James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

Why strong climate change legislation is dead

September 11, 2009

My new favorite blog, New Geography, does a fine piece of analysis that reveals why 80 percent cuts in climate change emissions are a fantasy without a radical technology breakthrough:

According to a recent poll by Rasmussen, slightly more than one-third of respondents (who provided an answer) are willing to spend $100 or more per year to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. About 2 percent would spend more than $1,000. … If we do a rough, weighted average of the Rasmussen numbers, it appears that Americans are willing to spend about $100 per household per year.  … At $100 per household, it appears that Americans are willing to spend on the order of $12 billion annually.

At $100 per household, Americans are prepared to pay just $2 per greenhouse gas ton removed. All of this is in a policy context in which the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests that $20-$50 per greenhouse gas ton is the maximum that should be spent per ton. The often quoted McKinsey/Conference Board study says that huge reductions in greenhouse gas emissions can be achieved at $50 or less, with an average cost per ton of $17. International markets now value a ton of greenhouse gas emissions at around $20. At $2 per ton, American households are simply not on the same “planet” with the radical climate change lobby as to how much they wish to spend on reducing greenhouse gases.

Comments

instead of cutting emissions, has anyone looked into methods of removing the CO2 from the air? That seems to me a more promising solution. There’s already enough greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to effect climate change, and curbing emissions won’t do anything at all to lower the concentrations. Scrubbing the atmosphere is the only way to actually do anything.

 

Drewbie, green plant life removes CO2. We just need to stop putting it in faster than it’s taken out. Of course, this means that the plant tissues that the carbon ends up in mustn’t be allowed to be turned back into CO2 by decay processes or burning. (Rainforests are not an ongoing carbon sink; the topsoil has been a couple of inches thick for probably millions of years.) Since forests and other growths of plants have a lot of live plants in them, one way is to have the forests get bigger. But you raise a good point: if this is going to be gotten under control, it would seem that everything that goes in must come out.

Posted by Pete Cann | Report as abusive
 

Sorry, Drewbie, I gave you half an answer. It takes energy, energy to sort the CO2 out from the N2, O2, etc. in the atmosphere, and then, lucky you, you’ve got a load of CO2 on your hands. You could pump it underground, if you trust that idea. It uses a lot less energy to just not put it in the atmosphere in the first place. And as for plants, give them some water and fertilizer and you’re turning atmospheric CO2 into solid carbon compounds with solar energy, with little or no cost for equipment.You might be interested to know that there’s a company with a process for using electric power to turn CO2 into gasoline. They can take the CO2 from the atmosphere, but they had power plant exhaust in mind to make it cheaper. They were talking about doing this with wind power at night, when they felt there would be a great excess of wind power. But putting the wind power directly into an electric vehicle battery has got to be more efficient. And of course if you burn the gasoline, the carbon goes back into the atmosphere. The essential point is again that this process takes energy.

Posted by Pete Cann | Report as abusive
 

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