Joseph Romm, whose book I reviewed previously, has a new blog post up outlining what would be necessary to stabilize global concentrations of greenhouse gasses below 450 parts per million of CO2 equivalent. It is explained in terms of ‘stabilization wedges’ – each of which represents a reduction of one gigatonne (billion tonnes) below business as usual projections. In total, he says 14 are necessary by 2050 and suggests the following list:
- One wedge of vehicle efficiency — all cars getting 60 mpg, with no increase in miles traveled per vehicle.
- One of wind for power — one million large (2 MW peak) wind turbines.
- One of wind for vehicles — another 2000 GW wind. Most cars must be plug-in hybrids or pure electric vehicles.
- Three of concentrated solar thermal — about 5000 GW peak.
- Three of efficiency — one each for buildings, industry, and cogeneration/heat-recovery for a total of 15 to 20 million gwh.
- One of coal with carbon capture and storage — 800 GW of coal with CCS.
- One of nuclear power — 700 GW plus 10 Yucca mountains for storage.
- One of solar photovoltaics — 2000 GW peak (or less PV and some geothermal, tidal, and ocean thermal).
- One of cellulosic biofuels — using one-sixth of the world’s cropland (or less land if yields significantly increase or algae-to-biofuels proves commercial at large scale).
- Two of forestry — End all tropical deforestation. Plant new trees over an area the size of the continental U.S.
- One of soils — Apply no-till farming to all existing croplands.
No government anywhere has this level of ambition today. Just providing the nuclear wedge would require building 26 new plants a year, as well as ten geological repositories the size of Yucca Mountain. Providing the carbon capture wedge will require building a quantity of infrastructure capable of putting the same volume of CO2 into the ground as we are presently removing, when it comes to oil.
Romm does an excellent job of showing what a huge and civilizational challenge climate change really is. At the same time, while there is no technical reason for which fourteen wedges is impossible, one certainly doesn’t have the sense that anything like the necessary level of political will exists today. President Bush’s ludicrous announcement that the US will try to stop emissions growth by 2025 is closer to the mainstream of thinking in most places. At least a few people would rather doom future generations to an inhospitable planet than buckle down and make these changes.
Once again, we are left with the question of what might convince people to change. If fourteen wedges are what’s required, it seems virtually impossible that the rosy ‘it will all pay for itself’ possibility will play out. It is hard to imagine anything short of a catastrophe providing the necessary motive force, and it will take a catastrophe that unites the world in common effort, rather than divides it in fear or suspicion.
In short, the situation does not leave a person feeling optimistic.