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Thursday, April 09, 2009

GOP Economic Policies Reduced Carbon Emissions

The good news is that, thanks to decades of trickle down economics and deregulation of the financial industry, carbon emissions are down, giving us a foothold in the fight against global warming. The bad news is that this solution really blows -- in order for market forces to reduce carbon emissions, the global economy has to remain in the tank. And it has to remain in the tank for a real, real long time. Possibly forever.

USA Today:

The worldwide economic slowdown is having an unexpected positive impact in the fight against global warming: Emissions of carbon dioxide are falling, records collected by governments show.

From the United States to Europe to China, the global economic crisis has forced offices to close and factories to cut back. That means less use of fossil fuels such as coal to make energy. Fossil-fuel burning, which creates carbon dioxide, is the primary human contributor to global warming.

A recession-driven drop in emissions "is good for the environment," says Emilie Mazzacurati of Point Carbon, an energy research company. "In the long term, that's not how we want to reduce emissions."

Yeah, probably not. I'm not even sure how we'd manage to keep things this bad. There's a lot of economic thought on how to get an economy out of a recession, but not a lot about how to maintain one -- although, the Republican party seems breaking new ground in that research. Give them another shot at an alternative budget and I'm pretty confident they'll come up with a way to keep us permanently screwed. They've got a real talent for that kind of work. Too much talent, actually. They'd probably find a way to keep us in the poorhouse while increasing carbon emissions.

As it is, the reduction hasn't been nearly enough. According to the report, "Carbon dioxide from US power plants fell roughly 3% from 2007 to 2008, according to preliminary data from the Environmental Protection Agency analyzed by the Environmental Integrity Project. That's the biggest drop since 1995-1996, the first two consecutive years for which data are publicly available." Continuing along these lines would mean a decrease in atmospheric CO2 of 11.5 ppm (parts per million) from the current 385, bringing us down to 373.5 ppm. We need to get to the neighborhood of 350 ppm. If we were going to use the economy to bring down carbon emissions, this economic disaster wouldn't be disastrous enough.

So I think we can all agree that a permanent recession is a pretty lousy solution. That's not to say it's the only drastic approach.

Associated Press:

Tinkering with Earth's climate to chill runaway global warming -- a radical idea once dismissed out of hand -- is being discussed by the White House as a potential emergency option, the president's new science adviser said Wednesday.

That's because global warming is happening so rapidly, John Holdren told The Associated Press in his first interview since being confirmed last month.

The concept of using technology to purposely cool the climate is called geoengineering. One option raised by Holdren and proposed by a Nobel Prize-winning scientist includes shooting pollution particles into the upper atmosphere to reflect the sun's rays.

The idea is to pepper the atmosphere with sulfur, "basically mimicking the effect of volcanoes in screening out the incoming sunlight," says Holdren.

"But he said there could be grave side effects. Studies suggest that might include eating away a large chunk of the ozone layer above the poles and causing the Mediterranean and the Mideast to be much drier," AP tells us.

Those are just the consequences we expect -- it's a lead pipe cinch that there would be unforeseen consequences. It doesn't seem that there's any way to reverse this if it turns out to be a real bad idea.

A second idea is to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by literally sucking it out and sequestering it ourselves. This seems to be less risky, since we know exactly what an atmosphere with CO2 at 350 ppm would look like. The biggest risk here is a failure of our sequestration system, releasing a huge amount of greenhouse gases all at once.

"It would be preferable by far," Holdren says, "to solve this problem by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases."

True enough, but we may be reaching a "tipping point," where warming becomes a process that can't be stopped. As global ice melts, it releases greenhouse gases trapped within it. This increases the problem, which melts more ice, which increases the problem, etc. Further aggravating the problem, plants and trees die and decay, releasing their sequestered carbon into the atmosphere. Once this process begins, it becomes irreversible. Eventually, we all die.

Given that, pulling carbon out of the atmosphere doesn't seem like such a bad idea. The problem is that there's no money in it and it wouldn't be cheap. Last year, Klaus Lackner, a physicist at Columbia University, told the LA Times that it would cost trillions of dollars a year. Of course, that doesn't mean it would always cost that much. And it also doesn't mean that it couldn't eventually pay for itself as an industry. With cap and trade, private carbon mitigation companies could sell carbon credits to polluters. And progress is being made in using CO2 as a resource in making plastics -- sequestration companies could sell the carbon they filter out. Also, as carbon emissions decrease, the need for mitigation decreases as well, bringing the total cost down annually.

But let's call all of this -- mimicking volcanoes and carbon filters -- "Plan B." And let's call permanently screwing up the economy "not a plan." The wisest thing -- not to mention the easiest and most common sense thing -- would be to just knock it off. Cut back on carbon emissions. Given the alternatives, this really is a solution so simple that it's the no-brainer.

I'd really rather do that than let the Republicans figure out how to permanently screw up the economy.


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M said...

"The idea is to pepper the atmosphere with sulfur, "basically mimicking the effect of volcanoes in screening out the incoming sunlight," says Holdren."

That's F-ING nuts!

We're talking acid rain and the building blocks for the atmoshpere of Venus.

"carbon emissions are down"

That's great news. But that's the biggest criticism by the right against conservation and preserving the land, air, and water.

Big Gub'ment actions to curb emissions and the carbon footprint come at the expense of "economic growth."

But it doesn't have to be that way if new markets are encouraged and emerge to support new demands for sustainability. We have to re-think energy, especially in the 'free market' that failed miserably to respond to science and technology and change accordingly to manufacture a responsible product(s).

Solar-powered cars have been around for decades, for example.

It's a monumental tragedy that American-based auto makers haven't been using their lobbying might for things like revolutionary fuel efficiency standards at the least, and a national infrastructure to support an end to the monopoly of the oil companies at the least, and usher in the beginning of an age of varying sources of energy working in concert to meet the needs of mankind in its relation to the ecosystem.

But modeling our atmosphere after Venus is a bad idea.

And Cap & Trade seems like a pretty good plan to shake up the international marketplace while limiting pollution. It's a plan that attempts to succeed where the private sector failed as their politicians assisted.

I was reading an article in Rolling Stone recently that basically said the reason the Obama administration and the Dems in congress need to try to leglislate a cap and trade regulatory arrangement is because trying to use "the Clean Air Act" to curb pollution will result in "a case by case process in which every new rule can be stymied by a lawsuit from corporate polluters."

So, I think a little 'go fuck yourself' to corporate polluters is a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. John Holdren,
Too long for a tweet about geoengineering, but please read:
Sequestering CO2 definitely looks as the best way to go and we ought to have another look at enlisting plankton for doing it. It appears much less drastic an approach than mimicking volcanoes in using sulfur compounds to screen out sun light.
It has been shown that spreading iron oxide dust on the surface of the sea causes plankton to grow and thus to absorb CO2. Within days, the approximately 90% of the plankton that isn't eaten by fish then accumulates calcium and sinks to the bottom of the sea thus effectively trapping the CO2 as part of sedimentary rock for thousands of years.
The owners of the ships that seed the sea with iron oxide would earn carbon credits that would be sold to companies which would buy these in order to comply with CO2 emission control regulations: Polluters thus would have an economic incentive to reduce pollution.
Experts think that if this were done worldwide, (all commercial, ocean going vessels could participate, without disruption to their normal activities), we could return the atmospheric CO2 concentration to about its 1900 level within 30 years. Assuming the rising level of atmospheric CO2 is the major cause of global warming, we would have essentially reversed the latter.