GHG Reduction: Fiddling while China burns

China coal                                                                Source: Wall Street Journal

The recent climate change talks in Paris should be viewed with well-deserved skepticism: Even if all the countries do what they pledged(?) to do, the rapidly increasing emission of carbon dioxide forecast for China – even considering their pledge- guarantees that the threshhold two degree Centigrade rise in the average earth’s temperature will be exceeded. By 2030, China’s emisssion will reach 14 million metric tons (16 million with no pledge), from current 12 million tons, while U.S. emissions may drop from 7 million to 4 million tons, European emissions may drop from 5 million to 3.5 million, while Indian emissions rise from 3 million to 5 million tons. About 70 percent of China’s emissions currently come from coal, a fact that residents of Beijing are painfully aware of as they stumble around in the smog.

About ten years ago, Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish professor, published The Skeptical Environmentalist and wrote articles that discussed global warming and other environmental concerns. He was and has consistently been skeptical of spending( or even thinking of spending) the huge amounts of money needed (trillions) to reduce carbon emissions enough to meet some sort of goal to allay doomsday projections. If a great deal money were even to be made available to reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere- surely far less than trillions of dollars, Lomborg says that it would be better to spend this money to solve other human ills such as AIDS, malaria, poverty, etc.,   But he also strongly advocates spending large amounts of money to deal with the now certain rise in ocean levels (though we don’t know the likely number of inches or feet), a decision which he believes to be a more useful and necessary reaction to what the future holds. Many cities and other areas with coastlines are already starting to make their plans – New York understood the implications of Hurricane Sandy.

Two other approaches to try and deal with the problem have, as most readers know, been studied, but neither of them has gained much traction. Geoengineering, the release of certain chemicals to deal with Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, is considered impractical, untested and dangerous. And capturing carbon dioxide with large sheets of alkaline material is even less likely to be a practical solution- it smacks of Don Quixote and windmills.

So, the “bottom” line is that we really don’t know what we will see in terms of global warming effects. We do know that we will not soon arrest the continuing increase in carbon emissions, given the relentless buildup in Chinese coal burning, though there are reasons why trying to do so here probably makes sense. And communities watching the sea level rising at their shore should be developing workable approaches (like the Dutch people and their dams) to deal with a situation that will not go away.

Florida, from where I am writing this, and Alabama have recognized the problem because the evidence is starkly in front of their inhabitants, even when much of their Congressional delegations continue to deny global warming and climate change. Practical minds will overcome ideology most of the time.


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