Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Dollars and Sense of Emission Reductions

There are lots of promises and proposals being made to reduce emissions by x percent in order to combat global warming. Let's set aside the science on this and talk dollars and sense.

World leaders and experts are meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark to discuss proposals to reduce carbon emissions. In particular, President Obama is looking to reduce emissions by 17% by 2020 and 83% by 2050.
At the international climate meetings in Copenhagen next month, Mr. Obama will tell the delegates that the United States intends to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions “in the range of” 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050, officials said.

The figures reflect targets specified by legislation that passed the House in June but is stalled in the Senate. Congress has never enacted legislation that includes firm emissions limits or ratified an international global warming agreement with binding targets.

Mr. Obama will travel to the United Nations talks to deliver the promise in hopes of spurring significant progress there. He will appear Dec. 9, near the beginning of the 12-day session, on his way to accept the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on Dec. 10, officials said.

By making the pledge in an international forum, Mr. Obama is laying a bet that Congress will complete action on a climate bill next year and will be prepared to ratify an international agreement based on the commitment.
This graph shows visually what the President proposes doing, all while China and India continue growing. Moreover, the total increase in emissions (which that graph doesn't show), continues rising particularly if China and/or India do not sign on to any agreement.

The massive economic slowdown and recession have reduced carbon emissions significantly, but with the eventual end of the recession, economic growth will resume, and so will the demand for energy and production of goods and services that can and do produce carbon dioxide and other emissions.

This graph shows carbon emissions since the 1700s, and an 80% reduction in current US emissions would require a sea-change in how the nation produces power and transports goods, or else we'd be talking about a radical reduction in the quality of life. Since so much of what we take for granted in our current standard of living owes itself to power generation (which is primarily from fossil fuels) to power our economy, it would require a massive switch to nuclear power and alternative energy sources to reduce carbon emissions by the levels suggested by the President.

Moreover, it would require a massive change in how people view nuclear power and allow for the construction of dozens of new nuclear power plants in the country. Such efforts are not likely given the NIMBY attitudes across the country and the high start-up costs for a nuclear power plant as compared to coal or gas fired plants.

So, until we dedicate ourselves to building nuclear power plants, we should not expect any action towards the reduction of emissions either domestically or worldwide.

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