, loaded with numerous peer-reviewed references, many from Science and Nature, and some being the author's own work hardly qualifies as crackpot.

    I will admit this theory is new...as of just a few years ago, most people in the field thought that most extinctions were similar to the one that ended the dinosaurs (which itself was a revolutionary discovery back in the 90's...before that, it was vaguely guessed that ill-defined "climate change" was the cause). However, overwhelming evidence has piled up in the last few years, with little inconsistency. Volcanoes. Methane and CO2. Warming. Stalled ocean currents. Anoxygenic deep water, then shallow. Hydrogen sulfide. Ozone depletion. Death. Wave after wave after wave of death.

    The point of the book is just not the Permian extinction. Except for the KT extinction (the dinosaur one), there is a strong correlation between extinction events of all sizes and greenhouse climate change. Rather than being the exception, extinctions following and feeding into climate change are the rule. My 1% estimate is probably wildly low, given what the rocks say. Indeed, even without global warming, many scientists feel we are already in the sixth great extinction due to habitat loss, pollution, and various human activities. AGW may well push us right over the edge into completely uncharted waters. The era of climate stability that civilization has arose during is also an exception, not the rule. Our civilization is founded on that stability, and we perturb it only at risk of our own demise.

  • Chad||

    Solar and wind? Are you nuts? Their energy density is too low, they're too unreliable, and use of these on a large scale would be an ecological disaster. Is destroying hundreds of thousands of acres of habitat by covering it with solar cells and wind farms the "green" thing to do?

    Bob, there is enough wasteland in S. Dakota, Texas, Arizona and Nevada to power the entire country many times over...and that isn't even harnessing the hundreds of millions of flat or south-facing rooftops. Btw, hundreds of thousands of acres ain't that much.

    Also, solar of any type largely matches peak demand, so storage is not terribly necessary. Solar thermal can be designed with ~6 hour storage via latent heat, covering the evening. Wind is fine up to at least 20% of the grid, and much higher if we improve transmission. Plug-in electric vehicles would be able to store energy at night and donate a bit back during the day. The profit from this (yes, the owners would be paid) could actually cover the cost difference. People are seriously working on this. Geothermal and hydro are baseload, and our already-capitalized nuclear plants can stay running for quite a while. New ones are simply becoming impossible to build due to the high upfront costs. Not only do even the biggest power companies not have that much capital, but they can't find a way to justify the investment anyway.





    Why is Congress pushing this? Power Over Everything. As for companies supporting cap and trade, of course they are. They want to restrict and/or eliminate their competition. "We conservatives" reject that.

  • ||

    I read the other day that %56 of all energy produced is wasted before it is ever used. Maybe we could find a few dozen Gigatons of CO2 to shave off of there. By simply pursuing efficiency.

    It might also help to stop offering subsidies and other market protections to fossil fuel companies (among other industries).

  • Chad||

    Sam, you are absolutely correct. There are enormous gains to be made via efficiency with payback times on the order of just a few years.
    While big companies have largely already implemented such innovations, small business and homeowners largely have not. Our houses are grossly inefficient, and our apartment buildings even worse. Strict building codes could cut out over 20% of our electricity use while saving money.

  • Ike||

    Wedge, indeed! If the claims of the global warming - oh, excuse me - climate change alarmists are correct, the "wedges" referred to are merely political, not scientific and the notions of "wedgism" are not going to halt or otherwise effect the alleged catastrophe. For each 1% reduction in carbon dioxide output, there must be a corresponding 1% reduction in energy production or reduction in the use of other fuels which produce carbon dioxide. That equals a 1% reduction energy and/or 1% reduction in wealth production. The "cap and trade" "carbon offsets" "sequestration", etc etc etc will only add to the costs and the loss of useful production by diverting resources to bureaucratic paper-shuffling and imaginary events such as "carbon credits"; none of that will have any effect on the supposed catastrophe nor will any of that extra cost do anything other than decrease wealth and energy more.
    As far as the conservation via building codes, we tried that starting about 30 years ago and gave it up as the consequences were not savings in energy; most if not all of the supposed savings were bookkeeping finagling and there were added healthcare costs across the nation, caused by reductions in air exchange rates which - belatedly - were determined to be essential for health. There isn't any 56% "inefficiency" in energy use. Another "finagle". The 56% is in the cost of production of energy and related costs of transportation, making useful fuels rather than unuseable ones - "refining" for those of you who are free of the weight of any knowledge of chemical engineering - as well as proper and necessary reduction of pollutants - and that's real ones, not carbon dioxide - during use. It costs energy to produce fuels, transport fuels, and use fuels. If there were any "efficiencies" to be made, they'd already be in place. Remember? "Greedy oil companies"? Can't have it both ways; either their "greedy" beyond redemption and therefore no further efficiencies are presently possible or they're not "greedy" and likewise incompetent.
    Whatever actually will take place over the next 100 years isn't going to be ameliorated by nonsense and ignorance compounded by envy and socialism. Produce more wealth and let free men and women of intelligence and knowledge use that wealth to their - and to our! - advantage.

  • Hypnos||

    Chad,

    You provide some clever solutions to solar power's limitations, but solar is not sure and scalable the way fuel-fed technologies are. This is problematic for economic growth. Moreover, you need a DC transmission infrastructure to transport wind and solar power from production areas to urban centers. (Given Germany's irrational opposition to nuclear power, there is an interesting project under way to tie DC lines there from the sunny Middle East.)

    Nuclear provides complete control and scalability. Breeder reactors can convert waste, and thorium may improve significantly upon uranium, with its enormous reserves and lower risk of weapons proliferation.

    (An interesting article.)

  • Michael Shellenberger||

    Ron, You have this partially right. Where we split from Romm is really over what matters most, a price for carbon vs. public investments to develop and deploy technology.

    Lieberman Warner won't set a price for CO2 high enough to bring on line new energy sources, nor will it invest much of anything into clean tech.

    Our full analysis is here:

    http://thebreakthrough.org/blog/2008/06/lieberman_warner_climate_secur.shtml#more

  • FDM||

    Don't know if this little fact might put everything in context: Greenland USED TO BE GREEN AND VERDANT. It is presently covered with ice. England used to MAKE AND EXPORT WINE during the Roman Empire. Something suggests we are nowhere near a problem point with the climate in terms of temperature.

  • Hypnos||

    FDM,

    Are you referring to the Medieval Warm Period? If so, it doesn't follow that the current global warming trend will be harmless to agriculture.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    Hypnos,

    If I read my history books right -- I mean if just possibly I did -- then the Romans were done and over with long before the Middle Ages started.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    Something suggests we are nowhere near a problem point with the climate in terms of temperature.

    That depends entirely on how serious you are about bringing socialism to America Today.

    A carbon tax is socialism writ large, plain pure and simple. And if by some miracle it doesn't manage to flatten the US economy, they'll hype up some new brand of BS and ram another knife into the rib cage.


    Meanwhile, China, India, and the rest of the third world will continue to burn fossil fuels, and our Holy Sacrifice to Gaia will have been for naught.

    Not that it was ever for anything but the satisfaction of The Green Socialist Conscience in the first place.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    If you think the blowback against Hillary-Care, which in 1994 returned the congress to the Republicans was big, just wait until people catch on to the fact that their utility bills will double.

    We can hope you're right, but I don't think you are. If they ever manage to put this one in place, it'll be so big that there's no way anybody is going to uproot it.

    Short of total US collapse, that is.

  • Hypnos||

    Ebeneezer Scrooge,

    One page suggests that wine production was post-Roman Empire, not during. That being said, temperature reconstructions indicate it was warmer pre-800AD in the northern hemisphere -- until the dramatic warming this century.

    The issue is whether or not favorable agricultural conditions in Europe during the MWP (or immediately before) means that current global warming will be good for crops worldwide. I don't think it does, because weather patterns will shift and areas which are already hot will likely parch. This is bad news for 3rd world populations living around the equation, and relying on subsistence
    farming which can't tolerate disruptions.

  • Chad||

    Are you referring to the Medieval Warm Period? If so, it doesn't follow that the current global warming trend will be harmless to agriculture.

    I am sure you all read the Copenhagen Consensus that we were arguing about all last week. It contained detailed work on this matter. The most likely scenario is that increasing CO2 and temperatures will be beneficial to food production in the short term and bad in the long term. Rising CO2 has diminishing returns, and water stresses eventually dwarf any gain that it provides.

    And you can't just up and move food production from Kansas to Manitoba...there is this whacky substance called "soil", of which Canada has precious little compared to the American plains, for example.

  • Chad||

    If you think the blowback against Hillary-Care, which in 1994 returned the congress to the Republicans was big, just wait until people catch on to the fact that their utility bills will double.

    I pay 1.6 cents per kwh for green energy (wind and landfill-gas mix) in Michigan, which has some of the absolute worst renewable opportunities in the country. That translates to an extra 15% on my bill, or like $4 per month.

    Yep, that will surely break us all, won't it?

  • Egosumabbas||

    How unlikely do you define "very unlikely"? Global warming cooling caused four of the five mass extinctions that have occured (to the best of our knowledge), including the worst one, the pre-Cambrian, where 97% of life died and 90% of species went extinct.

    There, fixed it for you.

  • ||

    This piece has an almost surreal quality to it, calmly discussing the collective national madness of Global Warming as though there really were such a threat to the earth that we must forthwith dismantle civilization as we know it.

    Simply put, man-caused global warming is the greatest politically motivated hoax of all time. There is no conclusive or even moderately indicative evidence that increases in CO-2 concentrations are causal factors in atmospheric warming. CO-2 comprises less than four one-hundredths of one percent of the atmosphere (380 ppm). Water vapor, a much more potent greenhouse gas, comprises one percent. Perhaps we should immediately re-classify water as a pollutant and cover all large bodies of water with plastic sheeting to control evaporation. By the way, put into raw numbers, the increase in CO-2 in the past two decades amounts to nine molecules per 100,000.
    Sounds scary, huh?

    It would appear that the only equivalent animal behavior to the global warming lunacy is the mass suicidal instinct of the lemming.

  • Hypnos||

    The various global climate models fit the data when human CO2 emissions are included; omit them, and they no longer fit the data, predicting a climate much cooler than we actually have. (See the 41st page of the relevant chapter of the IPCC report.)

    Do you have criticisms of the science in these models, such that they provide an inadequate falsification of the hypothesis that human CO2 emissions cause global warming?

    For starters, you might want to improve your understanding of the roles CO2 and water vapor play in the atmosphere by reading this explanation.

  • Egosumabbas||

    Think about how much benefit GW will do for the economy. No more snow blowers, snow shovels, and salt trucks every winter. No more lost days of work due to being snowed in. No more ice storms. TWO growing seasons instead of one. More rain. I mean shit, we should be embracing global warming as a gift from God (or is it Gaea now?).

    Also, we should thank the Chinese, Indians, and Africans for spewing out as much CO2 as they can muster, in case this legal abomination passes.

  • Hypnos||

    Egosumabbas,

    To the extent you are being serious --

    * Look above for a discussion about warming and agricultural productivity.

    * You're completely right that the Chinese and Indians don't give a fuck about CO2 emissions as long as most of them want to play catch up to industrialized standards of living.

  • Egosumabbas||

    You're completely right that the Chinese and Indians don't give a fuck about CO2 emissions as long as most of them want to play catch up to industrialized standards of living.

    Would you rather they wallow in squalor?

  • Hypnos||

    Would you rather they wallow in squalor?

    Nope. OTOH, disrupting 3rd world agriculture would leave them starving.

    Kind of makes Ron Bailey's case more compelling, no?

  • Egosumabbas||

    Also I'm being dead serious. I categorically reject that Global Warming would be bad in the "long term" for farming. Warming tends not to affect the tropics that much: the amount of warming increases as you approach the poles. This means that the zones for growing tropical crops will expand, the zones for growing summer/winter crops will expand, and the zones for growing temperate crops will expand, and the zones for growing forests will expand. Basically my point is *if* the worse global warming models come to pass it will be a paradise.

    In all seriousness though, the likely outcome will probably be the most conservative model (a degree or so, maybe a foot or so of rising sea water), and it will be far more efficient just to allocate resources to deal with any side effects of global warming (more levees, more strongly-built homes in storm-prone areas). Humanity will survive. The planet will survive. No big freaking deal.

  • Egosumabbas||

    OTOH, disrupting 3rd world agriculture would leave them starving.

    Disrupting it how? The sahara has been undergoing desertification for millenia--the climate changes. Deal with it. Most other farming and food disruptions are due to localized human problems: over-farming, over-grazing, over-logging, diverting crops to biofuels, etc. Not due to burning more coal or oil. I'd argue that more people starve when we try to prevent "climate change" by converting food to fuel, or preventing Africans from using their own coal reserves to bring their economies up to speed.

  • Hypnos||

    Egosumabbas,

    Your optimism is inspiring :) Again, you should read the IPCC report on the consequences of global warming, and explain where they went wrong. You think growing zones will expand, they think water shortages will kill any hopes of exploiting this. Moreover, as Chad points out, developing fertile land takes time.

    Finally, millennia of desertification is far slower than a century or so, which is what we face with AGW.

  • LarryA||

    This week the U.S. Senate is debating the Climate Security Act, a piece of legislation which would require the country to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 4 percent in 2012, 19 percent in 2020, and 71 percent in 2050 below what they were in 2005.

    The answer is simple.

    You have a car, a refrigerator, a stove, an air conditioner or heater, a water heater, and lights. Which one do you want to run, and which two days a week do you want to use it?

    nuclear has so many hidden costs that it just can't get off the ground.

    The only significant "hidden cost" in nuclear is the legal cost of environmentalists stacking lawsuit upon lawsuit and injunction upon injunction to keep plants from being built because they think nuclear=mushroom cloud.

  • ||

    Everyone in this debate needs to understand one thing:

    Every drop of oil, and every pound of tar sands in the ground are going to burned for fuel, until the price of burning it exceeds the price of available alternatives.

    Period.

    You can institute all the carbon taxes you want in North America, and the only result of that will be to depress North American demand for oil, which will either lower or slow the rate of increase of the price of oil globally, which will stimulate demand elsewhere. All you will achieve is to make America less competitive while merely changing the distribution of where oil is burned.

    This is the hard fact of a global economy and a fungible resource like oil. China and India are not as wealthy as the U.S., and are not about to give their burgeoning economies a shackle by taxing carbon. Ain't gonna happen. China has already said so explictly.

    In the meantime, Russia is a major oil producer with a lousy environmental record. They have every incentive to sell as much oil as they can, and will not voluntarily restrict its sale. Same goes for the Middle East. Hell, even in Alberta if you so much as whisper 'carbon tax' you'll be run out of the province on a rail.

    Any rational discussion of what to do about greenhouse gases has to start by acknowledging that fundamental fact. And as soon as you do, the only rational solution emerges - you need to develop technologies for power generation that are more cost-effective than oil. Riding your bicycle won't help. Installing CFL lights won't help. Al Gore's carbon offsets won't help. In fact, conservation measures may actally hurt, by slowing the global rise in energy prices that will stimulate research and make alternatives cost-effective.

    Today, we only know of one energy source that can make a serious dent in oil consumption, while being cheaper than oil at current prices - nuclear. Anyone who believes that global warming is an existential threat to the planet should be embracing the fast-track construction of nuclear plants on a large scale. Solar and wind are good technologies, and they have their uses. Solar may even be cost-effective in a couple more years and see widespread adoption. But it will never make up more than a few percentage points of our total power needs. Maybe in 100 years it will, but if you believe global warming is a serious and imminent problem, you can't wait even 50 years.

    If you don't want nuclear at home, at the very least start working to help China and India build more nuclear plants. The best thing the west could do at this point to slow global warming would be to do everything possible to encourage the world's emerging economies to transition to nuclear as quickly as possible, before they build up a huge fossil fuel energy infrastructure they can't afford to replace.

    Local conservation and local carbon taxes simply won't have any measurable effect on global warming. They'll simply hurt our economy and make our goods less competitive on the world market.

  • Egosumabbas||

    Moreover, as Chad points out, developing fertile land takes time.

    Developing land takes almost zero time. I'm able to grow tomatoes in a pot on the deck of my apartment building--and I don't know what I'm doing. Conversely, there are people with advanced degrees who can maximize agricultural output based on what plant they stick in what kind of soil under which climate zone. Don't discount human ingenuity in its ability to make green things sprout out of the ground.

    Finally, millennia of desertification is far slower than a century or so, which is what we face with AGW.

    Actually, I think the desertification of many areas is fairly predictable, based on historic trends and usage patterns. The Sahara used to be a verdant prarie some millenia ago. It's a desert now, and it continues to expand as such. It should neither be shocking nor surprising that it would expand faster if people chop down whatever trees are close to its edges. Trying to stop global warming won't put a dent in this trend. Teaching people how to maintain arid land would be more useful and cost effective.

  • ||

    As for Global Warming itself, it seems reasonably clear at this point that CO2 levels are high, that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and that manmade sources of CO2 are the reason for the high levels. It also seems clear that high CO2 levels correlate to additional warming of the planet. Among scientists, there is almost universal agreement on these basic facts.

    From there, it gets a lot fuzzier. There is so much we don't understand about climactic feedback mechanisms and the response of the earth to higher temperatures that models which project warming trends over 100 years are almost certainly wrong.

    For example, Freeman Dyson recently made the point that atmospheric CO2 fluctuates because of plant respiration, and plants are clearly a major factor in calculating long-term effects of CO2, yet the climate models don't come close to understanding them. Algae and phytoplankton blooms are increasing in size and frequency. At this link: http://geology.com/nasa/marine-phytoplankton.shtml you can see satellite photos of some large ones - which are the size of Wisconsin or bigger. Think about that - a 57,000 square mile carbon sink. We know little about the effect increased atmospheric CO2 will have on these blooms, but they could in fact be nature's air scrubber and could be a major mechanism in keeping atmospheric Co2 stable. Yet none of the climate models factor them in.

    The other aspect of the problem is measuring the actual damage from global warming. Many economic models show that global warming would actually be a net economic benefit to the world for warming below 2.5 degrees C, which is close to the median IPCC estimate for warming by 2100. Even if the Earth warmed up twice as much, you'd have a period of improved economic growth until the warming reached a certain point, then a period of increased economic costs. But since the costs come later, it may be that the earlier economic growth will essentially pay for the costs, assuming a reasonable discount rate for the present value of future damages.

    So this issue is nowhere near as clear as advocates on either side of the debate want to make it out to be.

  • Guy Montag||

    So it is officially Climate Change now? Or does this naming convention go by even/odd days, like gasoline rationing?

  • Dan||

    Just to apply some quick math to show the effect of algae blooms on CO2:

    A 1991 study on CO2 absorption in a phytoplankton bloom found that a 1 square meter area of a bloom absorbed 40g of carbon. A single unexpected bloom in the satellite photo I linked to earlier was 150,000 square kilometers in size. One square kilometer would contain 62 tonnes of carbon. That means the one bloom could contain as much as 9,292,800 tonnes of carbon.

    A barrel of oil contains about 110kg of carbon. Therefore, each square kilometer of an algae bloom contains the equivalent amount of carbon as 1127 barrels of oil, and that one single bloom contains as much carbon as 169 million barrels of oil (if it was a constant density - since it's not, feel free to adjust the numbers).

    For comparison, the U.S. uses about 24 million barrels of oil per day. So that one single algae bloom contains 2% of the total amount of carbon consumed by the U.S. in a year.

    Of course, there's huge uncertainties around these numbers - how much of that carbon is sequestered on the ocean floor? How fast to algae blooms respond to CO2? What other limiting factors prevent blooming? A lot of this stuff is still unclear, and current phytoplankton blooms still mystify scientists when they appear or in the frequency with which they appear.

    The point is that here is at least one mechanism that is poorly understood by climate modelers, yet which can clearly have major effects on CO2 levels over time. The ocean itself is a CO2 sink aside from the action of biologicals. Terrestrial plants are another. There's evidence that algae blooms release chemicals into the air which seed clouds, which could mitigate heating or bring more moisture to terrestrial plant life to stimulate more growth. None of this is well understood.

  • TallDave||

    A professor and NASA research writing a book about his area of expertise, loaded with numerous peer-reviewed references, many from Science and Nature, and some being the author's own work hardly qualifies as crackpot.

    I said the theory was crackpot, not the professor. It goes well against the conventional thought on mass extinctions, and also ocean circulation.

    It's a silly, speculative thesis intended to sell books by scaremongering; if this was the 1980s it would say the same thing but blame acid rain. It's not serious science.

    However, overwhelming evidence has piled up in the last few years, with little inconsistency. Volcanoes. Methane and CO2. Warming. Stalled ocean currents. Anoxygenic deep water, then shallow. Hydrogen sulfide. Ozone depletion. Death. Wave after wave after wave of death.

    I doubt that. Can you cite any serious papers supporting this claim?

    It doesn't hold together very well. Where does all the sulfur come from for these anoxic bacteria to produce all this sulfur dioxide?

    A much more reasonable explanation is that the sulfur dioxide comes from the volcanic activity and the anoxic bacteria show up later.

    The idea ocean currents would stop because of warming also seems implausible. Adding energy to a system generally increases its dynamism.

  • TallDave||

    Also, the May satellite numbers are out. They find there has been no net warming since 1979, when measurements began.

    http://wattsupwiththat.wordpress.com/2008/06/03/uah-global-temperature-dives-in-may/

    A warming trend is likely, but there's a lot more contradictory evidence than some people are admitting.

  • TallDave||

    Don't discount human ingenuity in its ability to make green things sprout out of the ground.

    Dryland farming gets better every year.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dryland_farming

  • ||

    The idea ocean currents would stop because of warming also seems implausible. Adding energy to a system generally increases its dynamism.

    To be fair, currents are driven by differences in temperature. Global warming will have a greater warming effect at polar and temperate latitudes than tropical, offering less dynamism to currents.

  • Chad||

    Developing land takes almost zero time. I'm able to grow tomatoes in a pot on the deck of my apartment building--and I don't know what I'm doing.

    Yep, a tomato plant grown in expensive compost and watered copiously almost every day. Good luck making a profit with your $50/lb produce.

    When you are growing tomatoes in parched hard clay and sand, get back to me.

  • Chad||

    The idea ocean currents would stop because of warming also seems implausible. Adding energy to a system generally increases its dynamism.


    It is not about them "stopping" as much as changing. In any case, as many people have noted, global warming will be stronger towards the poles - decreasing temperature DIFFERENTIALS and therefore calming winds, ocean mixing, and ocean currents.

  • Chad||

    I doubt that. Can you cite any serious papers supporting this claim?

    The theory covered in "Under a Green Sky" was first proposed by Lee Kump of Penn State (damn those crackpot academics).

    Kump, L.R. et al 2005 Massive release of hydrogen sulfide to the surface ocean and atmosphere during intervals of oceanic anoxia. Geology, 33(5) 397-400

    This isn't a joke.

    Also, volcanic SO2 cools the atmosphere, not warms it. Its effects are quite shortlived as it falls out of the atmosphere quite quickly. SO2 is completely inconsistent with the observations from end-Permian.

  • Hypnos||

    Dan,

    A response to Dyson. Namely, his biomass figures are overly optimistic.

    ***

    Chad,

    One interesting idea bandied about has been to throw dust into the air by detonating military ordinance -- this would have the same effect as a volcanic eruption in providing a measured, temporary cooling.

  • Chad||

    Rather than continually firing a bunch of acid-rain causing chemicals into the air (it falls out within a matter of months, so we can't stop), why don't we just avoid the problem in the first place? The effects of sulfates is the least-well-understood element of climate modelling.

    Waiting until hell breaks loose and then playing a wildcard that may or may not solve one problem, will definitately cause other problems, and won't be cheap either doesn't sound like a good idea to me.

    I'd much rather try dumping iron in the ocean.

  • ||

    The American breakthrough was in some sense the culmination of the enlightment -- free, rational thought. Now the neo-Libs join with the neo-Cons to cast doubt on science as an "is so, is not" exercise immune to real data.

    The scientific consensus and accumulating evidence is that there is Global warming and that we humans have finally shitted up our cage. It's a big cage but the poop is finally bigger. We clean it up or die, nature doesn't care.

    Economies can be shifted by government spending (see arpanet/internet) then markets take over. Sorry, this approach often works, mostly it takes a war to hide such spending. But war we've got and war we'll have if we don't stop the poop. Oil is "cheap" because of 100 years of infrastructure. Solar can be made cheaper but needs a half a trillion. Ultimately that's a cheap price to pay compared to the wars we will not avoid otherwise.

  • ||

    The article has a "two-card monte" thrust, where IT IS ASSUMED (--thereby making an "Ass" out of "U" and "Me") that there really are climate changes--some of which could be very GOOD, what with increased food production. Both "ideas" are CRAP! With NO "man-caused climate change", the ONLY "problem" is finding enough permanently-retired/further-impaired eco-nazis to where they can't stop us from DRILLING the gulf, coasts, and ANWAR, as the Red Chinese & the Cubans ARE GOING TO ANYWAY DRILL at least the Gulf, if we(USA) don't!

  • Chad||

    Oil is "cheap" because of 100 years of infrastructure. Solar can be made cheaper but needs a half a trillion. Ultimately that's a cheap price to pay compared to the wars we will not avoid otherwise.

    While I agree with the general sentiment, it is doubtful to me that solar will be cheaper than (subsidized) coal at any time in the near or intermediate future...and I work in a company heavily involved with solar.

    Prices now are running about $4 per peak watt before installation. This will probably drop to about $2 per watt in the next few years as things are scaled and shortages alleviated, but beyond that, gains will be very incremental. Without breakthrough technology, prices less than 10 cents per kwh are unlikely. Solar panels just involve too much silicon, glass, steel, sealant, installation costs, etc to get much cheaper. Coal is more like 4 cents per kwh after its free-garbage-dump subsidy.

    http://www.solarbuzz.com/solarindices.htm

    Of course, assuming 6 cents for transmission, paying 10cents vs 16cents would hardly break our economy. Japan pays this much now, and they hardly are freezing and starving in the dark.

  • ||

    The article essentially argues that the required CO2 reduction cannot be accomplished because of the magnitude of the problem. In order to illustrate his point he throws up a series of numbers that supposedly show the impossibility of just eliminating 1 gigaton/year of CO2 production:

    So just how big is a gigaton? Cutting a gigaton of carbon dioxide is equivalent to replacing 1,000 conventional 500-megawatt coal-fired electric generation plants with zero-emission plants. Zero-emission might mean coal-fired plants using carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies, perhaps costing as much as $80 per ton. By some estimates, CCS would increase the cost of producing electricity by 25 to 40 percent. Cutting another gigaton would be equal to building 500 one-gigawatt nuclear power plants. The world currently has 439 nuclear plants in operation. One gigaton more would require increasing the number of windmills operating in the U.S. by 150-fold, or increasing solar photovoltaics by 10,000-fold. It would take farming an area 15-times the size of Iowa to produce the biomass to replace 1 gigaton of carbon dioxide emissions.



    This argument is just plain wrong. The author apparently got many of his numbers from Genomics:GTL Roadmap: Systems Biology for Energy and Environment, U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, August 2005. DOE/SC-0090. The claim "Cutting a gigaton of carbon dioxide is equivalent to replacing 1,000 conventional 500-megawatt coal-fired electric generation plants with zero-emission plants." is incorrect, (it doesn't agree with other government numbers, numbers done by others, and numbers I calculated) - and most of the other numbers are irrelevant and thrown in there because they are large and thus make the challenge look impossibly daunting.

    Coal power produces ~2.1 pounds of CO2 per kW h

    1kW*year= 8760kWh, 1kW from coal over a year creates 18,400 pounds of CO2/year= 8.4 tons CO2/year, 1MW from coal over a year creates 8400 tons of CO2/year, A 500MW coal plant then releases 4,200,000 Tons of CO2 per year (VERY close to other sources estimate). This means that 238 coal power plants operating at 500MW create 1GT of CO2 per year. Less than a quarter of the 1000 stated in the above article.

    Lets look at one other claim made in the article, "One gigaton more would require increasing the number of windmills operating in the U.S. by 150-fold..."- This claim is not supported by the facts. In 2007 the wind power capacity in the United States was ~17GW . This capacity must be multiplied by a capacity factor that reflects the variability of wind power, typically capacity factor values range between .2-.4. Lets take the worst case value of .2, this means actual wind power generation was 3.4 GW. From the calculation above, replacing coal generation of 119 GW with zero emission power would reduce CO2 emissions by 1gigaton per year. This would require increasing wind power electricity generation by a factor of 35, NOT the 150 claimed by the article.

    .....

    More discussion at:
    http://www.habitablezone.com/currentevents/messages/513447.html


  • ||

    About ten years ago Ron Bailey "slapped me upside the head" about global warming. I was swallowing the political line. He responded to an email that I sent to him, reminded me that a scientist should never lose his skepticism and since then I have been reading all the scientific literature on research about this topic. I have read every book about the topic, including his.

    So I have to ask: why did Ron change his mind about anthropogenic warming? Carbon dioxide simply cannot cause or contribute very much to warming. The absorption spectrum of water vapor overwhelms that of CO2 leaving almost nothing for CO2 to absorb. And the complete lack of correspondence between CO2 in the atmosphere and global temperature hasn't changed. There are many more flaws in the research, all of which Ron knows about. So what's going on, Ron?

  • Air Jordan 14 XIV Retro||

    very good

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