A couple of years ago a lightbulb went on in the heads of some climate scientists and they figured out that black soot floating up to the Arctic was actually a very potent factor in global warming. It dirties the snow, reducing its albedo and helps it melt more quickly, further reducing planetary albedo.
This was about the same time that discussion was ongoing regarding geoengineering to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere. (Geoengineering is not a new idea. In 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson received the first-ever U.S. presidential briefing on the dangers of climate change, the only remedy prescribed to counter the effects of global warming was geoengineering.) The most popular options being discussed were Carbon Capture and Sequestration at source and dusting the ocean with iron, fertilizing the ocean with nutrients that would allow plankton to grow faster and thus absorb more carbon.
We were talking about geoengineering because the concept of ‘no regrets’ options had been pooh-poohed for over a decade as distracting from the need to drastically cut emissions and providing a false sense of accomplishment.
No regrets options leaned heavily on investment in energy efficiency and R&D on better solar and wind, better storage, rationalizing flight paths and including direct descent options, etc.
Paul Kelly and I were busy commenting over at Bart Verheggen’s blog that a bottom-up approach would be a useful kickstart to mitigation efforts, for which we both were roundly ridiculed. Nobody ever responded to our basic points, though. If I buy a hybrid car or put solar on the roof, it obviously won’t stop global warming (although if I convince a friend to do likewise, and she convinces a friend…).
However, a bottom-up approach serves as a signalling device. Politicians do look at the number of green purchases made across categories, from cars to solar panels to ground source heat pumps to triple paned windows. And it influences both legislation and regulation. Lobbyists and NGOs follow that information like baseball stats gurus, obsessing over trends and totals. Perhaps most importantly, manufacturers and retailers live and breathe this stuff. If you have ever talked with a business analyst working inside a consumer packaged goods company, you will be amazed by the level of detail they follow and the connections they make between categories.
So now a new concept enters the scene. Fast Mitigation, the idea that we focus our efforts on areas we can actually impact. I don’t know who started it, but Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Mario Molina and Durwood J. Zaelke explain it pretty well here.
“Can any strategy produce such fast results? To answer this we need to review the underlying climate science, to understand that there are two main levers we can pull to slow climate warming. The first lever is the one that reduces the carbon dioxide emitted when we burn from fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas. To insure long-term climate stability we need to pull this lever, now, as hard as possible, promoting energy efficiency, low carbon fuels, and clean energy sources. But we also need to understand that pulling back the carbon dioxide lever will produce climate cooling very slowly: by mid-century an aggressive effort to reduce carbon dioxide can avoid 0.1° Celsius of warming, out of an expected 2° Celsius or more of warming by 2050 under business as usual.
We also need to pull back the lever to reduce the short-lived climate pollutants. These pollutants include black carbon (soot) air pollution, tropospheric ozone (the principal component of smog), methane, and several HFCs, which are factory-made gases used in air conditioning and refrigeration. Pulling this lever to cut the short-lived climate pollutants can avoid 0.6 ° Celsius of warming by mid-century, six times more than the carbon dioxide lever can produce. At the end of the century, the avoided warming from cutting the short-lived climate pollutants is 1.5° Celsius compared to 1.1° Celsius for carbon dioxide. Both strategies are essential at this point.”
I’m happy to endorse this initiative, but I’d like to offer a word of warning to those thinking of joining. The Klimate Konsensus will crucify you. When Freeman Dyson suggested that planting trees (and if necessary changing the genetics of trees to help them take up more carbon dioxide) was an effective strategy for dealing with our excess of CO2, he was labeled a senile denier. The Konsensus asked what a theoretical physicist could possible know about climate change. When informed that he had worked for 15 years on climate science, they said he was still a senile denier.
When The Breakthrough Institute tried to introduce common sense about mitigation and adaptation, they were damned and double damned and vilified by the Konsensus, for whom Klimate Purity allows only one solution–drastic emission cuts now. When George Bush the Elder had his team come up with the concept of ‘negawatts’, energy efficiency as a tool for mitigation, he was called a tool for fossil fuel companies.
When Paul Kelly and I offered our own modest proposals, we were called delayers, deniers and much worse.
In a rational world, we would be pursuing George Bush’s negawatts, planting trees, encouraging signaling devices such as green consumer activity, researching the potential of geoengineering and vigorously working on that part of the problem amenable to our actions–black soot, pollution, HFCs, methane and any others we can think of.
But the Klimate Konsensus has ruled that anything other than emission cessation is evil. So those of us who actually want to do something about climate change know who our enemy is. Fulminators like Joe Romm (“I want to trash them (the authors of Superfreakonomics) for this insanity and ignorance.” and Michael Tobis (“emitting CO2 is the same as mugging an old lady”) will come out in force and enforce Klimate Purity.
The Klimate Konsensus (entirely separate from the very real, if narrow, scientific consensus) is the enemy of effective action on climate change. I hope to have the time and energy to continue confronting their insanity.