Professor Romm has observed that “a wedge is a mind-bogglingly large amount of activity.” And, he wants to us doing 14 wedges post haste (which is Rommulan for “keep paddling”), before it is too late.
Who says it soon could be too late? Why that sober guy, Rajendra Pachauri. In November 2007, the head of the quite cautious IPCC said: “If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.”
“If we could do the 14 wedges in four decades,” advises Romm, “[then] we should be able to keep CO2 concentrations to under 450 ppm.”
If we could do them faster, concentrations could stay even lower. We’d probably need to do this by 2030 to have a shot at getting back to 350 this century… Or as I told Technology Review, “The point is, whatever technology we’ve got now — that’s what we are stuck with to avoid catastrophic warming.”
In his post, Romm describes what the entire planet must achieve (which, of course, as we all know, means it won’t get done because everybody will think somebody else was taking care of it):
- 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 – ~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.
- 1 of coal with carbon capture and storage — 800 GW of coal with CCS
- 1 of nuclear power — 700 GW plus 10 Yucca mountains for storage
- 1 of solar photo voltaics — 2000 GW peak [or less PV and some geothermal, tidal, and ocean thermal]
- 1 of cellulosic biofuels — using one-sixth of the world’s cropland [or less land if yields significantly increase or algae-to-biofuels proves commercial at large scale].
- 2 of forestry — End all tropical deforestation. Plant new trees over an area the size of the continental U.S.
- 1 of soils — Apply no-till farming to all existing croplands.
“Wait-and-see policies erroneously presume climate change can be reversed quickly should harm become evident, underestimating substantial delays in the climate’s response to anthropogenic forcing.” John Sterman
“That should do the trick,” (you can imagine him standing back, brushing off his hands) … “I have thrown in a couple extra wedges since I have no doubt that everybody will find something objectionable in at least 2 of these wedges.” Go read the post, if you want to read how Romm critiques his own suggestions, although I should warn you, he is getting to sound like Donald Rumsfeld.
In addition, the post generated considerable commentary on Climate Progress, to include contributions from such luminaries as Bill McKibben and Ken Levenson. Unfortunately, the commentary degenerated into a discussion of the pros and cons of nuclear power. From my perspective, the emphasis on nuclear power exemplified a principle weakness in the post. In offerring solutions, Romm seemed to ignore “solving one problem at the expense of exacerbating another.”
There is some weasel language toward the end of the post. He states that the wedges are conceptually useful rather than analytically rigorous. Obviously we need to be do something, and further delay, even for further analysis is still delay. Inaction is fraught with the greatest risk.
Yet, just as we need a momentous change in policy that exemplifies a commitment to life-affirming action, we also need to do the right thing. There needs to be a greater commitment to scientific analysis, so that we avoid those unintended consequences that could reduce or override the expected benefits.