« Obama speech today: get out of Iraq now | Main | Speaking of meat... »

Joe Romm: 10 things that will curtail global warming

Joe Romm is a scientist and author. He got his Ph.D in physics from MIT, and was an assistant secretary of energy in the Clinton administration, running the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. He runs the Climate Progress blog and is the author of Hell and High Water: Global Warming - the Solution and the Politics - and What We Should Do. I'm reading it right now, and like The Long Emergency, it's not a light beach read for the faint of heart. It is scary.

The basic premise is that global warming is happening, the scientific consensus is that it is caused by human-induced carbon emissions, and if we don't do something about it, the next 50 generations of Americans will suffer horribly because of our inaction. He also says that we have the know how to curb the damage we've caused, and those generations will condemn us for not taking action:

The tragedy, then, as historians of the future will most certainly recount, is that we ruined their world not because we lacked the knowledge or the technology to save it but simply because we chose not to make the effort.

Romm asserts we have the technology to make huge reductions in emissions right now, but lack of political will is stopping us (See Senator James Inhofe, President Bush, and the other monkeys in Washington). He offers these 10 long term actions as potential solutions:

Imagine if the next president, in concert with the U.S. Congress and all the major nations of the world, developed and developing, embarked on an aggressive five-decade-long effort to deploy the best existing and emerging energy technology. Imagine that from 2010 through 2060 the world achieves the following astonishing changes:

  1. We replicate, nationally and globally, California's performance-based efficiency programs and codes for homes and commercial buildings. From 1976 to 2005, electricity consumption per capita stayed flat in California, while it grew 60 percent in the rest of the nation.
  2. We greatly increase the efficiency of industry and power generation - and more than double the use of cogeneration (combined heat and power). The energy now lost as waste heat from U.S. power generation exceeds the energy used by Japan for all purposes.
  3. We build 1 million large wind turbines (fifty times the current capacity) or the equivalent in other renewables, such as solar power.
  4. We capture the carbon dioxide associated with 800 proposed large coal plants (four fifths of all coal plants in the year 2000) and permanently store them underground. [...]
  5. We build 700 large nuclear power plants (double the current capacity) while maintaining the use of all existing nuclear power plants.
  6. As the number of cars and light trucks on the road more than triples to 2 billion, we increase their average fuel economy to 60 miles per gallon. [...]
  7. We give these 2 billion cars advanced hybrid vehicle technology capable of running on electricity for short distances before they revert to running on biofuels. [...]
  8. We take one-twelfth of the world's cropland and use it to grow high-yield energy crops for biofuels. [...]
  9. We build another half-million large wind turbines dedicated to providing the electricity for these advanced hybrids. [...]
  10. We stop all tropical deforestation, while doubling the rate of new tree planting.

Note that wherever I've included a "[...]" I've either shortened the text of the proposed solution to reduce length, or, in the case of 7,8 and 9, I've broken one bullet point into 3 (because that's how I got to 10 from Romm's 8!).

Anyway, this guy is brilliant, slices through all the conservative denier noise, and you should run out and get this book. If you care about the future of your kids, your friend's kids, or the kids you might one day have.

A couple final thoughts: I used to think nuclear couldn't be part of the solution. With the combination of peak oil and global warming, it's the only way we can keep the lights on in the future. In the US, we'll just have to start dumping the waste in Yucca mountain. Nobody will be living in Nevada in 25 years anyway.

I'm also not so sure about the car solutions. We should also be focusing more on reducing the number of cars on the road, in addition to herculean improvements in fuel efficiency. Here in the U.S., we don't need 230 million + cars, plain and simple. First step to reducing the cars on the road? Raise the legal driving age to 18 around the country.

Unless we start making drastic changes soon, future generations of Americans will be condemning baby boomers, generation x, y, and z for our inaction. And rightfully so. I'm already condemning the baby boomers - the most narcissistic, self absorbed, consumption oriented generation in American history. Their generational motto should be "our parents sacrificed for us, why shouldn't our children?"


How about:

#1. Stop consuming animal products.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0220/p03s01-ussc.html, livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today's most serious environmental problems. And yet, not consuming animal products is never mentioned as a way to significantly reduce greenhouse gases. The hypocrycy of you people. This is the eral inconvienint truth.

How about:

#1. Stop consuming animal products.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0220/p03s01-ussc.html, Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today's most serious environmental problems. And yet, not consuming animal products is never mentioned as a way to significantly reduce greenhouse gases. The hypocrisy of you people. This is the real inconvenient truth.

Interesting list.

As someone who works in the electric energy sector, one of my major concerns is that pundits, the press, the politicians and the public seem to be far removed from how much electricity we produce and use, and what goes into producing it. What does it actually mean on the ground and in the real world to build and use a million large wind turbines? Or build 700 nuclear plants and staff them? When making decisions about our energy future, I think we need to start by first understanding our energy present.

I've written an introduction to my own field of expertise - nuclear power. To avoid reader boredom it's in the form of a thriller novel, and it's available at no cost to readers at http://RadDecision.blogspot.com . Reader reviews at the homepage have been very positive. "Rad Decision" is also available in paperback at online retailers (from which I make zero profit).

"I'd like to see Rad Decision widely read." - Stewart Brand, founder of The Whole Earth Catalog and noted futurist.

Hi Joe,

Thanks for your comment. I agree - our consumption of meat has got to go down significantly. In fact, I blogged on the issue recently in a post entitled "Get Thee Behind Me, Beef!" A terribly clever title, I know.

I was also a vegetarian for 10 years, before I succumbed to the sweet smell of some chicken mahkni (sp?) in a pakistani place near my work. I've been eating meat occasionally ever since, but am slowly but surely trying to eliminate it (and milk) from my diet. Except for cat meat. It's just too delicious. Tastes like chicken!

I'm not exactly sure whose hypocrisy you are referring to, but I don't think there's any hypocrisy in suggesting a partial solution or ten that doesn't specifically reference all the other good partial solutions out there.

So there. Put that in your cowhide covered bong and smoke it.

Hi James,

The way I'm reading the Romm list, he's talking about a million wind turbines and 700 nuclear plants being built around the world over the next 50 years. Don't know that that changes your point, and I think you're absolutely right - it takes a lot of energy and resources to make energy. And we always have to look at Energy Returned on Energy Invested (EREI).

That said, from your perspective in the nuclear energy industry, what do you think the answer is? James Kunstler argues that nuclear power will be hugely important in the future, assuming we build the plants before all the oil runs out, since building nuclear plants is so energy intensive. Would you agree? What do you think we should be doing with the waste? Storing it locally at plant sites? Putting it in Yucca mountain?

I'm going to take a look at your e-book. Thanks for the pointer.

Hi Mike,

I'm honestly not sure what the energy answers are, and I tend to be suspicious of those that do. The only thing I feel sure about is that the first, best item on the list should be conservation, since the energy you don't use is the safest, cheapest of all.

You can devide our energy sources into two piles: big/centralized/constant and small/diffuse/intermittent. Modern society uses a huge amount of energy, which comes from the giant electric grids supported by big/centralized/constant sources. This has obvious advantages in a constant, reliable supply and providing lots of power to densely populated or developed areas that don't care to have power plants in the middle of them. But each of the big sources have drawbacks: coal has CO2/air particulate, hydro kills fish and can't be expanded much, and nuclear has actual risks, publically-perceived risks, an extensive need for lots of highly skilled personnel, and waste issues. About the latter, I can't offer comments based on any expertise - I'm not in waste management. I think its fair to say that within the industry there is a sense that the waste issue has been exaggerated, in terms of the engineering problems and any public risk, and also in comparison with our other waste issues (toxic landfills, etc.). Also, while I haven't looked at it closely, because of the truly enormous output of a nuclear reactor over its lifetime, I suspect the energy in / energy out equation works out pretty well. But that's only one element among many in the decision-making process.

One of the key points in any big energy proposal for the future is how doable it really is, in terms of avaiability of materials and skilled personnel, and with respect to the political and social will necessary for huge changes. There's always a need for big thinkers with big ideas, but we must not confuse these with the practical matter of getting the job done. Unfortunately, in the latter camp, most of those who understand how to energy systems work and have access to a public forum tend to have a vested interest in one solution or another, While I work in the nuclear industry, I'm not married to it, and the point of my book wasn't to convince the world everything was great with nuclear (it isn't) or completely screwed up (it isn't), but to give the lay person some sense of the real world of power generation via the atom and the complexities it holds. (I also covered fossil and alternative just a little bit). I hope Rad Decision can bring some perspective and insight to energy discussions.

Readers also say its entertaining.

If Yucca Mountain were in YOUR backyard, I guarantee you would be less than supportive, with your ignorant suggestion that the feds dump nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain because "nobody will be living in Nevda in 25 years anyway." Jerk.

Well, it's not as if the Yucca Mountain Repository would really be in anyone's backyard. It would be on the Nevada Test Site, where over 900 nuclear tests have occurred since 1951. So it's not like it's pristine park land. It's already a nuclear dumping ground. Not to mention that it's already been selected by law as the location for all nuclear waste in the country.

In terms of Nevada being depopulated in 25 years, that was meant sort of tongue in cheek... but you have to admit it can't sustain its current population, let alone the growth it's seeing, for the long term. Las Vegas is already out of water.

I've heard that arguement many times. So, in your mind, since Nevada has done its duty to this country to by sacrificing land withn its boundaries (even if controlled by the feds) to test nuclear weapons, that makes it OK to pollute it with long-term radioactive waste from the U.S. and other nations? By the way, the Shoshone have a legit claim to the land of that area via the Ruby Valley Treaty--so it is somebody's back yard. I suspect the people of Amagosa Valley also consider Yucca Mountain their back yard.

The fact that the federal government has poisoned chunks of Nevada, Utah, and other parts of the West with nuclear testing and related experiments is tragic. So is the virtual genocide of Native Americans by earlier generations of Americans. Neither of those realities changes this reality, though: Americans rely on nuclear power for basic energy needs. As cheap oil disappears, that dependence will increase. Which means more waste will be created, adding to what we already have.

The fed did extensive studies of Yucca Mountain in its search for a suitable repository. In fact, some call it the most intensively studied geologic site in the world. It is the best solution to our nuclear waste problem. Putting it anywhere isn't ideal, but it has to go somewhere.

Then, if you factor in the reality of Nevada, it makes even more sense to put the repository at Yucca mountain. The federal government owns 80% of the land in Nevada. The nuclear power industry is the second largest industry in the state. In fact, doesn't most of the population in Amaragosa Valley - all 1,800 of them - work at the Nevada Test Site or on the Yucca Mountain Project?

You also have to be realistic about the fate that Nevada faces as peak oil arrives and global warming increases. Not to mention that there is no water to support the influx of new residents in Nevada. This summer was the hottest summer on record in Nevada. Over the next 50 years, that record will be broken repeatedly. Between further desertification, rising temperatures, global warming induced droughts, and no water to sustain the population, the population of Nevada will nosedive.

The Yucca Mountain Repository is as close to perfect as we're going to get for a national repository of nuclear waste. It's not ideal, and some people may loose out in the end. But such is the nature of the world we live in. You have to be pragmatic. The repository is scheduled to officially open in 2017. What other solution would you put forward?

Why can't we shoot it out into to outer space? I'm not joking.

From what I've read, the main concern is that the risk is too high. Picture a Challenger-like explosion, and radioactive waste raining down on farmland, populated areas, etc. And if it did make it into space, what happens then? If it doesn't terminate somewhere, it would just end up as space junk orbiting the earth or some other planetary body. Right?

What we need is Superman to load it all up on his back and fly it into the Sun. Once a year, for eternity, we'll send him on another drop-the-waste-off-at-the-Sun trip. That would be sweet...

Post a comment

Get GLONO merch!