This book and the accompanying Volume 1 (Energy Efficiency and the Demand for Energy Services) are an attempt to objectively, comprehensively and quantitatively examine what it would take to limit the atmospheric CO2 concentration to no more than 450 ppmv. A 450 ppmv concentration limit is chosen not because I consider it to be a safe level (it most decidedly is not), but because it is the lowest concentration limit that I dare imagine that we could stay below (we are currently at 390 ppmv and increasing by about 2 ppmv per year). The first step in assessing how we could stay below this limit is to assess how small the global energy demand could be in the future through the assiduous application of all known and foreseeable energy efficiency measures. Thus, Volume 1 examines the technical potential for dramatic improvements in energy efficiency in a vast array of end uses, along with costs, co-benefits and practical considerations. Human population and the relentless pursuit of ever more material consumption are strong drivers of increasing greenhouse gas emissions, so alternative scenarios for the growth of regional population and gross domestic product (GDP) per person in rich countries are also considered in Volume 1.
Volume 2 critically assesses the potential contribution, economics, implementation time scale and environmental and social issues related to the deployment of various forms of C-free energy supply. Here, the term ‘C-free’ includes potentially C-neutral energy sources such as biomass and fossil fuels equipped with CO2 capture and storage. This book provides all the information needed for a solid understanding of the issues and complexities associated with all of the major and many of the minor potential C-free energy sources, and equips the more technically inclined reader with the tools needed to perform his or her own rough quantitative analysis of the C-free energy potential and cost. Two key conclusions are that solar, wind and biomass together are a viable alternative to expanded use of nuclear energy and use of carbon capture and storage, and that the transition to an energy system with very low to zero CO2 emissions in time to limit atmospheric CO2 to no more than 450 ppmv can be achieved at an affordable cost if future population follows a trajectory near the low end of current scenarios and if there is substantial moderation in the rate of economic growth per person in the rich countries. For scenarios of high population and economic growth it will be substantially more difficult to satisfy a 450 ppmv limit, and may not be possible at all.
These two books are a comprehensive blueprint concerning what needs to be done to solve the global warming problem (that is, which will stabilize climate at a warming that will still preserve much that is valuable and beautiful in the world). Nothing less than a complete and rapid transformation of our energy system, and indeed, of our deep-seated ways of thinking is required. However, the political and (in some cases) business response so far has been to consider incremental changes – adjustments – to what is still fundamentally a business-as-usual (BAU) trajectory. There is still little evidence of a political acceptance of the nature and the magnitude of the changes needed. Global warming changes all the old rules about energy, economic growth, and the jostling for perceived comparative advantage in international negotiations. There is a new “reality”, but it is a new reality that we by and large have not yet faced up to. It is high time that we did.
Toronto, October 2009
(cross-posted from Planet 3.0)
“It’s gonna take a lotta love
To change the way things are.
It’s gonna take a lotta love
Or we won’t get too far.”