There are many books and thousands of reports on climate change, carbon economics, energy transformation and the like, but few encapsulate the issue as well as a recently released book by Mike Berners-Lee and Duncan Clark, The Burning Question. Judging by the recommendation on the cover, even Al Gore liked it.
Rather than speculate on the potential severity of climate events or try to convince readers that simple changes in consumer behaviour and green, job creating investment will solve everything, the book takes a thought provoking but dispassionate look at the global energy system. The authors discuss the role of fossil fuels and the carbon emission limits that we know we should meet and set out to explain the rock and the hard place that we find ourselves between. The rock in this case is the trillion tonne of carbon limit for cumulative emissions over time and the hard place is the abundance of fossil fuels, the rate at which we use them and the relative ease with which more becomes available as demand rises.
Berners-Lee and Clark present a compelling set of stories which show how fossil fuels dominate the global energy market, why it is proving almost impossible to displace them (on a global basis) and why strategies such as improving energy efficiency and deploying renewables are not effective approaches to try and limit global emissions. In fact they make the point that in some instances the reverse happens – emissions just rise faster.
The tag line on the cover includes the teaser “So how do we quit?” (using fossil fuels). Do they really know? As the book unfolds and the problem they describe mounts in both complexity and difficulty, there is almost the feeling of a thrilling ending around the corner. SPOILER ALERT. Sadly this is not quite the case, but they do give some useful advice for policy makers trying to get to grips with the issue and the book itself gives the reader a very different perspective on the energy-climate conundrum (although hopefully one that the readers of this blog have picked up over time, but here it is all in one book).
I assume that for similar reasons to my own line of thinking (but after beating around the bush about it for 181 pages) they do finally land on a key thought:
In the course of writing this book we have come to think that the most undervalued technology in terms of unlocking international progress on climate change is carbon capture – both traditional CCS for point sources such as power plants and more futuristic ambient air capture technologies for taking carbon directly out of the atmosphere.
It would appear that The Inconvenient Truth and CCS are indeed inextricably linked. Clark and Berners-Lee don’t go so far as to argue that CCS is the convenient answer, but the message on CCS is a strong one. Nevertheless, geoengineering makes a surprise entrance at the end!!
Overall, this is an excellent discussion which is both easy to ready and hugely informative. It is well worth putting it on the summer reading list.
I believe global warming poses a challenge to all of us. But I also think that it is possible to overcome global warming by reducing deforestation which is the most significant danger.
Raquel, I’m not sure why you think that global warming is a challenge to the mankind, but if you see deforestation as an issue then higher CO2 concentration is a good news for you. It allows plants to grow faster with less water.
Does the book explains why we can’t live at 600 or 800ppm concentration of CO2?
We can of course live at 600ppm or 800ppm but the pathway there will be a disruptive one. Long term sea level rise will become a huge and ongoing problem, as will the shifts in climate patterns along the way.
Your use of the word “will” in your response to Jiri above indicates a level of certainty in the predictions/projections of GCMs which does not appear to be justified by their actual demonstrated “skill”.
I am happy to substitute it for “is very likely to”. I agree, there is no room for “will” in this subject – although I am pretty sure emissions will continue to rise for some years!!
The problem with any model is does it take into account all of the variables? Will the oceans be able to deal with any more carbon? Will methane from the permafrost start an irreversible cycle? However, the simple truth is we need a way to manage the carbon and use energy differently. We can not rely on the natural carbon cycle. Trees end up producing more CO2 than they take in by the time they are fully grown and the more carbon we dig up the more will end up in the atmosphere. I have been working on a method use bacteria to capture carbon and produce a fuel that does not release that carbon after it is used. I really believe that it is only going to be approaches like this that will change anything long term. http://solutionsevolution.blogspot.co.uk/p/environmental-1-can-global-warming-be.html
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