David Archer, a leading climatologist and contributor to the blog RealClimate, offers solutions for reducing our impact on the Earth’s climate. In his book,The Long Thaw: How Humans Are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth’s Climate, he tackles the growing problem of the buildup of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere and what we can do about it.
According to Archer, there are many possible strategies for making significant cuts in CO2 emission, each of which are based on technology and methods that already exist. Each of the following examples could cut CO2 emission by a billion metric tons per year, and a portfolio of several of these changes could significantly slow the growth of atmospheric CO2.
- Increase fuel efficiency for automobiles, from a business-as-usual 30 miles per gallon to a more efficient 60.
- Alter building practices by using improved insulation and passive lighting to decrease energy use and CO2 emissions while saving money.
- Capture, purify, and store CO2 in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Coal gasification (a thermo-chemical process) breaks down coal into its basic chemical elements and extracts energy more efficiently than traditional coal-fired plants. Gasification produces CO2 in a more pure form which is more suitable for capture and sequestration.
- Increase wind power generation by fifty times today’s capacity. This requires investment in the infrastructure of the electrical grid to bring the power to market.
- Practice no-till agriculture which causes carbon to build up in soils, thus removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Changes in irrigation techniques can also decrease emissions of methane to the atmosphere while saving fresh water.
- By the end of the century, we’ll need new sources of carbon-free energy. One new source would be to build solar cells on the moon. Here, they would be unobstructed by clouds and blowing dust. Though it would take decades, technological developments, and hundreds of astronaut tours of duty to construct this power source, once construction got started, it could continue until it reached the required amount of energy.
- Another carbon-free energy source is the creation of high-altitude windmills, flying like kites in the jet stream. Electrical power can be transmitted through wires in the tether. The power density is much higher at 30,000 feet elevation than it is down at the ground. High-altitude windmill power could also potentially scale up to generate the power we’re looking for.