A roadmap for 'the only practical way to preserve the planet'

Apr 30, 2010
Carbon dioxide emitted from the nation’s coal-fired power plants could be phased out in 20 years using existing or rapidly emerging technology. Credit: iStock

The United States could completely stop emissions of carbon dioxide from coal-fired electric power plants -- a crucial step for controlling global warming -- within 20 years by using technology that already exists or could be commercially available within a decade.

That's the conclusion of an article published online today, along with a news article on the topic, in the American Chemical Society's semi-monthly journal & Technology (ES&T). Both are scheduled for the June 1 print edition of ES&T.

Pushker Kharecha and colleagues say that the global climate change problem becomes manageable only if society deals quickly with emissions of from burning coal in electric power plants. "The only practical way to preserve a planet resembling that of the Holocene (today's world) with reasonably stable shorelines and preservation of species, is to rapidly phase out coal emissions and prohibit emissions from unconventional fossil fuels such as oil shale and tar sands," they state.

The authors outline strategies to make that phase-out possible. They include elimination of subsidies for fossil fuels; putting rising prices on carbon emissions; major improvements in electricity transmission and the energy efficiency of homes, commercial buildings, and appliances; replacing coal power with biomass, geothermal, wind, solar, and third-generation nuclear power; and after successful demonstration at commercial scales, deployment of advanced (fourth-generation) nuclear power plants; and carbon capture and storage at remaining coal plants.

Explore further: Top 12 ways the world can eliminate agriculture's climate footprint

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User comments : 20

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3432682
1.6 / 5 (13) Apr 30, 2010
Global warming is complete BS. No predictions of problems have come true. It is clear alarmists are manipulative, dishonest, and completely biased. Where are the temperature increases they warn about? Where is the "missing energy"? Their cries are hilarious, preposterous. They are simply trying to take over the world energy supply, and cripple all the world's economies. They are not scientists, they are big-government politicians.
Shootist
1.7 / 5 (11) Apr 30, 2010
"They are not scientists, they are big-government politicians. "

Socialists/Marxists - "Forget left and right, republican and democrat, there are two kinds of people in the world, those who would control others and those that have no such desire". - Robert A. Heinlein.

AGW is BS. A changing climate is normal.
Skeptic_Heretic
3 / 5 (7) Apr 30, 2010
As one of the few AGW agnostics on the site, allow me to say, the above article is ideological masturbation. You cannot say
The United States could completely stop emissions of carbon dioxide from coal-fired electric power plants within 20 years by using technology that already exists or could be commercially available within a decade.


without naming the technology and stating how to implement it. You also can't saddle one country with total culpability for the present situations as harmful or harmless as they may be. We need to change our energy infrastructure, but the above abstract, and most likely the source writing, provide lip service and no solutions to the questions we're currently posing.

ArtflDgr
2.4 / 5 (5) Apr 30, 2010
but skeptic heretic..

they are the big idea people, the implementation is for the little people to work out, its too much work and dirty struggle for such minds as they
thermodynamics
3.3 / 5 (7) Apr 30, 2010
Skeptic: They probably do talk about the methods in the paper. The summary says: "...major improvements in electricity transmission and the energy efficiency of homes, commercial buildings, and appliances; replacing coal power with biomass, geothermal, wind, solar, and third-generation nuclear power; and after successful demonstration at commercial scales, deployment of advanced (fourth-generation) nuclear power plants; and carbon capture and storage at remaining coal plants."

That is a high-level summary of detailed reports that are available from IEA, NETL, and a number of other organizations that have produced detailed analyses of the approaches. CCS is one that needs to be demonstrated but short term demonstrations are in progress now. I would like to see the paper, but the piece of the summary I quoted is pointing at specifics. Let me know if you need any links to the specific technologies.
theophys
4.8 / 5 (8) Apr 30, 2010
"The authors outline strategies to make that phase-out possible."

First step is strategy, second step is funding the strategy, third step is implementation.

Unfortunately funding and implementation are very dificult because for some odd reason there are a lot of people who don't want to switch to renewable energy resources. Why, I have no idea. Even if you think that AGW is false, switching from a limited energy source to a renewable energy source is a good idea. No matter your politics, creating high paying jobs for energy production at home rather than purchasing fossil fuels from abroad is preferable. No matter how you feel about Al Gore, significantly increasing energy efficiency in homes across America is bueno.

If you don't like AGW, fine. But before you go tearing down the push for renewable energy, come up with a valid argument like the effect on short term economy and some sort of evidence to back yourself up. Don't start crying about socialism or government control
THoKling
2.2 / 5 (6) Apr 30, 2010
theophys: the complaints don't seem to be about addressing the issue, but rather about confusing the issue with human-induced global warming scaremongerings. Renewable energy sources are an improvement over alternate systems, but focusing on the technologies which have not been proven as having a harmful impact on our environment is misdirecting funds from technologies which shift the planet's focus in a more productive manner.

Sure, we'll eventually have to upgrade coal-driven elements of our society, but PhysOrg is becoming too corporate to be of any informational use and often confuses issues with the same ideology that your average mass-media source sports.

These days, supplying an abstract and a link to the research (the latter of which is often missing from these articles) would be more than enough.
Question
3.8 / 5 (6) Apr 30, 2010
ThoKling: does it really make any difference? Going to renewable energy sources would be a real plus for this country. Right now we export about 400 billion dollars every year for oil to countries that have little use for our way of life. Just think how many jobs this 400 billion could create in the this country if it was spent here? With that kind of money we could even pay for the renewable energy sources this country would need in the next 20 years.
Skeptic_Heretic
4.1 / 5 (9) Apr 30, 2010
Ignore AGW. The issue is obviously muddled beyond the point of reason, so to any rational person the argument is moot.

We all know that we must make changes for governmental and societal stability. Peak oil is no myth, and peak coal is not far behind.

It's time to up our game and move forward into the nuclear age we were working towards before the retarded in power decided to make bombs out of resources we need to power the future. Marjon, JayK, I call you both out as you two are probably the most polar opposites I can call

Don't you both agree the time has come for human advancement? Screw race, screw protocol, it's time to do what's right, for ALL of us.
CarolinaScotsman
4 / 5 (5) May 01, 2010
How about this solution? Let homo sapiens go extinct and surprise, the planet chugs merrily right along without us. In a few millenia, any trace of us will be forgotten and the planet won't give a flying fiddlyflam one way or the other.
rwinners
4.8 / 5 (4) May 03, 2010
Cleaning up the environment and making the country more energy efficient and energy independent are all good things, reqardless of climate change.
We need to get the world off the carbon nipple.
JayK
1 / 5 (2) May 03, 2010
I have some opinions about why marjon and I are polar opposites, but it has little to do with AGW nor about future plans to power the United States into the future.

I'm more of a NIMBY on nuclear, due to the environmental changes that are necessary. I don't think wind farms are price competitive and I have yet to see how fuel cells will work without finding new sources of paladium/platinum. I also believe we've tipped over the edge, climate wise, and we're a lot better off finding solutions to feeding people and finding fresh sources of water. We need to start moving people out of coastal regions and planning ways to eat rooftop algae.
Skeptic_Heretic
3 / 5 (2) May 03, 2010
You're joking.
JayK
1 / 5 (2) May 03, 2010
I'll assume you mean the whole thing, in which no, I'm not. I'm a fatalist on the whole global warming thing, where I believe that the tipping point has already been reached and everything we do will only slow it, not stop it.

As for nuclear, it works in the southern portion of the US but not for colder waters in the northern. I think the increase in heat has a very real impact that is often overlooked. I also wonder about localized changes due to steam, downwind. I think the waste issue is a little blown out of proportion.

As for survival? We probably won't have much of an issue for another generation. 6 deg C is a pretty conservative estimate, and when the energy stores that have been shown to exist, based on dimming, become full blown detectable positive feedback loops happen, we're in for a shock.
Choice
not rated yet May 03, 2010
Didn't Pacala and Socolow say this about 8 years ago?
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (1) May 03, 2010
@JK, Ok then, I can understand that but I think you underestimate the resiliency of human ingenuity and societal flexibility.
JayK
3 / 5 (3) May 04, 2010
@JK, Ok then, I can understand that but I think you underestimate the resiliency of human ingenuity and societal flexibility.

Yes, we're also stubborn and we tend to think more of our possessions than our futures. If the sea level rise is slow, we might be OK, but it also might be the proverbial frog in the pot. I'd rather see a clear message that the coastal areas are expected to see more natural disasters in the next X amount of years and start getting people inland and to elevations that will support people. I'm also curious to see how well we handle fresh water shortages across the US. We're doing better in flood areas than in the past, but we still can do a lot better.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (2) May 04, 2010
Yes, we're also stubborn and we tend to think more of our possessions than our futures.

Not all of us. From talking with many people, including yourself, I've had paradigm shifts in my process of thinking in many of these societal issues. I've even changed my view on certain subjects to be entirely contrary to views I held a simple year ago due to the exchange of information and ideology.

It may be simple Dunning-Krueger, but I think humans on the whole are smarter than that.
JayK
3 / 5 (4) May 04, 2010
@SH: I hope you are correct, but hope isn't always necessary for survival. NOLA is one complex example. The people had notification and either were unable to leave or were too stubborn to. I don't know the percentages of those two population segments, but the total was pretty high and the impact on the NOLA population was far too high. Hopefully the changes are slow enough that we can adapt our living spaces accordingly.
Skeptic_Heretic
3.7 / 5 (3) May 04, 2010
JK,

I would see that as a critical failure of infrastructure on two fronts.

1) the inability to quickly move people away is a clear failure of transportation infrastructure.

2) the inability to have previously educated people to the level where the danger was clear is our second and greater failure of infrastructure. The most important part of our society is undoubtedly education and communication. One cannot act without appropriate information and the ability by which to understand it's content.

The people were either ignorant of the danger due to poor frame of reference due to failure of Educational Infrastructure, or they were ignorant of the impending danger, which is a failure of the Communications Infrastructure. Both lead back to the same failure.

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