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Measures to stop global warming
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Reducing GHG emissions
The financial cost of addressing climate change
According to an article by professor Easterbrook, global warming is likely to be a lot cheaper to fix than people think, based on past experiences with pollution control. The Stern report ie estimates that only 2% of the national GDP is needed.
A criticism of Easterbrook's argument is that carbon is central to power generation (and hence modern society) in a way that other pollutants are not. So it will be far harder to reduce total carbon output than it has been to reduce other pollutants, even relative to the scale of the problem.
Another argument against Easterbrook's thesis is that although carbon dioxide emissions are not as potent as other GHG's (ie methane) they can not be decomposed. For example, introduced gases as sulfur oxides decompose easily to a less harmful form (e.g. sulfur and oxygen). But there is no alternative form for carbon dioxide. The only solution is to lock it away (ie using carbon capture and storage (CCS), by planting trees (locking it inside trees), ...
The logical place to start is in the area where potential gains are greatest and costs are lowest. This involves reducing energy demand and increasing energy efficiency.
What needs to be done at national levels
There is no consensus over the best solutions to addressing global warming. As there is no consensus, civil government politicians are uncertain of the popularity of taking certain (effective) measures, and thus decide to not implement the measures at all. For example:
- Preventing the carbon of escaping from fossil fuel power plants is not implemented (carbon capture and storage)
- the role of nuclear energy is endorsed by some, but opposed by many others and implementation has thus not happened at a very large scale.
- the implementation of effective population management has not occurred
- the forbidding of inefficient food production (ie raising mammalian species for food) has not occured
- Another measure which has still not being implemented sufficiently is the creation of more renewable energy power plants. Some types of these are more attractive in some locations than others. Ie solar energy may be the most cost effective sources of electricity in a sunny isolated location, and solid biomass is perhaps the most cost-effective form of renewable energy in most locations[verification needed]). It should be noted though that the creation of some renewable energy power plants could cause undesirable ecologic effects, ie particular in the case of hydroelectric plants.
- Make it more attractive to citizens to set up an own power generation system. George Monbiot'sW argues that distributed energy production is the wrong place to put our efforts. However, distributed generation can in fact make enormous cuts in the energy sources that they are competing against. For example, solar photovoltaics installed on half the average roof do provide enough energy for the average home throughout the year. They do not, however, provide base power because they are intermittent. However, the energy produced is clean, and much less energy is wasted between the point of creation of the energy and the consumption (ie via the resistance in the wires, ...).
The most important, pressing actions to be taken can be taken immediately without economic penalty, with suitable planning. Financial planning is an important aspect of this, as investment now may be required to gain long term benefits; it may be important to have programs such as light bulb exchanges or loans for energy efficiency measures (perhaps paid off through electricity bills)
Another way to improve the practice of sustainable actions without compulsion, and taxes which some will find a burden, is through choice architecture. This is about how to design the context in which people make choices, in such a way that more sustainable choices become easier and more attractive.
For example: Require energy companies to ask all new clients (e.g. when getting a new electricity or gas service for new home or business premises, or changing suppliers) to make an active choice when registering. At the same time as they answer questions about name and methods of payment, they must be offered a choice between green energy and regular energy options, as well as for carbon offsets, with a clear estimate of how much it will cost.
When it's that easy, many more people will say yes to the wiser choice (in this case, the green option). (Studies have been quoted to support these findings[verification needed] and this is central to choice architecture.)
What YOU can do
At this stage the majority of the population in developed countries have access to renewable energy through "green energy" offered by electricity companies (which is often not truly "green", but it varies in degree). The cost premium for such energy is very modest compared with most people's overall living costs (and modest compared with the money that most people spend on luxuries or entertainment). See How to increase the uptake of green energy.
There are many possibilities for reducing global warming impacts and they the most attractive and achievable for private people are those which provide an economic benefit, such as energy efficiency and solar hot water. Secondly there are additional options which are of approximately equal cost or marginally more expensive than current technology, such as wind power (in the right locations). Some options are:
- Eating less meat
- Reducing usage by greater efficiency (ie choosing a more efficient new car or adapting your existing car, implementing efficient lighting, ...) to provide exactly the same service with less greenhouse impact. More efficient lighting includes CFL lighting, ... and can be cheaper to use in the long run,[verification needed] but some find the light quality unpleasant. Ordinary sized fluorescents with an electronic ballast are more efficient and can give a better light.
- Passive solar design and insulation in buildings.
- Use of renewable energy in settings where it is known to actually provide an economic benefit:
- Solar thermal energy (in some climates); ie by using solar thermal collectors
- PV systems (and or related systems, ie LSC, ...). Photovoltaics are popular and often subsidized by governments. However this is the least competitive form of renewable energy in terms of cost, in an urban setting.
- Wind power
- Biofuel from waste sources
- Reducing the CO2 equivalent load of the output (energy or other product) by more efficient engines/heaters, less HC leaks, and finding alternatives to greenhouse gases such as methyl bromide (used for fumigation).
- Downshifting, or simple livingW - this may or may not mean radical changes. It can be practiced more or less, in combination with other measures, and can result in an improvement in quality of life.
Simple living offers various ways of reducing impact as well. To have a serious impact, these need to be actions which appeal to a large number of people, which may be very difficult without changes at the community level. The self-sacrificial aspects of simple living are unlikely to appeal to many people, based on past patterns.
Other aspects do improve quality of life and are at least possible. These include promotion of behavior changes, and changing infrastructure in ways that encourage lower-energy behavior. Building of cycleways rather than highways, making communities more walkable, making public transport a more attractive option, and introducing congestion charges (as in London) are supported by many sustainability advocates and organizations.
Ensuring that buyers of houses and other buildings have access to all appropriate information about energy costs, livability (which improves with good passive solar design) and environmental impact, could make a big difference to the building industry, and ensure that sustainability is taken more seriously by more builders. Current building practice reflects the fact that home buyers typically don't properly account for ongoing costs and livability, so builders don't factor it in. Spreading knowledge, e.g. with a booklet aimed at first home buyers which explains the cost of quality-of-life benefits of sustainable design,
Reducing carbon emissions is not necessarily the only or best way to prevent global warming. Other approaches include:
- Removal of carbon from the atmosphere, after emission
- Reforestation. This takes decades to take effect - worth starting now, but will be enough, or fast enough, to have a major impact. Forests remove carbon only while growing, so this requires periodic harvesting[verification needed] (albeit periods of decades).
- Encouraging growth of plankton and thus fish, probably by adding nutrients to oceanic deserts. Fish can be harvested commercially (though many oceanic deserts are outside exclusive economic zones, hence a free-rider problem). Fish not harvested die and fall to the bottom, where some of the carbon in their bones is sequestered as limestone.
- Reduction of sunlight being absorbed by the earth. This only reduces global warming and won't affect other consequences of elevated carbon dioxide levels in the air (e.g. acidification of oceans). On the other hand, it doesn't prevent increased carbon dioxide levels from encouraging plant growth.
- Mirrors or dust at metastable Lagrange pointsW between Earth and sun. (Probably too expensive.)
- Injecting aerosols (sulfur oxides?) into the upper atmosphere. (Surprisingly cheap, deserves more attention than it is getting.)[verification needed]please expand Needs to be maintained continuously which is an issue if you fear social collapse.
- The "painting roads white" approach, to reflect light rather than trap it as heat.
All proposals for large-scale environmental alteration (e.g. release of chemicals into the oceans or atmosphere) are likely to cause collateral environmental damage (which may not be discovered until it is difficult of impossible to repair). As such, many environmentalists oppose such measures.
Notes and references
More efficient electric appliances, lighting is available now and allow some savings on electricity use but electricity is so cheap that people don't bother.
It's interesting to note that incandescent globes are virtually never seen in Indonesia - energy efficient compact fluorescent lights being the standard, even in poorer areas. This is presumably due to the cost of electricity, particularly the much higher cost of having a connection that allows greater usage.
Note that the cost balance may appear different if externalities are accounted for - e.g. deaths due to vehicles, including emissions; improved health from cycling and walking acting to reduce health costs and improve productivity. Another (possible) benefit is the increase in social cohesion as a result of people mingling on cycle, foot, and public transport, instead of traveling by car.
The relative importance of climate change as opposed to directly addressing poverty are open to debate.
- restricting the size of the population to 2 billion people
- If the energy company benefits from people using more energy, there may be a conflict of interest, so different reward models need to be explored; when the energy company is a government-owned corporation, this may give more flexibility to apply a different model in order to encourage uptake. (See Incentives for sustainability and Incentives to pollute.
- See Sustainability and economic growth
- It seems that people are however not taking them up in droves (or perhaps they're just not well known enough yet)
- Lighting is responsible for only a very small percentage of emissions, so this measure has almost no influence whatsoever
- Note that passive solar and good insulation makes a house more pleasant to live in.
- Reasons for scepticism about the "painting roads white" approach: the urban heat island effect is not a significant contributor to global warming,[verification needed] so it's unlikely that enough roads could be painted white to actually make a difference. If the current practices of urban sprawl and of roads taking up 25% of urban land were changed through better planning and transport provision, and if more trees were planted to overshadow roads, that would have a lot of positive effects (including less energy use in transport and cooling of buildings), and would probably include a slight positive effect on reflectivity and thus global warming. Any sources on this?[Suggested project]
- Bjorn LomborgW and the Copenhagen Consensus.W
- Options for moving towards a lower emission future - "a pragmatic economic evaluation of how to achieve emission reductions in the Australian electricity sector." By AGL (the Australian natural gas company), Frontier Economics and WWF-Australia.
- Technology Roadmap for Energy Loss Reduction and Recovery in Industrial Energy Systems (pdf), report prepared for the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) - see Top Twenty Opportunities, p 24, which lists top potential energy savings, with cost savings, in US industry. Total potential cost saving from these 20 opportunities is more than $18 billion.
- Help Stop Global Warming - Global Warming is not a question of if, but when? The answer depends on you and the actions you take. Small changes make a big impact. Discover a new small change you can make each day to help stop global warming.
- Environment Hub Global Warming Guide - Member contributed articles, facts & quotes on global warming.
- Stop Global Warming: a How To Guide - The United States needs to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 75% just to break even as the developing world catches up. Ideas on how to do so without wrecking the economy.