Maybe we should demand a higher level of scientific certainty (rather than political consensus disguised as science) before we destroy civilization as we know it to save society as we know it.
Rather than put this in comments, I am making it part of the post:
Our society and many of the industrialized societies run on fossil fuels. Fossil fuel combustion creates CO2 and adds to the earth’s temperature according to the climate change theory.
I have read that transition needn’t be painful. That depends on what numbers you use for estimating (kind of like climate change itself) and what methods you adopt for achieving CO2 reduction. According to CO2now.org, 33/4 billion tons of CO2 comes from fossil fuels and cement, 3.3 billion from land use changes across the globe each year. We are at 395 ppm approximately on CO2. Some articles said if we pass 350 ppm, we have passed the tipping point and changes will be irreversible for 1000 years.
Most sources I checked said a 2 degree increase is the maximum increase before climate change is “irreversible”. What CO2 concentration yields that? 450 ppm was the highest concentration I found as the limit before catastrophe strikes. At 395 ppm, we can only add 55 more ppm before it’s too late. The world adds over 2 billion tons of CO2 per year, so at current rates, we have maybe 25 years to get emissions in check.
If we were to replace fossil fuel generated electricity with nuclear plants, that would be a significant reduction. Unfortunately, it would also be very expensive and rabidly opposed in many places. The smaller thorium plants may provide a way around the “fear factor” but I am not sure at what cost. If currently approved nuclear plants can be modified to use thorium, that would help hold down the expenses.
Replacing coal with natural gas significantly reduces emissions. If we replace older coal plants with natural gas plants, this would be a way to decrease CO2 without extreme expense. People’s fear of fracking will have to be overcome for this to work. Plus, according to Michael Mann, “We may be reducing our CO2 emissions, but it is possible that we’re actually increasing the greenhouse gas problem with methane emissions.”
Another idea is to increase automobile mileage. Cars getting 60 mpg does not appear feasible unless safety is seriously compromised or a very clever engineer finds a way to make a light-weight car that doesn’t crunch. Trucks cannot be made to get that kind of mileage. As far as I can tell, the only lower carbon option is railroads. To switch to rail would be expensive and material intensive. One would also lose the truck driving jobs, which rail would only replace a few of. All changes can cause job loss, but on the scale of changing from trucking to rails, it would be a very large number of losses. It would make those 37,000 jobs the US was going to lose in wind energy if the PTC did not pass look like nothing at all.
“Renewables” like wind and solar are too variable to replace fossil fuels, not to mention expensive. People could use these on their homes with battery backup and not tied to the grid, but there would be a training curve as people learned how these work. (That I know from experience.) If one wants to run expensive electronics using wind, a very high quality sine wave inverter is needed. I do not know if your 60” HD television can run off battery-backed wind power.
The only true solution to climate change seems to be zero carbon usage. This will require the globe to rework every aspect of modern life. WE will need new electricity generation methods, new transportation methods new home heating methods. We will need new construction techniques that avoid cement (a source of CO2), planned communities, nature preserves, new ways to farm (electric tractors anyone?) and on and on. This is the only way to stop the change permanently.
Even if we don’t do zero emissions, to stop the rise in 25 years seems impossible without draconian government intervention on a global scale. Turning off my lights when I am not using them does virtually nothing. One country alone does virtually nothing. Worldwide cooperation or worldwide forced compliance? The former has not been successful to date.
To maintain pre-industrial CO2 levels of around 300 ppm, we would have to cut CO2 output by a minimum of 1/3, not counting any previous build-up, half- life or other similar factors. Some countries might be able to cut somewhere in this range without serious economic damage if allowed a long enough period.
However, we are constantly told this is a crisis—the oceans will boil if we don’t do something. Al Gore had a child burn a Barbie doll in a science fair to illustrate how serious the threat is. If climate change is that serious, we will need to make changes in our lifestyles that go beyond the easy and convenient. Nuclear power will be foisted upon people, bicycles for transportation, or buses, not personal cars, etc, etc. The EPA declared CO2 damaging to human health. That is serious. It calls for drastic measures and drastic measures translate into a major overhaul of the lifestyles we live now.
If China and India and other developing nations continue to spew CO2 into the air, then what? China pollutes more than the USA. How do we stop the climate change then?
Most of the difficulty in this whole climate change debate is the multiple versions of how serious it is, how much we have to cut CO2 and how fast. When we figure this out and come down to one number, then perhaps a better estimate can be made. We must also deal with the reality that many countries are not going to go along with this without the infusion of large quantities of cash or forceful intervention. How much can the “rich”countries pay the poor countries to stop polluting? Who are the rich countries? What kind of price tag to get India to stop burning coal—or Germany, for that matter? What about Greece, where cutting forests is rampant because people cannot afford fuel? This is a massive undertaking, massive.
Note: James Hansen states ZERO carbon is the solution, so that is what I went with in saying we would have to destroy the lives we have to avoid destroying the lives we have. Zero carbon is a total global revamping.