Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Carbon Mitigation Wedges

I heard a story about the Carbon Mitigation Initiative Wedges Game on NPR. It is really not so much of a game, if you were expecting World of Warcraft or Civilization, but more of a group discussion and decision-making activity. Presentations given at a Climate Change Town Hall meeting in San Francisco in February 2007 by Professor Socolow, Dr Hotinski, and Amory Lovins, among others, are available for download in pdf and ppt format from the AAAS site for the meeting. Following some links led me to the Rocky Mountain Institute of Mr Lovins, where Winning the Oil Endgame is an interesting download, although you will have to fill out a form to get to this pdf link. Otherwise you could just buy it at amazon for $40.

One problem with the Carbon Mitigation wedges is that from the beginning, they assume a trendline and future that is seemingly impossible. The present carbon acceleration probably could not continue as a straight line with the rising cost of peak oil, possible reduction in human population due to epidemics and ecological collapses, the reduced ability to extract, store, deliver, and refine oli as social instability increases and less capital and technology is available. I think they should make explicit what kind of assumptions they are making about population and future energy use. Why does it have to be assumed that we will consume more and more energy every year? I suppose it is conservative in a way to assume that present trends will continue, but depressing to imagine that all of these technologies need to be deployed just to stay in the same place. Japan emits 9.44 t of CO2/capita while the U.S. emits 19.95 t of CO2/capita although both countries generate a GDP per capita between $35,000 and $40,000 annually. The U.S. should be able to do better than Japan, even without resorting to nuclear power, by using the greater land area to exploit solar, wind, biofuels, geothermal, wave and tide resources.

It seems that the U.S. should be able to set more aggressive targets for itself. Small example: everyone in Japan finds it natural to dry their clothes in the sun and wind, no matter what floor of the danchi you are on. I was given an electric drier once but couldn't sell it or give it away and had to keep it. You would think more peopl would resort to using a drier in the rainy season but even then many people prefer to just habg the clothes up indoors. Likewise, people in Japan enjoy being able to get anywhere by train, like New Yorkers, but also by walking or using a bicycle. Another example is that it is considered a little shocking to run heat or air-conditioning at night, even in the cold of winter or heat of summer. These energy-conscious habits are already mainstream in Japan, but Americans would need to break their carbon-belching habits in order to cut carbon use in half, and approach the Japanese level of annual per capita carbon emissions.

The value of the wedge idea is just that it breaks what seems to be an insurmountable problem into smaller components that can be dealt with even using present technologies.

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