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Measures to stop global warming

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This page is an experiment in "issues" style content. It has begun as one person's view, but will hopefully become more informed and balanced as other contributors add information and sources. Please contribute respectfully, and don't enforce a single POV. If you delete something other than vandalism (e.g. if something's false or out of place) then it may be best to move it to the comments section at the bottom, or on the talk page.

Affordable options for fixing or reducing global warming (climate change).

How easy is it to reduce carbon emissions, using markets?

According to the article quoted here, global warming is likely to be a lot cheaper to fix than people think, based on past experiences with pollution control:

Easterbrook on Global Warming - discussed on The Frontal Cortex blog.

A criticism of Easterbrook's argument (in one of the comments on the blog) is that carbon is central to power generation (and hence modern society) in a way that other pollutants aren't. So it will be far harder to reduce total carbon output than it has been to reduce Climate changeother pollutants, even relative to the scale of the problem.

Another argument against Easterbrook's thesis is that carbon dioxide emissions are very large compared with (most? all?) other pollutants. If we emit a small amount of sulfur oxides, for instance, then we can imagine converting the sulfur oxides to some less harmful form (e.g. sulfur and oxygen) at moderate cost. But there is no alternative form for carbon dioxide: to convert it to carbon and oxygen would require energy comparable with what its combustion provided in the first place.

The most affordable changes

There are many possibilities for reducing global warming impacts and they the most attractive and achievable are those which provide an economic benefit, such as energy efficiency and solar hot water, but not enough that people are taking them up in droves (or perhaps they're just not well known enough yet). 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). These are the "low hanging fruit":

  • Reducing usage by greater efficiency (choice of car, light etc) to provide exactly the same service with less greenhouse impact. This option is available now, typically at a lower net cost, but electricity is cheap enough that people don't bother.
  • More efficient lighting. CFL lighting is one solution[1] and can be cheaper 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.[verification needed]
  • Passive solar design and insulation in buildings.
  • Use of renewable energy in settings where it is known to actually provide an economic benefit:
    • Solar hot water (at least in some climates),
    • Low Head Water power Almost all water power sources with under 1 meter fall in the world are unused. That a lot of power! Pulser pumps can use use that power directly for pumping water. Pulser pumps can also provide low pressure air. That in turn can easily be used to wash clothes and dry them. Pulser pumps could also be used to run a wide variety of low powered machines. Pulser pumps are extremely low tech, and low cost. If designed properly, pulser pumps could probably capture a lot of silt clay and sand from rivers too.

A medium tech use for low head hydro is a ram pump which is for pumping water. Ram pumps are probably more for smaller (by volume) power sources, are more expensive but give higher efficiencys.

  • Reducing the CO2 equivalent load of the output (energy or other product) by cleaner burning, less HC leaks, less cow farts, and finding alternatives to greenhouse gases such as methyl bromide (used for fumigation). These are fairly significant - but I'm not sure exactly how significant.
  • 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,[2]
  • Locking the carbon away (carbon sequestration)
  • Strict fuel consumption standards for cars - taking into account the embedded energy of the car itself.
    • Encourage small cars, with cheaper registration to reflect the lower cost to road maintenance, lower impact on traffic congestion and less parking area requirements. It should be remembered that cars like the Citroen 2CV have been getting similar fuel economy to the Prius for 60 years, with much less embedded energy.
    • Efficient diesels.
  • Eating less meat.
  • Downshifting, or simple livingDEPRECATED TEMPLATE - PLEASE USE {{W}} INSTEAD. - 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.

Alternatives to reducing emissions

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 (unlikely to be practical?) Forests remove carbon only while growing, so this is not a long-term solution.
    • Encouraging growth of 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 their carbon is sequestered.
  • Reduction of sunlight being absorbed by the earth. This only reduces global warming: it won't affect other consequences of elevated carbon dioxide levels in the air (e.g. acidification of oceans). On the other hand, doesn't prevent increased carbon dioxide levels from encouraging plant growth.
    • Mirrors or dust at metastable Lagrange points between Earth and sun. (Probably too expensive.)
    • Injecting aerosols (sulfur oxides?) into the upper atmosphere. (Surprisingly cheap, deserves more attention than it is getting.) 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.[3]

Avoid changes that are purely "feel good"

User:Vinay Gupta is going to add content here (hint, hint). In the meantime, you can contribute your ideas. See George Monbiot'sDEPRECATED TEMPLATE - PLEASE USE {{W}} INSTEAD. article Small is Useless for starters.

Careful with the small is useless article -- highly misleading. 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. Every kW-hr they produce does mean one less produced by coal so there can be significant impacts if installed in MANY locations. That is the key -- if it is small it has to be many.

Comments

This section allows a bit more POV, speculation and questions.

Is organic food a realistic option? I've read (can't remember the source) that the amount of nitrogen in the protein consumed by people worldwide (directly through crops and indirectly through meat) is more than can be sustained by the land without nitrogen fertilizer. This begs the questions:

Notes

  1. 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.
  2. Note that passive solar and good insulation makes a house more pleasant to live in.
  3. I'm sceptical about the "painting roads white" approach. I've read that the urban heat island effect is not a significant contributor to global warming, so I doubt 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), but I doubt that the reflectivity of the road surface would be a big factor. Any sources on this?[Suggested project]

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