Thursday, May 3

Targeted emission reductions won’t be sufficient to save our Planet

We will need in the short term to do far more than just reduce emissions but use technology to provide a solution to the current imbalance in the polluted atmosphere, to achieve a very substantial impact within the next 20years.
Greenhouse gas emissions are destabilising our Earth’s climatic system as evident in increased pollution, more extreme weather patterns and food shortages. Recently the debate in the developed economies turned to appropriate targeted reductions in emissions given widespread acceptance the planet is already effected. That change in sentiment is evident in the USA where successive State Governors are following the lead of governor Schwarzenegger who legislated in California for a required reduction of 50% by 2050.

Most companies and particularly all large scale public resource groups in Australia are urging the current government to implement targeted reductions as outlined in the Stern report and to introduce a carbon trading system. The developed world is advocating targeted reductions of 50 % by 2050, in line with Stern Report but I think such targets will be more than offset by increased demand from the developing world.

China and India who represent 2 billion of the world population (total world about 6.5 billion) have recently rejected any targeted reduction in carbon emissions, believing such measures would impact unfavourably on their development and prosperity. Both argue they should be allowed to catch up with the developed world before considering any targeted reductions in their emissions. It is true their per capita emission rate is well below the developed world but as they embrace modernity so will their reliance on energy and the burning of fossil fuels to accelerate to adversely effect climate.

It is hard for us to imagine the phenomenal growth occurring in developing counties such as China and India. China is currently building 300 new cities, each to house over a million people as it expands to become a modern economy. The cities are required to accommodate the migration from what was an agricultural society to the regional and city centres to mirror modern day economies. As we speak, 50% of its population still remain as peasant farmers engaged in subsistent farming. But within 20 years that is likely to shrink to single digits, hence the need for all of those new cities. In China and parts of Asia those engaged in manufacturing mostly earn less than US $1 per hour, hardly are those folk likely to join the world debate on climate change, or to put pressure on their government representatives as they struggle to exist. This is true of many poor regions around the globe. India is also experiencing similar rapid growth and migration from basic agriculture, underpinned by burgeoning new industries such as IT. Hence the current green house emission targeted reductions would need to be increased substantially to offset the accelerated effect of the developing world.

Bearing this in mind it seems we will need in the short term to do far more than just reduce emissions but use technology to provide a solution to the current imbalance in the polluted atmosphere, to achieve a very substantial impact within the next 20years.

Coal

Coal meets 23% of primary energy and 39% of all electricity comes from coal, and 70% of world steel depends on coal feedstock.
It is the world's most abundant and widely distributed fossil fuel source and it is estimated its global use will conservatively increase by 20% by 2020.
However, burning coal releases huge quantities of carbon dioxide each year into the atmosphere, and possibly accounts for one third of the world’s total of CO2 emissions.

Hence the coal industry needs to invest in technology to capture their carbon and eliminate its pollution if it is to survive. The Companies, employers and employees of the major resource groups engaged in coal mining are all urging the government to introduce a carbon trading system and provide industry assistance to underperpin investments in clean coal technology energy solutions.

We have many sites to store the carbon dioxide but inevitably public acceptance and confidence will need to be gained that the storage sites are permanent and safe. In several countries promising developments for "zero emissions" technology has been developed within a reasonable cost basis.

Filters
In all transport systems motors can not only be made more efficient but filters can provide an immediate reduction prior to the development of alternative clean energy sources. For instance an efficient diesel engine with a carbon filter can reduce emissions by 80-90% percent and use less than half the amount of fuel of a conventional petrol engine.

Nuclear
We have the option within the next 20 years of nuclear power replacing all of our ageing coal-fired power plants in Australia. Nuclear Power plants already operate successfully throughout the world. The risk of nuclear energy includes waste disposal, its long term storage, accidents and the uranium being turned into bombs.
International safeguards and policing with adequate controls are key elements if it is to be a part of the energy solution.

Alternative energy
Alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, wave, hot rocks (geo thermal), bio fuels and artificial tree systems to take in the CO 3 should be pursued with renewed vigour but I think it will take another 20/30 years or more for these renewables start to have a material impact on the world.

Ideally if we all reverted to a more sustainable basic life system our energy usage would soon subside. However for the reasons mentioned, I think this is just a pipe dream, hence I think we will need to adopt, albeit somewhat reluctantly, a whole range of radical measures including nuclear energy, clean coal solutions, filters and alternative energy sources.

It may be that technology got the world into this mess, so technology will provide alternative solutions. The increased cost of technology investment over the longer term is likely to have very little impact economically to growth rates whilst providing large scale reduction in emissions.

8 comments:

Josie said...

Have you seen Al Gore's documentary " An Inconvenient Truth"? He says that by all taking small steps, individually, 2% here, 3% there, we can very soon get the state of the environment back to where it was 30 years ago. But the huge, developing countries such as China have no way of doing that, they have to move forward. So technology will have to change and adapt. I really hope it does. The alternative is too frightening to consider.

Josie

P.S. You are a very talented family!

laura said...

Hi Linday - intresting post.

Have you seen Design:e2? This was the most inspiring information I've seen yet. It's about what you propose here - that technology could be extremely helpful if we use it creatively and appropriately.

Lee said...

Here are a couple of interesting sites to add to the debate. :)

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1720024.ece

http://www.biotechmedia.com/y2001-ed-nature.html

"Nature" is a weekly international journal publishing the finest peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology on the basis of its originality, importance, interdisciplinary interest, timeliness, accessibility, elegance and surprising conclusions.

Gary said...

Very thoughtful post Lindsay - and logical too. There are some unknowns I suspect as well, but all in all, we have to begin quickly focusing on sustainability and investing in the green sector.

Rachael Byrnes said...

Hi Dad, I think greed got us into this mess not technology. I don’t think we will see massive changes until people change psychologically and reconnect with their "reverence for life" as you say. This is where the change is needed. Otherwise it's like imposing communism on people... just doesn't work unless people support the idea collectively. I believe the alternative technologies become useful once the psychological change reaches a critical mass. I came across this site on my blog travels:

http://www.planetfesto.org/

you can upload a nature photo, make a quote about what you personally will do to help make a difference.

abhay k said...

hi Lindsay,
very insightful post...may be it helps to change the course...this reminds me of fighting monkeys over bananas while the whole banana tree sinks in the bog...
cheers

lindsaylobe said...

Hi Jose , Laura, Lee. Gary. Rachael and Abhay

Thanks for all of your contributions and references.

Josie- Didn’t see the movie, its certainly been helpful in bringing to attention and debate on climatic changes. I remain cautiously optimistic as to the future.
Laura & Lee
Thankyou for the Links. Sustainable development is the key and many good ideas are taking root in the community and in future buildings. The effect of previous climatic changes in the solar system gives us valuable clues of what has and could happen in the future.
Gary. We still don’t know enough to be entirely convincing, but at least there is a consensus scientifically. Predicting weather patterns remains notoriously difficult, but we can see the more obvious effects of climatic change, some natural and other aspects arising from our overuse of resources and the added pollution from industrialisation.
Rachael.& Abhay
I do think it is also a matter of change in “collectives consciousness’ for the better, a positive trend and change has arisen of late , hopefully to strengthen going forward.

Best wishes

Michael Manning said...

This was an interesting read, as I served on a Rainforest preservation board for 6 years and we are losing 50,000 acres a day. Many indigenous tribes will be displaced and potential medicinal drugs overlooked and wasted. Slowly,I believe people are awakening to this.