Next 15 years is 'crunch time' for climate change

Apr 23, 2014 by Phil Ciciora
Time is running out to avert severe global damage from climate change, says Don Fullerton, a finance professor and co-author of a chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's fifth assessment report. Credit: L. Brian Stauffer

Time is running out to employ a mitigation strategy that would avert severe global damage from climate change, a University of Illinois energy policy expert says.

Although we still have time to stabilize future temperature levels and neutralize other potential negative outcomes created by climate change, that time is rapidly dwindling, says Don Fullerton, a finance professor and former deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury Department.

"We really have to get serious over the next decade. Otherwise, it's going to be unstoppable," said Fullerton, the associate director of the U. of I. Institute of Government and Public Affairs and a faculty associate in the Center for Business and Public Policy in the College of Business.

"People may not realize that observed increases in temperature and are nothing compared to what will happen with the existing increases in already in the atmosphere," he said.

One of the biggest risks is that we don't know exactly what will happen, and when it will happen, Fullerton says.

"We can look all we want at expected sea levels, expected temperature changes, and expected storm severity. Yes, those are all going to be costly. But the real problem is just the great unknowable nature of it all – and the possibility that something much more drastic could occur," he said.

According to Fullerton, who co-wrote a chapter on the social, ethical and economic concepts of climate change for the recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's fifth assessment report, the next 15 years are "crunch time," but the global community really has to get moving within the next 10 years.

"International negotiations are continuing, but the problem is that they are especially difficult," he said. "Imagine trying to get more than 200 nations with differing views to signoff on anything."

The main sticking point in international negotiations is the divide between rich, industrialized nations such as the U.S. and rapidly growing and industrializing nations such as China and India.

"Even if most of the current emissions are coming from the rapidly growing nations, the major source of greenhouse gases for the past 200 years has been the rich, industrialized nations," Fullerton said. "So where does the responsibility lie? China and India have high emissions, but they cry foul because they haven't shared in the wealth that the U.S. and other industrialized nations achieved over the past 200 years."

An isolationist position for the U.S. wouldn't work very well, either.

"If the polar ice caps melt faster and sea levels submerge half of Bangladesh – a populous, low-lying country that is very poor – then that would create tens of millions of refugees," Fullerton said. "So it's just not accurate for people to think that's not going to affect us. Sure, we have a rich country and if we wanted to, we could put up higher levees around New Orleans. But it's not true that flooding in poor countries such as Bangladesh wouldn't affect us. When we see 100 million refugees with nowhere to go and nobody to help them, the U.S. is not going to sit idly by and watch all of those displaced people starve to death. It's going to be a lot cheaper if we do something now than if our hand is forced in the future."

From an ethical standpoint, another question is what our responsibility is to future generations, Fullerton said.

"On the one hand, we don't want to leave future generations with all of our pollution," he said. "On the other, economic welfare around the world is improving. So you could argue that they're going to be better off already."

But if the current projections hold, and it's thought that future generations are going to better off, then a different moral calculus might say they could bear the cost more easily than we could, Fullerton said.

"But that doesn't suggest waiting," he said. "It suggests doing something now but maybe going partially into debt to do it. We can't wait and have future generations do it all later, because it could be too late. If starting now is necessary, that doesn't mean we need to bear all of the costs now, especially if most of the benefits are going to . But there is an ethical argument for taking on some debt to do it now, in order to do it more effectively than what could be done years from now."

Even if the U.S. government does nothing, new technology is moving in the right direction, Fullerton said.

"The biggest initial step is moving from coal-fired power plants to power plants," he said. "Ironically, that's happening already, because of all the advances in fracking technology – it's a major improvement for , but we could be endangering our water supply. That is a good argument against doing things too fast. It's possible that we get better at fracking. We just don't want to build any new coal-fired plants. The new power plants we build should be natural gas plants. But at the same time, we need to continue to work on the technology for wind and solar power."

If we were to have an energy efficiency crash-program – the equivalent of this generation's Apollo program, as some critics have advocated – that could be very costly in its own right, Fullerton says.

"Reducing emissions quickly would mean shutting down coal-fired , which is wasteful because billions of dollars are already invested in those plants," he said. "For better or worse, coal-fired plants produce nearly half of the electricity produced in Illinois. So you can't just shut them down – although that would certainly be the fastest way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Or we could undertake extremely expensive carbon capture and sequestration, which is an untested technology. So doing it quickly makes it more expensive than, say, continuing to work on technologies and phasing in changes more slowly.

"It doesn't have to be zero emissions – solar, wind and nuclear, all of which are expensive. We would get way more than halfway there simply by switching from coal to natural gas, on the basis of carbon per kilowatt hour."

Fullerton also notes that substantial efforts are already underway to switch to low-carbon fuels and to embrace high-efficiency technology.

"We see plenty of efforts, both policy- and technology-based, to develop low-carbon fuels, biofuels, make cars more efficient, make houses and appliances more efficient," he said. "Those efforts are all having an impact and should not be discounted."

But it's not enough.

"It's necessary but it's certainly not sufficient, which is why we need a price on carbon, via a tax or cap-and-trade," Fullerton said. "Either option would provide an incentive to firms to make more energy-efficient technologies, to produce energy more efficiently and to use less carbon. And once electricity and gasoline become more expensive, that would also provide incentives for households to use less of it."

Such a price has two different effects: Reduce the carbon per unit of output, and raise the cost of those carbon-intensive products, Fullerton said.

"And both of those effects would reduce carbon emissions," he said. "But the current policymakers in the U.S. and other countries do not want to raise the cost of carbon-intensive output like electricity and gasoline; instead they prefer to hand out subsidies for energy-efficiency incentives. But we need both – to become more efficient, and to use less."

But above all else, we need a wake-up call, Fullerton said.

"Because it's only with a rude wake-up call that we'll change our habits, and that's what the IPCC's report hopes to accomplish," he said.

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User comments : 13

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Vietvet
4 / 5 (12) Apr 23, 2014
Claims that it is a socialist, marxist, New World Order plot will begin in 1,2,3--------.
ryggesogn2
1.4 / 5 (11) Apr 23, 2014
The hysteria increases as AGWites become more desperate.

The author is not a climate scientist so whatever he writes can't have any bearing on AGWism, according to the AGWites.
Mimath224
4.6 / 5 (10) Apr 23, 2014
The hysteria increases as AGWites become more desperate.

The author is not a climate scientist so whatever he writes can't have any bearing on AGWism, according to the AGWites.

Neither am I but I can tell you that the practices in the country where I live need to be seen to be believed. It doesn't take much expertise to know that these practices are banned in many countries not because of climate change but because of general pollution (it kills many every year). And pollution will only add to the debate!
ONTIME
2 / 5 (10) Apr 24, 2014
In the last Easter weekend the POtuS roamed the planet in AF1 creating tons of carbon footprint burning enough fuel to run the pumps in SF for a week and expending tax dollars as if they were his own. This behavior by elite politicians and others in this class of the unbridled wealth preach to the peons and serfs of the world how they intend to save them from themselves and all they have to do is listen to those profound thoughts offered and "Do as I say" not as I do, because we cannot all lead the good life at once. Why would these good people want you in their space?......The hypocrisy is deafening....

namarrgon
5 / 5 (8) Apr 24, 2014
Keep lining up those straw men, rygg baby.
antigoracle
1 / 5 (7) Apr 27, 2014
And once electricity and gasoline become more expensive, that would also provide incentives for households to use less of it

Wonder if anyone mentioned this to the Cult's False Profit, Gore.
Mimath224
1.5 / 5 (4) Apr 27, 2014
And once electricity and gasoline become more expensive, that would also provide incentives for households to use less of it

Wonder if anyone mentioned this to the Cult's False Profit, Gore.

Ha, made his 'packet' and laughing all the way to the bank eh?
freeiam
1 / 5 (7) Apr 27, 2014
So we only have to endure 15 years of climate whining.
Maybe by that day we have some real data to do some real science with trusted scientist.
Captain Stumpy
4.3 / 5 (6) Apr 27, 2014
some real data to do some real science
@freeiam
I guess you don't speak English? or just cant comprehend science?
http://www.climat...ns-16280

http://www.metoff...adcrut4/

http://climate.na...evidence

http://www.climat...l-levels
Bindoff, N. L., P. A. Stott, K. M. AchutaRao, M. R. Allen, N. Gillett, D. Gutzler, K. Hansingo, G. Hegerl, Y. Hu, S. Jain, I. I. Mokhov, J. Overland, J. Perlwitz, R. Sebbari, and X. Zhang, 2013: Detection and Attribution of Climate Change: from Global to Regional. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T. F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S. K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P. M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge
Captain Stumpy
4.4 / 5 (7) Apr 27, 2014
So we only have to endure 15 years of climate whining.
Maybe by that day we have some real data to do some real science with trusted scientist.
@freeiam
my sincerest apologies for lashing out at you in that last post. I was frustrated by the ignorance that certain people displayed here and I should have taken your plight into consideration and adjusted my post accordingly.

Perhaps these links will help you comprehend better than the last ones:

http://globalwarmingkids.net/

http://www.eschoo...ren.html

http://climatekids.nasa.gov/

http://www.c2es.o...ics/kids

Mimath224
4.8 / 5 (5) Apr 28, 2014
@Captain Stumpy, yes there are enough scientific reports out there for everyone to read but in the end it isn't the scientist or the climate expert that makes the decision. This is where the real problem is, Politics and the Industry! If there is profit, it'll get done quickly. If there isn't...It is going to be very difficult to get out of the rut we're in.
Agomemnon
1.8 / 5 (5) Apr 28, 2014
So we only have to endure 15 years of climate whining.
Maybe by that day we have some real data to do some real science with trusted scientist.


Having a decade of NO WARMING hasn't made them stop the climate whining.
The largest user of energy and largest creator of greenhouse gases is the federal government. When they reduce their usage/emissions by 30% I will start listening.
ryggesogn2
1.2 / 5 (5) Apr 28, 2014
State sponsored 'science' just like the USSR or DDR:

"Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy has issued a warning to Republicans who continue to question the integrity of the agency's scientific data: we're coming for you."
"The EPA has used non-public data to justify 85 percent of $2 trillion worth of Clean Air Act regulation benefits from 1990 to 2020."
""Virtually every regulation proposed by the Obama administration has been justified by nontransparent data and unverifiable claims,"

Read more: http://dailycalle...0EjxUAq1

Obama on ObamaCare: "if you like your plan you can keep your plan"

Why should Obama and those who work for him be trusted?

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