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|December 20-26, 2007
Global warming strategy
by Paul Danish
The countries of Old Europe want the United States to cut the amount of CO2 it annually releases into the atmosphere 25 to 40 percent below what it was releasing in 1990, and to do it by 2020. This was the European Union’s big idea at the Bali conference.
The EU believes that CO2 cuts of this magnitude on the part of the U.S. and everyone else on the planet is what it will take to keep global warming from becoming too extreme, i.e. to keep the average global temperature from rising more than 3.5 F by the end of the century.
Cutting U.S. CO2 emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels would require annual emissions to be cut by 60 percent of what they are today, as CO2 emissions from the United States grew by about 20 percent since 1990.
Well, could we do it, even if we wanted to?
Sure, we could. All we have to do is put the country on the same sort of a war footing that it was on during World War II.
Reducing CO2 emissions to 40 percent of today’s levels (which is what would be left after a 60 percent cut) will require replacing much of the country’s electrical infrastructure, industrial base and motor-vehicle fleet, as well as rebuilding and re-outfitting a large proportion of its commercial and residential buildings. The only way it could be done in 12 years is by treating the task as though it were a wartime emergency.
Here’s an example of the sort of steps that would have to be taken:
Congress would declare a National Climate Emergency — similar to a declaration of war — and grant the executive branch sweeping powers to mobilize the nation’s economic and human resources to deal with it.
The executive branch would then immediately ban the construction of any new fossil fuel-fired power plants, including all plants fueled by coal, natural gas or oil, and order the nation’s utilities to meet as much of the demand for new generating capacity as possible with wind and solar thermal power — both of which are relatively low-tech and could be quickly expanded through a crash program.
These measures would be undertaken to keep the problem from getting worse.
Then, to roll back existing CO2 production, the government would order the construction of 350 new 1,000-megawatt nuclear power plants to replace the nation’s roughly 1,500 coal-fired power plants by 2020. The latter have a generating capacity of 335,000 megawatt-hours and burn more than a billion tons of coal a year, which produces 2.8 billion tons of CO2.
Totally eliminating coal from the nation’s electricity portfolio would likely cut the amount of CO2 produced by electric power generation to about 40 percent of what it is today.
Building 350 nuclear power plants in 12 years would not be possible in a peace-time economy, but it would be possible in an economy on a war footing.
A Climate Emergency Production Board, similar to the World War II era War Production Board, would have the power to ensure that the necessary resources were made available — by ordering their diversion from other sectors of the economy if necessary.
Designs would be standardized to allow rapid construction. Construction would take place around the clock. There would be a crash program to create the industrial infrastructure necessary to crank out the needed components, either by converting existing factories or building new ones. All of which were done during World War II.
If land acquisition is necessary, it would be appropriated and its owners compensated — as was the case during World War II.
Environmental or other regulatory processes would be re-written to reflect new national priorities and collapsed from years to months, or suspended outright until 2020.
What would be the chance of this sort of thing actually being done? Next to nil, of course.
There are a lot of reasons why the U.S. won’t go on a war footing to fight global warming, but one in particular stands out.
It is that no matter how much effort and treasure are expended shrinking the country’s carbon footprint, the world is going to keep getting warmer during the lifetimes of all living Americans. The global warming train has left the station; even if we reduce our carbon footprint to zero tomorrow, warming won’t stop for a century or two.
Americans are not going to bust their butts to reduce greenhouse gases if they don’t see a payoff for a hundred years or more. That’s not just an inconvenient truth; it’s a political reality as real as a brick wall.
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