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How to deal with climate change in the short and long term

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How to deal with climate change in the short and long term

  1. 1. How to deal with climate change in the short and long term Climate Change: • Short-Term Solutions — Long-Term Challenges 1) Introduction Fossil fuels create a Gordian knot tying up three key global issues: energy security, economic development and climate change. The fossil fuel age faces a cruelchoice: economic development and energy independence clash against a stable climate. Today, we cannot have them all. The attendant geo- political conflicts take severalforms. Fossil fuels are the primary energy source in the world today. Because they are unevenly distributed on the earth’s crust they have led to wars and conflicts, prompting understandable calls for energy security and independence. At the same time eco- nomic development still depends crucially on the use of energy, and in today’s economy, this means fossil fuels. In the longer term, the only way out is to disentangle the use of energy from carbon emissions, namely to make available clean and abundant renewable energy sources. But this is not feasible in the short term because of the sheer scale of the fossil fuel infrastructure: about $40 trillion today, and with current trends about $400 trillion by the end of the century.1 The short term and the long term present different problems, however, and therefore require different solutions. Time is not on our side. The Intergovernmental Panelon Climate Change (IPCC) scientists posit that atmospheric carbon concentration stabilization is needed, and that it will require a significant reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.2 Avoiding further carbon emissions in no way solves the short- term problem. Even if we stabilize at the current level of emissions, we still globally release carbon dioxide at a rate slightly above 32 billion metric tons per year and therefore will increase carbon concentration.3 The solution for much of this problem is negative carbon — a type of technologythatisable to actually reduce carbonfrom the atmosphere innetterms.Thisisincontrast to technologiesthatsimplyreduce emissions,whichatbestleave the amountof carbonin the atmosphere unchanged.Forinstance,“clean coal,”whichis achievingagreatdeal of attentioninthe U.S. CongressandSenate,meanscoal that producesfewerornoemissions.The processof extractingthatcoal,however,isanythingbutclean. Cleancoal has at besta neutral “footprint”intermsof emissionsthatcanleave atmosphericcarbon unchanged. Can YOU Fix Climate Change? https://oke.io/Kqba7LBu -------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2) The solution for much of this problem is negative carbon —
  2. 2. a type of technology that is able to actuallyreduce carbon from the atmosphere in net terms. This may help as a stop-gap measure,if one forgets the other forms of environmental destruction that coal mining leaves in its wake. But even assuming this problem away for the moment, clean coal alone is not sufficient. Even if it was possible, it would not suffice to arrest catastrophic climate change. New coal plants that clean the carbon they emit are a step forward but they create burdensome economic costs and, in any case,they merely stabilize the implacable growth of carbon concentration at current rates. More to the point, such coal plants defeat the long-term objective of making an orderly transition to non-fossil resources. It is critical that short-term goals be compatible with long-term objectives. We must avoid the trap of defeating long-term aims by focusing solely on short-term targets. Capturing carbon dioxide directly from fossil fuel power plants may delay the time of reckoning but it adversely impacts the long- term objective of replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources and carbon removal. The long-term solution we seek is to disassociate energy use from fossil fuels. This cuts the Gordian knot referred to earlier, which ties energy use, economic development and climate change together. A long- term transition away from fossil fuels to alternative sources of energy4 that are more broadly distributed can provide economic development and security without inducing global warming. A transition away from fossil fuel energy sources seems inevitable in the long term, because fossils are limited in supply. Alternative sources of energy are a necessary condition for sustainable development in the future and the rapidly growing world demand for energy will require a variety of alternative sources.5 Supplies are not the problem. Through solar alone, the United States has the potential to supply more than 100 times the electricity it uses annually. Moreover, solar is a more democratically distributed input than other natural resources such as oil and coal.6 However optimistic one may be for the long term, it is important to recognize that this long-term solution is not appropriate for the short term. A transition to alternative energy sources is expected to take a long time since most of the energy used in the planet today is obtained from fossil fuels such as oil and coal.7 As already pointed out, the change could take time and require a massive new infrastructure.8 Yet as long as we continue to use fossil fuels and emit carbon we increase the concentration of greenhouse gases,and the‫ظ‬ risk of catastrophic climate change.9 Can YOU Fix Climate Change? https://oke.io/Kqba7LBu ------------------------------------------------------------------------- 3) Solar is a more democratically distributed input than other natural resources such as oil and coal.6 We cannot eliminate fossil fuels from our economy overnight. A quick and drastic reduction in emissions is not feasible due to the sheer size of the fossil infrastructure that needs to be replaced.10 Indeed, rich and poor nations could be seriously affected by economic disruptions caused by a drastic decrease in the use of fossil fuels. Rapidly growing nations such as China and India are heavily dependent on coal; so are the U.S. and Russia. Hydroelectric power covers only 6% of world energy use, about the same as nuclear power, and renewable sources account for only 1% of the world’s energy production today. It does not
  3. 3. seem realistic to drastically decrease the use of fossil fuels in the short term, which is why there is an increasing call to capture the carbon emitted by fossil fuel plants and store it safely in the form of commercial products that create profits and employment. In the long term, we must take into consideration that an alternative source should be able to provide five to 10 times the energy used in the world today. This is a standard projection of energy demand by the end of this century.11 None of the five main types of renewable energy — hydroelectric,geothermal,solar, windandbiomassresources — nornuclearenergycan offerthispossibility,eitherbecausetheylackthe capacityor because todo sowouldcreate additional problems.Forexample,biomassforenergy competeswithfoodproductionandismuchlessefficientpersquare meterthansolar(about3% of the energypotential providedbysolarforthe same surface area),and hydroelectriclacksthe capacityand has environmental consequences.Butsolarenergy — inparticularConcentratedSolarPower(CSP) — couldeasilymeetthe demandwithlimitedenvironmental impact.A combinationof all of these energy sourcesthat includessolarcouldtherefore offerareasonable long-termsolution. In the short run,accordingto the IPCCFifth AssessmentReportof 2014 andthe 2015 ParisAgreement, we neednegative carbon.Thisimpliesawayof reducingthe atmosphericconcentrationof carbon altogether. The technologystrategywe needshouldaccommodateboththe short- andlong-termgoals,andthe transitionfromthe shortintothe longterm.This isa tall orderbecause sucha technologymust simultaneouslyfacilitate the transitiontoalternative sources,providingformassiveincreasesinsupplies for the longterm,while inthe shortterm allowingthe continueduse of fossil fuelsandsimultaneously decreasingthe carboncontentinthe planet’satmosphere. Can YOU Fix Climate Change? https://oke.io/Kqba7LBu -------------------------------------------------------------------------- 4) The technology strategy we need should accommodate both the short- and long-term goals, and the transition from the short into the long term. Amongseveral available technologies,one calledthe Global Thermostat — createdbymyself (Chichilnisky) andPeterEisenberger — hasthe capabilitytoproduce electricitywhile simultaneously decreasingcarboninthe atmosphere bylow costair-extractionandstorage (cogenerationof electricity and carbon capture).12In thisprocess,the carbonconcentrationinthe atmosphere decreaseswhile
  4. 4. producingelectrical power.Thispatented(32patents) processusesthe residual processheatthat remainsafterthe productionof electricitytocapture carbon fromthe atmosphere.Electricityis producedusuallybyturbinesdrivenwithhighheat(about300°C(570°F)) and afterthe highheat isused, the residual lowtemperature(80°C) heatcan be usedto capture carbon fromair. Thisprocessusesany source of processheatto cogenerate electricityandcarboncapture (fossil fuels,nuclearorconcentrated solarpowerplants,aluminumsmelters,refineries,andothers) andcanmake a fossil fuel powerplanta “netcarbon sink,”namelyasite that actuallyreducesatmosphericcarbon.13Such a combinationis unusual andcontrastswiththe physical realitiesof the fossil fuel economytoday,where the more energythatis producedthe more carbondioxide isemitted.Incontrast,the proposedtechnology reducesmore carbonfrom the atmosphere the more electricitypoweritproduces.Thisprovidesreal protectionagainsthuman-inducedclimate change sinceitallowsustobecome carbonneutral inthe short termand enablesanorderlytransitionfromthe shorttermto a renewable energyfuture, enhancingenergysecurityandeconomicdevelopment. The KyotoProtocol createdin1997 ensuresthatdevelopingcountriesare compensatedforemissions reductionsthattake place withintheir borders.Richcountriescanpurchase certifiedcarbonoff-takes fromdevelopingcountriesthroughKyoto’sCleanDevelopmentMechanism(CDM) andapplythem towardstheirownemissiontargets.Negativecarbontechnologiescouldprovidemore financial compensationfordevelopingnationsthroughthe CDMthansimplystabilizingemissions.Global Thermostatplantswouldgetcreditbothforthe avoidedcarbon,fromusinga carbon neutral source of energytoproduce electricity,andforthe reductionincarbondioxide thattheyprovidethroughair capture and storage.Thus,the CDM can be a powerful tool inthe financingof Global ThermostatPlants for developingnations.Thisinturncan provide developingnationsinthe longtermwithcleanenergy infrastructure, andinthe shortterm itcan provide atransferof technologyanda source of cleanand abundantenergytogrow theireconomies.14 Equallyimportant,however,isthatthistype of technologycanhelplevel the playingfieldbetweenpoor and richnations, while reducingthe riskstoall countriesfromclimate change.The recentinvestment boomin poorcountriesresultingfromthe KyotoProtocol’sCDMhas benefitedsome poorcountries much more than others.Investmentsare now flowingintoChinatobuildhydroelectric,windand,most recently,natural gas-firedpowerplants.WhyChina?Simple.Thisiswhere mostof the developing world’semissionscome from.Indeed,over18% of worldemissionscome fromChina,whileonly3% come from the entire Africancontinent.Thisisnatural ina nationthat byitself represents20% of the worldpopulation.Butthe CDMprogramwas designedtofundchangestoreduce emissions,andso60% of all CDMs wentto fundchangesinChina’senergystructure,whichproduceslarge emissions,while leavingoutthe poorestnationsinthe worldbecause theyhappentoemitsolittle.A similarsituation emergedinIndia.Thisproblemcanandshouldbe correctedbythe use of carbon negative technologies, because eventhoughapoor nationemitsverylittle,withcarbonnegative technologiesitcanreduce CO2 in the atmosphere more thanwhatitemits,indeedmuchmore thanwhatit emits.15
  5. 5. Africaplaysa lesserrole inKyoto’scurrentCDM.It receiveslittletodayinthe wayof technologyand wealthtransfersunderKyotobecause itconsumessolittle energyandgeneratestoofew emissions. Today,the KyotoProtocol and the CDM are justaboutreducingemissions.Andsince solittlereduction can be achievedinLatinAmericaorinAfricathere islittle role forthemtoplay. But all thischangeswithnegative carbontechnologies.These couldbe locatedinAfricaorin Latin Americaandcouldallowthose regionstoplaya significantrole inglobal climate change prevention efforts.Withnegative carbon,Africacouldsignificantlyreduce carboninthe atmosphere,becomingan excellentcandidateforCDMprojects(perhapsevenbetterthanChina).Will thishappen?WillAfricabe able to capture 30% of the atmosphere’scarbondioxideeventhoughit emitsonly3%?CanAfricasave the world?To answerthis,we mustfirstexplore the KyotoProtocol,itscarbonmarketanditsCDM. If developingnationsare offeredfundingfromthe CDMto cleanthe atmosphere — toremove more carbon than theyemit — they are likelytopromise tolimittheiremissionstowhattheycanachieve withthe fundingandthe technologyavailable tothem.A willingnessbydevelopingnationstoagree to thisnewformof mandatoryemissionslimitswouldinturnhelpovercomethe main hurdle createdby the U.S. Congressinthe unanimouslypassedByrd–Hagel Resolution.The U.S.couldnow accept mandatoryemissionslimitsinaway that isconsistentwiththe limitationsestablishedbythe Byrd–Hagel Resolution,whichrequiresthatthe U.S.accept nomandatorylimitsunlessthe developingnationsdo. The newcarbon negative technologycanovercome thisobstacle Can YOU Fix Climate Change? https://oke.io/Kqba7LBu --------------------------------------------------------------------------

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