Re: Dispatches from the Front Line of the Apocalypse
I think all of our discussions are hampered by the dichotomizing left-right framing. For instance, meaningful arms reduction and control did emerge after the collapse of the S.U. Could one say that "the left" got through in some way to Reagan, who in a Nixon-in-China moment advanced world peace with the START agreements? I don't think that's really a coherent analysis, but it could be consistent with a flawed division of left vs. right.
You might be slighting the claims that a green economy of low emissions can be a more powerful generator of jobs than our now-passe carbon economy. If reliance on emission reduction to solve global warming is a type of stuck-thinking, so too might reliance on carbon fuels as the only way to maintain prosperity be an atavism. The hardest thing to accept is that we need to decarbonize, implement climate engineering (the term Taylor used, which I like better) if feasible and safe, and alter our lifestyles--all more or less at the same time. On the last point, altering lifestyles, this doesn't have to come about through lower standards of living. For example, an economy in which we buy services from makers of hardware, rather than own the hardware, will result in much less energy used to make new things. This products-as-services economy looks more attractive to millenials than it does to us, who are more likely to equate owning things with doing well.
Obviously whatever we do will phase in, so that carbon mining would not reach the level you forecast for a number of years. The key challenge is getting to this point where carbon mining on this scale "could well prove possible." Reaching that point implies an evolution, and in my mind the path starts with what nations have agreed they can theoretically do, even if, in chasing decarbonization, they find that they're not doing nearly enough. Then they shift goals. It's like Samuel Johnson said: "The man who gets up and walks north is more likely to walk south than the man who remains sitting." Simply waiting for a realization that carbon must come out of the atmosphere, while actually doing nothing different, isn't promising. If it's the business community we're waiting for, then forget it. Action on its part would only come way too late. The time horizons industry uses are very short.
I come back with: "The worst reason for doing nothing is that we can't do everything." What you are assuming is that climate engineering will easily get us past that 50%. That is unproven. It could be that with decarb and
climate engineering we are able to cut the increase by half of the target. That we must do just on a utilitarian basis. As for opportunity cost, failure to pursue low emissions will ensure that we aren't ready for the end of fossil fuels. I haven't seen a satisfactory answer to what we will do when fossil fuels are exhausted, if we haven't greatly increased use of the technologies that we know are already greatly reducing reliance on oil, gas, and coal. Emission reduction is thus a marker of how well we are preparing for the end of the carbon fuel era.
Another big assumption is the economy you create based on the carbon removed from the atmosphere. This could
happen, but currently the way there is like getting across a stream with no stepping stones. The physical, economic, and political supports aren't there yet. Let the evolution of our response to warming happen, rather than stopping it until the world wakes up to the need for carbon removal, as that may never happen by that means.
The analogy with sewage treatment actually works better for emission reduction than for carbon removal. Just as waste-water treatment happens at the local level, so emission reduction happens through actions of cities and states. That is what they're able to do to contribute to the effort. They can't do climate engineering even if through greater energy use, i.e. consumption, they generate more tax dollars. The federal government would need to impose taxes to fund climate engineering, since there is very little money left in the budget after entitlements and defense are provided for. Otherwise the only way to fund is deficit spending.
Then rather than "we don't have the right" to use the atmosphere as our waste pit, say "we have the responsibility" not to. This implies a wider circle of ethical concern than what is seen as best for people. Fortunately the truth seems to be that our well-being and that of the environment are closely linked, if we can think over the longer term.
Again, it's so easy to say that we'll create economic value for stored carbon, but the way to get there is totally up in the air, so to speak. Is this anything that excites visionary industrialists such as Elon Musk? It needs to have more sex appeal than rockets to Mars in order to get off the ground (ooh).
I believe you. What about by 2060? It should be possible to cut that % by at least half. As of now, 20% of world energy comes from renewables and nuclear (which will come into the picture again). All we can do is what we can do, even though it looks like getting up to 50% renewable/nuclear falls far short of the warming limits we'd like to see. The point I make is that there does need to be a transformation in energy as well as methods for removal that you advocate. I see you doubting that our energy regime needs to be changed fundamentally.
We should nominate a just-out book for discussion. I heard the author of The Prophet and the Wizard
, Charles C. Mann, interviewed on NPR. He centers on two figures with conflicting philosophical approaches to global warming. I forget their names, but you could look them up. I suspect I'm more on the prophet side, you more on the side of the wizards.