A list of the necessary stabilization wedges

Joseph Romm has updated his list of necessary stabilization wedges to obtain 450 by 2050. Among people pushing for 450, Romm is pretty much the most intense (and for me, at least, inspirational). Personally, I think we differ in some things, but there's no doubt that his technical expertise and knowledge of the subject makes his list of stabilization wedges incredibly important to study.

Here's the list:

  • 1 wedge of albedo change through white roofs and pavement (aka “soft geoengineering)
  • 1 wedge of vehicle efficiency — all cars 60 mpg, with no increase in miles traveled per vehicle.
  • 1 of wind for power — one million large (2 MW peak) wind turbines
  • 1 of wind for vehicles –another 2000 GW wind. Most cars must be plug-in hybrids or pure electric vehicles.
  • 3 of concentrated solar power (aka solar baseload)– ~5000 GW peak.
  • 3 of efficiency — one each for buildings, industry, and co-generation/heating for a total of 15 to 20 million GW-hrs. A key strategy for reducing direct fossil fuel use for heating buildings (while also reducing air conditioning energy) is geothermal heat pumps.
  • 1 of solar photovoltaics— 2000 GW peak
  • 1/2 wedge of nuclear power– 350 GW
  • 2 of forestry — End all tropical deforestation. Plant new trees over an area the size of the continental U.S.
  • 1 wedge of WWII-style conservation, post-2030
To put this list in context:

This is a huge amount of effort, spread over the entire world. In addition to all of this, behavior like building new coal plants would have to cease (to what degree carbon-releasing activities like cement production would have to cease is, to me, unclear) - and that's the real problematic part.

The real truth that I'm starting to wrap my head around (thanks Thomas Friedman) is that it's not so much about the United States. We're still the greatest consumer of energy, yes, and we have to keep fighting, but the real task is developing nations. (I feel like I've said this before, recently, though, so I'll shut up.)

Because Romm believes that we need to get rid of coal plants as quickly as possible, he's pushing for concentrated solar very heavily (5000 GW is a huge amount considering there's barely any of it in the world right now - there's less than 1 GW in the world now). It's simple technology that can be enacted fairly cheaply and easily in the American southwest and other desert regions (remember, this list is global). While that is the most efficient way to react to the challenge of reducing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, it's not without its costs - if the plants are of the cheaper, simpler variety, large amounts of water need to be used, which is a problem because the best place for these plants is desert. Something to think about.

Most important, I think, is that Romm has chosen to reduce the amount of nuclear to half a wedge - and follows that up with a note that says if he could, he'd get rid of it, but he thinks we have to make a devil's bargain to beat climate change. And it's true - despite what People On The Internet say, nuclear, as it exists right now, has too many trade-offs to be effective.

Also important are the unconventional wedges that he pushes for - especially the albedo increase and World War II-esque conservation efforts.

Albedo increase happens naturally - more ice reflecting more sun to create more ice is the main positive feedback cycle that results in ice ages (usually after something related to a Milankovitch (solar) cycle has started creating a bit of ice and pushing down carbon dioxide levels). While this is an enormous effort, it's also a simple one - and one that absolutely anyone can do. Unfortunately, painting pavement white also seems like something that no one will go for - not yet. It's one of those basic changes that people will rally against. Something to think about, anyway.

Conservation efforts, I think, deserves more thought - and maybe because I'm more optimistic than Romm, I believe may also be worth more than 1 wedge. Especially in the market of using more local goods - reducing necessary transportation - I think there's a lot to be gained here. Also, in terms of industrial conservation, more and more industries may be feeling pressure to reduce carbon outtake. Again, Romm has done the math and I haven't, so all I can say is that I'll be awaiting more details on what he sees as conservation. (I should also reread his plans for energy efficiency, in part because I'm not sure how much I'm confusing what he sees as conservation and efficiency, and in part because they're very good.)

On the whole, though, one thing shines through. This is a monumental effort that needs to start today.

On the one hand, it's a sobering thought. But on the other, how many times do you really get to save the world in your lifetime? Pitching in with this might be your only chance.

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