Monday, August 25, 2008

Contra Al Gore

Sometimes if you look to far ahead you miss what is front of your nose!
Al Gore’s call for the Unites States to convert to a 100% renewable energy portfolio within 10 years would be a great goal if it were realizable. One big problem stands in the way of such a plan. Large scale energy production is produced to match demand. But to rely on wind or solar power we would need to have massive storage capacity for energy to be available for use when there is no wind or sun. This is not a trivial problem. It is not an insoluble problem. But it is going to take scientific innovation and experimentation to solve – neither of which can be guaranteed to produce a desired result on a fixed timetable anymore than the cure for cancer or AIDS. None of this would matter were it not the fact that we pay an enormous price by focusing on Gore’s plan. For in doing so, we risk becoming sidetracked from the immediate priority – putting the developed world (and especially the United States) on a serious diet to wean it from its high per capita energy consumption and associated green-house gas emissions. That is what both Obama and McCain have indicated support for in their campaigns. Pushing U.S. consumption down by 20% of 2006 green-house gas levels by 2020 is a doable goal. Going on from there to an 80% (or even a 90%) reduction of 2006 green-house gas levels is going to be a challenge that is plausible, because it is not unreasonable to think that both massive storage capacity and carbon capture and sequestration will be mastered over the next 40 years – although here too there is no guarantee. But none of this is going to happen without a focus on the need for far reaching, binding legislation in the United States in the coming year. China and the rest of the world have a right to demand this before addressing their own long term energy planning.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Closer to home

A recently published report (http://www.cier.umd.edu/climateadaptation/NewJersey%20Economic%20Impacts%20of%20Climate%20Change.pdf ), produced by the University of Maryland’s Center for Integrative Environmental Research, states that "New Jersey’s coastal infrastructure and development are thought to be the most susceptible to the impacts of climate change. By the end of the century, 1 percent to 3 percent of New Jersey’s 210-mile shoreline is likely to be lost to rising sea levels, and 6.5 percent to 9 percent of the state’s coastal area will be inundated by occasional flooding. ... Due to the extensive development on vulnerable barrier islands such as Long Beach Island and Atlantic City, damage costs associated with a 4-foot rise in sea level (the upper end of potential sea level rise predictions) are expected to exceed $10 billion."

Monday, August 11, 2008

80% by 2050

How did an 80% reduction by 2050 of 21006 levels become the holy grail for climate legislation in the US? I suspect there must have been a time when people thought it was the level needed for stabalization at 450 ppm. But US per capita CO2 output in 2006 was (roughly) 20 tons per capita. So an 80% reduction puts you at 4 tons per capita. But if you assume an equal share per capita world wide - which is the only fair formula - and base it on current population levels, you would end up at 550 ppm not 450 ppm. To get to 450 ppm you would need about 2 tons per capita which translates into a 90% reduction for the US. In the long run this is a difference that matters. But does it in the short run? I suspect that 90% seems like a lot more of a reduction than 80%. Being left with 10% is afterall half of what you are left with on an 80% reduction. In fact, if the US gets serious about a path to an 80% reduction, squeezing out another 10% is unlikely to be that hard. And if 80% goes down easier than 90% now, so be it. But we should not kid ourseleves about what is actually needed. India and China will never sign onto a lower per capita target than the US. At 4 tons per capita that means a 550 ppm world.

Monday, August 4, 2008

India – more

Like China, India has an incredibly ambitious planned growth trajectory – something like 8% a year. In the case of China you need to add to that the expected urban move of 500 million people and the growth of cars from 50 to 250 million over the next 20 years to understand the challenge of developing a low carbon pathway. In the case of India you need to add two salient facts about its poor – only 40% of the country is electrified and the fuel of necessity is biomass. One development goal is to move to 100% electrification. One effect of increasing development will be a move away form very inefficient biomass (8-10%) that is used for cooking to the use of kerosene. Add the growth of transportation, and here too the challenge seems enormous – even if unlike China, India starts from a much lower level of CO2 output – 1.3 gigatons versus 6.0.