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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

"Climate Control is Not a Morality Play"

Jeff Sachs says we need to cut our fossil-fuel based emissions by one third:

Change after Bali, by Jeffrey D. Sachs, Commentary, Scientific American: Last December’s agreement in Bali to launch a two-year negotiation on climate change was good news, a rare example of international cooperation... Cynics might note that the only accomplishment was an agreement to talk some more, and their cynicism may yet be confirmed. Nevertheless, the growing understanding that serious climate-control measures are feasible at modest cost is welcome.

The arithmetic is becoming clearer. If the rich nations continue to grow in income and the poor ones systematically narrow the income gap with successful development, by 2050 the global economy might increase sixfold and global energy use roughly fourfold. ...

Roughly speaking, ... to arrive at 440 ppm [CO2] by midcentury—a plausibly achievable “safe” level in terms of its likely climate change consequences but only 60 ppm more than the current one—cumulative emissions should be kept to roughly ... 21 billion tons a year on average until 2050. This goal can be achieved by ending deforestation (on a net basis) and by cutting our current fossil-fuel-based emissions by one third.

So here is the challenge. Can the world economy use four times more primary energy while lowering emissions by one third?

A promising core strategy seems to be the following: Electricity needs to be made virtually emission-free, through the mass mobilization of solar and nuclear power and the capture and sequestration of carbon dioxide from coal-burning power plants. With a clean power grid, most of the other emissions can also be controlled. ...

The Bali negotiations will succeed if the world keeps its eye on supporting the speedy adoption of low-emissions technologies. Issues of blame, allocation of costs, and choice of control mechanisms are less important than rapid technological development and deployment, backed by a control mechanism chosen by each country.

If the less polluting technologies pan out at low cost, as seems possible, the rich countries will be able to afford to clean up their own energy systems while also bearing part of the costs to enable the poor to make the needed conversions. Climate control is not a morality play. It is mainly a practical and solvable technological challenge, which, if met correctly, can be combined with the needs and aspirations for a growing global economy.

It's only a small part of the article, but the turnaround on attitudes toward nuclear energy from a few decades ago still surprises me when I see it. Instead of being viewed as a potential environmental disaster, nuclear power is now hailed as part of the solution to our environmental problems. So I'm curious, how do you feel about nuclear power? It's probably a result of all that conditioning decades ago, but I'm still wary.

    Posted by on Tuesday, February 19, 2008 at 01:52 AM in Economics, Environment, Policy | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (104)

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