Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Our Choice. A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis

I promised a while back to review Al Gore's book, "Our Choice."  It is not a hard read.  Much of it could be subtitled, "good ideas that even a skeptic could buy into.  Chapters three through 13, plus chapter 17, are solution oriented.  There are good summaries of the potential for wind and solar, plus a surprisingly optimistic appraisal of the potential for geothermal power development.  The sources, most of them online, are here.  There are even a few ideas in the book that Republicans could buy into.  The nation's dairies are so heavily regulated that it is cheaper to transport milk hundreds of miles even half way across the country, than to produce it locally.  Regulation of the electrical generating and transmission industry (p 295) sometimes prevents the utility from owning storage systems to smooth out the flow of wind and solar. 

The book does not contain a summary of what could be done, similar to the wedges proposed by Paccala and Socolow.  here, but if you search hard, there is a free version    Nor does it have a price tag.  However, it does have a ranking of all potential climate mitigation measures from those that save us the most money to those that cost the most.  (p. 246 )  Here's the link. 

Chapters 1 and 2 summarize the climate problem, and have good information on the different types of greenhouse gases. They probably won't by themselves convince anyone who does not already accept the probability of man-caused global warming.  He does briefly discuss peak oil as a related problem.  He also mentions geoengineering, and cites Teller's paper, which I discussed in an earlier post here.  (Gore thinks it would be a very bad idea because we don't know the consequences, and doesn't mention the conspiracy theorists who think we are already doing it.)    The book is skeptical (properly, in my opinion) about the potential for biofuels and clean coal, but not totally dismissive. 

The biggest disappointment is chapter nine, on population.  Gore claims that emancipating women and improving the standard of living in the third world will lead to population stabilization.  I just don't think he has done the math.  A typical third world nation uses about one eighth the amount of fossil fuels that the United States uses.  How will their standard of living be improved while the world is ratcheting down its fossil fuel use.  Gore looks at capital as something that government and the banking industry could provide in whatevert quantity needed, if only they have the proper mindset and incentives.  In that respect, he doesn't buy into "limits to growth." And he understandably avoids the issue differences and limitations in human capital.  We are currently watching Haiti, which has had most of its infrastructure built with US Aid, descending into chaos.  Overpopulation has stripped the country of its forests, and it had lost most of its tourist revenue, in spite of its lush tropical location and abundant beaches, because of the oppressive poverty and lack of security.  Even an establishment sociologist like Jared Diamond, in "Collapse," notes that the differences between Haiti and the more successful Dominican Republic, which share the island of Hispaniola, are caused in part by the greater influence of European culture and genetics in the Dominican Republic.  And the book has only a fleeting mention of immigration as a source of conflict in African nations.   Nowhere does he state the obvious point that the population stability which the caucasian populations of western nations have gotten by reducing their birth rates is going out the window because of immigration.  Sure, there is the argument that consumption is the problem, not population.  But the immigrants to this country will dramatically increase their carbon footprint.  And their fertility rate is about 60% more than it would be (in Mexico, anyway).  Gore doesn't make an estimate of population growth, but it sounds like he expects the world to reach equilibrium around nine to ten billion.  Maybe my next book will be William Catton's "Overshoot," to help me decide whether this planet can support that number at all.

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