Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Stabilizing fossil fuel emissions

Here is a great graphic from Climate Central reaffirming the "wedges" analysis for slowing climate change - and demonstrating how much more needs to be done than when the first analysis appeared in 2004.
 

The graph illustrates the concept of the "stabilization triangle," which two Princeton professors, Robert Socolow and Steve Pacala developed to illustrate the efforts that would need to be made to limit the rate of emissions of greenhouse gases. You can read the Socolow's blog explaining it here, and James Fallows' clear gloss here. (I follow Fallows' blog and that's how I found the graphic - thank you.) I recommend reading both pieces for more details, but the short point is vividly illustrated in the graphic. In 2004, there were seven distinct wedges - things that would have to be done - in the stabilization triangle. Now there are 9. And the data are from 2008 (2001 in the first iteration) so they understate the problem.

In his blog post, Socolow argues that advocates are partly at fault for urging prompt action without acknowledging psychological barriers to receiving unwelcome news (I've written about that cognitive bias before), how much about climate science is still unknown, and how risky possible solutions can be. He then goes on to argue persuasively for something he calls "iterative risk management:" looking at a 50 year horizon with 10-year or shorter increments for reduced emissions goals, and taking advantage of increased knowledge (and, one hopes, positive feedback from actions) when setting new targets. It's very clear and well worth taking the time to read.

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