Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Path to 350 ppm CO2

Scientists who have changed the atmospheric carbon dioxide level target from stabilizing CO2 at a level of 450 parts per million to a much lower level of 350 ppm have been tinkering around with the problem of how to accomplish this much more ambitious goal. One of these scientists is Pushker Kharecha from NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies. Dr. Kharecha told BBC News that his group’s research showed that the only possible way was to promptly enact a moratorium on new coal use that does not capture CO2 and to phase out existing coal emissions by 2030. Also, he noted that reforestation and better agricultural practices could remove some CO2 from the atmosphere which would help. Dr. Kharecha also stressed the importance of energy efficiency and conservation in the short term as longer-term efforts are taken to provide alternative energy sources to fossil fuels.

Right now the world seems to be going in the direct opposite direction. Rather than a moratorium on coal plants that do not capture C02 the plans are in the works in a number of countries for hundreds of more typical coal plants. China itself is building one or two new plants each week. The promise of capturing and storing CO2 emissions from coal, which has been dubbed “clean coal” by the coal industry, so far has remained no more than a promise and seems likely never to be fulfilled.

The gap between what it will take to lower the CO2 level to a climate-stabilizing 350 ppm from the ice-melting present level of about 386 ppm and the reality on the ground appears unbridgeable. All the momentum is toward ever upward CO2 levels. Since the United States is responsible for more of the CO2 up there than any other country it seems logical that we should take the first step, that is, declare a moratorium on new coal plants that can’t capture CO2 emissions. Time to leave square one.

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