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Author Topic: Climate Stabilization Wedges - A solution past its time?  (Read 6789 times)

JimD

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Climate Stabilization Wedges - A solution past its time?
« on: August 26, 2013, 07:16:04 PM »
In 2004 two Princeton professors Physicist Robert H. Socolow and ecologist Stephen Pacala presented a paper describing the use of what they called climate stabilization wedges as a methodology to address carbon emissions and to eventually bring CO2 concentrations under control.

Stabilization wedges were individual programs which would execute available capabilities each of which would result in the avoiding of 1GT of carbon emissions a year.  Starting in 2004 executing 7 of these wedges would have held emissions flat for the next 50 years followed by a slow reduction in global CO2 concentrations and a return to normal levels.  This plan assumed we would max at 500 ppm CO2.

A stabilization wedge is defined as follows:

The short version is that a wedge represents a climate solution that starts slowly but then rises in impact over the 50 years and ultimately avoids the emission of one billion tons of carbon per year.

Note that all of the individual wedges detailed by the pair do not require the development of any new technologies.  Subsequent additional wedges put forth by them and others largely do not require any new developments either.

This is a very interesting subject and quite involved.  Rather than try and provide a synopsis (which I could screw up pretty easily) I am going to provide a LOT of links to articles and comments on this proposal.  Joe Romm at Climate Progress has written most of them.

The message to take away from this proposal and subsequent additions is that technically it was a workable solution in 2004 and even today (assuming that one executed about 14-18 of these wedges) may still have a very positive impact (but today we would be looking at maxing at 550 ppm CO2).  The problem is that we have pissed away 10 years and none of these wedges is trivial in execution nor are hardly any of them politically feasible. 

Personally I do not think there is any chance this approach will be acted upon due to the typical societal/political problems we are struggling against.  If we had executed the whole program in 2004 we would be sitting in a pretty good place.  If we started today I think events (AGW, food production) would likely overtake us before we could get things under control.  And we would be looking at that 550 ppm number which we know now is much worse than we thought it was in 2004.  But that is just my opinion.  Read up and see what you think.

The wedges:

The original paper describes 15 possible wedges to choose from (link #1).  Joe Romm and others have come up with quite a few other possible wedges.  It is worth noting that we have learned a lot over the years and some of the wedges thought up we now know would not work.  An example is conservation tillage - means no plowing - as we now know that not plowing has no impact on amounts of soil carbon (the two methods just result in the carbon being distributed at different depths in the soil, but it was a nice thought and it still cuts down on erosion).  There are a number of others that have been proposed that I do not accept that they would work either.  But I'll let you find them.   The thing to keep in mind about many of the wedges is the scale of industrial requirements needed to execute them.  Not to mention the political will.  And the resources and the money.

Link info:

1.  The original paper is still paywalled but you can get to it for free through the Princeton web site.  Goggle "pacala socolow 2004" and a pdf link to the original paper pops up.  It is only 4 pages.
 
Joe Romm Mar 2008
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2008/03/31/202489/is-450-ppm-carbon-dioxide-politically-possible-1/

Joe Romm Apr 2008
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2008/04/08/202402/the-technologies-needed-to-beat-450-ppm-part-1/

Joe Romm Apr 2008
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2008/04/22/202576/is-450-ppm-or-less-politically-possible-part-2-the-solution/

Joe Romm Apr 2008
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2008/04/24/202586/is-450-ppm-politically-possible-part-26-what-is-the-impact-of-peak-oil-and-peak-coal/

Joe Romm Apr 2008
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2008/04/29/202587/is-450-ppm-or-less-politically-possible-midcourse-correction/

J. Romm Apr 2008
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2008/04/30/202577/is-450-ppm-or-less-politically-possible-part-3-the-breakthrough-technology-illusion/

J. Romm May 2008
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2008/05/05/202605/is-450-ppm-politically-possible-part-4-the-most-urgent-climate-policy-isnt-a-co2-price/

J. Romm May 2008
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2008/05/08/202533/is-450-ppm-possible-part-5-old-coals-out-cant-wait-for-new-nukes-so-what-do-we-do-now/

J Romm May 2008
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2008/05/13/202626/the-jewel-of-denial-part-1-the-delayers-paradox/

J. Romm May 2008
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2008/05/21/202651/no-till-farming-does-not-save-carbon-and-is-not-a-carbon-offset/

J Romm June 2008
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2008/06/19/202806/nature-publishes-my-climate-analysis-and-solution/

J Romm Jul 2008
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2008/06/29/202829/is-450-ppm-politically-possible-part-6-what-the-boxer-lieberman-warner-bill-debate-tells-us/

J Romm Sep 2008
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2008/09/29/203149/is-coal-with-carbon-capture-and-storage-a-core-climate-solution/

J Romm Oct 2008
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2008/10/22/203238/an-introduction-to-the-core-climate-solutions/

J Romm Nov 2008
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2008/11/23/203377/an-open-letter-to-james-hansen-on-the-real-truth-about-stabilizing-at-350-ppm/

J Romm Mar 2009
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2008/11/23/203377/an-open-letter-to-james-hansen-on-the-real-truth-about-stabilizing-at-350-ppm/

J Romm Apr 2009
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2009/04/06/203917/breakthrough-technology-illusion-global-warming-solution/

J Romm Jan 2011
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2011/01/10/207320/the-full-global-warming-solution-how-the-world-can-stabilize-at-350-to-450-ppm/

J Romm/Socolow May 2011
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2011/05/18/208131/socolow-wedges-deployment/

J Romm Sep 2011
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2011/09/26/329233/world%e2%80%99s-engineers-technology-cut-greenhouse-gas-emissions-exists/

J Romm/Socolow Sep 2011
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2011/09/30/333435/socolow-wedges-clean-energy-deployment/

J Romm Jan 2013
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/01/08/1417881/rethinking-wedges-clean-energy-stabilize-near-2c-warming-start-deployment-asap/

Carbon Mitigation Initiative
 
http://cmi.princeton.edu/wedges/

Socolow/Pacula calculations

http://cmi.princeton.edu/wedges/calculations.php
We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable. Alexander Solzhenitsyn

How is it conceivable that all our technological progress - our very civilization - is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal? Albert Einstein

JimD

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Re: Climate Stabilization Wedges - A solution past its time?
« Reply #1 on: August 29, 2013, 04:46:51 PM »
Let's highlight the wind power wedges.  There are 2 of them each of which is intended to avoid the emission of 1GT of carbon a year in 50 years.

A stabilization wedge is
Quote
a climate solution that starts slowly but then rises in impact over the 50 years and ultimately avoids the emission of one billion tons of carbon per year

Romm's 2011 stabilization wedge list.

Quote
This is what the entire planet must achieve:
•1 wedge of albedo change through white roofs and pavement (aka “soft geoengineering) “” see “Geoengineering, adaptation and mitigation, Part 2: White roofs are the trillion-dollar solution“
•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 thermal (aka solar baseload)- ~5000 GW peak.
•3 of efficiency “” one each for buildings, industry, and cogeneration/heat-recovery 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 wedge of nuclear power – 700 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 [this could well include dietary changes]

Here are additional wedges that require some major advances in applied research to be practical and scalable, but are considered plausible by serious analysts, especially post-2030:
•1 of geothermal plus ocean-based renewables (i.e. tidal, wave, and/or ocean thermal)
•1 of coal with biomass cofiring plus carbon capture and storage “” 400 GW of coal plus 200 GW biomass with CCS
•1/2 to 1 wedge of cellulosic biofuels for long-distance transport and what little aviation remains in 2050 “” using 8% of the world’s cropland [or less land if yields significantly increase or algae-to-biofuels proves commercial at large scale].
•1 of soils and/or biochar- Apply improved agricultural practices to all existing croplands and/or “charcoal created by pyrolysis of biomass.” Both are controversial today, but may prove scalable strategies.

That should do the trick. And yes, the scale is staggering.

Electricity generation (non-electric car).  This 1GT emission reduction for each wedge requires 1,000,000 large (2MW peak) turbines be constructed.  As the wedges as originally envisioned are to take place over 50 years this means that globally we need to build 20,000 of these large turbines a year.  Romm has argued that we really need to do this in 40 years or at a rate of 25,000 a year.

Electricity for electric cars.  This is a separate requirement than the wedge above.  If we convert the vehicle fleet to virtually 100% electric we would need another 1,000,000 wind turbines.  This would result in a build out of 40,000-50,000 a year when added to the above wedge.

Note that the wedges work in concert with each other.  If you execute half  the fuel mpg wedge of an average of 60mpg for the fleet and half the wind for electric cars at the same time that equals 1 wedge.

To execute this idea in 40 years, as Romm suggests, requires the execution of 12-14 wedges from the list (2011 figures).   This should demonstrate the scale of execution and the cost of it to some extent.

Take a look over the wedge list from a 2011 post on wedges (note the list has evolved since 2004 as some wedges have been dropped and others added.  For instance no-till farming is now known not to conserve soil carbon and is not on Romm's list).  Which wedges do you think can be executed and which cannot?

My greatest complaint with the wedges concept is that it is based upon a BAU version of the current population trends and functionally a continuation of western lifestyles.   




We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable. Alexander Solzhenitsyn

How is it conceivable that all our technological progress - our very civilization - is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal? Albert Einstein

wili

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Re: Climate Stabilization Wedges - A solution past its time?
« Reply #2 on: August 29, 2013, 05:08:21 PM »
Thanks for all the links, but few have time to go through all of them, so highlighting one, as you have done, is quite useful.

One thing that is missing form all the wedge approaches I have seen is radical reduction in demand (except for some nod toward conservation/efficiency, which themselves tend to ignore or brush aside the problem of "Jevons' Paradox" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox ).

Sufficient demand reduction/destruction at this point will involve some sacrifice/pain, which is one reason it has long been avoided like a third rail in mitigation discussions. But at least one brave soul has been willing to bring it up:



A longish video, but well worth watching in its entirety, though you can get the gist of the argument in the first 20 minutes or so, iirc.

And it must be pointed out that adding renewables only reduces atmospheric carbon if coal plants are retired at the same rate as (or faster than) the renewables are installed.

So the whole project is a bit back-assward.

We should be setting clear goals globally of how much and how quickly we will be reducing how much carbon we are UNsequestering--say, 50% reduction in coal mining by 2020...

If these goals have enough teeth in them that everyone knows for sure that those constraints are coming down the pike, regions, countries, states, companies and families will figure out quite rapidly how they will respond to this ff-energy-restricted future without economists or ecologists prescribing what mix of 'wedges' will be right for who (though of course such studies may be useful in determining what is and isn't doable, in theory at least).
"A force de chercher de bonnes raisons, on en trouve; on les dit; et après on y tient, non pas tant parce qu'elles sont bonnes que pour ne pas se démentir." Choderlos de Laclos "You struggle to come up with some valid reasons, then cling to them, not because they're good, but just to not back down."

JimD

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Re: Climate Stabilization Wedges - A solution past its time?
« Reply #3 on: August 29, 2013, 07:13:13 PM »
Wili

As you mentioned the link list is extensive.  I could not avoid that (even though there is a lot of repetition between links) because there is so much there to see.  I also included the links so that those who found the topic very interesting could follow it by dates and see how it has had to evolve given the increasing carbon emissions over time. 

Quote
One thing that is missing form all the wedge approaches I have seen is radical reduction in demand (except for some nod toward conservation/efficiency, which themselves tend to ignore or brush aside the problem of "Jevons' Paradox"

They actually make a point of noting that the 3 efficiency wedges will not work unless there is societal discipline regarding your Jevon's point.  We have to stop screwing that up all right.  But they would work if we do not follow our old practices.

There are LOTS of assumptions in the various wedges like you noted.  Almost every one has some significant issue which makes executing it very difficult.  This is one of the reasons that I wrote the post so people would see what a wedge was and then say "Hold on here!".  And then we have to overcome 12-14 of these big "Hold on here's!".

Quote
...And it must be pointed out that adding renewables only reduces atmospheric carbon if coal plants are retired at the same rate as (or faster than) the renewables are installed.

So the whole project is a bit back-assward. ...


The renewables wedges DO assume that they are replacing fossil capabilities and not just adding additional capability.  So what they are talking about is very different than the situation with renewables here in the US.  Here when we add renewable wind or solar capacity we are almost exclusively just adding electrical generation capability and not retiring coal plants for instance.  The wedges proposal assumes that those windmills are replacing their equivalent in fossil generation.

The wedges approach is, by far, the most rigorous approach I have ever seen proposed and it really brings home how deep of s**t we are in.

Thanks for the video link.  I have seen it before but other's may not be aware of it and it is worth watching.
We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable. Alexander Solzhenitsyn

How is it conceivable that all our technological progress - our very civilization - is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal? Albert Einstein

wili

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Re: Climate Stabilization Wedges - A solution past its time?
« Reply #4 on: August 29, 2013, 10:49:40 PM »
Good points. And my critique was, I hope, exactly in the spirit you intended--of the ideas themselves, not of you for posting them.

Yes, people assume (often, I think, without even realizing it) that adding renewables means replacing ff, but assuming it doesn't make it happen, and it often brushes under the rug the very thing that we should most imperatively be working toward--not drilling or pumping any more carbon out of the ground, since it will almost all inevitably then get burned and added to our already way overburdened atmosphere.

I feel at this point like some supreme Power needs to come along and tell the world, "Alright, you've known for a long time now that at some point you would have to give up ff's, and the sooner the better, if you weren't going to be responsible for massive destruction of creation.

Now the times up. No more ff for you. I'm cutting you off cold turkey. Those few areas that have gone a long way toward getting the energy they need from non-fossil sources will feel the least pain from this immediate halt of this energy source.

The rest of you, well, you were warned. It's not my fault that you dithered and procrastinated till it was far too late."

Unfortunately, in the real world, there are no adults in the room to tell the kids to stop spraying their playroom with lighter fluid while simultaneously playing with matches. In fact, the lighter fluid and match book companies are pretty much in charge of the whole show, as far as I can see.

As you said, if in 2004 (or better, in 1974 or so) the world had put a significant amount of resources into building out renewables, the phase out of ff could in theory have been done relatively painlessly. In reality, though, I'm not sure humans are ultimately capable of leaving vast, discovered potential power well enough alone--eventually someone will try to use it, however benignly (or not) intended.

I think it's somewhere in the Tao Te Ching that wisdom is having access to great power but declining to use it.

Unfortunately, that kind of wisdom is rare in humans, particularly among moderns.

In fact, to most moderns such an ethic would seem close to or fully insane or worse.

Sorry, I'm rambling. Must be the heat. ::)
"A force de chercher de bonnes raisons, on en trouve; on les dit; et après on y tient, non pas tant parce qu'elles sont bonnes que pour ne pas se démentir." Choderlos de Laclos "You struggle to come up with some valid reasons, then cling to them, not because they're good, but just to not back down."

retiredbill

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Re: Climate Stabilization Wedges - A solution past its time?
« Reply #5 on: August 30, 2013, 12:12:33 AM »

...

Now the times up. No more ff for you. I'm cutting you off cold turkey. Those few areas that have gone a long way toward getting the energy they need from non-fossil sources will feel the least pain from this immediate halt of this energy source.

...

I've thought alot about what would happen if we actually did go cold turkey on ff. Utter chaos would
result in the US and most other developed countries. It would be like a natural diaster on a national
scale. Millions of people would starve because they did not have refrigerators and could not cook food.
They could not drive to grocery stores. Grocery stores could not open without electricity. Police and
firemen could not respond to emergencies.
 
No health care. No communciations. But plenty of death and destruction. All of the consequences of
CC expected by 2100 crammed into a few weeks or months.

wili

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Re: Climate Stabilization Wedges - A solution past its time?
« Reply #6 on: August 30, 2013, 02:00:02 AM »
Yep.
"A force de chercher de bonnes raisons, on en trouve; on les dit; et après on y tient, non pas tant parce qu'elles sont bonnes que pour ne pas se démentir." Choderlos de Laclos "You struggle to come up with some valid reasons, then cling to them, not because they're good, but just to not back down."

JimD

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Re: Climate Stabilization Wedges - A solution past its time?
« Reply #7 on: September 03, 2013, 10:47:10 PM »
Here is a new paper on the Wedges.

Rethinking wedges
Steven J Davis et al 2013 Environ. Res. Lett. 8 011001 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/1/011001

The paper shows that the old wedges approach is no longer viable and much more drastic reductions need to take place starting now.  It is a depressing picture. 

Quote
Abstract

Stabilizing CO2 emissions at current levels for fifty years is not consistent with either an atmospheric CO2 concentration below 500 ppm or global temperature increases below 2 °C. Accepting these targets, solving the climate problem requires that emissions peak and decline in the next few decades, and ultimately fall to near zero. Phasing out emissions over 50 years could be achieved by deploying on the order of 19 'wedges', each of which ramps up linearly over a period of 50 years to ultimately avoid 1 GtC y−1 of CO2 emissions. But this level of mitigation will require affordable carbon-free energy systems to be deployed at the scale of tens of terawatts. Any hope for such fundamental and disruptive transformation of the global energy system depends upon coordinated efforts to innovate, plan, and deploy new transportation and energy systems that can provide affordable energy at this scale without emitting CO2 to the atmosphere.
 

http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/8/1/011001
We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable. Alexander Solzhenitsyn

How is it conceivable that all our technological progress - our very civilization - is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal? Albert Einstein