The world is constantly being wrought by natural disasters. Hurricanes, tornados, wildfires, and such have always been a part of our environment; however, it is now necessary to focus on the devastatingly abnormal effects climate change has had and will continue to have on the globe. It is our responsibility to recognize the consequences of our actions, regarding carbon usage, and take action while there is still hope. Scientists and representatives from all nations have gathered on several occasions to declare that the globe’s environment is declining due to man-caused global warming.
More recently, it is important to note that world leaders attended a conference, the Paris Climate Agreement, in hopes of coming to agreements in favor of maintaining the current temperature or preventing a 2 degrees Celsius rise in temperature. However, in recent times, the original dignitaries of the Paris Agreement have either reduced efforts, have gained little ground on their part of the agreement, or have been replaced by new leaders, not of similar minds.
Nevertheless, there is undeniable, scientific evidence that climate change is inevitable and disastrous to our known environment. The most reliable and all-encompassing source of evidence was given by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in their report on climate change. This report consists of meta-analysis reports that all support the conclusion that climate change is real and is causing elevating changes to our environment. Therefore, we must act now when there is still time to change our trajectory. Many plans and theories have been proposed to combat climate change but none are as effective nor as within reach as that of Stabilization Wedges.
The Stabilization Wedges include five main categories with a total of 15 subcategories. The purpose of the wedge is to reduce carbon emissions by 25 gigatons within a 50-year-span since initiation.
Professor Robert Socolow and professor Stephen Pacala, the originators of Stabilization Wedges, first proposed this plan in their scientific article, Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years with Current Technologies. In this article, the authors maintained that humans are capable of solving the climate change problem with efforts focused on modern technology. Although there are 5 categories in the wedge plan, the authors reiterated that each wedge influences and aids another wedge in a symbiotic relationship. In this article, Socolow and Pacala delve into three main categories of the Stabilization Wedges. The first wedge focused on is Efficiency and Conservation. This wedge is comprised of options to decrease carbon intensity. The options range from is to improve the fuel economy of cars from 30 miles per gallon to 60 MPG to a reduction of reliance on cars to improving the efficiency of power plants. The second category includes the process of decarbonizing electricity and fuels: Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and Alternative Energy Sources. The options may include substituting fossil fuels (carbon-based) for the capture and storage of carbon. The last category discussed was dubbed “Natural Sinks” and focused on reducing deforestation, increasing reforestation/afforestation, and efforts in conservation in the tillage of crops. The authors proposed these options because they found that they are proven strategies.
Moreover, Socolow and Pacala unified once more to reiterate the effects of excessive carbon in the environment in their article, A Plan to Keep Carbon in Check. In this article, the authors emphasize the differences between a world in which their wedge stabilization strategy was not implemented. In this future, + 14 billion tons of carbon are produced per year by 2056, tripling the carbon concentration levels of today. In the second future, the nations of the Earth have united and implemented stabilization wedges into their fight against climate change. This future includes 7 billion tons of carbon per year for 50 years but with the capacity to reduce that level by half in the next 50 years. The authors propose a “decarbonization agenda”, in which coal plants are substituted by more efficient plants or renewable power plants. With this comparison, the authors ensure that the reader is aware of the consequences if their stabilization wedges are not implemented.
The IPCC report confirms that devastating climate events are to arise due to climate change, it would, therefore, be wise to utilize the strategies that come to us from experts like Socolow and Pacala. As United Nations Ambassador for the United States, it is strongly urged to apply at least several stabilization wedges to improve our current and future conditions regarding climate change. The following stabilization wedges are simple to implement into our agenda without delay and are extremely achievable.
The first wedge subcategories to implement are within the Alternative Energy Sources wedge category. This category is especially straightforward since many nations already house some power plants that produce alternative and renewable energy. In particular, solar energy seems to be the most obvious alternative power that should be sourced: there is an abundance of solar energy emitted from the sun that reaches the Earth. Another advantage to investing in solar energy plants is that they are sustainable. With ceaselessly incoming solar radiation, the amount of energy received would be ceaseless. However, before solar energy plants are put into practice, it is important to note that there are minor drawbacks to this technology. For one, the maintenance of this type of energy plant is found to be relatively cost-efficient, but the initial construction of it is financially hefty. Another major aspect to consider is where the solar power plants would be located. The power plants would have to be in a location in which power density is high relative to the space it is occupying. Yet, these aspects are minor things to consider and easily fixed. Each nation would only have to invest a limited amount to meet the optimal energy necessary to replace some coal power. Socolow and Pacala intended for the solar energy wedge to increase solar power production by 700 times so that it decreases reliance on fossil fuels like coal.
The second option of wedges explored by the United States and participating nations should be wind power. To begin, it is imperative to know how wind turbines function. Wind turbines are usually allocated toward prevalently windy locations. These locations may include places on land or in bodies of water. This is so that the blades of the turbine are more efficiently turned. Once the blades turn due to natural wind, the shaft also spins causing the energy to travel to a generator and make electricity. The electricity is then stored until use. The construction of wind power plants is somewhat costly, ranging from $50,000-$70,000 per turbine. But the construction is relatively simple and is easy to maintain. It is important to mention that it is quicker and easier to build a wind power plant on the water than it is to build on land; the parts of the turbine are transported by ships, rather than on roads. This fact should be looked further into by coastal regions like the West coast of the United States. Wind power does have legitimate downfalls and concerns. One instance of this is the effect they have on avian organisms: birds, insects, bats, etc. There is concern that the increased air traffic caused by the tall wind turbines will damage the migration paths of avian organisms and potentially kill them. However, this issue is being addressed through research on migratory paths and further research on the best placements for this type of power plant. Another hindrance to this alternate energy source is that the humans nearby find it disturbing. Reports show that residents near wind turbine plants find them to be loud and an eyesore. Again, placement for this type of plant is being looked into further. Additionally, wind power plants also offer many benefits that more than make up for their faults. Like solar energy, wind energy is renewable and clean. The purpose of this wedge is to increase wind power plant energy generation by 40-fold to decrease dependence on coal.
Another wedge explored is that of Power Generation whose that main purpose is to replace the existing coal-fired plants with natural gas plants. To go more into detail, an estimated amount of 1,400 coal plants would have to be replaced with the same amount of gas plants to aid in the reduction of CO2 emissions to a sustainable level. Based on UK reports, gas plants still release CO2 into the atmosphere but at a much lower rate than coal plants. The report from the UK, Power sector scenarios for the fifth carbon budget, estimates that gas plants produce about half of what coal does. However, as stated before, gas plants still emit 365 grams of CO2 per kWh. This wedge should be implemented after the consideration and adoption of another alternative, renewable energy sources such as solar and wind energy.
Once alternative energy sources have been explored and implemented alongside reducing the use of coal, there will still be energy production from coal factories. Coal does not produce the same levels of CO2 concentrations into the atmosphere as other energy sources but it does produce enough to be significant. Therefore, it is still vital to try to reduce CO2 emissions whenever possible, which brings us to look into another wedge: carbon capture and storage installations in coal plants. The process of CCS involves the capture and condensation of CO2 to store it properly. This allows for the usage of coal plants without damaging the environment because of the acceptable levels of CO2 released. This wedge in particular would call for the installation of CCS at about 800 coal power plants. There are risks that the stored CO2 may leak from its location, but scientists are developing evolving technologies and measures to prevent this from happening. Another area that needs to be further researched is where suitable locations for storage are, but the wedge is promising in that it still allows for coal plant energy generation and low levels of greenhouse gas emissions.
The next step in wedge implementation to reduce CO2 emission levels involves the wedge section of End-User Efficiency and Conservation with increased fuel economy. The ideal plan would be to increase the miles per gallon of at least 2 billion cars from 30 mpg to 60 mpg. This strategy would decrease the amount of fuel needed in a car and, in turn, decrease the demand for fossil fuels. 2 billion cars would be the ideal number because it would be sufficient to cumulatively reduce the number of fossil fuels needed to serve the current population. One downside to this strategy is that not everyone will be willing to trade in their old car or buy a new car in favor of individually slightly reducing CO2 emissions. To solve this problem, governments and car companies can work together to form incentives for people that do decide to do the change and commit to reducing CO2 emission levels with their car choice.
To continue with the wedge section of End-User Efficiency and Conservation, the practice of cutting electricity use in homes, stores, and offices by 25% would be ideal to significantly aid in CO2 emission levels. This wedge is most likely the easiest to implement since it is up to individual practices. Also, stores and offices already started to comply with these kinds of practices. For example, in some stores sections that are not in use by customers or employees often have the lights turned off and are triggered to turn on when someone approaches. For this wedge to serve significant results, governments and companies would have to inform the public of what they can do to reduce their use of electricity. This way, the average individual can recognize their effect on the environment and act responsibly. Another form of this wedge to incentivize average electricity users is to reiterate that less electricity use will cause lower electricity bills. Furthermore, there is no significant downside to this wedge.
The last category of wedges to be ideally implemented is that of Agriculture and Forestry. About agriculture, scientists have gathered that some forms of agricultural practices are unsustainable and can contribute to CO2 level increases in the atmosphere. For example, over-use of a section of soil may deplete it of nutrients and cause the soil to not be viable any longer. Over-use of croplands through unsustainable means like field manipulations and herbicide production also causes it to remain vulnerable to climate change consequences. The over-tillage of some croplands also risks losing moisture. Thus, nations must adopt this wedge in particular because it protects our food. The wedge in mind would try to expand the practice of conservation tillage to 100% of croplands. This strategy plans to save all crops land. This strategy has no significant downsides other than the diligence the crop owners and workers will have to practice. This wedge will offer benefits such as sustainable croplands and natural lands, and house earth sections that can maintain and absorb CO2 within themselves to create oxygen.
Research suggests that deforestation accounts for 6-17% of global CO2 emissions; hence why is essential for nations to care about the consequences the industry has on what has been referred to as the “lungs of Earth.” The last wedge that is recommended is to stop all forms of deforestation. Although deforestation allows for industries to boost economies by stimulating jobs and production, there is a choice as to whether that is more important than oxygen and tolerable environments. As implied before, stopping all deforestation would impede or even potentially damage industry profits and some areas of demand like paper products and animal products. Nonetheless, this wedge does allow for industries to keep most of the land they claimed. Another minor obstacle is that this process would fail to accommodate the growing population of the world. The practice of stopping deforestation would still leave other non-agricultural and non-industry lands free for occupation. This wedge would only stop further deforestation and allow for possible reforestation or afforestation in places like the Amazon Rainforest.