Democrats & Liberals Archives

New Thinking to Combat Climate Change

Niall Ferguson, an L.A. Times columnist, states that Tony Blair is:

succumbing to the most widespread confusion that currently exists in the minds of Western liberals: that we can simultaneously eliminate global poverty and combat global climate change.

What confusion?

Why can't we "simultaneously eliminate global poverty and combat global climate change"? How are these two in conflict with each other?

They are in conflict only if we keep on doing things the same old way. We made the first world grow through the use of coal, oil and gas energy, so we think the third world would grow the same way. Energy from burning fossil fuels produces carbon dioxide that is responsible for global warming, so third world development should lead to more global warming. Must it be so? Must the third world grow using the same climate-destroying techniques we used?

No, the poor countries can bypass what we did. They may use advanced technologies to achieve goals that we achieved the relatively primitive way. They have already done some of this. Instead of industrial-era train systems they use airplanes. Instead of relying on transportation they prefer communication systems. Instead of land-oriented telephone systems they use cellphones. Instead of chaotic educational systems, they may rely more on the computer and the Internet.

Ferguson probably gets his idea from what the World Bank has done: fostered huge projects that used huge amounts of carbon-fuels to spew dangerous amounts of carbon dioxide emissions into the air. But the World Bank can change. It can recommend that poor countries mount projects that use non-carbon fuels. Here are but a few possibilities:

  • Wind-Powered Power Utilities - The first inclination is always to support one or more of our multinationals. So the Bank recommends coal, oil or gas. Maybe they could build a utility with wind turbines. If not wind-turbines, maybe they could burn vegetation as Brazil does. They would get the power, keep their skies clean and keep carbon dioxide emissions down.

  • Battery-Powered Cars - Instead of buying cars powered by gasoline they could buy cars powered by batteries, or ethanol, or at least by hybrids.

  • Solar-Powered Homes - When starting from scratch it is easy to build homes that take advantage of the power of the sun. Many poor countries are positioned so they can easily do this. Instead of recommending the usual stuff, the Bank can recommend a few solar power experts to help do this.

  • Efficient Factories - Of course, non-carbon power is best. However, if dirty sources of power must be used, at least experts should be sent to show how to build factories that are vastly more efficient than most current factories are.

  • Maintaining Forests - In the Amazon they are destroying forest areas and this is adding carbon dioxide emissions. The Bank should show them how to build a pharmaceutical business based on the many medicinal ingredients found in the trees. This would cause them to plant rather than cut down trees. They would join the business world and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
There are many possibilities for making scientists and engineers in third world countries part of our renewables research effort. They may contribute ideas. They may present real-life experimental arrangements. They may be able to help themselves while at the same time cleaning the world of greenhouse emissions. They do not need to depend on carbon fuels.

To combat climate change we need new thinking all across the globe.

Posted by Paul Siegel at June 4, 2007 11:30 PM
Comment #222307

This is a good article Paul.

Posted by: Richard Rhodes at June 4, 2007 11:47 PM
Comment #222310

Good article, Paul.

And don’t forget that reaching international greenhous gas emission targets is actually cheap. According to a recent study,

nations have the technology and money to decisively act in time to avoid a sharp rise in temperatures that scientists say would wipe out species, raise ocean levels, wreak economic havoc and trigger droughts in some places and flooding in others.

…the strongest message was that reaching the lowest [greenhouse gas emission] targets could be done at less than 3 percent of the global gross domestic product by 2030 - or 0.12 annually.

And the Bush administration’s own Energy Information Administration puts the cost for the United States alone at a mere one tenth of one percent of our GDP over a decade.

Posted by: American Pundit at June 5, 2007 12:07 AM
Comment #222315


The 2005 EIA report you link to in your March article discusses the effects of fully adopting recommendations of the National Commission on Energy Policy (which includes cap and trade). The report does not say the recommendations will decrease GHG emissions through 2025; it says GHG emission intensity would be decreased. Actual emissions are projected to keep rising. In fact, the EIA estimates that even with full adoption of NCEP recommendations, GHG emissions will increase by nearly 30 percent over the 2003 baseline. Consumption of all of the fossil fuels are projected to increase in this report. These baby steps merely limit the rate of increase. If we are serious about dramatically curbing carbon (and foreign oil), we need do to more.

Posted by: Gerrold at June 5, 2007 2:09 AM
Comment #222323

Sustainable development is possible. What is dangerous is to mix efforts to fight climate change with efforts to redistribute income worldwide. Both may be good things, but they are not the same thing.

For example, the thing that works best is carbon taxes. Cap and trade may be variations. Carbon taxes will exacerbate income disparities. This can be addressed with SEPARATE measures, but if you try to design a system that reduces CO2 while at the same time increasing equality, you will fail at both.

Posted by: Jack at June 5, 2007 7:01 AM
Comment #222328

How are poor countries supposed to pay for all that stuff on an effective scale?

Posted by: Silima at June 5, 2007 10:14 AM
Comment #222329

Your post is interesting and thought provoking, but there are a couple of problems.

Wind power (I assume you are referring to turbines) are not acceptable to many people for a couple of reasons. First is the visual pollution. This was the basis for Sen. Kennedy’s veto on wind turbines within viewing of his home. Having driven through southern California and seeing the “wind farms”, I can almost agree with him, but it is a matter of view over environmental concern. From this standpoint, I would go with wind.

The second concern is the effect that large wind farms would have on birds. I have seen a couple of studies that indicate that large wind farms are extremely hazardous to bird populations. A lot of folks oppose them on that basis.

Electic cars are a good idea so long as one does not drive long distances and has access to a totally green source of electricity to recharge them. However, until a revolutionary battery technology comes up, or an economically viable fuel cell or other source of power is developed, the electric car will be useful only for urban or near suburban drivers who do not have access to public transportation.

Flex fuel or pure ethanol are viable alternatives if we can develop a sufficient supply that does not rely on processing that releases more grenhouse gasses and is economically viable. So far, little success on both counts.

Solar power using present technology is not pracrical for large scale uses and only marginal for home use. It can replace some of the electricity demand in homes but not a majority. Maybe someday someone will find a photovotaic material that has a much greater yield than at present but it’s not here yet.

Lest you think I’m trying to rain on your parade, I’m not. I believe we need to work on alternatives to petroleum based energy. I also feel that the best way to do that is to make R&D funds available without a preconcieved end product, then let the intelligence, curiousity, and enterpreneurial spirit of humans take over. We may be suprised at what comes out.

BTW, nuclear is a shortterm viable option and fusion may prove to be practical too.

Posted by: John Back at June 5, 2007 10:32 AM
Comment #222338

First, let’s stop wasting energy. That an area where huge results can be achieved. Houses roof isolation plan, with incitative taxes, could alone reduce by a good number any country energy bill.
Warming your house with renewable green energy, like geothermy, is another road that should be taken more often.

Our energy usage is far from being the most efficient one. In some area, better efficiency will be hard, but there are not that big.
Like pretty much anything we consume in abundance, the modern nations are wasting a lot.

Let’s stop wasting *that* much first. Who need cities street lights to be on during daylight!?
WTF with this ridiculous low MPG?!?

Switching to more renewable and green energy sources is great plan, but many of these new sources wont last that much if we don’t *FIRST* get used to not waste energy like crazy..

If we continue to waste it like if there is no tomorrow, we could be surprise to be right one day…

Posted by: Philippe Houdoin at June 5, 2007 1:09 PM
Comment #222346

Paul- I like your ideas an in a perfect it World would

a be fantastic goal. Corporations, Dictators, an

Millions of very poor people make your plan next to

impossible within the near future. Even looking at

all the industrialized Nations that will not conform with

your correct way things should be, how can the

grander scheme of things be accomplished World

Wide. Do we really have that much time

left before things go to hell in a hand basket.

Posted by: -DAVID- at June 5, 2007 2:25 PM
Comment #222347

-sorry about the -it-

Posted by: -DAVID- at June 5, 2007 2:30 PM
Comment #222354

Way to call people on their either - or assumptions, Paul. And no, it doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of challenges in managing to confront both fronts at once, but clearly there is headway to be made without simply giving up on one of the two issues.

I wasn’t quite sure what you were talking about wrt to airplanes rather than rails. It’s always been striking to me when taking these carbon footprint tests how big a contribution plane travel makes.

I do think we liberals need to acknowledge carefully implemented nuclear power as a sensible piece of the energy puzzle in the industrialized world, instead of having a kneejerk reaction against it in all cases based on risks. Finland, Japan, and France don’t have the same taboos, and I believe have a very good safety record there. For a variety of reasons nuclear power is more problematic in the developing world, or if not carefully regulated and plants protected. And certainly fusion research has the potential to provide huge future breakthroughs, if the taboo doesn’t keep a clamp on funding it.

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