Sunday, January 13, 2013

Staggering 31 wedges required now

In 2004, Pascala and Socolow determined that 19 wedges (the term they coined for linear increases in CO2 emissions avoidance that ultimately reach 1 Gigaton of CO2 emissions avoided per year) to stabilize the earth's climate at 2 degrees of temperature increase, an imperfect if respectable goal requiring a peak of 500 ppm CO2 and ultimate phaseout of CO2 emissions before the end of the 21st century.

The latest research by Davis et al concludes that as a result of 8 years of mostly delay in starting to build these wedges, 31 wedges are now required.  Their conclusion is that:

Filling this many wedges while sustaining global economic growth would mean deploying tens of terawatts of carbon-free energy in the next few decades. Doing so would entail a fundamental and disruptive overhaul of the global energy system, as the global energy infrastructure is replaced with new infrastructure that provides equivalent amounts of energy but does not emit CO2. Current technologies and systems cannot provide the amounts of carbon-free energy needed soon enough or affordably enough to achieve this transformation. An integrated and aggressive set of policies and programs is urgently needed to support energy technology innovation across all stages of research, development, demonstration, and commercialization. No matter the number required, wedges can still simplify and quantify the challenge. But the problem was never easy.

An integrated and aggressive set of policies indeed.  Pretty unimaginable from where world politics are now.  And meanwhile, some are claiming that something like the millenium is upon us thanks to unconventional fossil fuel energy.  Looking at and gleefully extrapolating from a recent bump in US oil and gas production from fracking (an environmentally dangerous technique I feel should be outlawed everywhere) conclude that the very notion of peak oil is quaint now, just wait until the world deploys tracking.  It was very depressing to see the new cornicopeans and peakers slug it out in this interesting Oil Drum discussion.  I still believe the peakers ultimately have the unassailable case, but continuing the ramp up of unconventional fossil energy production as we are doing, with the attitude that this is the answer, is very dangerous.  As the saying goes, the higher they fly, the greater the crash.  If there is additional energy available now, and I'd gladly abandon all the new unconventional fossil sources in an instant even to meet this goal, we should be investing all of that energy we possibly can into the construction of renewable energy systems and sustainable electric transport systems.  That is the only way to avoid a huge environmentally forced human population crash before 2200 if not 2100.  Instead, we are investing the harvest of unconventional fossil sources into...more unconventional fossil sources, more useless wars, repression, and costly factory moving, and a fossil fueled denialist and cornicopean politics, all of which are carpeting our path straight over the cliff to the quickest beat.

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