Copenhagen Climate Conference

The following article about climate change has been written for Blogactiv by David Bennetts a Chartered Meteorologist from the United Kingdom.

A critical question I have been asking is ‘Why are politicians not solving the climate change issues quickly enough’. It is true that they are beginning to get to grips with the issues now that the US is there. But the real underlying issue is one of compatibility with the way science is conducted. In the early 1990’s when we were briefing politicians on the climate change issue we were constantly surprised that they always sought 2 opposing views. They then expected each to ‘sell’ the issue and then they thought that they could find a mid-way through. We as scientists did not respond well to this and tried to present a balanced view of the overall issue. Indeed we took about 10 years before we started to feel confident enough to present a positive case. They did not understand our reticence and heard only doubt. So can we really complain about the time they are taking with the next steps?

I think that we can complain because they now understand the urgency. But if they have control of the solutions can we object to the method of solution? What is different from climate change and the ozone holes. I think that the important difference is that when scientists briefed politicians about the ozone problem they also briefed them about a solution. The climate issues are different in that there is greater complexity but can we now propose solutions that will work and still give the politicians the control they should have.

The difficulty that is perceived at the moment is that nations have invested in renewables and yet that is not sufficient to solve it. That is widely recognised and yet they have now taken the important step of bounding the problems by saying that we need to keep below 2C rise. We as scientists need to build on that. The bit we have done is to define what that 2C means in terms of carbon reduction. But I believe we can go further. The climate change issue is now finally bounded. The main components of this are
Renewables
Adaptation
Nuclear
Carbon Capture and storage

We also need to counter the following points

a. Nuclear is disliked in many parts of the world partly on safety and partly on nuclear waste;

b. Emerging nations have vast supplies of cheap coal and wish to use this to catch up on the developed nations;

c. There is probably insufficient nuclear fuel to cover a massive change to nuclear.

The remaining ‘solution’ is carbon capture and storage. It is a viable proposition but not yet proven or fully costed. The EU is however conducting an experiment by building many stations to test different ideas. So, for the moment, let’s accept it as a possible solution.

Suppose we can use carbon capture and storage in a large way, what follows is then:

a. electric cars are viable – while they help now you still release carbon in generating the electricity to charge them. If you can generate that electricity without releasing carbon then we have a solution to a major part of the transport issues.

b. Add to that some bio diesel for those few vehicles that cannot be electric and you may add to the solution – provided that the bio diesel does not prevent food crops being grown.

Additionally it is possible to extract CO2 from the atmosphere. It is slow but, provided that we used renewables for the generation of the necessary power it could be done – in sufficient quantity to cover the few transport needs which cannot be met by electricity or bio diesel – aviation mostly.

We probably cannot develop carbon capture quickly enough to cover the large increase in generating capacity to convert our transport systems so a way forward is to use nuclear as a stop gap – is this acceptable?

Consequently, are we in a position to propose a solution? That is

a. Use all the renewables that we can.
b. Develop carbon capture and storage as a high priority.
c. Use nuclear where possible to fill a gap.
d. Convert transport to electricity and bio diesel – and if we cannot do that in sufficient quantity and quickly enough then use direct extraction from the atmosphere to help.
e. Use all adaptation processes which are viable.

This solution has the advantages;
a. It leave real choices and decisions to be made in the future – mainly on balances necessary to stay below the 2C level.
b. It allows emerging nations to continue to use their fossil fuels.
c. Transportation is not brought to a stop and we do not have to regress to a lower standard of living.
d. It is not totally dependant on nuclear.

But it does require a lot of work on
a. The development of a viable carbon sequestration scheme.
b. The development of viable electric cars and a means of propulsion for those systems that cannot use electricity viably.
c. Additional measures to continue to use aviation as a means of transportation.

If we as scientists can put this or a similar case together for the politicians then my belief is that they can then solve the climate issues more quickly than at present. The choices then necessary are more suited to the political process and involve choices on the balance of different parts of the solution which are based on both cost and the sensitivity of the population. We, as scientists, rather than as members of the general population would need to develop the various components and provide the underlying facts. We as members of the general population could then add our views on the nuclear issues. So my call here is to us as scientists to start looking at the overall issue, how t bound it, and then to start briefing politicians from what is currently a very privileged position – we are able to get a hearing!

If you would like to leave your own opinion, please feel free to use the comments box below.

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