Arquivo de etiquetas: alterações climáticas

Biodiversity IV

Deforestation

Forests remain one of the major parts of terrestrial ecosystems on the planet. e know that forests cover something around 30% of the total land area.

And we also know that forest cover used to be a far higher proportion of, the earth’s land area, before humanity got to it[1].

1341Humanity’s been in the business for thousands and thousands of years of clearing forests. And we read accounts of the massive deforestation in ancient Greece, or in the Roman Empire, or in ancient China and India thousands of years ago. This is an ancient story, but we continue to lose a lot of rainforest, and a lot of other forest areas today, because of the increasing populations and pressures on the planet and the forces of international trade. So what has been going on from ancient times, continues and in some ways, intensifies, till today. When we lose forests, we degrade ecosystems. We also lose a tremendous amount of biodiversity. Our rainforest areas, the three great rainforest areas of the Amazon basin, the Congo basin, and the Indonesian archipelago, are home to countless species and much of the greatest biodiversity on the planet. And as those rainforests are being depleted right now, or are at threat of massive deforestation and degradation, we are also losing huge amounts of biodiversity as well. This map gives us suggestion of the extent of past deforestation, and some of the challenges of current deforestation. Every area shaded in this map, is an area that originally had forest cover.

1342The very light shaded areas, let’s say in western Europe or across China, or across Russia and, the Eurasian land mass. The light shaded areas in the eastern half of the United States, are areas that were original forest cover that have been deforested. So western Europe, much of the eastern half of the United States, essentially all of China, lost its original forest cover to human activity. In the case of China, hundreds of years ago that process was already complete. India as well having lost a huge amount of its original forest cover. Europe having lost a huge amount of its original forest cover hundreds and in some cases thousands of years ago. Today, most deforestation is taking place in the fast growing tropical and subtropical regions. And notably in the rainforests where population densities were low traditionally.

But had been rising and where these rainforest regions are increasingly being encroached for human provisioning, for tropical log woods, or for clearing, for farm land, and for pasture land. Or for provisioning of peasant small holders who go into the forests for fuel wood, or for bushmeat or for other needs of people living on the margins, of the forest. And the result is that while temperate zone areas were deforested in historical time, it’s now the tropical areas that are under the most direct force of deforestation today. Not because there’s something intrinsic about tropical deforestation, but rather, in a way, from a historical point of view, because it’s coming last in line. It’s a, set of ecosystems that were relatively less disturbed previously, but now are facing major disturbances in human impacts. Some of that human impact is internally driven by growing populations within countries, within Brazil or within Central Africa for example, or in Southeast Asia. But, a huge amount I’m going to want to draw our attention to, is coming from international trade.

From demands halfway around the world for these forest products and this is very, very difficult to control because it means high levels of demand, often from rich countries or rapidly growing economies like China. Even overwhelmed local protective services. It’s easy to bribe. It’s easy to engage in illegal activities even when they are on the books under legal control. This map that you’re looking at now shows us the current patterns of deforestation. It emphasizes that in areas that were traditionally deforested, say, the eastern part of the United States or western Europe, or northern Europe, there is some reforestation taking place in those areas. That’s a very healthy point. But the red areas shown on this map are areas that the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment identified as being areas under a current intensive process of deforestation. And that includes parts of the tropical rainforests I’ve mentioned. Large regions in Southeast Asia. Of course the Andean region as well. Many parts of the world where there are remaining forests find those forests under threat. Forests are major providers and regulators of ecosystem services, and this means that the threats to these forests are threats to human well being. And it’s worth listening to the words of one of the great scientists of our age, James Lovelock who is the creator of the Gaia theory which is basically the theory of the interconnectedness of the world’s ecosystems and the interconnected regulatory processes of those ecosystems. Lovelock more than, most earth scientists, 30, 40, 50 years ago, emphasize the interconnectedness of the climate regulatory functions. that, and other natural flux functions of energy heat dissipation nutrient flows, and so forth, played by ecosystems. Emphasizing that when we degrade one ecosystem, we impede or undermine the functioning of ecosystems in other parts of the planet. So here’s what Lovelock says for example about the deforestation of the tropical rainforests. He says, and I’m quoting, no longer do we have to justify the existence of humid tropical forests on the feeble grounds that they might carry plants with drugs that cure human disease. Because he’s saying that was one argument that conservationists were emphasizing. Maybe the main one. Don’t cut down the rainforest, there maybe a lifesaving medicine there. There’s proof to that, but what Lovelock is saying is that’s not the only proof. Gaia theory forces us to see that they offer much more than this. Through their capacity to evapotranspirate vast volumes of water vapor, they serve to keep the planet cool by wearing a sunshade of white reflecting cloud.

1343So the rainforests have cloud cover above it. A lot of that cloud cover reflects the incoming ultraviolet radiation, sending it out into space, rather than having it hit the earth, warm the earth, reradiate as infrared. And so, the changing reflectance of the planet, caused by the existence of the rainforests is a regulatory feature of climate. Not intuitive, not of our everyday nature, but recognized by an interconnected earth systems science. So, Lovelock concludes their replacement by crop land could precipitate a disaster that is global in scale. The point, the point is that when we degrade large ecosystems such as tropical ecosystems, the impacts can be far more then we would recognize in the absolute direct impact of the loss of the local ecosystem services. Earth systems science teaches us that the interaction of the ecosystems in their global regulation of climate, water cycle, other nutrient cycle, nitrogen fluxes, are also of huge significance for planetary balances and for human well being. Well, the extent of degradation is enormous. The pressures are vast, and the pressures are coming from many different directions. Have a look at the island of Borneo, which is shared in the present day, by Malaysia and Indonesia. Malaysia, with its two states of Sabah and Sarawak. And Indonesia with the state of Kalimantan. This island is absolutely under the most incredibly rapid and deep transformation, because one of the most diverse, wondrous ecosystems of forest area is essentially being cut down and replaced by monoculture, for palm oil production. Palm oil is in huge demand, since palm oil is a very versatile product. It commands a good market price. It’s used in many home products. It’s used in cooking and for for home use. And it’s soared, in demand in recent decades.

And the maps that you’re looking at produced by UNAP, both show the actual decline of forest cover on the Island of Borneo. Up through the year 2005 and then projections that were made under a business as usual trajectory for 2010 and 2020. What you’re observing here essentially is deforestation to replace a highly biodiverse rainforest area with a monoculture of of palm oil. Now palm oil in limited production is okay and when it’s carefully monitored and measured and kept within certain boundaries, it can make sense. But if it sweeps the island of Borneo and as is similarly taking place in Sumatra and Indonesia, if you get a massive replacement of a diverse ecosystem with a monoculture, the losses will be phenomenal. The losses to regulatory functions of these ecosystems. The losses to biodiversity in the specific context of Indonesia, Malaysia.

1344Huge threats to the loss of, again, one of our closest Great Ape relatives, the orangutan whose habitat is precisely in these rainforest areas, whose numbers have declined, and whose habitat is under tremendous threat. And unless we take into account what is a sustainable harvesting of tropical forests. What is in the same way that we need to take into account the sustainable harvesting of fisheries, and other ecosystems. We will, before we know it, have lost these ecosystems. They will have fallen into an irreversible collapse. There’s an attempt to do something about it of course. In fact there are several attempts. One that is notable, is to link the conservation of the rainforests, and forests in general, with the climate change agenda. Because remember that perhaps 15% of the total carbon dioxide emissions each year are coming from land use change especially from deforestation. And so, the idea was taken several years ago that as part of the mitigation effort, not only should we be reducing our carbon footprint in the energy sphere, but also the carbon emissions coming from deforestation. And the project that has grown up from that is called REDD Plus, R-E-D-D Plus. Which stands for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. And so, it’s both the thinning of forests and the clearing of forests that are the target of the REDD Plus Initiative. The idea, and it’s a good one, is to give financial incentives to farmers and to communities and to forest communities in general, often including indigenous populations. To protect the forests and to replace part of the income that in the short term they would lose from their over exploitation of the forest products, with a sustainable flow of income of other kinds including a top-up of income being provided by donor countries. Norway for example, has offered a billion dollars to Brazil. In a REDD Plus Initiative to slow or stop the deforestation of the Amazon, [COUGH] and to use this funding to create financial incentives for forest communities in the Amazon to play the role of protecting the Amazon rather than facilitating its loss. The map that you’re seeing here are the participating countries. The countries in red are countries that are actively receiving from the United Nations, support for developing REDD Plus programs. Other partner countries are shown in blue. It is a, an important effort. The funding by some countries like Norway has been extremely generous. But, it’s still a small counter pressure to an overwhelming force coming from the global marketplace for the products, either directly off the forests themselves, or for the products that are grown. The meat products or the soy beans or others that are grown, when the for, and palm oil, when the forest are cleared and replaced by other kinds of economic activity. Let’s look in more depth at programs like REDD Plus to see what the international response is to the loss of bio diversity. To see how that response is functioning to date, and to make a kind of assessment of how we might and need to strengthen that response, if we are to reverse the very powerful wave of species extinction and ecosystem loss that now is engulfing so much of the planet.

[1] http://earthenginepartners.appspot.com/science-2013-global-forest, http://www.earth-policy.org/indicators/C56/forests_2012.

Curbing Climatic Change V

Mitigation Policies

Climate change mitigation is feasible. It is feasible to bring about a sharp reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century. Consistent with humanity’s goal of avoiding an increase of temperatures of more than two degrees centigrade. Even with that increase, we are going to face big challenges on the planet, major shocks, major disturbances. But if we go beyond that level, the risks to humanity, to our safety, to our food supply, to the resilience and security of our cities, is all up for grabs. The dangers are profound with the path that we’re on right now. We’ve noted that technologically, mitigation is within reach. By moving to energy efficiency, to low-carbon primary energy sources, and to electrification of sectors that now use fossil fuels, but could shift to a clean electricity grid, we could, indeed, have an enormous reduction of CO2 emissions, and keep the planet safe. But this requires choices. We have to make sure that markets give the right signals by taxing carbon emissions. Or by putting in place feed in tariffs. We have to make sure that there is the research and development underway to improve the functioning of these low carbon energy sources to store intermittent energy, to make sure that distribution systems are working properly. We need political decisions on a direction to go. Should we deploy offshore wind? Should we deploy the large solar potential of our desert regions? Should countries get together to produce the desert tech proposal that we saw linking North Africa to Middle East and Western Europe? Without political leadership we won’t get there. But often in our world today, political leaders, we know, are followers, not leaders. They take money as campaign contributions from major incumbent industries. The power of big oil, big coal, big natural gas in producing economies is absolutely huge. These companies are able to deploy millions and millions of dollars to sow seeds of doubt in the public mind and much more directly, to keep the politicians in their pocket. It’s rather stunning that when a vote came to the U.S. Senate to put limits on emissions through a tradable permit system we got nowhere. And when we looked at steps even the smaller steps to start restricting, our greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. The result was something as shown here. Have a look at, these two US maps. The shaded areas in brown on the top map are places that produce coal in the United States. About half the U.S. states are actually coal producing states. Now look at the bottom of the map, which shows in red the states where the senators voted against climate change legislation. It’s almost a perfect fit. Coal burning states, don’t come anywhere close to us, a few states that aren’t coal burning states, okay, we’ll go with the legislation. Not enough to get through the US Congress. Coal, oil, gas, the most powerful lobby there is, scares the politicians out of their wits. It’s like this all over the world, and it makes it extremely difficult to make progress. Now, this challenge of how to make progress, how to head off the dangers of human induced greenhouse gases has been with us, in a very conscious way, for decades. And it was in 1992, at the Rio Earth Summit, that a major treaty was agreed, in fact, by all the world’s governments. Even governments with powerful oil, gas, and coal lobbies, to head off the big dangers of human induced climate change. The treaty that was agreed is called the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The UNFCCC. The UN Framework Convention is actually a wonderful treaty when you read it and I teach it every year basically since it was signed. It’s a well reasoned, well balanced document that points the way forward. And it’s worth listening to the objectives of this treaty, signed already back in 1992 in Article Two of the treaty itself. It says that the ultimate objective of this convention, and any related legal instruments that the conference of the parties that is the, the signatories, may adopt. Is to achieve, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Makes perfect sense. Let’s stabilize the levels of CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, and the other greenhouse gases to avoid dangerous, anthropogenic interference in the climate system. Well, we’re already there, and it’s getting worse. And this treaty remains on the books. Indeed, the treaty participants meet year after year. But for the first 20 years of the treaty made very, very little headway. The first major attempt to put this treaty into implementation came with what’s called the Kyoto Protocol signed in 1997. This was an agreement to implement the treaty. And under the treaty it said that the high income countries should take the lead. They’re the ones responsible, historically, for the big increase of CO2 concentrations. They’re the ones that are the major emitters, at the time. Let them take the lead and then the rest of the world, the middle income and the low income countries will come in afterwards. Well, the US Senate, not only in the grips of coal, oil, and gas lobbies but also in the, in the grips of a perception that the U.S. should do absolutely nothing if China isn’t at least doing as much or more. Said, we won’t go along with the Kyoto protocol because it puts a burden on the United States that it doesn’t put on China and other middle income countries and that’s unfair. Said the US Senate. It’s a funny sense of unfair, because the US, for decades, had been changing the world’s climate without any sense of fairness about the huge cost that the US economy was imposing on the rest of the world. But the Senate came along and said, no deal. And indeed, though President Clinton’s administration signed the Kyoto protocol in 1997 the President never sent it to the Senate for ratification, as is required under the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. never signed onto the protocol, and since the U.S., at the time, was by far the world’s major emitting country, other countries said, hey, what’s with this? Why should we take the extra costs to go with the non-coal ways to produce electricity, for example, if the world’s largest emitter and the world’s largest economy, and richest economy for any big economy, isn’t doing so? And China, from it’s point of view said, you know, we’re a middle income country. Under the UN framework convention which the U.S. itself signed, we’re not responsible for taking the lead. The United States and other high income countries should take the lead, then we’re supposed to follow. So China said, we’re not going to accept any binding obligations until the United States shows the leadership that it is supposed to show by honoring the terms of the Kyoto Protocol. And that never happened. Time flies, you know, and time flew from 1992 to 2012 when the world met again at Rio in what was called the Rio plus 20 summit. And the Rio plus 20 summit, among other things, took on the job of reviewing the three big treaties that had been agreed in the Rio Earth summit. The framework convention on climate change. The convention on biological diversity, which the United States never ratified, even to, to join in the first place, and the U.N. framework convention, the convention to combat desertification. You know what? The report card on all three treaties was a fail. 20 years on, no real progress. We’ve seen that the greenhouse gas emissions kept rising, rising, rising. Just when we need a trajectory in which they’re going to fall sharply by mid-century. The clock moves forward. The discussions, thank goodness, they have to continue and the nature of the discussions has change a bit. One reason it’s changed is that China has changed, from 1992 until now, China has become the world’s second largest economy. And it’s become actually the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, even though China is not as large an economy as the United States, it emits more carbon dioxide because China is overwhelmingly a coal based economy because that’s China’s own home energy resource. Or its own fossil fuel resource and coal has the highest carbon emissions per unit of energy. So it’s in a way the dirtiest of all the energy mix, not only in the pollution that it causes, but also in the carbon emissions that it causes, so China finds itself now in a different situation, it’s a much richer country. It’s had another 20 years of very rapid economic growth. It is now the world’s largest emitter, having overtaken the United States. And other countries are now saying to China, hey, what about you? Now you are the major country. China still notes that in per capita terms, China still emits much less CO2 than does the United States. The US emits about 18 tons of carbon dioxide per American and in China it’s about eight tons of carbon dioxide, but since China is more then four times the population, the total amount of emissions has become much, much larger than in the United States. China has to rethink. It, it has more capacity to do something, and it has more reason to do something, including the pressures of, of the world. But also including its own reasons for action. For one thing China, itself, is highly vulnerable to climate change. A significant part of China is already very dry, and likely to get drier as a result of climate change. China’s highly vulnerable to extreme storms and extreme events and massive flooding. China, in other words, is a country deeply vulnerable to climate change, and therefore with a real reason to participate in a global mitigation effort. But coal burning is no picnic and China in early 2013, experienced what you’re looking at here. This massive smog that came from industrial pollution with a very heavy component of coal use, also mixed in with the smog coming from the increasing congestion of automobiles as well, and from the flukes of weather which had trapped all of this particulate pollution, in, over Beijing. But it was a quite horrifying experience, the air was so dangerous that people dared not go out, if they could, in any way, avoid it. The evidence is becoming more and more overwhelming that China’s paying years of a lot shorter lives as a result of this mega pollution. So, with China having overtaken the U.S. as the world’s leading greenhouse gas emitter, as a country highly vulnerable to climate change, and as a country suffering now from its massive use of coal burning China has also come to the view, we need to do something much more urgently than we’ve been doing. We can’t just say, we won’t move till the US, we need to start moving. China’s already introduced major programs of scaling up solar power, wind power, and nuclear power as ways to move to a, a primary energy system, more balanced, and less coal-dependent. It still have been increasing its coal use as well, though, so it’s not a, a solution yet. But China is coming to the view that it  needs to reach an agreement with the United States. The US has long said it would be willing to move if China moves, or at least it’s implied that. Now, it’s going to be put to the test. In Durban, South Africa, in November 2011, the world’s signatories of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change came together one more time and reached an agreement that they would reach a more definitive agreement on climate by 2015 in which all countries would take binding commitments to mitigate their greenhouse gas emissions. So, unlike the framework convention, which put the onus on the rich countries as a start. The new agreement, in principle, is to put responsibility everywhere. This is, at least conceptually, a kind of break through, because now we could see the potential for the G2 as they’re sometimes called, the US and China. To agree among themselves, to bring in the European Union, and then to bring in the large economies in the G20 or the major emitting economies, almost the same as the G20 countries, and then the whole world into an agreement to be reached in 2015. It was hailed as a breakthrough. Let’s keep it in perspective. In 1992, the decision was taken to avoid dangerous anthropogenic interference. An agreement was reached 19 years later that they would reach a new agreement 23 years later in 2015. And one more drum roll that that agreement reached in 2015 would then be ratified by countries and go into effect in 2020. I kid you not. This is not exactly a world standing on the precipice saying now, now, now. This is a world that sometimes acts as if it has all the time in the world. Still, at least, somehow roughly speaking, we’re now pointed a bit more in the direction in which all countries have said, we will be bound by agreements to reach lower limits and to honor Article 2 of the Framework Convention to stabilize Greenhouse gas concentrations to avoid dangerous anthropogenic interference. If they read the words, they certainly wouldn’t be waiting til 2020 to implement the new agreement. But what we can be doing now, and absolutely must be doing now, is the practical problem solving in every part of the world, how each region can implement a sensible, economical, efficient, deep decarbonization program that involves energy efficiency. A shift to low carbon primary energy sources and an electrification of transport, buildings, homes and industrial uses of fossil fuel to shift to electricity fed off of a smart grid. The world could be agreeing to joint programs of research and development. The world should be agreeing to helping the poorest countries take on this challenge. For example, helping Central Africa to build Inga Falls the power plant there to capture that 40 billion watts of power potential in the hydroelectric dam there to transform the region, and to make it possible to move Africa, not only to electrification, but to electrification with low carbon energy. We have solutions, we need to make choices. And this is true when it comes to climate change. It’s true when it comes to resilience and sustainability of our cities. It’s true if we are to avoid the sixth wave of extinction of species. It’s true, in essence, if we are to move from business as usual to the sustainable, development trajectory for the world and all of the benefits that can ensue, from making that shift.

Curbing Climatic Change IV

Adaptation

We’ve seen that it’s possible to reduce human emissions of green house gases substantially. The technologies are within reach. We need energy efficiency. We need low carbon electricity. And we need electrification of parts of the economy, like automobiles, like home heating, and some industrial processes, to use that clean energy from clean electricity rather than the dirty energy coming from burning fossil fuels. How do we get there? What do we do? Now, one thing must be stressed from the start. Energy is so deeply embedded in our economy, in how we do everything, in industry and transport, in our living, the organization of our cities. We can’t make that transition to low carbon energy overnight. Even if we wanted to, the only way to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the short term would be pretty catastrophic. We’d have to close down large parts of our economy. What we’re really looking for, therefore, is a transition over the course of 30 to 40 years. Not a sudden, abrupt end of emissions. But we need to move quickly, because what science tells us is that we have to cut by half or more our total emissions by the mid-century, even as the world economy is expanding dramatically. So, we’ve gotten the hints of what to do. What kinds of policies can be used to get there? Well, let’s consider, once again, the main pillars. Energy efficiency, for example. What kinds of policies can be applied to raise the efficiency of our energy use? One standard kind of policy, which has been quite successful around the world, is to put appliance standards into effect through regulation. And places that put basic standards on automobile, mileage, per gallon, for example, or the energy use in refrigerators and air conditioners, or a shift from a heavy energy using traditional light bulb, the incandescent light bulb, to LEDs and to compact fluorescent light bulbs, can be managed by appliance standards. And quite a lot of energy saving can be accomplished at very, very low cost, or even at net economic savings. Building codes can make a big difference. And building codes are part of the normal policy, framework of any normally run city. And we know that the quality which buildings are built, the insulation materials, the ventilation properties, the placement of the cities, the use of roofs, the internal energy systems whether it’s furnaces and boilers or, or whether it’s electric power sources make a huge difference in the energy efficiency of buildings. New York City, we already have noted it as experienced a major improvement of air quality, as well a major reduction of heavy oil use through regulation of and encouragement eh, through other means and other incentives. Of a shift to much more efficient energy use. Introducing smarter grids and new metering and smart ways that the utility company meters household and then applies pricing systems to encourage households to economize on electricity use, and helps customers to be aware of options on energy efficiency can make a very, very big difference. An even bigger part of the package for in many places will come by shifting from fossil fuels entirely to zero or very low carbon energy sources. The problem so far has been that using coal to produce electricity is often the lowest cost choice. If we don’t take into account the costs of coal to society in the form of air pollution and in the form of climate change. In other words, there’s a basic economic problem that coal has high costs, not reflected in the price of coal in the marketplace. If you buy coal and burn it as a utility, you don’t pay the cost of the carbon dioxide emissions that are going to wreck the planet for everybody else. You’re imposing a cost on others not reflected in the price that you, yourself, bear in using that coal. That’s called an externality, a utility that is using coal to produce electricity is imposing an externality on the rest of the planet. And, by the way, because that carbon dioxide sits in the atmosphere for centuries, it’s imposing an externality even on generations that are not yet born. And they can’t fight back. Can’t sue the, the, the power company. Can’t protest. Can’t call on legislators to tell that power company use a clean energy sources rather than the dirty CO2. And so, we need to correct the market signals if a utility is going to choose a clean energy source like solar power or wind power. Or if it’s going to use a technology that allows it to capture the carbon dioxide that it would otherwise emit, and store that carbon dioxide safely in some geologic reservoir, a technology called carbon capture and storage. No utility is going to chose the higher price variety unless it is forced to bear the true costs of using coal, the cost to health and the cost to climate change. So, economists rightly emphasize the need for corrective pricing. For market signals to tell the truth, to say to the utility, uh-uh, coal is too expensive if you take into account its true social costs. Well, how can market prices be corrected? They can be corrected in a variety of ways. One way is simple, you put a tax on the use of coal, reflecting the CO2 emissions and the health burdens that using that coal will cost. Only companies that capture the CO2 and safely store it wouldn’t have to pay the tax on the coal. And companies that use a non-carbon source of energy, like solar power or wind power, would avoid that tax as well. So, the market signal would say, you can not get away with it any longer, using a socially costly form of energy. Because of that tax, there will be a natural incentive of companies and households and builders everywhere to economize or substitute a way from coal, oil, and gas, and move towards the alternative energy sources that are now less expensive because they don’t bear that tax. There’s another system that can be used, which is that you’re required to have a permit to emit carbon dioxide, and only a few and shrinking number of permits are given out each year. Those permits can trade, a company that has no alternative might buy permits from others. But it’s expensive to buy that permit. It’s like paying a tax, but instead of paying the tax to the government, you may effectively pay that extra cost to whoever is selling you that permit. Could be the government, by the way. So, tradable permits for emissions or taxes on carbon are two ways to correct market prices. Another way to correct market prices is what’s called feed in tariffs. The government says to a utility company or a power generator, we’ll buy electricity from you, but we’ll pay an extra high price if the electricity that you’re bringing into the system is clean. So rather than taxing the dirty stuff, you give an added incentive for power generation coming from wind power or from solar power. These are all ways to tilt the market in the right direction. They’re not the end of the story, unfortunately, because we still need to improve the technologies for using the low carbon energy. The main problem with wind power is that the wind sometimes doesn’t blow. This is an intermittent power supply. The main problem with solar power is too, nighttime and clouds, and so the reliability and predictability of solar power, and the fact that it’s only available certain hours of the day. Mean that solar and wind power and many other kinds of renewable energy need to be stored somehow, stored in batteries, stored in other solutions that are being developed right now. If the problem of storage of intermittent energy sources, like wind and solar power, can be solved at low cost, because the existing solutions are fairly expensive. Then there would be a dramatic, dramatic breakthrough in reducing the overall costs of a low carbon electricity system. All of this means that another part of the policy of decarbonizing the primary energy system is research and development. Government should be investing heavily in new technologies, for instance, in the storage of energy from inter, intermittent power sources. Or in understanding the safety and feasibility of very large scale capture and geologic storage of carbon dioxide. Again, that idea that you continue to use fossil fuels, but you capture the CO2 before it goes into the air, and you put it safely underground. One of my very brilliant colleagues Professor Klaus Lackner, is trying yet another idea which needs a lot of research and development. And that is to capture the CO2 directly, already in the air, through chemical means, and through, then to take the captured CO2 and to store it geologically. It’s another possibility. Can that be done at a low enough cost to be economically feasible? In order to tap these low carbon energy sources, though, there’s one more point that is crucial. Very often we have massive potential for renewable energy, but it’s just not where people live. And then, we need a transmission system to bring that low carbon energy to population centers. And that means that government needs to be involved with long distance transmission of low carbon electricity. That raises many technological issues and many financial issues as well. Here is one very important, I think, a potential breakthrough system that would link the great sunshine of North Africa and the Sahara desert with the energy needs of Europe. This is called DESERTEC. It’s a proposal that engineers put on the table a number of years ago to connect solar power coming mainly from North Africa and the Middle East with the very high energy use in Europe. And the solar power would be taken by long distance electricity transmission lines to Europe. Also shown here in the blue are the wind turbines. And so, this is a system that would integrate wind turbines along the coast, in general, with solar power in the desert and very sunny regions, and enable Europe to shift from a fossil fuel based electricity system to a, nearly zero carbon energy system. It’s a great plan. It requires a lot of research and development. It requires a lot of investment. But it illustrates how to make a big move to decarbonization. Here’s a map of the United States and the main message of this map shows how much potential we have for offshore wind. The northeast coast of the United States from irginia to Maine, for example, is extraordinarily windy. And if wind turbines were put up and down the northeast sea coast, just a bit offshore, there would be enough energy, roughly speaking, to provide all the power needed in the northeast of the United States. How many wind turbines do we have right now off the northeast coast? That would be zero. The permitting hasn’t been given the transmission lines, the decision, which is a public decision that that’s the way we should go, has not been taken. And this is why corrective pricing plays a role, research and development plays a role, but also political leadership. To help say to the American people or to other countries, look, we can go this way, this way, this way, we just can’t stay business as usual. We could use the great wind power on our off-shore coasts. We could use what you’re looking at here, which is a wind field in, South Dakota, where there’s a lot of wind but not too many people. So, we would need long distance transmission lines to bring that wind power from the Dakotas to the big population centers of the United States. We could decide for a massive deployment of solar technologies in the Mojave Desert in the American southwest. Again, we’d have to have transmission lines to bring the power to the big population centers. But we have enough solar energy to provide a very significant fraction of the electricity needs of the United States. Political decision. Not only market forces, but how our land and our coasts are going to be used. What’s the least risk way? What is the safest direction? How are these costs going to be shared? What is the future of nuclear power? People are afraid of it, but they should be also afraid of cold fire power plants. Nuclear power offers one way to a very low carbon economy. Cold fire power plants don’t scare people but should. Because they, more silently, out of the headlines, kill a lot of people and threaten the planet through greenhouse gas buildup. So, what are we to make of these choices of nuclear energy? Of course, this divides scientists, it divides engineers, and it divides the public in a very strong way. My guess is that we will have nuclear power, because many countries, like China and India, and I believe the United States, will continue to deploy nuclear energy into the future. The question is how to make it safe and secure. So for all of these areas of decarbonization or electrification of the energy systems of automobiles, we require lots of public investment, R&D, political decisions, building of infrastructure. In other words, choices that by 2050, we must move to a low carbon energy system. Lest we continue as we’re going and face the calamities that would be implied by that. Now there’s one more problem. I’ve indicated that we have technologies within reach, and they are getting better and better in wind power and solar power, lower costs. But technology is also not standing still for fossil fuels as well. The ability to drill for fossil fuels has also improved markedly over the last 10 years. Some people say that’s great, I say that’s very dangerous. Because it continues to feed an addiction that threatens the planet. If we improve our capacity to tap into these hydrocarbon deposits, we’re also improving our capacity, in quotation marks, to wreck the planet. And there’s a lot of this kind of technological innovation taking place in the hydrocarbon sector. The mining of the Canadian oil sands, a massive deposit of fossil fuels that were really not very accessible technologically, but now are deployable through various advances in the ability to use this kind of heavy oil. And this, again, is being deployed because it’s financially profitable. In large part because the oil companies like the utilities, like the other coal-using industries don’t pay the true social cost of the fossil fuels. Or what is now one of the most contentious technological advances in recent years. The picture shown here of so called horizontal drilling, and hydrofracking or fracking or hydro fracturing of natural gas caught in shale rock. So with this way to put drills down and then turn them every which way, and to blast rock through a high pressured solution, that fractures the rock and releases carbon dioxide. I’m sorry, releases the methane, I should say, and releases, therefore, natural gas that, that can be burned for electricity generation. We’ve expanded, again, the capacity to tap the fossil fuel reserves on the planet. But we have to ask ourselves, are we doing ourselves a favor if we’re slowing down the transition that is increasingly, urgently needed to mitigate climate change. To head off the worst disasters that will be in store if we continue on a business as usual path. We have to make choices. The world has not yet made those choices. Let’s understand that process of decision making better. What will it take for the world to agree?

Curbing Climatic Change III

Mitigation

We’re on a dangerous path. Humanity is emitting greenhouse gases, changing the climate, and threatening ourselves and other species and future generations in many, many very dangerous ways. We need to respond to this challenge. We use two terms to reflect two different ways of responding. Both of which are important. One term, mitigation, means to reduce what we’re doing that’s causing the climate to change. So we want to mitigate climate change by reducing the anthropogenic or human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases. The other term that we use is adaptation. That means learning to live with climate change as best as possible. To protect our cities from storms surges to protect our crops from high temperatures or flooding or droughts by helping to improve the quality of the seeds to have traits like drought resistance or heat tolerance or submergence tolerance in the seeds by advanced breeding of, of seed varieties. There’s a limit to how much we can adapt, because if the changes are so dramatic that sea levels rise several meters that the food supply is profoundly threatened by high temperatures and mega droughts and loss of soil moisture. We’re not going to be able to keep up with that under any circumstance. At the same time, it’s important that we do adapt, because climate change is happening, and it’s going to continue to happen even if we are very successful at mitigation. There is inertia in the warming as I’ve noted. So we are going to experience more warming in the years and decades ahead, simply as the oceans catch up with the warming already implied by the greenhouse gases we’ve put into the air. But we should expect that if we continue on business as usual, we will never be able to keep up with the extent and the dangers that we will be causing ourselves. Mitigation, therefore, is an enormous priority. How to mitigate? Well, for that, we need a careful diagnosis. What is it that we’re doing? And since we understand that we have several specific ways that were con, contributing to greenhouse gas concentrations, we have to take measures to head off those increases. Since about three-fourths of the radiative forcing is carbon dioxide, our highest priority is to reduce the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And since most of the CO2 increase comes from our use of fossil fuels, that’s the number one item on the mitigation agenda. The second way that greenhouse gases are increasing through carbon dioxide is land use change. And so, a second item on our carbon dioxide list of actions is to head off the deforestation that’s causing the emission of CO2 by land use change. Then, next on our list comes methane. Methane is admitted in a variety of ways. We have to address each of those. Then comes nitrous oxide. For each of these human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases, we have to have a look what’s feasible, how much would it cost, what are our alternatives? What is the most cost effective way to reduce substantially the human impact on the climate system? Now, the right place to start is the with the, the carbon dioxide. And the way that scientists have usefully posed the question is, what would we have to do to carbon dioxide emissions, mainly from fossil fuels, but also from land use, in order to keep the total increase of the Earth’s temperature at two degrees centigrade or below? The answer is, that since we’ve already increased the temperature by almost one degree, we would need to dramatically reduce CO2 emissions in the coming decades. So, one recent scientific study of what this would require is shown in the graph that you’re looking at now. What you see here is a very busy picture because there are lots of possible trajectories of emissions. On the horizontal axis are the years to 2050. On the vertical axis are the tons of carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere, measured actually as tons of carbon rather than tons of carbon dioxide. Now in all of this mix of pathways, take a look at two that are most important. First, look at the red path. This is the business as usual trajectory. It says that if we continue as we’re going, emissions of carbon dioxide will be higher and higher every year. Why? Because the world economy is growing. As it grows, it’s using more energy on business as usual, that energy’s going to be fossil fuel, and the CO2 emissions will rise. What trajectory of CO2 is needed to avoid two degrees centigrade increase? That’s shown in the blue trajectory. It says while CO2 emissions per year have been rising, now they have to start falling and falling sharply. We want the world economy to grow because we want poor countries to be catching up with the richer countries in living standards. But at the same time, we want the total emissions of carbon dioxide to be falling sharply. And to put it in very general terms, what’s shown here is that, while the world economy might increase threefold by the middle of the century, the total emissions should probably fall by at least half, if not more. That means that emissions per dollar of output need to decline by a factor of six or even more. We use the term decarbonization to mean reducing the amount of carbon dioxide per unit of output, per dollar of gross world product. We need a deep decarbonization of the world economy. But since most of the carbon dioxide comes from fossil fuel, we need a sharp reduction in the use of fossil fuel, at least in the way that we use fossil fuel now. One fascinating, quite wonderful study, recently done, asked the question, so how could California, a major part of the U.S. economy reduce its emissions by 80% by the year 2050. How could California, in effect, decarbonize the California state economy? And the answer is really important for us because it’s the general principles of mitigation. Three categories of action. First, energy efficiency, get more output per unit of energy input. How can we do that? Through more efficient appliances, for example.Through light bulbs whether it’s compact fluorescent light bulbs or light emitting diode light bulbs, as opposed to our more than century old incandescent bulbs.These are examples of new technologies that allow us to get more for less. More output per unit of energy. The second thing we need to do is to shift our energy supply, our primary source of energy. Instead of using coal, oil, and gas, all of which emit CO2, we need to use wind, or solar power, or other low carbon technologies. The third category of action is to take parts of the economy where we now use fossil fuels, other than the electricity sector, convert those other sectors to electricity, and then run those new electrified sectors of the economy on electricity produced by low-carbon energy sources. So what do I mean? Well, take the case of automobiles with internal combustion engines. We know that those automobiles, instead of running on internal combustion of petroleum, can run on electricity. In fact, they can do a lot of really clever and smart things for a very safe and comfortable ride as electric vehicles. And those electric vehicles need to be charged. You plug them into a power source. And if the power source itself is a low-carbon energy producing the electricity, for instance, wind farms that are used to charge the automobiles, then we have a dramatic reduction of carbon emissions coming from automobile use. And so, by electrifying the fleet of automobiles and charging that electric fleet on a clean energy grid, we could have a dramatic reduction as well. So the point is a three part process: energy efficiency, low-carbon energy sources running our electricity grid, and electrification of parts of our economy. Automobiles or home heating or industrial processes, shifting from local uses of fossil fuels in the gas tank or in the factory or in the boiler at home, and shifting that to electricity that is on a grid of clean electricity. Well, what’s an example of clean electricity? It’s electricity that comes from fo, photovoltaics, for example. Or so called concentrated solar thermal. Both are technologies that take solar energy and convert the solar energy to electricity. Photovoltaics does it directly by the solar energy hitting certain kinds of materials that then release electrons and create an electron flow, the photovoltaic effect. First  escribed by the way it, it’s basic science by Albert Einstein in 1905. Or, by taking the solar energy reflecting it in mirrors, and heating water to a boiling point, and then using the steam to turn a steam turbine, and thereby producing electricity. Either way, you get electricity without fossil fuel and without carbon dioxide. And of course, we have many potential ways to produce large amounts of electricity. It could be solar power. It could be wind turbines, which have come down so much in cost that in many parts of the world, the windy places, they’re already cost competitive with fossil fuel generation. It could be geothermal energy where along tectonic zones where you can tap into the heat within the Earth, within the mantel. It’s possible to generate a lot of heat, which is used to boil water, turn steam turbine, and produce electricity. As is done, for instance in Iceland or now, increasingly in the Rift Valley of East Africa. Or more controversially, you can produce electricity with nuclear power. Electricity produced in a nuclear power plant does not create carbon dioxide emissions. It creates other risks fissile material that could potentially be used for weapons, or the risks of terror, or the risks of, of meltdowns. Or disaster such as hit Fukushima in Japan during their recent earthquake. Or Chernobyl, because of a mis-management of the power plant in Ukraine, back in the mid 1980s. But nuclear power already supplies a significant part of the electricity in many parts of the world, and it is a, essentially, a zero carbon electricity supply. And so, if we can move to a clean electricity grid, not dependent on fossil fuels, then we can also move to what you see here, an electric vehicle. There are many, many new models coming. Batteries are being improved. Technology is being improved. Electric vehicles happily can be a lot smarter than internal combustion engines, because a car running on electricity can also run on a lot of smart systems as well. Rather than the mechanical power, it’s electric motors linked to sensors, and even to self driving vehicles as of we know are being very actively explored and, and pursued by companies such as Google. And so, the chances of better transport and cleaner transport better home heating and ventilation through smart buildings and through smarter electrification, rather than using furnaces and boilers, make it possible to envision a very, very steep decline of CO2 emissions. When the California study added it all up, they found the way to reach that bold 80% target is, as illustrated in this figure. The baseline emissions are the line at the top, showing that CO2 emissions are on the rise in California because of growth of the economy. The preferred mitigation trajectory is the downward sloping line at the bottom of the curve. And the gap is explained by all of these ways of reducing CO2 emissions. The light blue zone shows the reductions of emissions coming from energy efficiency. The dark blue zone shows the reduction of emissions coming from de-carbonizing the energy sources used to produce electricity. Then you see that electrification in the yellow zone is moving to electric vehicles. There are also other smaller categories of turning to biofuels, for example. What is a biofuel? It’s of course using somehow a natural biologic process to produce a fuel that’s a substitute for fossil fuel. And so, there are many, many ways to mitigate, but the broad categories through energy efficiency, a clean electricity grid, and electrification have been shown by many studies to be the pillars of any successful strategy. Here’s the good news, all of these technologies are within reach. All of them have potential ability for a large scale. There are solutions, in other words, that are within reach. And we’re going to look at some of those solutions shortly, at what can be done in different parts of the world to make a very large correction in this dangerous path that we’ve been on. Now, there’s one more idea around. I’m not an advocate at all. Many people are very worried about it. Though, a few scientists are very excited. It is the Band-Aid approach shown here with the planet, with the, the Band-Aid on top of it. It’s called geo-engineering. The idea is, well, maybe we won’t really stop the carbon emissions. But we can find other things to do to compensate for the effect. One idea, it’s an actual idea, though I find it very frightening, is that while the carbon dioxide’s warming the planet, we would put up particles into the air. Sulfate aerosol particles that would dim the sunshine and actually cool the planet to offset what we’re doing with the carbon dioxide. Feed the air with one poison and the idea would be, well, let’s add another poison to kind of compensate. The problem is it doesn’t really compensate. It most likely adds some significant dangers. It doesn’t stop the increase of CO2. It doesn’t stop the acidification of the oceans. It doesn’t stop the changing patterns of precipitation. Indeed, it would have highly, highly uncertain and potentially very, very dangerous effects. But I think that the Band-Aid approach is what it is. If the bleed is so dangerous that it threatens life itself and well being on the planet, a band-aid is probably not an adequate response. And in this case, I think we should look for what’s within reach, what our technologies are telling us. We could deeply reduce carbon dioxide emissions by taking similar steps on methane and nitrous oxide and fertilizer use and landfills, and in other areas, turn that curve of greenhouse gas emissions sharply lower. Help keep the planet below the two degree centigrade rise. It’s possible, but time is running out. So let’s look at how we can accelerate progress.

Curbing Climate Change II

Consequences of Climatic Change

Why should we care about human-induced climate change? The fact of the matter is, we should be scared, truly scared. Not so frightened that we’re paralyzed, but rather scared into action because the consequences on a business-as-usual trajectory for this planet could absolutely be dire. We are on a path of putting so much carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide into the atmosphere that the temperature increase on average on the planet could be several degrees centigrade by the end of this century. Four, five, six, eight, nine degrees centigrade, there’s no absolute precision on how big the increase could be because we can’t really say, first of all, how much greenhouse gas we will be putting in, even in a growing world economy on a business-as-usual path. And there are also undoubted uncertainties about the Earth’s processes. And our climate models do not have the precision to be able to get down to the decimal point of the likely increases of temperature. But, because we have so much evidence coming from so many different directions, the Paleoclimate, the statistical models used by climate scientists, the evidence of what’s already happening around the world, we can be pretty sure that the consequences could be very, very dire indeed unless we change course. One very useful way to view this was presented in an important report on climate change produced by Lord Stern in the United Kingdom a few years ago. And the Stern review of climate change included the picture that you’re looking at now. Now, you see across the horizontal axis, zero degrees centigrade, one degree, two degrees, three degrees, four degrees, five degrees centigrade. This is showing all of the possibilities for the increase of temperatures during the twenty-first century depending on how much greenhouse gas we end up emitting and how the Earth’s systems respond to that. Down the side axis, we have the kinds of consequences that we should expect for different temperatures. There will be consequences for the food supply. There will be consequences for water. There will be consequences for the functioning of ecosystems and the survival of other species. There will be consequences for extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, mega heat waves, mega storms, big cyclones, typhoons, hurricanes. There will be consequences and risks of very rapid, dramatic changes to key Earth systems that could cause the climate, not only to change as markedly as shown here, but even more markedly through sudden alterations of the Earth’s climate system. What this graph shows is that for any of these categories, sey food, as you look at the consequences at one degree centigrade, compare them with the consequences at two degrees centigrade. Compare them at, for the consequences that would occur at an increase of five degrees centigrade. The more change there is in the average temperature caused by bigger increases of greenhouse gasses, the bigger risks we face. If we can head off a, a lot of the greenhouse gas emissions by shifting from fossil fuels to other kinds of energy, for example, then the consequences will be smaller because the temperature increases will be smaller. If, instead, we continue just going right along our merry way with increasing oil, gas, coal, and other greenhouse gases, and so we have a big increase of temperature, the consequences could be completely disastrous. Consider food, for example. At one degree centigrade, one of the consequences is severe impacts in the Sahel region. The Sahel, remember, is the part of West Africa just below the Sahara Desert. Mali, Niger, Chad, it’s a dry region, could get dryer. The consequences for the Sahel, even at a one degree increase, which we basically already had, are quite serious. What would happen at five degrees centigrade increase? Well, according to the evidence, entire regions would experience major declines in crop yields, up to one third decline of crop yields in Africa, for example. That would be tantamount to mass hunger, even starvation in parts of the world. If we just let things rip, and the temperatures, therefore, rise by four or five degrees centigrade so that we’re at the extreme danger end of this graph, then the consequences are absolutely terrifying. With water at one degree centigrade you see that small mountain glaciers are disappearing. And this will cause threats to the water supply in places that depend on glacier melt for their water in the rivers. But go over to five degrees centigrade, and you see that sea level rise would threaten major world cities including London, Shanghai, New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong. Calamitous events possible with a mega rise in sea levels even of several meters, possibly, if the big ice sheets in West Antarctica and in Greenland melt sufficiently or break up in ways that cause a mega rise in sea level. And the Earth’s history tells us absolutely possible because in earlier episodes of high CO2 concentrations in the Earth’s paleohistory, the old climate, the sea level was often many, many meters higher than it is on the planet today because much less ice was trapped in the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland and, instead, was filling the ocean basin and raising the sea level. Well, as we’ve talked about many, many times, we’ve built our big cities right on the coast. That’s where the economy is best, where trade is best, where productivity is high. And yet, those are the cities under incredible peril. Well, in case after case, if we just let her rip, the dangers for our ability to feed the planet, our ability for our cities to remain safe from extreme hazards, our abilities to maintain public health, our abilities to avoid other calamitous dramatic change of earth’s processes, for instance changes in, in the ocean circulation or irreversible disintegration of parts of the ice sheets is called into real threat. We know that certain regions of the world are extraordinarily vulnerable like the Sahel that you’re looking at here where it is already prone to massive, droughts and where the populations are already very poor. We’re seeing those dangers, not as potential threats of the future, but as already clear and present dangers, because the Sahel has lived through serious droughts in recent years with very serious consequences for loss of life and for the onset of conflict. The Mediterranean Basin, which includes the countries of southern Europe Spain Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, and the countries of North Africa Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean, this is a region where the climate science tells us that a relatively dry region that produces some of the, the world’s most beloved products, whether it’s the olive oils or the great wines of this region, could be devastated by drying. And so, these are three of many regions that have been identified as facing profound threats. Mm, and this is not simply in the imagination of the climatologists or, or even in the traces of their mathematical models. This is what we’re already observing even with the limited human-induced climate change that we’ve experienced now, which could be a small fraction of what’s to come. Have a look at the changes of of, of rainfall experienced in the Mediterranean Basin over the last century. The whole Mediterranean Basin has experienced a significant trend of drying. And the record shows if we continue with business as usual, that it could experience further dramatic drying with quite devastating consequences to the economies, to the nature, to the ecosystems, to food security even in this region. The evidence from the mathematical models is that the trends that we’ve been experiencing till now, for example, the drying in the Sahel or the drying in the Mediterranean, foreshadow what would happen if we continue as we’re going, but with consequences far more severe than what we’ve seen to date. You’re looking now at a map recently produced by a climate science group that studies the propensity to drought on the planet. And the map that you’re looking at shows you in the red areas, places likely to experience significant declines of rainfall and significant increases of drought intensity and frequency. It’s an ugly picture because you see red everywhere. A tremendous amount of the world’s areas would likely experience significant declines of soil moisture that they need to grow food and would experience a significant increase of intensity of drought at the same time. Now we know that another consequence that could be devastating is the rise of sea levels as ice sheets melt or just break apart pushing ice or water into the open ocean and raising sea levels. In the northeast of the United States where I live, the estimate is that, over the last century, the sea level has already increased by about one foot or one third of a meter. I, you might think that we’d get a uniform rise of sea level in all parts of the world, but topography and other geologic features mean that the rise of sea levels will differ in differ, different parts of the world. A one foot increase, what has already been experienced, played a major role in the havoc of the massive floods that hit New York City, that we’ve already looked at, and the whole Eastern Seaboard during superstorm Sandy. Storm surges eh, coastal erosion are already occurring as sea levels are rising. But the new evidence suggests that by the end of the century on a business-as-usual path, sea levels could be a meter higher than they are right now, three or four feet higher. And if the worst case happened, which is a catastrophic loss of part of the West Antarctic ice sheet, for example, the rise of sea level could even be several meters. You put this together. The consequences for urban areas, hugging the oceans, for our food supplies around the world are, are absolutely extraordinary, potentially devastating. The map that you’re looking at now attempts to ask what would happen to food production if this combination of warmer temperatures and more drying were to take place. And what you see here is South Asia and tropical Africa in the absolute red zones, or red and pink zones meaning major loss of agricultural production, so too the Southern part of the United States and much of Latin America, much of Australia. What are we doing? We’re putting the world’s food supplies at great risk. And again, it’s not hypothetical because we’ve already had a serious derangement of production in many places in the world as droughts have hit in recent years and as higher temperatures have undermined crop yield, sometimes killing crops or dramatically reducing the crop yields. A final point that I would like to stress is that, even if one put aside all of the climate-induced changes coming from this human-induced rise of carbon dioxide concentrations, all of the major storm events, the rising sea levels, the rising temperatures the increased floods and droughts, the loss of soil moisture needed to grow food, it’s a big, long, very threatening list. Put all of that aside. The basic physical fact that a higher CO2 concentration in the atmosphere will lead to more carbon dioxide dissolving in the oceans causing acidity in the ocean, by itself is frightening enough because, as I’ve discussed, as the oceans become more acidic, and there’s a lot more acidification on the way, major parts of the marine ecosystems, the shellfish, the animals with exoskeletons, the plankton with the calcareous exteriors, but part of the major food chains in the world, the Coral Reefs, which are so vital for the marine ecosystems, could experience, and are likely to experience, a massive dying. We’re playing with threats beyond our easy imagination. We’re in a kind of denial that is added to by, unfortunately, propaganda by major vested interest groups, like big oil companies.  We are playing with the survival of millions of other species, adding to this tremendous risk of the sixth great extinction on the planet that we’ve looked at before; the other five caused by nature itself, this one by humanity in it’s thoughtlessness if we continue on this course. We can see that we have every reason to change the game, every reason to play for a control of these forces, every reason to mitigate the human-induced climate change for our own safety, for the safety of the planet, and for future generations. How can these forces be reduced? How can we mitigate human-induced climate change? That’s our next topic.

Curbing Climate Change I

The Basic Science of Climate Change

Climate change is the biggest of all the environmental threats that we face, and the magnitude of this threat is only gradually dawning on humanity. It is, in my view, the very toughest of public policy problems that humanity on a whole has ever faced. Let me mention why[1]. First it’s global, many problems are local, local communities can solve them. So problems are national, this one involves the entire world. The problem goes to the core of the economy. Our economy runs on energy. And energy in the form of fossil fuels is both the driver of the world economy, and the essence of the climate change problem. Because when we burn fossil fuels, we emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. And that is the major reason why humanity is changing the climate. Not the only one, but the major one. Third, this is a dire problem. The consequences and the stakes are absolutely huge. Sometimes problems are difficult, but they don’t matter all that much. This one matters a lot. Next it’s slow moving. We’re just not good enough to see it day by day, year by year, what’s really happening to the planet. The scientists are telling us, watch out, you’re getting to the cliff, you’re hitting the thresholds, you’re crossing the boundaries of safety, but life goes on. And because this is a problem that stretches out over decades the politicians, the businesses and all of us don’t necessarily feel lit and know it and realize the dangers of it. Because it’s slowly, slowly creeping up on us. Not slow by the chronology of the planet because events are changing very fast by that standard but a little bit slow by news events and that’s part of what confuses us. It’s a complicated problem because it involves many parts of the world economy and involves every part of the world both in the impacts of climate change on humanity, but also on the causes of climate change. Because every part of the world is contributing to the problem, though some places, like the United States, on a per person basis are contributing hugely relative to other places, which are mainly victims, especially the poorest parts of the world that still don’t use very much fossil fuel energy. This is a multi-generational problem. A lot of the impact will be felt by people not even born yet, they’re obviously not voting. They’re not able to raise their voice, and yet the impacts on them will be absolutely huge. And finally, this is an issue on which there are very powerful lobbies. None more powerful than big oil. The oil industry is a rich industry. Massive flows of revenues and profits.And that that can be used for media, that can be used to confuse the public to defend the status quo, to fund politicians that are going to continue to look after the interests of the fossil fuel industry even when that interest may be so dangerous for the planet. So we have a lot of vested politics in this issue as well. Well in order to see really what needs to be done and how it might be done, we have to start with the science. And the science I think it’s important to state it’s not some new fangled, invention of, of the latest, scientific publication. The basics of how greenhouse gases warm the planet and what humanity might do, therefore, to the Earth’s average temperature as a result of the increase of greenhouse gases has been known for more than 100 years. You’d never know that from climate skeptics and the climate change deniers, but the fact of the matter is that the first serious, absolutely brilliant scientific study of what would happen if the amount of carbon dioxide, CO2, in the atmosphere were to double, how temperature would, would change was published in 1896 by Gustavus Arrhenius, an absolutely brilliant Nobel Laureate chemist in Sweden who worked out by paper and pencil, and did it just right. What would happen if CO2 were to double? He got the answer right, that the temperature on the planet would rise by a few degrees centigrade. He didn’t get the timescale right, because he said that while human use of coal and oil and other fossil fuels would eventually double carbon dioxide, he thought that would take hundreds and hundreds of years, maybe 700 or 800 years. But in fact, because of the geometric growth of the world economy, a process that looked like it might take hundreds and hundreds of years could happen within roughly 150 years from the time that Eranius wrote, by the middle of the 21st century, by 2050 or so. That’s a very frightening prospect. Why is it frightening? Well, the basic reason is shown in this schematic diagram of the greenhouse gas effect. What it shows is that sunshine coming from the sun reaches the planet as ultraviolet radiation. A little bit of it is reflected by the clouds. Most of it reaches the earth. A little bit of that is reflected by the ice and other land surfaces on the planet but most of it is absorbed by the earth. The Earth warms and as a result of it’s warming, the Earth radiates infrared radiation back into space. The Earth warms enough so that the outgoing infrared radiation equals the incoming ultraviolet radiation. That’s a thermal balance, or thermal equilibrium. Now you put a level of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and others. Those molecules have a particular property that they absorb some of the infrared radiation and trap it and warm the planet more than the planet would be warmed if those greenhouse gases didn’t exist. Indeed, if we had no greenhouse gasses the temperature of Earth would be something like the temperature of the moon. A lot colder and unable to support life as we know it. It’s because of this envelope of greenhouse gasses that Earth is indeed warmer. So far, so good. But now if humanity increases the amount of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, then we create problems. Because life on the planet, and humanity, and our civilization, have evolved in a certain kind of climate, but now we’re changing the climate by adding more molecules of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, warming the climate and pushing the thermal equilibrium to higher temperatures that threaten us in a variety of ways. There are several chemical compounds or molecules that have this property that they trap infrared radiation. Carbon Dioxide is the most important of these; nitrous oxide, methane, and some industrial chemicals. The total warming effect sometimes called the total radiative forcing of the greenhouse gases, is the sum of the effects of each of these greenhouse gases. The total radiative forcing caused by human activity that is caused by the emissions of CO2, methane, nitrous oxide and these industrial chemicals leads to the overall warming effect and of that, carbon dioxide accounts for about 77% or about three quarters of the total effect. Methane is the second most important of the human induced greenhouse gases. And nitrous oxide is the third and the sum of the radiative forcings of those three types of greenhouse gases account for about 99% of the total greenhouse effect. In magnitude, we’ve been emitting more and more of those gases over time. The measurement of the total emissions is in what’s called giga-tons, meaning billions of tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. We ask how much warming is caused by the sum of all of these greenhouse gases, and we ask what would be the equivalent amount of just carbon dioxide be. And that’s called CO2 e, or carbon dioxide equivalent tons of emission each year. And to give you the round numbers we’re emitting right now on the order of about 55 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. The carbon dioxide part of that total is about 35 billion tons of carbon dioxide. Most of that is coming from burning coal, oil and gas a much smaller part of that, around 10% is coming from cutting down trees. Cutting down the rainforest and there by releasing carbon dioxide from the trees back into the atmosphere. Well, how big is this effect? It’s big enough to cause us really huge dangers. About 50 years ago, a very far-sighted scientist put some monitors a, on a mountaintop in Hawaii, and he started measuring the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And thanks to those measurements from 1958 till now, we have annual and actually even within the year fluctuations of carbon dioxide levels from then until now. And this is known among earth scientists as the Keeling Curve because it was Dr. Keeling who put up the monitor, and what the Keeling Curve shows is that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been rising significantly. Measured as parts per million of carbon dioxide, the number of CO2 molecules per million of total molecules in the air, most of which is nitrogen part of which is oxygen, and then just a bit of carbon dioxide. But that little bit is enough to change the whole climate. Starting back in 1958 when that machine first went to, up on the top of Mauna Loa in Hawaii, the carbon dioxide was 320 molecules for every one million molecules in the air, or we say 320 parts per million. By now, CO2 has reached 400 parts per million. Before James Watt came with his brilliant steam engine, the atmosphere contained about 280 parts per million. In the geologic history of the last three million years, the CO2 varied roughly between 150 and 300 parts per million. Then came humanity, and we’ve been burning so much oil, gas, and coal, that we’ve now sent the CO2 levels absolutely soaring. And reaching the 400 parts per million level in the spring of 2013. A concentration of carbon dioxide not seen on the planet for three million years. In other words, human activity is pushing the planet into a climate zone completely unknown in human history, and unknown in the Earth’s recent history. Some of the great scientists, many of, of my colleagues I’m honored to say, like Professor James Hanson, are able to use various techniques to look at the long history of carbon dioxide and temperatures on the planet Earth. And the picture you’re looking at now is a, a, a kind of manuscript of the Earth’s history showing a long record over the past 400,000 years of fluctuations in carbon dioxide and in temperature on the planet. Now these fluctuations in carbon dioxide were not caused by humanity using a steam engine obviously, this is hundreds of thousands of years ago. These were natural fluctuations of carbon dioxide driven by natural processes. By volcanoes, by the re-absorption of carbon dioxide into the oceans. And by changes of the Earth’s orbital cycle on a periodicity of tens of thousands of years. But what the paleoclimate record shows is that when CO2 is high, temperatures are high. And this is the basic greenhouse effect. Raise the CO2 in the atmosphere, expect a warmer planet. This has been true throughout history. And it is true now. We have been in a process of raising the carbon dioxide level and the other greenhouse gases. Nitrous oxide, methane and the industrial chemicals that the, floor carbons and so forth, the HFCs and the others. And by doing so we have led to a warming of the planet within modern history. If you look to the temperature at the start of the industrial revolution until now. The Earth has warmed by about 8 10ths of one degree centigrade. Because there’s more greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. And the Earth hasn’t yet finished its warming in response to the greenhouse gas increases that humanity has caused. Even if we were to put no more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, but just to stay with what’s there right now, Earth would continue to warm by perhaps another 0.6 of one degree centigrade. Because the oceans large bath tubs take a long time to warm up in response to the greenhouse gases. So we’ve seen perhaps half or a little bit more than half of the warming that will come from the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases already put in the air. But we’re not done, we’ve been accelerating the amount of greenhouse gases that we’re putting into the air, we’re increasing the amount of methane, increasing the amount of nitrous oxide. The fact of the matter is, that even though in more than 20 years since the world’s governments said, we have an urgent challenge of heading off the human induced greenhouse gases in order to prevent a huge dangerous change of the Earth’s climate. 20 years on, we’ve still not turned the needle of slowing down our emissions, much less stopping them. The rate of emissions has been going up year to year as the world economy has been increasing in scale. And with the growth of China, we’ve seen an enormous increase of greenhouse gas emissions in recent years. Because China by itself by virtue of its huge size and by virtue of its use of coal as its primary energy source has become the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide. We’re on a dangerous path. Let’s now understand, what are the dangers of this rise of temperature. And of other changes of the climate system. What does it mean for us? Why should we worry?

[1] http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/time-series/global, https://yearbook.enerdata.net/,

Growth within Planetary Boundaries III

The Case of Energy

Of all of the problems of reconciling growth with planetary boundaries probably none is more urgent and none is more complicated than the challenge of energy. Remember that the whole world economy grew up, starting with the steam engine, then the internal combustion engine, the gas turbine as a fossil fuel built world economy. Fossil fuels, coal, oil, gas, have been our friend. They have been the basis on which the modern world has been built. And indeed until James Watt in 1776 came along with his steam engine, there was no way to even think about sustained economic progress. Where would the energy for industry come from? Every time industry would start to develop in the pre-steam engine age, so many trees would be chopped down to feed the boilers that the limits of industrialization were very quickly reached. It was fossil fuels that allowed the breakthrough to the era of modern economic growth. I emphasize this because that history reminds us of how deep the challenge is. Right now fossil fuels are not our friend because when coal, oil, or gas is burned the carbon that is the basis of those fossil fuels combines with oxygen and produces CO2, carbon dioxide, which is emitted into the air, which is the main greenhouse gas warming the planet, changing the climate, and endangering humanity and other species. And so what has been the key at the very core of the world economic growth is now at the core of our major problem. Well, you might say use less energy, but it’s not so simple.

Because as a physicist will remind us, what is energy? Quality energy is the ability to, to work. Any useful work in, in economy depends on energy. Sure, we waste a lot of energy in the form of release of heat or friction or driving cars much larger than they need to be or poorly insulated buildings. So energy efficiency is clearly part of any solution for sustainable development. But the world needs energy resources, will use energy resources, and the use of energy, even with a substantial gain of efficiency, is likely to increase in the aggregate as the world economy expands by factor three or by factor four as we have just seen. And so we have a problem. More energy is needed. The traditional forms of energy, the fossil fuels of coal, oil, and gas, can’t do it for us because that would create a massive intensification of the climate change problem. How big of an intensification?

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That’s what I’d like to discuss, so that we get some parameters of where we are and where we’re going. This graph shows again on a logarithmic scale on the horizontal axis and on the vertical axis the income of different countries and the primary energy use of those countries, the energy consumption. Total energy use by country would include the fossil fuels, it might include wood burning, hydroelectric power, geothermal energy, wind and solar power, nuclear power or some other forms for instance biofuels. And what is done in this graph is for every country in the world to measure first the total output measured as the gross domestic product, and then to compare that with the total primary energy use. Which can be expressed in a number of ways, in units of kilowatts, or kilowatt hours, it can be expressed in tons of oil equivalent energy where, you take the amount of energy in one ton of oil, and then for all the other kinds of energy, whether it’s coal or gas or hydro and so forth, you look at the amounts of, of energy available from that resource and convert it as if it were tons of oil that had that much energy potential. And then express all the different energy sources with these conversion factors as a tons of energy equivalent amount of primary energy use. What you see when you graph the total output of an economy versus its energy consumption is essentially a straight line, though of course the countries don’t fall exactly on this upward sloping line. What this line signifies is that a doubling of the size of an economy tends to be associated with a doubling of primary energy use. Energy use scales alongside in proportion and in relatively constant ratio with total size of the economy. So, as the economy grows the energy use will tend to grow along side it. Save for break those in technology that allow for greater energy efficiency.

Lets look quantitatively at how much energy we use and what that implies for how much carbon dioxide we therefore emit into the atmosphere and what that implies for how much climate change we’re causing.

If you look at the amount of energy use by country you find that, roughly speaking, this is on average because countries differ, but they don’t differ all that widely. For every $1,000 of total production in the economy, the total energy use expressed in tons of oil equivalent tends to rise by about 0.19 tons of oil. What is 0.19 tons of oil? These are metric tons. So, a metric ton is 1,000 kilograms. So, 0.19 of a metric ton is 190 kilograms. So let me put it again this way. $1,000 of production, on average, expressed in, $2,005, let me add one more, parentheses, is associated with about 190 kilograms of oil use, or an equivalent amount of energy contained in coal or natural gas or one of the other non fossil fuel forms of energy. That gives us the scale of how much energy we use for each $1,000 of production. Now, if you look at the mix of, the energy sources in the world, mostly fossil fuels, but also some nuclear power, some wind, some solar, some some charcoal from trees some biofuel say from sugar cane converted to ethanol for automobile use as in Brazil. On average, every ton of oil equivalent energy is equivalent to about 2.4 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. In other words burn a ton equivalent of energy, and you put up more than two tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.

How much CO2? That depends on exactly which energy source you’re using. If it’s nuclear power, zero, because nuclear power is not a fossil fuel, and therefore nuclear power does not by itself create carbon dioxide emissions. If it’s coal, it’s higher than that average because coal, being almost all carbon with some impurities, when it burns, creates CO2 with little other energy created by the coal. And so coal creates the most carbon dioxide emissions per unit of energy of any fuel. Gas, and natural gas and oil emit less. So coal for a ton of coal burned, you get about four tons of carbon dioxide emitted into the air. For a ton of I should say not for a ton coal but for a, an amount of coal equal in energy to one ton of oil. That’s the right way to say it. You get about four tons of CO2 emission. For one ton of oil, you get about 3.1 tons of CO2 emission. For the amount of natural gas equivalent to a ton of oil in it’s energy content, you get about 2.4 tons of CO2. And for hydroelectric power, for solar power, for wind, zero.

632So, you can see why those energy sources are highly desirable from the point of heading off climate change. Let’s summarize again.Each $1000 of production requires a 190 kilograms, or 0.19 tons of oil equivalent of energy. And each one ton of oil equivalent on average is associated with 2.4 tons of CO2 emissions. So let’s do the arithmetic. Expressed in $2,005 used for this illustration, the world economy at 2010 was at about $68 trillion. $68 times 0.19 tons of oil equivalent per $1,000 times 2.4 tons of carbon dioxide per ton of oil equivalent energy turns out to be 31 billion tons of CO2 emission, and viola, that’s what the world released into the atmosphere in 2010 by virtue of its fossil fuel use.

So you see we can measure the size of the economy times the energy use per unit of economy, per $1,000, times the amount of CO2 released per unit of energy. And the result is a very big number, 31 billion tons of carbon dioxide released. We also put CO2 into the atmosphere as humans in other ways. We chop down trees. And when we chop down trees, the carbon that was stored in those trees is released into the atmosphere if the trees are burned or, or decay. And so carbon that was sequestered biologically is released into the atmosphere as well. That adds a few billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions in addition to those caused by fossils fuel use. Little more arithmetic. For every ton of CO2 put into the air, just a bit less than half of that stays in the air, because some of the CO2 dissolves in the ocean, some of it gets sequestered in plants and trees back on Earth. And so, of the one ton that’s put into the air, approximately 0.46 of that or 46% of what’s admitted into the air, stays in the air. And the other 54% typically is stored in what are called natural sinks, the oceans or the land.

Now, that means that if we put 31 billion tons into the air, a little over 14 billion of those tons stayed in the air. Is that a lot, 14 billion tons, for our big atmosphere? Well we can make that calculation.

We can look at the total volume of the atmosphere, how many molecules are there. How many molecules of CO2 have been put up in those tons? You have to get out your chemistry text to do that. And what you find when you do that is that for every 7.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rises by one part per million. So that’s the translation factor. To raise the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, which is filled with nitrogen and oxygen, and many other mole-, types of molecules. To raise the CO2 by one molecule per each million molecules of all kinds in the atmosphere, you have to put into the atmosphere 7.8 billion tons.

So this gives us now a quantitative sense of what we’re doing. If we have put 14.2 billion tons staying in the air, and 7.8 billion tons raises the carbon dioxide concentration by one part per million. Then the amount that we emitted into the atmosphere in 2010 from fossil fuel use, raised the, carbon dioxide concentration by about 1.8 parts per million or, nearly two molecules for every million in the atmosphere were now CO2 it raised in CO2 concentrations.

Is that a lot? Yes.

Is it frightening? Yes.

Let me show you why. We look again, at a graph of the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere on the planet Earth, over hundreds of thousands of years. And the concentration of CO2 fluctuates for normal process, even putting humanity out of the story, over geologic time these levels of CO2 rise and then fall and then rise and fall as part of the long run carbon dioxide cycle. And that cycle is driven in important part by systematic changes of the earth’s orbit. And if you look at this reconstruction of the carbon dioxide concentration of the atmosphere over the last 800,000 years starting all the way to the left-hand side of the graph, the first peak you see is the carbon dioxide rose to a little bit over 250 parts per million. Then it fell to under 200 parts per million. Then around 700,000 years ago it rose again to nearly 250 parts per million and then it fell again, then it had another peak at 600,000 years ago, and so forth. So you go up and down, up and down, driven by natural changes of the Earth’s orbital cycle, but then as you move to the right that means coming closer and closer to the present on this graph. Suddenly, something really weird happens. Instead of going up down up down up down, it suddenly goes up, up, up, up, up, up, up. Shoot straight up. Just in the last 100 years of this 800,000 year graph. That’s humanity burning fossil fuel. Thank you, James Watt. Great invention. Great idea.

You made possible the world economy, but now look at the situation. CO2 soaring. How high does it go? Far higher than anything we’ve seen on this planet for 800,000 years, indeed for 3 million years. In 2013 it reached 400 parts per million. A CO2 concentration the likes of which we have not seen on the planet Earth for millions and millions of years. What the climate scientists tell us is, that this kind of change is consistent with a significant rise of temperatures on the planet. Indeed if we reach, say 450 parts per million of CO2, we are very likely to be living on a planet that on average is two degrees centigrade warmer than before the industrial revolution. Now two degrees centigrade might not sound like much, but it implies even larger increases of temperature in the higher latitudes and it implies massive changes of the Earth’s climate, of rainfall, of droughts, of floods, of sea level increase. So we’re talking about changes in CO2 concentrations that when translated into global warming, and into climate change more generally, are extremely large and extremely dangerous and happening now.

How fast are they happening? If we’re at 400 parts per million today, and that’s rising by about two parts per million each year, you can see that to reach 450 is just 25 years from now. My word. We can’t even change it at world energy system at, at that rate. So we’re on a trajectory that is very fast, and very troubling. And, add in to the fact that that’s assuming we stay where we are. Now think about tripling the world economy and tripling the amount of energy used, and if we do it using the same energy mix that we have right now, we’d be increasing CO2 not two parts per million, but five or six parts per million within a few decades. In other words, if we don’t change course we are on a path of extraordinary peril.

Where because of our fossil fuel reliance, we would be seeing mega-droughts, we would be seeing mega-floods, more extreme storms, more species extinction, more crop failures. A massive sea level rise over time, and a massive acidification of the ocean as that CO2 dissolves into the ocean, produces carbonic acid, and reduces the pH of the ocean. We have to change course, and we have to change course quickly. More quickly than the politicians are telling us, by far.

But there’s good news, let me not leave us in despair. We have powerful technologies at sharply falling prices for solar power, for wind power, for energy efficiency, for smarter systems that can economize tremendously on energy and shift us to low carbon means. We’re going to revisit some of those methods very shortly.