What Can We Do about Climate Change?
March - April 2008
Volume and Number:
Volume 8, No 2
Information and Action Addressing Public Policy
for an Ecologically Sustainable World
Volume 8, Number 2
What Can We Do about Climate Change?
Charles Blanchard and Shelley Tanenbaum
Everyone grumbles about the weather, but nobody seems to do anything about it. —attributed to Mark Twain
Many Friends have heard about climate change, and some have frequent, and the number of intense hurricanes in the North Atlantic
begun living different lifestyles in response. Yet, many of us has increased. Spring is arriving earlier in northern latitudes, and some
wonder if our personal actions are of much significance compared with bird species are out of synch; they are trying to raise their young when
the global need, and ask, “what can Friends contribute?”
food is not available. According to the IPCC, “approximately 20-30%
Friends can lead by example. Friends’ historic commitments to of species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk of extinction
the right sharing of world resources and to living with integrity require if increases in global average warming exceed 1.5-2.5oC, relative to
us to examine our personal lifestyles, and make changes accordingly; 1980-1999.” Public health officials in many areas are beginning to plan
there is no other moral choice. Friends’ historical belief in racial and for increased incidence of infectious diseases and heat stress.
gender equality existed long before the abolitionist, suffrage, civil- A Multi-Solution Approach
rights, and women’s-rights movements. Quakers were in the forefront
of those social-change movements, serving as leaders and role models
It is not too late to minimize the amount of future warming. CO2
for others. Friends, as a corporate body, are somewhat late in joining accounts for nearly one-half the warming caused by anthropogenic
the environmental movement, but we nevertheless bring an historical emissions of soot and greenhouse gases. To hold the future global
boldness in working for social change based on traditions of integrity, average temperature increase to 2oC, global CO emissions need to
community, and simplicity. Bold changes are needed once again.
In an influential and widely cited study, Stephen Pacala and
Energy, Carbon, and Climate
Robert Socolow showed that we already have the technology to meet
In 1896, Swedish chemist and Nobel Prize winner Svante Arhe- the world
world s energy
nius recognized that combustion of fossil fuels, which releases carbon reversing, historical increases in CO emissions.2 Their key insights
dioxide (CO ) into the atmosphere, would warm the planet, because
CO is a greenhouse gas—it traps heat that the earth radiates out to
1) No single solution solves the CO problem.
space2. Fifty years ago, human activities released about two bil ion
2) The portfolio of commercially available technologies is large
metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year. Today, global
enough that not every mode of carbon reduction has to be used.
anthropogenic (human-caused) CO emissions are approximately eight
3) Different countries may choose different sets of actions, depending
billion metric tons of carbon per year
. If we continue on this “busi-
upon needs, resources, and priorities.
ness as usual” path and the world does not make reduction of carbon
4) Don’t expect revolutionary technology to solve the immediate
emissions a priority, human-generated CO emissions may double in
fifty years. Because of feedback effects and 2delayed responses, Earth
Pacala and Socolow introduce the idea of a carbon “wedge,” any
has only begun to respond to the CO that we have already added to
change that reduces carbon emissions by a 20 million-ton increment
the atmosphere and oceans—it will continue
to warm even without each year for 50 years in comparison to business-as-usual practices. At
further CO emissions.
The most recent report by the Nobel prize-winning
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
predicts that business as usual will increase global average
temperature by about 3.4 degrees Celsius (oC), relative to
1980–99, by the end of the 21st century, with a likely range
of 2.0 to 5.4oC. In comparison, global average temperature
has increased about 1oC (1.8 degrees
1850, and 0.5oC since 1980.1
For the past 2 to 3 million years, our planet has been
cooler than typical, with permanent ice caps waxing and
waning about every 100,000 years. We are now living in
a warm interglacial period, so a rise in global temperature
greater than about 2oC will result in climate conditions
that last occurred before the genus Homo first appeared.
The planet can cope with warmer climates. After all, for
much of geological time, Earth was substantially warmer
than today. But many species, including humans, may not
be able to adapt to such rapid climate changes.
Some of the consequences of climate change have
already begun to appear. Many glaciers are retreating and
summer Arctic ice cover is shrinking. Since 1993, the global
average sea level has risen nearly twice as fast (3.1 mm per
year) as in previous decades. Heat waves have become more Figure 1. CO stabilization wedges. <www.princeton.edu/wedges> Reprinted by permission.
the end of 50 years, each wedge accounts for one billion metric tons of carbon not added to
Earth’s atmosphere (Figure 1, p. 1). They propose first stabilizing global carbon emissions
Quaker Eco-Bulletin (QEB) is pub-
with available technologies and then reducing emissions by employing more advanced
lished bi-monthly by Quaker Earthcare
technologies that will take longer to develop. Since this study was published four years ago,
Witness (formerly FCUN) as an insert
the calculations have been updated to account for recent emission increases and the lack of
in BeFriending Creation.
action between 2004 and 2007.3 According to the update, capping world CO emissions
now requires eight wedges, compared with the 2004 estimate of seven wedges. Moreover,
The vision of Quaker Earthcare Wit-
many climate scientists now believe that it is necessary to reduce CO emissions to avert the
ness (QEW) includes integrating into
most severe effects of climate change. Stabilizing emissions is a start, but it won’t be enough
the beliefs and practices of the Society
to keep temperatures from rising past the 2oC threshold. But delay is harmful. If the world
of Friends the Truths that God’s Creation
waits another five years to tackle emission reductions, simply capping CO emissions at
is to be held in reverence in its own right,
2004 levels could require 10 wedges.
and that human aspirations for peace
and justice depend upon restoring the
The Choice is Ours: Selecting the Wedges
Pacala and Socolow identified 15 carbon wedges, each of which would prevent one
Earth’s ecological integrity. As a mem-
billion metric tons of carbon emissions by 2054. They identified a technology as a wedge
ber organization of Friends Committee
only if it was commercially available now or could be ramped up in scale very soon. Ac-
on National Legislation, QEW seeks to
complishing any one of these will require major efforts. Table 1 shows the wedges arranged
strengthen Friends’ support for FCNL’s
by types of energy production and consumption.
witness in Washington DC for peace,
justice, and an Earth restored.
Table 1. Wedges (Pacala and Socolow, 2004, 2007)
QEB’s purpose is to advance Friends’
witness on public and institutional poli-
Type of Energy Production
Type of Energy
cies that affect the Earth’s capacity to
Energy Efﬁ ciency and
support life. QEB articles aim to inform
Friends about public and corporate poli-
1) 2X* vehicle mpg $
7) 30X ethanol $$
11) Synfuels (CCS) $$
cies that have an impact on society’s
2) Halve VMT $
8) H (wind) $$$
12) H (CCS) $$$
relationship to Earth, and to provide
3) 25% better $
9) 40X wind $$
13) Natural gas $
analysis and critique of societal trends
4) CFPP efﬁ ciency $
10) 700X solar $$$
14) CCS at CFPP $$
and institutions that threaten the health
15) 3X nuclear $$
of the planet.
5) Protect forests $
6) Agricultural practices $
Friends are invited to contact us about
writing an article for QEB. Submissions
*X = expansion of current conditions by factor indicated, mpg = miles per gallon, VMT = vehicle
are subject to editing and should:
miles traveled, CFPP = coal-ﬁ red power plant, H = hydrogen, CCS = carbon capture and storage
• Explain why the issue is a
Relative costs of options are reproduced from <www.princeton.edu/wedges> and are intended as
general approximations: $ = low cost, $$ = moderate cost, $$$ = high cost
• Provide accurate, documented
Energy Efﬁ ciency
background information that re-
Energy use, especial y in North America, is so inefficient that there are huge opportuni-
ﬂects the complexity of the issue
ties to reduce CO emissions through efficiency improvements, at very modest cost.
and is respectful toward other
points of view.
o . Two wedges are achievable from changes in transportation. Doubling
• Relate the issue to legislation or
the average vehicle fuel-use efficiency from a hypothetical business-as-usual world average
30 mpg at mid-century to a readily-attainable 60 mpg is one wedge (Table 1, wedge 1).
Cutting the average vehicle miles traveled in half by traveling less, providing better mass-
• List what Friends can do.
transit alternatives, and changing commuting patterns, provides another wedge (wedge 2).
• Provide references and sources
Doubling fuel efficiency and cutting vehicle miles in half together yield 1.5 wedges (being
for additional information.
careful to avoid double-counting). Complete elimination of the remaining carbon emis-
sions from vehicles could be achieved using carbon-neutral types of ethanol production and
QEB Coordinator: Keith Helmuth
plug-in hybrids. Additional carbon savings could be achieved from increased efficiency in
QEB Editorial Team: Judy Lumb,
rail transport and by shifting from air travel to more efficient modes of transit.
Sandra Lewis, Barbara Day
. Increasing efficiency in consumption and production of electricity of-
fers opportunities for two wedges. One efficiency wedge (wedge 3) comes from reducing
To receive QEB:
energy use in buildings (much of which involves electricity) by 25 percent. More than one
wedge is possible if energy-use improvements exceed 25 percent. This option is low-cost,
and very doable.
Mail: write to address below
A second electricity efficiency wedge (wedge 4) is available if mid-century coal-fired
power plants produce twice as much electricity by operating at 60 percent efficiency com-
Projects of Quaker Earthcare Witness,
pared to the present 32 percent. If electricity continues to be produced from coal-fired plants,
such as QEB, are funded by contribu-
which appears likely as long as coal is inexpensive, doubling the energy output per unit of
coal consumed will allow generating capacity to grow without increasing CO emissions.
Quaker Earthcare Witness
China and India currently account for 45 percent of world coal use, and in each of the two
countries coal is the overwhelming energy source for electricity production, so they will
173-B N Prospect Street
certainly continue to use coal.
Burlington VT 05401
Quaker Eco-Bulletin 8:2 • March-April 2008
at plants producing hydrogen and synfuel could provide two wedges
Storing carbon in plants and soils (biostorage) potentially (wedges 11 and 12). Hydrogen production is one of the most expensive
provides two wedges. One carbon wedge could be achieved by stop- strategies available, due to the costs of building a new infrastructure
ping all deforestation by mid-century (wedge 5), compared with a for distribution. Synfuels, while less expensive, are still costly.
business-as-usual future in which the rate of deforestation is half that
of today. A second biostorage option is conservation tillage. Annual Nuclear Power
plowing accelerates carbon emissions from soils, whereas dril ing seeds
Nuclear fission reactors produce electricity with very low emis-
into soil without plowing, using cover crops, and practicing erosion sions of CO . Estimates of nuclear fission capacity vary from one wedge
control all prevent carbon losses from soils. Such practices, known as obtained by tripling today’s global nuclear energy capacity (wedge 15)
conservation tillage, now occur on about one-sixteenth of the world’s to two or more wedges if even more nuclear reactors are built.
croplands. They could produce one wedge if extended to all agricul-
While some see increased nuclear energy capacity as essential to
tural soils (wedge 6).
reducing CO emissions, the problems associated with nuclear energy
today are no di2fferent than they were 30 years ago. The technologies for
enriching uranium and operating fission reactors are well developed,
tation. A 30-fold increase in ethanol production is one but no permanent waste repositories exist. Tripling nuclear fission
wedge (wedge 7). Hydrogen-fueled vehicles could be one wedge, either reactors wil triple waste disposal needs and generate thousands of tons
wedge 8 or wedge 12, depending on what fuel is used to generate the of plutonium. Reprocessing involves additional difficulties and the
hydrogen. But there is no gain in displacing petroleum twice. To be a potential for proliferation of nuclear weapons is a major disadvantage
carbon savings, either ethanol or hydrogen must be produced without of expanding nuclear energy.
using fossil fuels substantially in their production. Ethanol from crops
is likely to be cheaper than hydrogen, because a hydrogen fuel system The Path Forward
requires a new infrastructure. But, ethanol should be produced from
A pathway for stabilizing carbon emissions exists. Energy ef-
ficiency, resource conservation, and renewable energy sources could
. Wind energy provides one wedge, if it expands to 30 provide two wedges from transportation, four wedges from electricity
times today’s capacity (wedge 9). The cost of wind-generated electric- production and consumption, and two from other sectors. A solar
ity is comparable to other low-cost sources of electricity today. Wind electricity wedge is attainable with PVs, concentrating solar power,
energy is expanding at the rate of about 30 percent per year. Depending or a combination of the two. Another solar wedge is possible from
on how long this rate can be sustained, wind yields at least one and increased efforts to incorporate passive solar heating and water heat-
possibly two or more wedges.
ing into building designs. For fossil-fuel strategies, one wedge can be
Solar electricity, from photovoltaic (PV) systems, is not cost- obtained by doubling conversion efficiencies at coal-fired power plants,
competitive at present, but is still expanding as fast as wind energy, but that same wedge, or more, could also be developed through various
about 30 percent per year. If sustained, PV creates one or more wedges combinations of efficiency, substitution of natural gas for coal, and
(wedge 10). A second approach for generating electricity from the sun, implementation of carbon-capture-and-storage. An eighth wedge is
concentrating solar power, has been tested at development and pre- possible from biostorage as a combination of changes in forestry and
commercial facilities for over twenty years; if costs were halved, it would agriculture. Together, the categories potential y provide al eight wedges
be commercially competitive. Another full wedge may be achieved by needed to stabilize global CO emissions by mid-century.
passive solar design of buildings, insulation, solar water heating, and
CO emissions stabilization could be accomplished without rely-
heat pumps, all of which are commercially available now
ing on current-generation nuclear technologies. With further research,
Other renewable sources of electricity may develop before mid- more advanced nuclear fuel cycles may become commercially viable
century. Examples include the production of electricity from waves and in the future. Such advanced fuel cycles would be attractive if they
tides, neither of which is yet at the stage of commercial production.
generate negligible waste and are resistant to weapons proliferation.
At present, the available nuclear technologies have serious deficien-
cies and are very expensive when full life-cycle costs are considered.
Natural Gas. One wedge could be provided by replacing 1400 Current international agreements and cooperation to monitor nuclear
coal-fired plants with natural gas, which would result in four times technologies and materials are inadequate. The InterAcademy Council
the current capacity of natural-gas fired power plants (wedge 13). concluded that nuclear power could contribute only if major concerns
The carbon savings results because natural gas yields twice as much related to capital cost, safety, and weapons proliferation are addressed.4
energy per ton of carbon emitted as coal does. Substituting natural In our view, rapid expansion of nuclear power is a strategy best left
gas for coal is inexpensive, but supplies of natural gas may be limited for the future.
and can be difficult to deliver to markets. The infrastructure needed
Control of CO emissions should be supplemented by more
to expand natural gas production and delivery includes large numbers
vigorous efforts to control anthropogenic emissions of other air pol-
of new pipelines and terminals for loading and unloading liquefied lutants that contribute to global warming. For example, eliminating
diesel exhaust would improve public health and reduce soot, which
captur and storage. The technologies for carbon cap- contributes to warming by nearly 20 percent as much as CO . Efforts
ture and storage are used commercially today, but not for reducing to reduce concentrations of other air pollutants, including methane,
CO emissions. The petroleum industry injects CO into oil fields to ozone, and halocarbons, will also mitigate global warming.
enhance petroleum yields. One wedge could be achieved by installing
The path forward relies on energy efficiency, renewable energy,
carbon capture and storage at approximately 80 percent of the existing improved management of forests and farmland, and reductions of air
coal-fired power plants today (wedge 13), requiring 100 times as much pollutants, in addition to CO . This pathway does not require a rapid
geological storage of CO as the petroleum industry now practices.
expansion of nuclear energy, or wide-scale development of hydrogen
The U.S. could demonstrate leadership by requiring all new coal-fired or synfuels.
power plants to employ carbon capture and storage.
path is not radically different
o . Hydrogen and synthetic fuel produced from coal, ried out by the International Energy Agency (IEA).5 According to
called “synfuel,” are two fuels used as substitutes for petroleum in the the IEA, energy-related CO emissions will rise from seven billion
operation of motor vehicles. Employing carbon capture and storage
tons of carbon in 2005 to eleven billion tons carbon in 2030 under
Quaker Eco-Bulletin 8:2 • March-April 2008
the business-as-usual reference scenario but could be held to nine What Friends Can Do
billion tons if governments implement various control measures. The
Religious communities can help frame the ongoing political
IEA indicates that 80 percent of the avoided CO emissions could be
discussion about climate change in moral, not just technocratic or
achieved through energy efficiency, with renewable energy sources and economic, terms. As Quakers, we can work to build a world system
nuclear energy each accounting for about half the remaining emission that will make later decisions easier and establish personal habits of
savings. Nuclear energy accounts for 10 percent of the avoided CO2 living creatively and simply. We can do our share. The future will be
emissions through a 40 percent expansion of world capacity. A more 2 shaped by our choices.
challenging IEA scenario further cuts 2030 CO emissions to six bil-
Every global-scale action begins somewhere. Americans can make
lion tons carbon through widespread deployment of carbon capture an especially significant contribution in travel. From 1980 to 2006,
the U.S. population increased by 32 percent, but vehicle miles traveled
within the United States increased by 101 percent.10 Further, Americans
Stabilizing Carbon Emissions Is Not Enough
made eight million trips overseas in 1982, compared with 27 million
Eight wedges is a good start, but more than eight will probably overseas trips in 2004, an increase of 240 percent.11 We can travel less
be needed before mid-century. According to the latest IPCC assess- often and stil experience lifestyles no worse than those that we enjoyed
ment, holding the future temperature increase to 2oC 2050 will likely twenty years ago, and we can travel more efficiently.12
require CO emissions that are 50 to 85 percent below 2000 levels.
These emission reductions would limit the temperature increase to
But, try suggesting traveling less or taking public transportation
1.5 to 1.9oC relative to 1980-99 and result in an ultimate sea-level to someone you know—you may get an interesting response. It is dif-
increase of 0.4 to 1.4 meters.
ficult to live differently. Yet, now that we understand how damaging
CO emissions are to the planet, and how much we in the U.S. affect
Whether eight wedges or more, the developed world must climate change, how can we not make changes in our lifestyles? As
reduce its emissions over the next 50 years. Stabilizing global emis- Friends, we expect that we will “walk our talk.” We can:
sions requires that developed countries reduce their emissions, while
developing economies grow toward equality. Developed and develop-
• Support policies promoting CO control through energy efficiency,
ing countries each account for roughly half of global CO emissions.
renewable energy sources, improved forestry and agricultural prac-
Developed countries, with industrial, carbon-based economies and
tices, and innovation;
high-consumption lifestyles, cannot tell developing countries not to
• Travel fewer miles, more efficiently;
grow. At the same time, developed countries cannot eliminate their
• Practice resource conservation in your home and place of work;
CO emissions completely. Capping global CO emissions at current
• Increase the efficiency of appliances, heating, cooling, and lighting
levels means that developed economies must reduce emissions equiva-
lent to increases occurring in developing countries—and both need to
• Let people know what you are doing, and why;
decouple economic growth from CO emissions.
• Support research into new technologies and adopt them when
Eventually, CO emissions must be reduced to an equilibrium
they become feasible;
level that could be safely absorbed by the world’s forests and oceans.
• Support creation of nonviolent international decision making that
Forests in North America have been regrowing since the mid-1800s
fairly shares power, burdens, and opportunities;
absorb about 30 percent
of the Nor
N th American fossil-
• Work for global nuclear disarmament and a strong, global y trusted
fuel emissions of CO ,6 but the future capabilities of North American
control system for nuclear materials and processes.
forests to continue absorbing CO
are largely unknown.
Shel ey Tanenbaum and Charles Blanchard are members of Strawberry Creek
Confronting Unlimited Growth
Monthly Meeting. They have been air quality research consultants for the
Total carbon emissions (E) are a product of four contributing past twenty years. Th
y are very grateful for careful reading and suggestions
factors: the total population (P), the consumption per person (C), provided by R. Findley, D. Groom, S. Hawthorne, S. Lewis, J. McCarthy, J.
equir per unit of consumption (J), and carbon emissions Russell, K. Street, E. Dreby, B. McGahey, and A. Thompson. However, the
per unit of energy (R).7
conclusions expressed here are those of the authors.
E = P x C x J x R
Each of these factors contributes to total emissions. The wedges 1 <www.ipcc.ch> Scenario A2.
considered so far reduce CO emissions through energy efficiency (J) 2
Pacala, S. and R. Socolow. 2004. Stabilization wedges: solving the
or carbon intensity (R), the last two factors in the equation. If all four
climate problem for the next 50 years with current technologies. Science
factors are reduced, the overall reduction is greater.
305: 968-972. Supporting material <www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/
full/305/5686/968/>. See also: Robert H. Socolow and Stephen W. Pacala. A
. As observed by Pacala and Socolow, one additional
plan to keep carbon in check. Scientiﬁ c American, September 2006: 50 – 57.
of nine billion.8 Incr
population, while not the only cause of <www.princeton.edu/wedges>
4 InterAcademy Council. 2007. Lighting the Way: Toward a Sustainable Energy
climate change, makes solutions more difficult.9
p rson. Carbon reductions are possible through 5 International Energy Agency. 2007. World Energy Outlook 2007 and World
lifestyle changes. For the developed world, opting for lifestyles with
Energy Outlook 2006. OECD, Paris. <www.worldenergyoutlook.org>.
lower rates of consumption is an option. Indeed, consumerism raises The First State of the Carbon Cycle Report (SOCCR) – The North American
Carbon Budget and Implications for the Global Carbon Cycle. <www.
profound ethical and moral questions.
equir per unit of consumption. Improved energy ef-
Ehrlich, P. R., A. H. Ehrlich, and J. P. Holdren. Ecoscience. W. H. Freeman
ficiency is likely to go beyond what we have described. For example,
and Company, San Francisco, 1977. 1051 pp. (p. 720).
green design has been embraced by architects with extraordinary <esa.un.org/unpp/>
9 Holdren, J. 2008. Science and Technology for Sustainable Well-being.
(Presidential Address) Science 319: 424-434.
n ti tof
r y. Innovation wil create new technol- 10 <www.epa.gov/oar/airtrends>
ogy choices sooner rather than later. The options considered by Pacala
2004 data from <www.census.gov/compendia/statab/arts_entertainment_
and Socolow intentionally included only commercially available tech-
recreation/travel_and_tourism>. 1982 data from Statistical Abstract of the
U.S. 1984, U. S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of Census.
nologies, but the need for CO reductions is likely to stimulate innova-
12 Lumb, J. 2008. Riding the Rails to an Energy-Efﬁ cient Transportation
tive carbon-free energy solutions much sooner than mid-century. There
Future. Quaker Eco-Bulletin 8:1. <http://quakerearthcare.org/Publications/
is no need to wait until 2050 to begin using new technologies!