Wednesday, 30 April 2008

The Myth of the 'False Solution'

In the old black and white horror movies, a werewolf would terrorise hapless villagers. Impervious to normal weapons, the werewolf would shrug off their attacks until the hero arrived and slew the beast with the only thing that could kill it - a silver bullet.

The old werewolf movies were just harmless entertainment, but real threats stalk the global village - and climate change is right near the top.

Unfortunately, many people are still looking for a silver bullet to make the threat go away, and rejecting any measure that doesn't promise an instant fix:
The critics are right, of course. No single solution available today will solve the problem.

However, it is a mistake to argue that partial solutions are useless. In fact, they're all that we have. A 2004 paper published by Princeton University researchers S. Pacala and R. Socolow introduced the concept of "climate stabilisation wedges". In short, the researchers estimated the worldwide greenhouse gas reduction potential of energy efficiency, carbon capture and storage, tree planting, renewables, and other measures. They found that each of these measures could save about a billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2050. Here's one illustration of how these figures could stack up:

Taken together, these "climate wedges" could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 200 billion tonnes - enough to stave off the worst climate change impacts.

That's it, problem solved. No technological breakthroughs. No silver bullets. Just lots of partial measures, enacted at the same time. This means support for renewables AND energy efficiency AND tree planting AND carbon capture AND etc., etc.

Climate change isn't a horror movie from the golden age of cinema. Just because a measure isn't "the solution" does not mean we should reject it outright. There is no silver bullet that can solve the problem of climate change. A number of short-sighted actions have combined to cause this problem - deforestation, coal-fired power stations, trains, planes and automobiles. We'll solve it the same way, by working together, on a hundred small solutions.

(Carbon Clear homepage)