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Tackling Global Warming Cheaper Than Ignoring It 586

Posted by kdawson
from the ounce-of-prevention dept.
Coryoth writes, "In a report commissioned by the UK government, respected economist Sir Nicholas Stern concludes that mitigating global warming could cost around 1% of global GDP if spent immediately, but ignoring the problem could cost between 5% and 20% of global GDP. The 700-page study represents the first major report on climate change from an economist rather than a scientist. The report calls for the introduction of green taxes and carbon trading schemes as soon as possible, and calls on the international community to sign a new pact on greenhouse emissions by next year rather than in 2010/11. At the very least the UK government is taking the report seriously; both major parties are proposing new green taxes. Stern points out, however, that any action will only be effective if truly global."
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Tackling Global Warming Cheaper Than Ignoring It

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  • Long term solution (Score:5, Interesting)

    by QuantumFTL (197300) <justin.wick@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Sunday October 29, 2006 @08:14PM (#16636754)
    I am not an atmospheric scientist, but I have discussed this topic (and this exact issue) with an atmospheric scientist I used to work with when I worked for NASA. The bottom line is that global warming is very real, however we simply don't have good enough models yet to work out the necessary information for making informed policy information - we don't know what the impact on the human race will be if we keep doing what we're doing, because that depends on how well the earth's homeostatic mechanisms will compensate for the additional greenhouse effect. We know it will have a negative effect, that is sure, but we don't know how well cutting greenhouse emissions will help.

    Personally I think a long term solution to this will require technology on an unprecidented scale, not merely cutting back emissions. We should be investing in these new technologies and in general scientific and economic progress, and I am concerned that these short-term "band-aid" measures of reducing output could actually increase the amount of time it takes (and thus how bad it gets) before we have the appropriate technology and scientific understanding to regulate the climate of our entire planet.

    Of course, if all else fails, there's always controlled stratospheric particulate matter injection, and the US and Russia certainly have enough devices for that...
  • by darylb (10898) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @08:26PM (#16636850)

    Assuming global warming is true (a point I will neither defend nor oppose), the money spent on preventing global warming is a waste. The full implementation of the Kyoto treaty will result in a decrease in global warming by 0.07C [cei.org]. That's right, less than a tenth of a degree Celcius, with all the economic and humanitarian harm that Kyoto would impose. And that harm is real: the EU nations are already trying to figure out how to not do Kyoto while still claiming some kind of adherence to the treaty because the economic consequences are disastrous. That, and they're not meeting the requirements. [guardian.co.uk]

    Our money is far, far better spent learning to cope with a warmer planet, assuming again that things are getting warmer and staying warmer. Frankly, the technological advances on our planet are going to decrease greenhouse gas emissions without any kind of treaty or government mandate. The rising cost of energy (of all kinds) will lead, quite naturally, to processes that consume less energy, thereby reducing the side-effects like CO2 production. And we mustn't forget that it is industrial processes that create products that consume less energy, like the newly popular compact fluorescent bulbs.

  • Re:Stephen Hawking (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nzMM (1001625) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @08:26PM (#16636854)
    James Lovelock in his 2006 book, the Revenge of Gaia (i found it fascinating) mentions that there are at least 6 forms of positive feedback known to science. Ice melting exposing dark soils beneath, ice melting releasing ancient methane, algae and tropical forests dieing, less cloud cover, expanding arctic dark forests -> absorb more heat, as well as others that haven't been identified by scientists.

    It was even proposed that cleaning up particulate pollution over Europe could reveal a truer extent of regional warming, by 1-2 degrees. It is thought that pollution across Europe actually causes regional cooling.

    Along these lines stop gap measures have been proposed, including adding 0.5-1% sulphur to jet fuel, in the hope the pollution caused would actually cool the planet. Or artificially seeding clouds over the Pacific, or even launching a giant shield into space blocking something like 2% of the suns heat(?). These are serious proposals as far as i could tell from the book.

    But the problem with these solutions is that we are undertaking the problem of managing the earths climate, something Gaia has happily managed for the past billions of years.
  • by FooAtWFU (699187) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @08:34PM (#16636920) Homepage
    Of course, if all else fails, there's always controlled stratospheric particulate matter injection, and the US and Russia certainly have enough devices for that...

    Apparently the cheapest way to put dust in the upper atmosphere is to shoot it up with big naval guns. But aside from that, my favored techniques involve providing tax incentives in cities to paint rooftops white. This results in an increased albedo, reflecting more sunlight (and heat) - not only reducing global warming directly, but indirectly in the form of reduced energy consumption for air conditioning and the like (the urban "heat island" effect). It's a simple, low-impact way to Do Something.

    White rooftops are only one thing to do, of course. Planting some pleasant shade trees helps as well, as does the use of recycled glass in asphalt (which roughly doubles its albedo). I understand that about 1% of the nation is covered with some sort of man-made construction, so this could make a decent difference.

  • Re:Side Note: (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ArikTheRed (865776) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @08:57PM (#16637112) Homepage
    Don't worry, the Rapture will come way before global warming kicks in. Its coming soon... anytime now... just a few more moments... hold on... it's a comin'... Oh! Is it now? I can feel it! No, no wait... that's just gas.

    But seriously, don't worry.
  • by ClamIAm (926466) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @09:01PM (#16637150)
    "I tell you, freedom and human rights in America are doomed," bin Laden said as the U.S. war on terrorism raged in Afghanistan. "The U.S. government will lead the American people in -- and the West in general -- into an unbearable hell and a choking life." linky [cnn.com]

    Of course, we should keep in mind that Bush is simply the symbol of this decay. The Administration as a whole is what scares the hell out of me. Add to this the people in Congress who support these shenanigans. And places like the UK have some nasty new laws as well.
  • by Dun Malg (230075) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @09:03PM (#16637158) Homepage
    So let's make our own carbon converters. 2CO2 + energy -> C2 + 2O2.. it's really not complicated. Even if we were to get all the energy for that equation by burning coal or oil, we'd still be able to keep the carbon in the atmosphere at acceptable levels.
    Ummmm....no. The process of reducing CO2 necessarily will release more CO2 than you reduce if you fuel the reaction with hydrocarbons. Nuclear and wind? Sure. But you'd be better off just directly replacing the CO2 producing power generation systems with those than going through the unnecessary steps involved in carbon sequestration.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 29, 2006 @09:03PM (#16637166)
    I didn't see it mentioned in that article, but what Stern is actually proposing is a shift in taxes rather than a tax increase. Taxes would be increased on polluters, but that would be offset by tax breaks on low emission or energy efficient technology. It's a pretty common idea among the world's Green parties, so it's interesting to see it moving mainstream.
  • by B.D.Mills (18626) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @09:14PM (#16637254)
    Assuming global warming is true (a point I will neither defend nor oppose), the money spent on preventing global warming is a waste.

    Not true.

    The majority of the energy that the world consumes today is from non-renewable sources - coal, oil, uranium and so on. These sources of energy will be depleted eventually. In 100 years oil will be scarce, easily-extractable uranium may be in short supply and coal, although still plentiful, may not be used as widely for energy as it is now.

    Even if one believes the most optimistic view (against all available evidence) that increasing the CO2 concentration from the preindustrial level of 280 ppm to a much higher level has no effect on the planet's climate and the ecology, one cannot deny that we will need new sources of renewable energy. If global warming provides us with an opportunity to implement renewable energy, it would provide economic stability for future generations.

    Thus, the money would not be wasted. Instead, it should be considered as an insurance policy.
  • by 4tidude (919272) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @09:36PM (#16637400)

    There has actually been quite a lot of research on how well the earth's homeostatic mechanisms will compensate for our waste. And those studies are not encouraging. Read Paul Hawken's The Ecology of Commerce. He cites quite a few studies. The book was written in 1993, so I would assume there are more now as well.

    A few quotes are below because he says it so much better than me. Despite the somber tone of these quotes, Hawken's is remarkably optimistic and offers a long list of suggestions for reversing our current trend -- such as taxing waste. If waste were taxed (the manufacturer taxed, not the consumer), it would be amazing how quickly corporations found ways of recycling and reusing old versions of their products. And what is fascinating is that if corporations did this voluntarily, it could actually increase their profitability, not cut it into it. If AOL had been taxed for every 1,000 Hours Free CD that ended up in a landfill, our natural landscape would have survived the stripmining it has suffered. And perhaps, AOL would have been forced to come up with a business model that actually worked. Enough, on to quotes:

    "For those who say times are tough, that we can ill afford sweeping changes because the existing system is already broke or hobbled, consider that the U.S. and the former U.S.S.R. spent over $10 trillion on the Cold War, enough money to replace the entire infrastructure of the world, every school, every hospital, every roadway, building and farm" (p 58).

    "If, as predicted, our population doubles sometimes in the next forty or fifty years, we will usurp 80 percent of the primary production of the planet, assuming no increase in the standard of living. If our standard of living doubles in the next forty years--the accepted projection--we will quadruple our impact, a physical impossibility" (p 22).

    "The global economy has already exceeded carrying capacity--that point beyond which further growth will decay and effectively destroy its host. ...the earth is stable. It does not grow.... No technology in the world can change this equation" (p 32).

  • by HoneyBeeSpace (724189) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @10:29PM (#16637766) Homepage
    If you'd like to run your own NASA Global Climate Model (GCM) on your own computer, the EdGCM [columbia.edu] project has ported a GCM to Mac & Windows and wrapped it in a GUI so you can point-and-click your way around. Turn the sun down or add some nitrogen, whatever you want...

    We don't have an economics model attached so it isn't 100% relevant to TFA, but it will let you see the physical effects different CO2 and GHG scenarios will have on our planet.

    Disclaimer: I'm a developer on the project.
  • by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Monday October 30, 2006 @12:48AM (#16638553) Homepage Journal
    ``Oil replacement first, then reduction.''

    I wonder if that reduction is even necessary (though I would say it's a good idea anyway). According to the CIA world factbook [cia.gov], the USA consumes about 4 trillion kWh of electricity each year. According to Wikipedia the energy content of biodiesel is about 35 MJ per liter [wikipedia.org]. For 4 trillion kWh, this works out to about 15 quads (the unit used by the UNH study [unh.edu]). To produce that much Biodiesel, according to the UNH study, we would need about 12000 square miles of desert land. This is a very rough approximation; converting Biodiesel to electricity is not 100% efficient, energy consumption has changed since the CIA world factbook was updated, we don't need to go all the way to Biodiesel to generate electricity (just using the oil extracted from the algae, or even the algae themselves, should work), etc. etc.

    So, give or take, for transportation and electricity combined, we need about 30000 square miles of desert land. We have that much. And this is for the USA, which, to my knowledge, has the highest energy consumption per capita.
  • by QuoteMstr (55051) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Monday October 30, 2006 @01:02AM (#16638631)
    This guy's views on the energy problem resonate strongly with my own. and I recommend that everyone take a look [jerf.org].

    For convenience (and posterity) I've copied the article below. The emphasis is mine, but please read the whole thing.

    Technological sustainability is one of the pressing issues of our time. Should we continue to use our natural resources with wild abandon, or should we try to be more careful with them so we don't lose them?

    Since the answer to that question is basically a foregone conclusion when stated that way, how should we be more careful? What's the optimal strategy?

    The two basic extremes are:

    * Legislate sustainability, right now. The situation is so dire that we must deliberately bend as many resources as possible to the problem.
    * Let the market take its course. As resources become rare, the price of that resource will rise, creating economic incentive to create alternatives. Eventually the Invisible Hand will sort things out.

    My own thoughts on the subject are probably extreme enough in their own ways to guarantee that nearly everybody will find something to object to, but I think if you think about them they start to make more sense then most of what constitutes "debate" on this topic today.

    First, there is much truth on both sides. Running out of resources is an issue, the more so because there are some resources for which a suitable replacement may never truly exist. (Petrochemicals come to mind as the big one here. Helium, oddly enough, is another, and it's even more fundamental then petrochemicals because it's actually an element and therefore can't be replenished with anything less then large-scale fusion (which may never happen) or cheap and easy space travel (ditto).)

    On the other hand, the "Big Resource Crisis" that wacko environmentalists secretly (or not-so-secretly) hope will "teach us a lesson" is never going to happen because there are effectively no resources that have a big step function in them. There will never be a day where we wake up and the top news story of the day will be "There Is No More Oil". Instead, as the argument says, the price of resources will indeed increase over time, and we will seek out alternatives, possibly including simply going without (with all the attendant misery and death that statement euphemistically obscures).

    How to harmonize these two points of view? The easiest way to think of it is with an overarching metaphor. (Yes, I've often spoken out against using metaphors, but this is the good kind: I use it to communicate an idea, not to reason with.)

    Basically, we are in a race. In lane one, we have ever-increasing technological efficiency, and as we learn more we can more effectively place the upper bounds on how far that technology can go. The bad news is that a lot of science fiction is looking impossible: No teleportation, no faster-then-light travel, no magic propulsion. The good news is that the upper limits of nanotechnology are most likely higher then any 1960's science fiction author would have dared write about. I'd summarize it as "the ultimate limitation of technology's ability to manipulate matter will be limited solely by the minimum chemical energy required to do the manipulations". If our technology reaches its endgame, constructing petrochemicals will mostly be a matter of sticking in the right chemicals on one end, and applying the proper energy. (Of course, it's more likely that you will just go straight to the final product like plastic.)

    In the other lane, we have ever-depleting supplies of resources that are currently unreplaceable, and without which we can not power the society we need to reach this technology level. If we run out of resources first, we lose.

    Literally, the fate of the planet is at stake. Some people like to say that an entire other technological civilization like ours could have existed in the distan

  • by OneSmartFellow (716217) on Monday October 30, 2006 @06:02AM (#16639973)
    .. do a study that indicates the blatantly obvious solution to global warming is to stop waste.

    Some of my ideas:
    1.) No non-HGV which operates at less than 20 km/L will be allowed to be sold. Milage to increase by 1 km/L per year until further notice for a period of not less than 10 years.

    2.) No device shall be allowed to have a 'stand-by' mode. Either the item is in use, or it is consuming no power. Wherever reasonable a device must have an auto-off mode. (example: a television or lamp must be explicitely 'programmed' to not turn itself off after two hours.)

    3.) The use of fossil fuels for the raw, or derived, material for packaging is forbidden.

    4.) Individually wrapped items of fruit or vegetable is not legal. Use of plastic carrier bags not allowed.

    5.) Use of HGV to transport items for distances less than 10 Km or greater than 100 Km is forbidden when rail service is available.

    6.) Shopping outlets outside of city limits will be taxed for each vehicle that enters the premises.

    7.) In-window air conditioning units to be illegal.

    8.) Home cooling units may not cool houses below 30C (85F). Home heating devices may not heat houses above 18C (65F).

    9.) Do something about the amount of unnecessary lighting. The solution to this is not immediately clear to me.
  • by matrem (806375) on Monday October 30, 2006 @11:25AM (#16642197)

    Your post is reasonably well informed, but in my opinion you make some mistakes which are crucial in estimating the effect of man-made climate change.

    First, of course, you assert that water vapor creates 95% of the greenhouse effect. I do not know why you mention this number (except that it is given at several skeptic's sites), but most people seem to think that 70% is a better estimate. However, it should not be forgotten that the water vapor content of the atmosphere balances itself - as such it cannot have a direct effect on global warming and abrupt climate change. This is well explained here [realclimate.org].

    Some of your imformation is out of date. For example, the data of the temperature record for the last 18,000 years is ten years old, and is superseded by several studies [wikipedia.org]. You're right that these temperature changes cannot be attributed to man, the strongest change is due to the fact that we have left an ice-age.

    Because carbon dioxide gives a significant contribution to the greenhouse effect, and it has significantly risen, one can expect an abrupt change in temperatures around the globe. Lo and behold, this is what we observe! There is no, I stress, NO natural effect known that could have caused this. Also, the 0.6 C change is NOT within natural climate variation on this timescale, if you know of any events, please tell me when this has happened.

    Most importantly, you already claim defeat, because CO2 has a long lifetime. But the most important effects, such as sea-level rise an large-scale shift in weather patterns occur at high CO2 concentration. It is of the utmost importance to avoid the doubling of CO2 concentrations with respect to their pre-industrial age levels. We should reduce our emissions immediately and by at least 50%.

"And do you think (fop that I am) that I could be the Scarlet Pumpernickel?" -- Looney Tunes, The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1950, Chuck Jones)

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