Carbon Crusaders

A grave opportunity by ddelcourt
November 20, 2007, 11:07 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The IPCC 4th Assessment Report was released Saturday November 17, with three major conclusions: global warming is “unequivocal,” it is most likely caused by human factors and in order to avoid disastrous effects of climate change reductions in greenhouse gases need to start immediately. According to a NY Times article, Rajaendra Pachauri, the chairman of the IPCC stated, “If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.” He echoes a bevy of other scientists including Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs who said, “We can’t afford to wait for some perfect accord to replace Kyoto, for some grand agreement. We can’t afford to spend years bickering about it. We need to start acting now.” The message is clear. Real action, not just words, are needed now in order to avert dire consequences.

The White House press briefing remained vague and unassertive on the matter. When questioned about the President’s vision of successes and benchmarks the administration hoped to achieve at the upcoming Bali climate talks, Chairman Connaughton emphasized, “…if you’re looking for a benchmark there, I would encourage you to look for a broad agenda on adaptation, as opposed to a narrow focus.” Despite strong language and convictions on the issues of climate change, the administration characteristically sidestepped the main issues, simply restating the President’s loose commitments to the environment. Yet again, (like Kyoto) mandatory emissions caps and goals don’t seem likely to be ratified by this administration.

What’s been clear from the beginning of this process for many of us is that the cost to implement climate mitigation is substantially worth the cost of dealing with the potential consequences. In the IPCC report it is plainly spelled out: “There is high agreement and much evidence that mitigation actions can result in near-term co-benefits (e.g. improved health due to reduced air pollution) that may offset a substantial fraction of mitigation costs.” (Link to the IPCC summary here). Not to mention climate change catastrophes are most likely to effect the poorest regions of the world, even though the richest regions are most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, mitigation is actually dealing with underlying equalities and potential human costs.

Domestically I would love to see one or all of the Presidential candidates make the IPCC report a central issue in their campaigns. Hard, mandatory goals need to be set by the next administration in order to avoid a climate meltdown. Global warming mitigation is not a political decision here, but an economic, societal and global crisis.


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This reader would just like to remind the author of two important details that may have been misunderstood. The President does not have constitutional authority to make laws, especially and even those in reference to mandatory emissions caps. Nor does the President have the authority to ratify treaties; if the President either made decrees or ratified treaties, the President would enrage the American public and be swiftly impeached in Congress. The United States Congress has the sole authority to legislate, and the the United States Senate has the sole authority to ratify treaties. The fault lies not with the Administration alone, but with those vested with the ability to make law, the United States Congress.

Furthermore, as the United States is still a signatory nation to the Kyoto Protocol, the Senate has the abiliity to take up ratification of the treaty at anytime. It should be noted the last time the Senate brought the treaty up for ratification, it was defeated unanimously.

Does the IPCC anywhere offer quantitative data for how much emissions should be reduced? Is there a goal? Is there a red line, that if not met, will absolutely entail world disaster? How much is enough? Does one country need to cut more than the others?

The cost – benefit analysis is a very large question to tackle. Right now renewable fuels (biomass, hydro, wind, solar, and geothermal) all contribute to make up 7% of America’s total energy consumption. A lot of infrastructure will have to be built to be able to generate and deliver those fuels to replace carbon burning ones.

America also has another challenge ahead of it. Congress last year clearly decided it is not going to uplift bans on drilling for oil and natural gas on the outer continental shelf. As China’s demand grows, and the US local supply shrinks, oil and natural gas face an uncertain future in cost and reliability of delivery. Contrary to popular belief, clean renewables will not jump in and fill the vacuum. Coal will remain cheap, and as Americans generally revert to the most cost effective option, coal demand will increase in the future. Coal puts more CO2 into the atmosphere as it burns than does natural gas or oil.

Even if America switches to an entirely ethanol consuming nation for auto fuels, that transition is at least a decade away. The chemical contents of ethanol eat away at the current pipe network used to distrubute oil across the United States. America will have to wait for a generational shift in the purchasing of cars that can consume ethanol as a fuel, and wait for the infrastructure to deliver the ethanol fuel for it to be as prevelant as gasoline is now.

The transition is going to be an expensive one.

Comment by Jack

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