Saturday, October 04, 2014

Technology and Climate Negotiations

                                                   Comments due by Oct. 12, 2014

If the world is to solve the climate-change crisis, we will need a new approach. Currently, the major powers view climate change as a negotiation over who will reduce their CO2 emissions (mainly from the use of coal, oil, and gas). Each agrees to small “contributions” of emission reduction, trying to nudge the other countries to do more. The United States, for example, will “concede” a little bit of CO2 reduction if China will do the same.
For two decades, we have been trapped in this minimalist and incremental mindset, which is wrong in two key ways. First, it is not working: CO2 emissions are rising, not falling. The global oil industry is having a field day – fracking, drilling, exploring in the Arctic, gasifying coal, and building new liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities. The world is wrecking the climate and food-supply systems at a breakneck pace.
Second, “decarbonizing” the energy system is technologically complicated. America’s real problem is not competition from China; it’s the complexity of shifting a $17.5 trillion economy from fossil fuels to low-carbon alternatives. China’s problem is not the US, but how to wean the world’s largest, or second largest economy (depending on which data are used) off its deeply entrenched dependence on coal. These are mainly engineering problems, not negotiating problems.
To be sure, both economies could decarbonize if they cut output sharply. But neither the US nor China is ready to sacrifice millions of jobs and trillions of dollars to do so. Indeed, the question is how to decarbonize while remaining economically strong. Climate negotiators cannot answer that question, but innovators like Elon Musk of Tesla, and scientists like Klaus Lackner of Columbia University, can.
Decarbonizing the world’s energy system requires preventing our production of vast and growing amounts of electricity from boosting atmospheric CO2 emissions. It also presupposes a switchover to a zero-carbon transport fleet and a lot more production per kilowatt-hour of energy.
Zero-carbon electricity is within reach. Solar and wind power can deliver that already, but not necessarily when and where needed. We need storage breakthroughs for these intermittent clean-energy sources.
Nuclear power, another important source of zero-carbon energy, will also need to play a big role in the future, implying the need to bolster public confidence in its safety. Even fossil fuels can produce zero-carbon electricity, if carbon capture and storage is used. Lackner is a world leader in new CCS strategies.
Electrification of transport is already with us, and Tesla, with its sophisticated electric vehicles, is capturing the public’s imagination and interest. Yet further technological advances are needed in order to reduce electric vehicles’ costs, increase their reliability, and extend their range. Musk, eager to spur rapid development of the vehicles, made history last week by opening Tesla’s patents for use by competitors.
Technology offers new breakthroughs in energy efficiency as well. New building designs have slashed heating and cooling costs by relying much more on insulation, natural ventilation, and solar power. Advances in nanotechnology offer the prospect of lighter construction materials that require much less energy to produce, making both buildings and vehicles far more energy efficient.
The world needs a concerted push to adopt to low-carbon electricity, not another “us-versus-them” negotiation. All countries need new, low-carbon technologies, many of which are still out of commercial reach. Climate negotiators should therefore be focusing on how to cooperate to ensure that technology breakthroughs are achieved and benefit all countries.
They should take their cue from other cases in which government, scientists, and industry teamed up to produce major changes. For example, in carrying out the Manhattan Project (to produce the atomic bomb during World War II) and the first moon landing, the US government set a remarkable technological goal, established a bold timetable, and committed the financial resources needed to get the job done. In both cases, the scientists and engineers delivered on time.
The example of atomic bombs might seem an unpleasant one, yet it raises an important question: If we ask governments and scientists to cooperate on war technology, shouldn’t we do at least the same to save the planet from carbon pollution?
In fact, the process of “directed technological change,” in which bold objectives are set, milestones are identified, and timelines are put into place, is much more common than many realize. The information-technology revolution that has brought us computers, smart phones, GPS, and much more, was built on a series of industry and government roadmaps. The human genome was mapped through such a government-led effort – one that ultimately brought in the private sector as well. More recently, government and industry got together to cut the costs of sequencing an individual genome from around $100 million in 2001 to just $1,000 today. A dramatic cost-cutting goal was set, scientists went to work, and the targeted breakthrough was achieved on time.
Fighting climate change does depend on all countries having confidence that their competitors will follow suit. So, yes, let the upcoming climate negotiations spell out shared actions by the US, China, Europe, and others.
But let’s stop pretending that this is a poker game, rather than a scientific and technological puzzle of the highest order. We need the likes of Musk, Lackner, General Electric, Siemens, Ericsson, Intel, Electricité de France, Huawei, Google, Baidu, Samsung, Apple, and others in laboratories, power plants, and cities around the world to forge the technological breakthroughs that will reduce global CO2 emissions.
There is even a place at the table for ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Peabody, Koch Industries, and other oil and coal giants. If they expect their products to be used in the future, they had better make them safe through the deployment of advanced CCS technologies. The point is that targeted and deep decarbonization is a job for all stakeholders, including the fossil-fuel industry, and one in which we must all be on the side of human survival and wellbeing.
(Jeffrey Sachs)


Anonymous said...

Knowing that so much advanced technology exists that could help drastically combat CO2 emissions, and also knowing now how much money and effort the government put into the Manhattan Project back when it was so crucial to create an atomic bomb, makes me wonder why our government is not showing the same kind of motivation towards solving our current environmental crisis. Comparing the two instances makes it seem like the government values death over life, they would rather promote destruction than the preservation of of earth. I believe the use of current technology should be for helping earth and climate change, rather than for destruction mechanisms.

Jennifer Hare

Anonymous said...

I have never heard of the politics in dealing with environmental issues as a "negotiation" or a "poker game", but it is truly an accurate representation on the state of affairs between business and industry, environmentalism, technology and science, and the public. Each is waiting for another to make a big move towards change- none are willing to be the first or are even powerful enough to influence all the others at once. This is also the issue with the People's Climate March, Leonardo DiCaprio's speech at the UN - all facets mentioned above can take action but must realize that change requires willingness from each facet of the problem. (business, industry, science, etc.) In the issue of carbon pollution, the problems are recognized and the solutions already exist and are created on the daily- what's stopping us from addressing the problem, say, as we address the issue of terrorism or crime or celebrity gossip? The idea of sacrificing lifestyles and sacrificing economic models. But this is exactly what is necessary to make bold change. When will we realize that "human survival and wellbeing" outweigh the losses in economics, industry, and lifestyle? The environment affects everyone in ways celebrity gossip, terrorism, war, - simply don't. This is what makes the issue most important, and should be the most talked about and acted upon.

Micaela Itona

Chelsea Dow said...

Though I agree that there must be a major paradigm shift to change the course of climate change, I do not agree with one of the methods mentioned in this passage. That is the example of nuclear energy. I know that if performed correctly nuclear energy provides a large majority of people energy without carbon emissions. However, the risks for me personally are much too large. We have seen before the consequences of nuclear reactors detonating, such as the nuclear leak at Fukushima, in which the entire Pacific Ocean was (and still is) threatened by nuclear waste. I think that the whole point of this passage is exemplifying just that, we need to move away from dangerous energy sources and focus on ones that will help the world to sustain itself. We need to focus on technologies steadfast on development, not on growth.

I think it was imperative however to comment on the leaders of green technology today, those who are setting a tone for a much needed paradigm shift. Elon Musk for example is a visionary in making sustainable technology. His work unfortunately will be undermined as long as the world stage does not accept the changes that need to be made, and invest in sustainable technologies. There MUST be a change soon, and I can only hope that more visionaries like Musk come forth with new innovations to support sustainability development.

Apoorva said...

It is really going to be quite a task to get all the big conglomerates to reduce their CO2 emissions. What they have not done now, they will not reiterate in the future unless there is another protocol or law that is passed and made sure to be put to use. The only way these big businesses are in working condition is because of the amount of fossil fuels that are being burnt by them. It is hard to assume that these are either going to be reduced or stopped anytime soon.
The making of hybrid or emobiles is great step towards a more environmental friendly world, however, this is just a marketing mechanism for more expensive cars. It is very important to see how these big gestures are just hidden strategies. They are somehow always going to make money out of something environmental friendly because thats where the market is at right now .
We need a greater motivation to solve our climate change issues, not just to amp our technology. E waste is one of our biggest issues with plastic being the main components of usage. Where is properly being trashed? It ends up clogging up the pipes and damaging ocean life. There are many issues that need addressing, the main one being the rate at which we are utilizing out carbon intake leaving very less to cultivate under a very short span of time.

Anonymous said...

To kind of piggyback on what Jennifer Hare was saying: I don't really understand why there is so much money provided from the government when it comes to improving things for the use of war, but when it comes to doing anything environmentally-wise, there's suddenly little to no money to be put into it. We talk so much about what we can do about the environment, but we never get out of our seats to act upon what we were talking about. Speaking won't solve anything in this case; action will though. But in many cases, we can only act provided there's money in it. This is where economics and the environment come together. For instance, the article mentioned Tesla opening it's patents in hopes that other car companies will be inspired; personally, I think that that was a good move, because there's some possibilities that Tesla will get money, the companies that borrowed and were inspired by Tesla's designs will get some money out of it possibly, and, there will be more, not to mention newer and possibly cheaper, hybrid-electric or fully electric cars out on the road.

-E. Piper Phillips

Anonymous said...

Jeffrey Sachs is on point with this article. The fact that the world has been a place of competitors in every right (war, economy, business) means it is definitely not a world that is united. However, the issue of the environment isn't about individual progress or growth of any one country, or at least it shouldn't be. It is a global issue. We live on the Earth. All of us. So we should all be joining together to solve this problem, not betting against each other. Until we unite as a worldwide, compromising force, nothing governmental or social as far as policy will be implemented. As far as corporations are involved, there needs to start being an incentive to do good for the Earth. Yes, coal and oil industries have a place in the environmental movement MAYBE in the future, but until we stop subsidizing their bad-doing, why would they stop? Essentially in the future, if one of the oil or coal industries found a way to become "green," they would own the market. Everyone would stop using the dirty versions of their product and start using the company with the developed product, yet they may have major setbacks in order to develop that technology. It's just the flow of the market system and governmental influence not striving for the clean up and more "green" research yet. But, hopefully, we can get there. Eventually.

Leanna Molnar

Anonymous said...

This post points out some very interesting things. Everyone is willing to give up a little, but as long as everyone else is doing it. If you look back at our history you will see that there were many competitions that led to great things. Competition can be a good thing, but not in this case. Countries like China and the US are missing the point. Instead of competing for the greater output they should work together to stop CO2 emissions. They can still have a somewhat "friendly" competition. As the rest of the article explains, there are already several beginning projects to lower CO2 emissions. It also proves that competition can lead to great advantages. To change, everyone needs to be a part of the team and make sacrifices. We have overcome several things with technology and it can do the same for CO2 emissions.

Mikayla Bonnett

Anonymous said...

Nowadays cooperation seems to be nonexistent and no one seems willing to compromise on any issue. This post addresses the fact that in order for action to take place, many different groups need to come together. Instead, governments seem to stay stuck in the same trap and no change occurs. As already stated, we have the money and the technology to tackle environmental issues. Many green companies are making significant strides but until governments and more of the global community recognize its value and importance to society, it will continue to be exploited.
-Emma W

Anonymous said...

The main source of CO2 emissions (coal power plants)are posing huge air pollution and climate change problems. I believe the only way to combat this is to move resources into the development of solar and wind energy, as Jeffrey Sachs suggests. The second major source of CO2 emissions are automobiles. If there is a way to develop a new battery that can store electricity for much longer, then possibly automobiles (electric) would be able to travel longer distances. By using renewable (solar, wind) energy to power the automobiles, one could develop an extremely low carbon footprint. I agree with Jeffrey Sachs that government, industry, and scientists should team up to develop this new technology (new battery). With all the resources at our disposal we can set the standard for the rest of the world in renewable energy and efficiency. We will insure the success of our future by developing renewable energy before we run out of non-renewables.

-Frazer Winsted

Maria Hernandez-Norris said...

This article raise a lot of interesting points. If we as a nation convince our leaders that the reduction of carbon pollution is just as important as getting to the moon was in the sixties then a technological goal could be set and reached. However, it is the convincing. Should we really need to convince?
Is science of carbon pollution and overall environmental disaster not enough?
I don't understand.

Sulana Robinson said...

It is somewhat frustrating to discuss this issue and use the word, "negotiation". The overall fact that we are so deeply fixed in this mindset of consumerism is disheartening. There is always an enemy, it seems, that we have to big up on. Being so invested in that idea, waging wars and building more conflict/tension between countries only makes us more disconnected as a human race. The environmental problems we face today don't just affect one part of the earth. Which clearly makes this mind-shift incredibly difficult.

Sulana Robinson

Gian Joseph said...

" China’s problem is not the US, but how to wean the world’s largest, or second largest economy (depending on which data are used) off its deeply entrenched dependence on coal. These are mainly engineering problems, not negotiating problems."
I find this part of the article really interesting. Because in fact every countries biggest competition is themselves. The biggest problem is figuring out how to transition from fossil fuel energy to sustainable renewable green energy. The most important thing is trying to figure the cost and the best way to implement the these changes. I feel like the biggest challenge will be whether these countries will be willing enough to make these changes or at least try.

Maria-Vitoria Bernardes said...

I find it a bit selfish how countries are trying to nudge other countries to do more. In the beginning of the article the author states, "The United States, for example, will “concede” a little bit of CO2 reduction if China will do the same." It is crazy how greedy society is, like this is our planet and climate change can not be ignored.I do feel that it must be difficult to figure out how to decarbonize while remaining economically strong.The author states how to make such change would cause China and US to sacrifice millions of jobs and trillions of dollars. It is possible to achieve zero carbon electricity, but technological advances must be made. I believe that technology can certainly help with climate change but we can't solely depend on that. We need to go beyond technology and change the way we are living. We need to realize that "human survival" is more important than losses in economics.

Michael Tierney said...

This article opens about how cutting carbon emissions is really a poker game. It is as if these companies are dealt cards of how much carbon they can emit and then they trade cards to cut some corners and increase their production. It is really an environmental nightmare. While this is going on, "decarbonizing" the energy system remains super complicated. The technology for alternative fuels is there but not where it could be really effective. Either way you look at it, the political aspect is really working against the cutting of emissions.
Then in this article, it takes a turn where it shows politics and science working together to create the atomic bombs in WWII. It proved that they can work together to produce something truly amazing (at a technological perspective). There should be a much better connection between the two which we are not seeing as of now. If they can build bombs to reach a certain deadline, we should be able to create a much more effective alternative. I believe the problem is the money. there is too much money involved in the current means of production and noone wants to give up their money. The only way i see us making the proper change is if we all work together as ONE PLANET not as a nation, but ONE PLANET. Once we all cooperate and work together to fix our serious environmental problems.

--Michael Tierney

Anonymous said...

Agreeing to "negotiate" about who is going to reduce their CO2 emissions is a very childlike idea towards a very serious problem, especially this "I'll do it if they do it" situation. I agree with this article wholeheartedly, the future we have imposed onto future generations the damage with have created could be within reach if countries decided that competition with one another is getting us no where and that working to solve this problem hand in hand will accomplish so much more. Reducing CO2 emissions isn't an easy task but its one that could be done if focused on much more.

- Juliana Cesario

Dylan Hirsch said...

This is a very interesting article. I like the way in which he frames the environmental crisis in the role of competition between nations, states, and individuals. In this sense, the world is divided on a fundamental level. The relationship between government, industry, and the consumer make it very difficult to make the environmental crisis a single-faced issue. The truth of the matter is that it will take a large scale organization - a willingness from each sector of society - to create real solutions to the problems that will effect us all. The current political paradigm supports big business, industries profitable from war and conflict, rather then those that seem essential to the health and wellbeing of the environment and society.

Anonymous said...

It saddens me that there is still an element of negotiation with the climate crisis. Without ecology there will be NO economy so this is not an issue of petty comprises but of a whole transition into a different life. Understandingly so fossil fuels is a huge industry but why not change those positions into that of green energy and expand the field further creating more jobs. If we fully invested in green energy it only seems obvious at the amount of jobs that would create. With pressures on how to store this energy it is exciting that young environmentalist like myself will have the opportunity to be at the frontline of the movement and creation. Although technology is fundamental it is only an aspect the whole system still needs a change.

It also saddens me on how states such as NJ are creating backlash towards Tesla. Where is everyone priorities?

Politicians needs to be personally invested in this because at the end of the day we will all be affected in one way or another.

-Elizabeth Eggimann

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