There is no solution to the problem of climate change without cutting emissions

When people say of the fight to cut GHG emissions, “this isn’t working; let’s try something else” they are never referring to making our (if it really is “our”) actions bigger; they always want to make our goals smaller.

There is always a prominent complaint of how “poisonous” the climate debate has become, but like those that rue our “poisonous” tax debates or our “poisonous” social debates, their solution to the poison is typically to concede the debate to the people who have done the most to make it poisonous.

There is no solution to the problem of global warming without cutting emissions of greenhouse gases. There is no way to cut greenhouse gas emissions globally without collective political action. I know of no one, literally no one, who is for this but against adaptation, or who is for this but against action on land use or black carbon or any of the other “manageable” climate problems. Working on those angles is admirable, but it doesn’t break the problem into manageable parts; it abandons the problem in favor of more manageable problems.

via the Idiot Tracker

19 thoughts on “There is no solution to the problem of climate change without cutting emissions

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  1. Fearing to tread on ground presently occupied by conspiracy theorists with their “Agenda 21” pathology and the like, but all the same…

    Somehow the framers of the US constitution managed to gift the federal government with the power of coercion over individual states. It’s arguable that successfully herding cats was key to the ascendancy of the United States and that we’d have remained an oppressed colony or at best a rabble of balkanized pipsqueaks were it not for our superior powers of organization.

    This seems like a natural form of political evolution, one that’s been repeated in a fractal way starting with the family as smallest governmental unit and working its way upward, inexorably.

    Suppose we end up with a majority of the world population in favor of economic progress, including repairing the toxic and transient lash-up we’re pleased to call our “energy system,” but a significant minority of states refuse to confront the future. Must we all be consigned to increasing degradation, out of respect for this minority? It seems likely that’ll be the case, unless we can further evolve geopolitics into something more resembling a federation that can redress knock-on effects of change for “losers” (akin to “red states” in the US being on the federal dole) while mandating that we will face the future with our best foot forward.

  2. This is a good example (for Kloor) of how far apart we are:
    Ezra’s wonkblog is perceived to be “on our side”, yet it states “At no point in Romney’s plan does he mention climate change. …. simply expanding fossil-fuel production without a more comprehensive plan to tackle climate change will mean that emissions just keep rising and rising.”
    True enough, but it’s far worse than that; even if emissions stop rising we’re hooped. Even if emissions start falling, we’re hooped. At this point in time, they have to drop like a stone.
    But if I say this, I’m an “alarmist”, and according to Kloor, counter-productive.


    1. “But if I say this, I’m an “alarmist”, and according to Kloor, counter-productive.”

      We’ve been conned into castrating our speech. Rhetorical auto-orchidectomy, so to speak. “Don’t appeal to emotions, it’s not scientific and it’s manipulative.”

      Guess what? Fear is an emotion. Fear is an important tool for survival.

      Follow the frigid path of argument and you then logically can’t refer to fairness toward future generations– that’s an appeal to emotions. Strip away all emotion and you’re left with no ethical or moral compass whatsoever, not a good thing.

      There’s a prolonged discussion about this general matter going on at Real Climate. A lot of us feel that our bedside manner while holding the hand of Earth as we kill it should be emotionless.

      We’re simply not wired that way and it’s wrong to pretend otherwise. It’s not scientific to pretend that a normal brain does not include a functioning amygdala.

      Have you noticed that the perennially successful (two decades and counting) denskepticon community has absolutely no problem with appeals to emotion, while insisting that their more rational opposition should stick to cold facts? Is following that advice a good idea, in the face of the results we have in hand?

  3. This discussion definitely falls under the umbrella of “easier said than done”. Everyone knows the importance of cutting emissions of greenhouse gases. Everyone knows how harmful global warming is, and everyone knows that solving this problem requires collective political action. Yet, changes have been few, and we continue to squabble over what needs to be done instead of just doing it. Huge industries, such as the car industry, can play a bigger role. Instead of just focusing on car performance (such as BMW and its swirl flaps), they can do more for the environment.

  4. I don’t agree with the title.

    Plant trees in most of the Sahara Dessert, much of the Australian Outback and all of the Arabian Empty Quarter. Desalinate sea water, pump and irrigate.

    That should be enough to stabilize atmospheric CO2 and maybe start lowering it, provided neither India nor China can actually realize their coal burning plans.

    1. Aside from the myriad of other problems with this idea, you mention this:

      Desalinate sea water, pump and irrigate.

      How much energy would that take?

    2. About US$2/tonne of freshwater and about the same for the pumping costs in the Sahara. From
      estimate about 20 kg/day/tree so roughly US$2.9/year/tree.

      Using 4 meter spacing in both coordinates, from
      there are 625 trees/hectare. That’s US$1812.5/hectare/year.

      The Sahara Desert is over 9,400,000 x 100 hectares but we’ll use ‘only’ about 750,000,000 hectares of it.

      That seems to be about US$1.36 trillion per year, but there is an interesting consequence:
      We’ll only need to do about 1/2 of the water requirement, so a ‘mere’ US$680 billion per year. That’s less than 1% of GWP and as such a massive project proceeds some further efficiencies may well show up.

      Note that last mentioned figure as about the same as the US DoD annual budget.

    3. This will be brief Since I a am on my phone. What are the emissions from all that energy use? And if we still don’t reduce emissions we have only bought some time.

      The 1% GWP figure is in the same ballpark of estimates of what it would take to decarbonise the world’s energy system. That option represents a more permanent solution to the problem.

    4. Everything is done using nuclear power plants with possibly some solar assist.

      The virtue is that those who, for whatever reason, won’t decarbonize don’t have to. For example, transportation.

      Using the three deserts mentioned should be enough to begin lowering CO2 in the atmosphere. When the trees stop growing make biochar. Sequester the biochar deep underground. So solution is permanent (until somebody digs up the biochar).

    5. Everything is done using nuclear power plants with possibly some solar assist.

      Nuclear is hardly a cheap way to produce energy. In fact it is one of the more expensive methods. But that isn’t really the major problem, after all saving the planet might cost an arm and a leg but it is still worth it.

      The problem is this:

      The virtue is that those who, for whatever reason, won’t decarbonize don’t have to.

      My earlier comment and Michael Tobis’ comment explain why.

      Your idea can, however, buy some time but its price tag puts it in the same ballpark of more permanent solutions

    6. The idea is not original with me.

      However expensive nuclear power might be I assure you that it is less than any alternative for generating electricity on the seaside edges of deserts.

      And another advantage of making biochar is that about 1/2 of the carbon goes into a liquid sufficiently similar to diesel and jet fuel that engines can be designed to run on it or it can be refined into something essentially the same as the petroleum products. Then fossil emissions would decline somewhat.

    7. In the 1910s-1920s some agriculturalists figured if enough trees were planted on the prairies it would change the climate. In Canada at least farmers were encouraged to plant trees and bushes as windbreaks and many did. In the 1930s many of the trees and bushes were killed by drought.

      It’s hard to grow trees in dry places. That is why they don’t grow in dry places naturally. David Benson’s solution is nonsense.

    8. … plus, there’s the biochar, i.e. activated char coal: It has an amazing capacity to hold water (>100% weight) and nutrients.

      But don’t bury it deep underground, as David said above! Mix it in sand (ca. 20%) and you soon get excellent soil. You don’t have to wait till the trees stop growing: The young plantation needs a higher tree density, and needs to be thinned out as the trees mature.

      But of course mt is right: given the current emissions no amount of tree planting would make a dent. (BTW there is already an amazing tree planting movement, started by Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt Movement, now world-wide, often inspired by youth/children activists.)

      But then, vice versa: Cutting emissions alone wouldn’t save us either. Biochar from tree plantations would be the necessary next step: In theory (if Homo S “Sapiens” decides to get serious) 1-2 Gt C could be sequestered as char per year. After a century we could be back to safe levels of CO2. (See Folke Günther’s probably outdated math of 2009: )

      The biochar thing can also help cutting emissions significantly: Industrial agriculture needs to be changed from destroying soil (thus contributing ca. 30% emissions) to building soil. Reverse the C flow from agriculture and you get quite a cut.

      Yes, we need to return to the days of small farming, turning the planet into a garden planet. (A matrix of gardens/small farms with natural reserves in between.) That also solves other problems: Food sovereignty, jobs, biodiversity protection. (I’ve seen it in Romania: Grandma and her hinterland garden feeding a whole family with food of a quality almost no American can imagine/afford. That’s my future retirement scenario.)

    9. In making biochar, about 1/4 of the carbon is in a gas stage and is burnt to heat the biochar reactor. About 1/2 is a liquid similar to #2 heating oil and can be used as a transportation liquid. About 1/4 is actually biochar.

      Used at root depth to promote quality soils, about 1/2 can be expected to be returned to the atmosphere within 2–3 decades. The remainder might well stay in the soil for hundreds to thousands of years.

      So my all means use as much of the biochar to improve soils as make sense. But the idea is to make quite a very large amount of biochar, so bury most of it quite deeply.

    10. I don’t think the numbers work. CO2 cannot be stabilized even with an enormous spike in biomass, unless emissions cease. At this level, the argument (as so many others) confuses stocks and flows.

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