Skip to content Skip to navigation

OpenStax-CNX

You are here: Home » Content » Q4: What can be done about climate change

Navigation

Lenses

What is a lens?

Definition of a lens

Lenses

A lens is a custom view of the content in the repository. You can think of it as a fancy kind of list that will let you see content through the eyes of organizations and people you trust.

What is in a lens?

Lens makers point to materials (modules and collections), creating a guide that includes their own comments and descriptive tags about the content.

Who can create a lens?

Any individual member, a community, or a respected organization.

What are tags? tag icon

Tags are descriptors added by lens makers to help label content, attaching a vocabulary that is meaningful in the context of the lens.

This content is ...

In these lenses

  • UniqU content

    This module is included inLens: UniqU's lens
    By: UniqU, LLCAs a part of collection: "Global Climate Change"

    Click the "UniqU content" link to see all content selected in this lens.

  • Physical Geography Lens display tagshide tags

    This module is included inLens: AA_Research Physical Geography Lens
    By: Alisa AleringAs a part of collection: "Global Climate Change"

    Click the "Physical Geography Lens" link to see all content selected in this lens.

    Click the tag icon tag icon to display tags associated with this content.

Recently Viewed

This feature requires Javascript to be enabled.

Tags

(What is a tag?)

These tags come from the endorsement, affiliation, and other lenses that include this content.
 

Q4: What can be done about climate change

Module by: Ronald Sass. E-mail the author

Responding to climate change predictions: What if anything can be done about it

Short answer

We have seen that the world’s climate is changing, in part at least, because of the anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide from fossil fuel. Humans have a choice that must be made soon; we will either mitigate the problems of climate change by a massive reduction of greenhouse gas emissions or adapt by changing our life style. Mitigation is the stabilization of the climate by the removal of some or of all the fossil fuel derived atmospheric carbon dioxide from the energy equation. Adaptation is action taken to cope with increased rainfall, higher temperatures, scarce water, and more frequent storms. Adaptation may need to tackle present problems or to anticipate changes in the future, aiming to reduce risk and damage cost-effectively, and perhaps even exploiting potential benefits. Somewhere in the middle of these two alternatives we will find an optimal path. It will depend on many factors and different approaches. Success will require an increase in available technology as well as shifts in the culture of people.

Detailed answer

Some of the ways that we can reduce our emissions of fossil fuel carbon dioxide and mitigate climate change are presented below

Immediately implementable with several tangible benefits

  • Increase the efficiency of vehicles and reduce the use of these vehicles.
  • Build more energy efficient buildings and equip them with energy efficient appliances.

Available technologies with some added costs

  • Increase the efficiency of coal and gas power plants, for example, by combining the production and use of both heat and power.
  • Use governmental incentives to improve the efficiency of existing technologies and to develop new clean energy technologies.
  • Establish policies such as a carbon tax or carbon cap and trade legislation to reduce and eventually stop the emission of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Available technologies with some lead time required

  • Develop wind, photovoltaic and geothermal power as well as fuel from biomass and other newer technologies.

Potential technologies with decadal or multi-decadal time lines

  • Develop and construct new and safe nuclear power plants.
  • Continue to develop the technology to capture and sequester carbon in order to continue to use fossil fuel until the above-mentioned sources of renewable energy are developed.
  • Encourage the development of new and as yet un-thought of technologies to provide efficient and environmentally neutral energy sources.

The cost estimates of implementing mitigation measures or adapting to climate change vary a great deal. First, scientific knowledge about the physical and ecological damages due to climate change is a work in progress. Scientists have no accurate way to determine how rapidly future GHGs will accumulate in the atmosphere or how sensitive biological systems will be to increases in the concentration of those gases. We do not know at what GHG concentrations “tipping points” or catastrophic climate events may occur. It is difficult to estimate how willing or able people will be to adapt to new climate conditions. Finally it is virtually impossible to put a value on damage that will be incurred in the future.

Various mitigation measures can be divided into two categories: supply and demand. By this categorization I mean that we as consumers demand energy while it is up to business and industry to supply that energy.

The first two measures listed above are primarily demand measures and are based on our individual efficiency and planning in the use of energy. These measures will actually save us money while reducing the consumption of fossil fuels. To give two examples; insulating your home can save up to 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide and $840 per year. Moving your heater thermostat down two degrees in the winter and up two degrees in the summer can save 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide and $98 per year. With the introduction of these and other modest energy efficiency practices into our personal lives, we, as a nation, could significantly reduce our carbon dioxide emissions.

Many of the other methods of reducing carbon dioxide emission are macro and require modification of current technology or the development of new technology. The success of these methods will depend upon the will of business and industry to implement them. These will all cost varying amounts of money. The intervention of the governments of the world will be necessary to soften these costs. We as consumers will also need to be willing to support these added costs. Eventually, after a perhaps lengthy transition period, new and more efficient clean energy technologies will generate new jobs and new profits at lower costs to the public.

One government intervention that can be used to control carbon emissions from industrial point sources is a cap and trade program. Such a program operating through the free market will establish a price for carbon reduction. The actual price will depend on the cost of new technology and the refinement of existing methods of energy production. Many details need to be worked out before a suitable structure for a government required structure could be implemented. It may end up as some form of cap and trade or it may take the form of a carbon tax.

The cost of adaptation to climate induced damage on the other hand depends on the costs of increased drought, flooding of coastal cities, effects on agriculture, increased numbers of severe weather events, and other such factors as well as the cost of personal discomfort with changing temperatures. A wide range of uncertainty surrounds any estimate of economic damage from climate change. But the damage and therefore the cost of that damage will increase with increasing temperature change. In the Stern report, he estimates that the loss in GDP per capita by 2200 under his baseline climate scenario (with relatively high emissions and including market and nonmarket impacts and catastrophic risk) ranges from about 3 percent to 35 percent, with a central estimate of 15 percent. Other studies show that if temperature increases are less than 3°C (from 1990–2000 levels), average losses should be contained at or below 3 percent of world GDP.

One economic problem facing the governments of the world is that the cost of mitigation must be paid for beginning now. It is thus an immediate economic problem while the cost of adaptation may be put off, coming due sometime in the future when it might be incurred by our children and grandchildren. Unfortunately, the beginning of this future may also be as close as the next natural disaster

The social and economic burden of climate change weighs unevenly on the countries of the world. The actual costs of climate change may be spread over the total world, but the costs to an individual will be proportionately less in those countries with high per capita GDP. Even though the 30 developed and rich nations of OECD account for two-thirds of the world’s goods and, in so doing, emit over half of the fossil fuel carbon dioxide the costs of mitigation as well as adaptation fall disproportionately on the emerging and developing economies. . A successful carbon mitigation program will require the cooperation and active involvement of all countries rich and poor. In addition, successful mitigation efforts in the poorer countries of the world will depend a great deal on the transfer of knowledge and equipment from the technologically more advanced OECD countries.

We must also remember that a financial solution does not take into account effects such as personal discomfort, displacement or deaths caused by the increased frequency or intensity of climate induced natural disasters.

Content actions

Download module as:

Add module to:

My Favorites (?)

'My Favorites' is a special kind of lens which you can use to bookmark modules and collections. 'My Favorites' can only be seen by you, and collections saved in 'My Favorites' can remember the last module you were on. You need an account to use 'My Favorites'.

| A lens I own (?)

Definition of a lens

Lenses

A lens is a custom view of the content in the repository. You can think of it as a fancy kind of list that will let you see content through the eyes of organizations and people you trust.

What is in a lens?

Lens makers point to materials (modules and collections), creating a guide that includes their own comments and descriptive tags about the content.

Who can create a lens?

Any individual member, a community, or a respected organization.

What are tags? tag icon

Tags are descriptors added by lens makers to help label content, attaching a vocabulary that is meaningful in the context of the lens.

| External bookmarks