Real climate change action means emissions reduction, and that’s not going to happen the way we do it now
There is a problem with climate change, like anyone needs reminding. The problem is, it’s not what everyone thinks it is.
The most recent IPCC report paints a grim picture, saying that unprecedented levels of change are required. A fairly representative commentary on the report calls the report “the final call”, stating that if global temperatures rise by even 1.5 degrees C we will face unprecedented risks and that the report’s findings “cannot be ignored.”
But poke your head outside, and you will see the most spectacular display of finding-ignoring imaginable. If we take a single but dominant example, global sales of SUVs are skyrocketing. And that’s global, not just Texas. One estimate pegs global SUV sales at 50 percent of the total by 2020. That would put annual SUV sales at something like 40 million per year globally. Electric vehicles (EVs), despite massive subsidies, enormous publicity and promotion by vehicle manufacturers, are forecast to rise (spectacularly, per the news) to about 4 million per year by 2020.
Global oil consumption is forecast to rise straight past 100 million barrels per day this year before topping out around 110-120 million b/d in a few decades. And it’s not just automobiles that are responsible for growing emissions; thousands of coal fired power plants are under construction as we speak.
In other words, human activity is showing no signs of interest in the “unprecedented changes required” to keep global temperatures from rising by 1.5 degrees C.
It should be apparent that the current temperature-limiting methodologies aren’t working at all. For every environmental victory in the west, for every Tesla purchased or pipeline blocked, the rest of the world more than offsets it.
The IPCC report is right, in one aspect – if the goal is to limit emissions in the magnitude suggested, unprecedented action will be required. But since the current efforts and campaigns aren’t working, what should they be?
Well, imagine if all the funding that goes into EV purchases or subsidization of charging stations or any of the other countless green projects was channeled to the most critical path items? What if all that money went to where it gets the biggest bang for the buck?
Two spring to mind. Carbon sequestration technology is rapidly evolving. A few billion dollars – a pittance compared to, say, Europe’s green energy subsidies – could revolutionize technology like that of British Columbia’s Carbon Engineering. This company is developing large scale CO2 sequestration technology that, in a further excellent twist, converts the captured CO2 to fuel.
Imagine further if several billion more dollars were earmarked for reforestation projects, or just plain old forestation projects in areas where there never has been any. There are multiple benefits here as well. First, the forests create natural habitats for wildlife, which will be be acceptable to everyone except gophers. Second, the type of forest can be optimized to some extent, with a focus on tree species that are the most effective at CO2 sequestration.
These might sound like marginal ideas, but consider the impact they could have if given the budget that green energy is given. Consider that in 2017, $280 billion was spent globally on renewable energy. Imagine if even 10 percent of that total was devoted to the above projects, say half to carbon sequestration and half to reforestation. Carbon Engineering estimates that it can reduce atmospheric CO2 for about $100 per tonne, so $14 billion would remove 140 million tonnes per year, or twice the current output of Canada’s oil sands. $14 billion could plant thousands of acres of trees.
Those might not sound like a lot, but what if $200 billion was spent instead of $28 billion? These are the paths we need to start thinking about, since it is apparent that no one will be abandoning SUVs any time soon.