UC Irvine Earth system scientist Steven J. Davis has an inconvenient truth he'd like to share: we have to make "a fundamental and disruptive overhaul of the global energy system" to
eradicate harmful carbon dioxide emissions right now. A paper in tomorrow's Environmental Research Letters by Davis and fellow researchers respects earlier calls for stabilizing dangerous CO2 emissions over time but notes nothing has been done to slow or maintain emissions that are "growing faster than ever."
Davis and his paper collaborators Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science, Long Cao of
China's Zhejiang University and Martin Hoffert of New York University examined the "wedge" approach to tackling climate change outlined in a 2004 study by Princeton scientists Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow.
The Princeton pair claimed CO2 could be stopped by dividing the task into seven huge but manageable "slices" using existing technologies, including doubling the number of nuclear reactors worldwide and increasing automobile fuel efficiency from an average 30 mpg to 60 mpg. Pacala and Socolow estimated if all seven wedges were implemented, 1 billion tons of carbon a year would be avoided after 50 years.
"We have enormous respect for that earlier work," says Davis in a UCI release. "But almost a decade after wedges made a solution to climate change seem doable, we now know that holding emissions steady, difficult as it would be, is literally a half-measure–and one that we have yet to take. Our emissions are not being held constant or even slowing; they're growing faster than ever."
Davis and his co-authors figure as many as 31 wedges could be required to stabilize the Earth's climate to safe CO2 levels and sharp reductions in total emissions must begin sooner rather than later. Current technologies cannot sustain the amount of power being used worldwide now, let alone enough affordable, carbon-free energy to keep up with demand, they add.
"We urgently need policies and programs that support the research, development, demonstration and commercialization of new energy," the Davis team concludes.