Friday, April 27, 2012

Mitigation by accident, but nevertheless (wonkish)

US and other western nations' emissions have been on a better path since the recession, and seem likely to keep heading down.

I've been tracking the US gas boom carefully. I'd been thinking that since the EPA received the go-ahead from the Supreme Court to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from major polluters, mostly power plants, and since gas prices were so cheap, the result would be continued reduction in emissions, even after the recession ended.

(The Royal Society report below also shows clearly the emissions trend in developed nations, with a nice down-tick after 2008.)

It's too soon to tell if US and EU emissions have indeed kept trending down through 2012, but the best evidence suggests that they will. There are other trends that will help. New cars are selling again, and they have moderately better gas mileage than old, while a lot of oil heat is being edged out by efficiency and wood pellet in the US, and gas heat by efficiency in the EU.

I have a student, the inestimable Ms. Austin, working out the approximate total magnitude of the new US fleet fuel efficiency standards and the switch from coal to gas-fired power in terms of CO2e by 2020. The numbers don't look too bad.

Now for the Chinese and Indians.

If the west can pull off this trick of getting emissions going in the right direction, and keeping them headed that way, we need the two largest developing nations to follow suit.

Both countries officially accept climate science, and both have a lot to lose, being in the monsoon belt. China in particular has a vested interest in solar and wind, and may choose to follow that path more single-mindedly, as signaled by this article here. It's also beginning to cooperate in other key areas better than before. India's coal economy is in a shambles, and slowing development there in any case, so they may look for greener ways to bypass their current coal gridlock.

Of course, we'll have to double down on just about every kind of emission again, and again, once or twice or thrice in the next few decades to succeed, and at any moment dangerous feedback loops might kick in and destabilize the system. There will be setback after setback. And I'll be long dead before we know the result.

But I'll at least have played my part.

And I don't think we have any rational choice but to keep trying. Even if we can't stabilize below two degrees, we have to hope to stabilize somewhere, so the new climate we then have to adapt to is not still changing on us.

Possibly a vain hope, but hope nonetheless.

And none of us can really say for sure that it won't work.

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