What will it (realistically) take: Global Warming

I was reading today that a report was issued to Congress stating with appearent certainty that temperatures today are the hottest they have been in at least 400 years (world wide)…perhaps as long as the last 2000 years in fact. And, according to the report, this is mainly due to human kind.

Ok…lets take the above as a given. The world is at its hottest in 400 years, its growing hotter every year, and humans are the root cause. I know that all these are debatable, especially the latter, but…well, frankly they have been debated over and over again here, so resurrect one of those threads to talk about that if you must.

MY question is…taking the assertions as a given, what can we realistically do about it? How much will it cost in real terms…money, jobs, standard of living, etc? What will it REALISTICALLY take to reverse the trend…not just here in the US but world wide? How would we be able to measure what, if any, effect we are having? And what kind of time tables are we looking at to know if we are having the desired effect? Years? Decades? Centuries? How will we know when and if we have reversed the trend?

To pre-empt a few possible drive bys, please, no ‘Well, what will it cost NOT to do it, mate?’. I’m only interested in debating what it WILL cost, not in speculating on what it MIGHT cost to do nothing. And I don’t want to debate the three points in the first part of the OP (i.e. GW is real, its increasing and humans are the root cause). What I want is realistic estimates or opinions on realistic measures that COULD be done…and what EFFECTS those realistic estimates, opinions or WAGs will have on global temperatures.

Feel free to talk about technologies that may be employed as well. Please, lets not talk about whether or not GW is or is not real. Lets not talk about whether or not humans are the root cause. For the sake of this thread, lets take them as a given and confine ourselves to what could be done…and what it would cost.

Thanks! :slight_smile:


When you ask it like that, you’ve already gone wrong. The positive approach to the issue is to ask, how can we profit from dealing with glocal warming. As Norman Vincent Peale said:
“Any fact facing us is not as important as our attitude toward it, for that determines our success or failure. The way you think about a fact may defeat you before you ever do anything about it. You are overcome by the fact because you think you are.”

I disagree. Everything has an initial cost. In order to radically change the output of CO2 emmisions its going to cost quite a bit, in the short term, in terms of money at the least.

If you want to show that in the long term this will have the effect of making industries more efficient, more productive, etc, or that it will have a medium/long term boost to the economy then knock yourself out…speculate to your hearts content on how that will happen. But don’t try and say that there won’t be any short term costs associated with this…thats not realistic IMHO.

If I’m wrong, feel free to show that as well. :slight_smile: I asked the question as another in a series of learning excersizes for myself wrt this whole Global Warming issue. Fight my ignorance…


Well perhaps we should figure out why global warming is happening on Mars first before we assume humans are at fault here.


I’d rather not like to debate this question in THIS thread. I’m fairly confident I’ve seen a thread about the Mars thing in here…feel free to resurrect THAT thread to talk about it there if you are so inclined. :slight_smile:

Here I want to assume GW is happening, and that man is in fact the root cause…and then discuss what can be done realistically, and what it would cost in real terms. Its a completly disconnected debate from whether or not GW is happening on Mars…or on Earth for that matter. Or what the cause may or may not be.



Well if we somehow prove that man has caused GW, I would think we would have to know HOW man is causing it. Since you are making such a leap, perhaps you could let us know how man is was found that man is causing GW on earth - and that could help answer your question.

Also you have to consider, even if man is causing GW, is it may not be a bad thing.

A way to lower global tempatures have been to launch a ‘solar shade’ into orbit to reflect light away from earth, or release dust particals into orbit, again shading the earth, so it doesn’t seem like it would effect much here except make a few high paying jobs at NASA.

[sorry can’t resist] if we get good enough at solar shades, perhaps we can also help our Mars[/sorry can’t resist]

OK then. Climate change is based on a change in the amount of retained solar energy. Primarily through "greenhouse” gases such as CO[sub]2[/sub]. That gives us a few candidates

  1. Water Vapour
  2. CO[sub]2[/sub]
  3. Methane
  4. CFCs and other flouro-carbons.

So baseline those at their ppm average value from the past 10 years.

Now each has a forcing factor, or some "weight” as to how effective each components ppm is at retaining solar energy. Call it X[sub]i[/sub].

So now we have a rough idea of each components impact on retaining heat.

  1. Water Vapour * X[sub]1[/sub]
  2. CO[sub]2[/sub] * X[sub]2[/sub]
  3. Methane * X[sub]3[/sub]

    i. CFC * X[sub]i[/sub]

Find the components which together make up 80% of the total forcing and move to drive each down by 10% over 20 years.

Then you can factor in costs per component. Methane might entail a cost per head for sheep, cattle, and pigs shifting the 1st world preference for meats towards a more vegetable based diet (with my luck crops emit more methane). CO[sub]2[/sub] taxation has been dealt with. For example carbon taxes effectively shifting personal choice to mass transit, reduced power consumption, adoption of renewable and nuclear.

After that, I’m out of ideas.

(Yes, as much as it pains me to admit it; He is real. :frowning: )
Seriously, though. I think that asking what makes us certain that humans are at fault (and how) is the only question that will help us decide what we would need to do in order to reverse it’s effect.

Barring that, my recommendation is for everyone to leave their doors open with the A/C on. According to my mom, this would mean that the amount that we each pay would be equal to “paying to air condition the whole damn block”

On preview, the solar shades and dust particles are a much better ideas.

Saw an interesting news segment about a scientist who took his little girls science experiment to task. Her project was to see if it was possible to scrub co2 chemically. Not only was it possible he went on to show that it was theoretically possible to do it on a large scale. I forget the figures he was using but it involved a cost per ton that could be brought down with upscaling. I think the cost was in the $50 per ton range and the process could be done along highways as well as smoke stacks. The technology already exists and is being worked on.

You have to remember that ocean water is a natural scrubber of co2 and we only need to augment that back to levels where the process is self sustaining. We already now we can affect average temperature with water vapor becaue there was a measureable climate change durning the 9/11 aircraft grounding. It shows that we can affect climate on a large scale in a short period of time.

It is not much of a mystery. It has been understood since Arrhenius did a calculation back around 1900 (and even to some degree before that) that if we could increase the concentration of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, we would raise the temperature. It wasn’t until the late 1950s that CO2 concentrations can be measured accurately enough to determine that…yes…the CO2 we are adding to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels is in fact building up in the atmosphere. (Before that, some hoped that the excess could be taken up by the oceans, land, and biosphere. As it turns out, about 1/2 of our emissions are being taken up by them and the other half are accumulating.) I don’t mean to imply that calculating the exact magnitude of the effect of a given increase in CO2 is easy…the climate system is indeed complicated with many feedback effects…but the basic mechanism is quite well-understood.

As for “global warming” on Mars, see here. The biggest irony is this is that the same people who for years were questioning the mounds of data showing global warming here on earth are willing to believe there is a significant global trend on Mars based on data that is extremely limited in both space and time.

As for the subject of the OP, i.e., what can be done, the 3rd volume of the IPCC’s Third Assessment Report is on mitigation and is a good place to start. They also had a more recent report specifically on sequestration technologies. My guess is, like with most environmental regulations, the market will find ways to reduce greenhouse gases that are less costly than most people imagined. That is not, however, meant to minimize the task before us, which I think is significant…And, of course, the sooner we get cracking on it…and creating the right market incentives to solve the problem…the cheaper it will be.

We already do practice this solar shade thing. It is called global dimming and a side effect of pollution. Pollutants get in the atmosphere and form clouds that reflect sunlight, giving lower temperatures. It supposedly is masking global warming.

How man is causing GW seems to be through CO2 emissions. Although we don’t know everything about the climate as of 2006 by any means, you will not find many credible climatologists who feel our treating the air like an open sewer to dump things like CO2 into is acceptable.

As far as GW not being ab ad thing, the only really good things will be more farmland in Russia & Canada from what I know. However alot of good farmland could be lost as well due to climate change. Maybe some more agricultural growth in general as well due to CO2.

$50 per ton is far too high to fix it.


25 billion tons were released globally in 2003. So that is 1.2 trillion dollars, about 3% of the world’s economy. The world doesn’t spend 1.2 trillion on all of the world’s militaries combined or all of the world’s scientific R&D put together. The price will come down which is good, but right now I don’t see it happening.

However price always comes down. The price of solar dropped by about 80% in 16 years, the price of wind power by 80% in 20 years. So I figure a 50-80% drop in price over 20 years is feasable for this technology too and then perhaps we’ll actually start using it along with things like clean coal. That is why it is hard to answer xtisme’s question. If you had asked in 1980 how much it would cost to fix global warming it would’ve been much higher than now as the methods to prevent and reverse it cost alot more back then. Every technology to fight global warming on every front is getting better and cheaper as time passes, so hopefully we cross the threshold where fixing GW becomes economic and politically feasable before it becomes too big of a problem. As of right now it’d probably cost about $30/month in green certificates for an american to switch to clean energy and make up for all of his CO2 emissions.

Carbon capture right now is uneconomic. It costs about 3 cents per kwh, but should drop to 1 cent per kwh by the next decade. The DoE wants to drop the price to 10% of electricity costs by 2012, so it electricity is 5.5 cents/kwh they want it under 0.55 cents per kwh. I don’t think they’ll come close to that.

A 2000 US study put the cost of CO2 capture for IGCC plants at 1.7 c/kWh, with an energy penalty 14.6% and a cost of avoided CO2 of $26/t ($96/t C). By 2010 this is expected to improve to 1.0 c/kWh, 9% energy penalty and avoided CO2 cost of $18/t ($66/t C).

Even by 2010 this tech is still $66/ton carbon dioxide which means developed nations may do it but I wouldn’t count on India or China to dump billions of dollars into it.


Right now states are competing over the Futuregen clean coal plant.


So to answer the original post, it is hard to say. Technology changes all the time and with it price goes down. Had you asked in 1980 what it would’ve taken it would’ve been totally different than what it will take in 2006. In 1980 cars were less efficient, appliances less efficient, coal more dirty and every form of technology designed to provide alternative energy or clean CO2 out of the atmosphere was more expensive, sometimes 80-90% more expensive than it is now.

I can only address the issue from the POV of the US.

Assuming you can mass produce the technology Magiver was talking about and sequester CO2 at $50/ton and 6.4 billion tons produced a year are produced by the US that is still 320 billion a year to fix it. That isn’t really feasable. However it is only a 50 cents/gallon gas tax as a gallon of gas produces 20 pounds of carbon dioxide.

As for switching power I assume it would take about 350 nuclear plants for our grid to be totally non CO2 polluting. We get 20% of our energy from about 100 nuclear plants and another 10% from other clean sources like hydroelectric & renewables. So building 350 nuclear plants would cost about $700 billion.

Another thing is to purchase green certificates, which build renewable grid energy to replace polluting energy.


Carbonfund.org is proving just how simple it is to reduce our climate impact to zero. Carbonfund.org is showing that every American can reduce their climate impact to zero for just $8.25 a month, while also supporting jobs and investment in America. Carbon offsets are simply the most cost-effective way for most people to reduce their climate impact and show just how simple and affordable it is to stop the threat of climate change

$8.2512300 million = $29.7 billion. I’m not sure if that is a one time expense or perpetual.

PS if you are worried about your impact I’d recommend green certs, I buy about $20/month worth.

I love replying to the same thread over & over again. Being up all night helps with that too.

My answer is that there is no telling with 2006 technology as it won’t be solved in 2006. technology always improves and costs go down. I’m guessing sooner or later we’ll reach a tipping point where public awareness, political willpower and technological innovation are all matched and we actually start doing something instead of these tiny little things we do now like spend $2 billion a year on nuclear plants and whatnot while CO2 emissions keep going up. Right now with debates on whether GW is real or not, an annual price tag of 1.2 trillion to scrub all the CO2 out and a developing world that probably doesn’t take the issue seriously enough we won’t get there right now.

1.2 trillion seems to be the annual price tag to clean all the CO2 according to MacGyver’s article. Switching the grid power supply to nuclear would cost about $700 billion. I have no idea what switching to other sources like wind, wave or geothermal would cost as I don’t know the start up costs of them.
My guess is what will happen is a mixture of biomass fueled cars, plug in hybrids, carbon capture at coal plants, carbon scrubbing/sinks placed around the world which hopefully will scrub at $10 per ton or less and clean energy like wind/geothermal/solar/wave that all will be at or under the price of coal that will start to reverse the trend in the 2020s. There will probably be other technologies too. From what I’ve seen in climate change research, and I’ve mentioned this before, a price drop of 60-90% over a decade or two isn’t unheard of. It happened with solar and wind, and is happening with carbon capture. Look at figure 4


The developing world has very little grid infrastructure. When cell phones came out they caught on like wildfire in the developing world because instead of building massive phone infrastructures you just build a few towers instead. I assume what will happen in the developing world is non-grid electricity will catch on. PV, wind turbines, stirling engines, geothermal and who knows what else.

Yes I know about this, but putting that stuff into orbit is a much longer term ‘solution’

Also you will note that our smokestacks are getting cleaner, more partials being scrubbed out so less shading and more CO2 (since the pollution controls usually cause inefficiencies).

(bolding a typo correction)

Well we in the US can’t grow crops that can be easially converted to fuel (ethanol), but if it does get warmer we may be able to grow sugar cane, which would lessen our use of fossil fuels. Also bioengineering may make it possiable for the US to become a major producer of ethanol even without a major change in climate.

I agree that mars data is limited but …

I think the major questioning is that man is causing global climatic change, not that global climatic change is occuring at all, we all know there was an iceage here (well several), and then warming trends long before Thor crawled out of the muck and got in his SUV and drove Thor Jr to his after school soccer match.

To be fair, the low price here is probably due in part to the fact that carbonfund can attack “low-hanging fruit” as long as everyone is not reducing their emissions to zero…and it would be more expensive if everyone did so. Here is the take of one of the folks at RealClimate on this:

Of course, there are factors working in the other direction too…i.e., economies-of-scale will make some technologies cheaper as they are more widely implemented, as you note…and also reducing our emissions slowly over time will be less costly than immediately cutting them to zero.

Well,it has been widely noted that there are different stages of denial of anthropogenic climate change:

(1) The earth is not warming.

(2) Well, it is warming, but it is not man’s fault.

(3) Well, it is man’s fault but it may be a good thing.

(4) Well, it won’t be a good thing but it’s too late to do anything to stop it.

More seriously though, the idea that we know the climate is changing but don’t know if man is the cause doesn’t even really get the history right, as I have noted. The theory that the buildup of greenhouse gases would cause warming actually pre-dates the evidence that we are undergoing warming (or even that we are significantly changing the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere). While there is a large body of scientific literature devoted to the issue of “detection and attribution”, i.e., detecting current climate change and attributing it to causes, it is important to realize that this is just one facet of the picture…and the theoretical considerations and modeling (and study of paleoclimatology) that has led us to the conclusion that the buildup of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will lead to significant warming is largely independent of that. [In fact, because of the fairly large uncertainties regarding the cooling effects of sulfate aerosol pollution that we have put into the atmosphere, the actual observed warming over the last ~half century does not provide as tight constraints on the sensitivity of the climate to a doubling of CO2 levels as other paleoclimate and theoretical considerations.]

As for the idea that the warming might be a good thing, it is certainly true that there could be some beneficial effects. However, there are more likely to be negative ones, particularly as the warming gets more pronounced. There are various reasons for this but one of the most important is that both humans and ecosystems are adapted to the climate and sea level the way that it currently is…and thus changes to this, especially ones that are fairly rapid compared to what has happened historically, are more likely to cause problems than provide benefits.

That depends on who is the “we” in that sentence. Somebody is bound to profit from any major change made to our infrastructure. But probably not you or I.

Look, kanicbird, whether global warming is man’s “fault” is irrelevant! Forget about that. We know that the global temperature has fluctuated wildly over the last couple million years. We don’t really know what triggers warm periods and cold periods, and miniwarm periods in the cold periods and minicold periods in the warm periods. We honestly don’t know.

But we do know that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Scientific fact. We do know that humans are outputting a lot of CO2. Scientific fact. We do know that only about half of that human outputted CO2 is being sequestered naturally, because we can measure atmospheric CO2 levels. Scientific fact.

What we’re not sure about is whether the earth would be staying about the same, or warming, or cooling, if we weren’t outputting that CO2 and other gasses and particulates. Maybe we’re heading for a natural global warming. It seems perfectly plausible to me that this might be the case. Except is this something we want? If we’re having a natural warming period, adding even more CO2 to the atmosphere is going to make the warming more intense. And subtracting CO2 from the atmosphere is going to make the warming less intense.

If we want to make the warming less intense we need to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, whether the warming is due to natural cycles or not. We know there are natural cycles, but we have our hands on several of the levers of those natural cycles, and right now we’re pushing it in one direction. If that’s not the direction we want to go we need to start pushing the other way.

And the scary thing is that we know from climate records that climate shifts can happen very rapidly…over a period of decades. The trend can be warmer, warmer, warmer…and then BLAM, straight into an ice age. This is probably due to things like the Gulf Stream that keeps Europe warm shutting down if temperatures get too warm, Europe cools off rapidly, lots of snow in Europe, increasing the albedo and you get a positive feedback loop that sends you into an ice age. But we’re not quite sure, of course.

So, we know for sure that climate is variable. We know for sure that there are lots of factors that influence climate. And we know that we are changing some of those factors. But we don’t understand what the results of those changes will be.

So at the very least we should do things that mitigate atmospheric changes that are also good things to do in and of themselves. More efficient use of gasoline is good in and of itself, because gasoline costs money, reduce the use of gasoline and you SAVE money. Cleaner burning coal plants are good because they reduce other forms of pollution, not just CO2. Small changes in incentives can potentially have large effects on outputs. Banning CO2 emissions is impossible and foolish unless you want to ban living human beings. A small tax on CO2 emissions could provide incentives to use less, while only very slightly slowing down the economy. Lots of travel we do is useless travel…guys traveling a thousand miles to sit at a meeting that they could have attended by phone. Stuff like that. Change incentives slightly and we could potentially see quite a lot of reduction in emissions…and this more efficient use of fuel could be good in and of itself.

And there are lots of other greenhouse gases besides CO2 that would be a lot easier to reduce. CO2 is a byproduct of burning carbon, pretty much the only way to get around it is to not burn carbon. But CFCs are much stronger greenhouse gases than CO2, and there’s no need at all to vent CFCs into the atmosphere. Low hanging fruit.

And this is the approach we should take. There are steps that could reduce our emissions that would be really expensive and difficult and result in marginal reductions. Those are bad steps. There are other steps that could reduce emissions that are cheap and easy to do, we’ll never notice them. Those are good steps. We should eventually find enough cheap and easy steps that we find that we never really need to implement the costly and difficult steps, we’ve outgrown the need to.

How about massive use of solar cells? if we covered the roofs of buildings with photovoltaic cells, we could convert opart of the sun’s energy load upon the eath, to electricity. On a large scale, this could reduce heating and provide some energy as well.
or cover arizona with aluminum foil. I aslo wonder about those enormous dams the chinese are constructing on the Yangtze River- the mass of water in those reservoirs is enough to slow the earth’s rotation-perhaps enough to cause more cloudiness in the lower latitudes-this would cool the earth.