Given political and economical realities (i.e. the unwillingness for countries to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to reduce/stop the emission of carbon dioxide in an extreme way) I don’t believe there is anything humanity can and will do to prevent the worst case scenario from happening if it is going to happen – though we can postpone the time of catastrophic sea level rise by a number of years, even decades. A TED speech, actually given several years ago, by renowned “skeptical environmentalist” Bjorn Lomborg, puts that situation in perspective. But if we downplay the possibility of a worst case scenario and also come to terms with the fact that there probably will not be a government-mandated carbon tax of some kind, things today look a bit brighter than they did a few years ago. This was brought out in an interesting article in Sunday’s NY Times entitled : There’s still Hope for the Planet”.
A combination of factors are responsible for the author’s optimism about what he calls “a transition to clean energy”. Between 1980 and 2011 the energy coming from burning of fossil fuels in the U.S. has ben rising much more slowly (14%) than from nuclear power (202%) and renewables [Hydro, geothermal, wind, solar)](68%). Wind and solar energy production costs are dropping very rapidly and inexpensive natural gas has dramatically reduced power generation from (polluting) coal. And there is hope that some “disruptive” technology, likened to the Internet, could eventually bring about a “breakthrough” in clean energy generation. Stepping up both government and private research could bring this about, as it did on the development of the fracturing technology that has given the U.S. a huge new source of natural gas.
While the U.S. is a laggard in curbing carbon dioxide emissions by law, Europe and China are moving ahead with important steps in this area: Solar and wind in Europe, More Hydro and Geothermal and increasing installation of clean coal technology plants in China. And in the U.S. the EPA is cracking down on both new and existing power plants now that the Supreme Court has agreed that carbon dioxide emissions can be curbed under the Clean Air Act. And it also has initiated rulemaking to curb the emission of methane (another greenhouse gas) leaking from new gas and oil wells.
All of this may not make us feel better about melting glaciers. But, short of new legislation and additional protocols, we probably can’t expect to see much more progress than is already occurring to improve the atmosphere. But for those who want to spend huge amounts of additional money to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we should consider Lomborg’s appraoch: Relatively small amounts (tens of billions) of global expenditures (versus hundreds of billions or trillions to arrest carbon dioxide emissions) could bring about huge benefits to humanity in saving lives from malaria and Aids and in improving living standards in impoverished countries. This does make sense, since the worst case scenario is particularly bad for impoverished people living in low lying coastal areas in Asia and Africa. Spending funds to move them would cost much less than eliminating carbon dioxide emissions.
I’ll stop now while you consider this…..