Golden Bullets: Slaying the Climate Change Beast
Humanities continuous rise to superiority has been accomplished due to technology. Technology or rather technology advances should now lead us away from our biggest challenge, climate change. However the reality is that we may have to just dig in and work with the tools we have. Here are some of the Golden Bullets that have yet to be fired.
1) Fusion Power
If man can harness nuclear fusion he will have an almost everlasting source of power. Using deuterium, which is readily winnable from the Oceans and Lithium which is also abundant means there would be no problems with fuelling the plants (unlike nuclear power). Radiation is caused but the half-life of the waste products are a couple of hundred years (compared to nuclear’s waste of tens of thousands of year).
Man has had problems getting the reaction working however; this technology has now been in development since the 1950s. In the 70s it was predicted that the commercial plants would be running by 2000; the prediction today put it at around 2050 at the earliest. If we wait for this technology many devastating impacts will be occurring on our planet
2) Electric Cars
Cars are seen by many environmentalists as the Four Horses of the Apocalypse. Electric car travel is supposed to change this. The first electric car was developed in 1897! Unfortunately the flexibility of the electric car could not match that given by their petrol driven cousins. Since the 1990s with climate change and probably more importantly the rise of oil prices, new life has been breathed into the electric car. Advances in battery technology are largely crucial to their further development. Investment is however now pouring into their further development.
Electric Cars are greener, however how green is dependent on the energy mix of the country. Implementation in the USA would result in a 30% reduction of the carbon dioxide emissions, but in Germany, due to differences in the energy mix, this would be as little as 1%. Therefore their effectiveness is largely dependent on whether renewable energy is extended. Clean energy’s extension will probably not be far enough advanced until 2050 to have a large impact in many countries. Also electric cars are not more energy efficient currently than small cars. The question is whether the individual will change their habits rather than waiting for that golden bullet.
3) Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS)
Rather than a Golden Bullet this technology is a white elephant. The coal and unfortunately many governments are banking on this technology so that we can carry on using coal, a dirty but cheap form of energy.
The idea is to first separate the carbon dioxide from the waste products and then pump it into geological formations, thus locking away our waste. Early test plants are operational to see whether the carbon dioxide stays underground. What is already clear is that the technology is not very adaptable for old plants meaning old coal plants will probably need to be replaced. It also uses a lot of energy thus releasing more carbon dioxide that needs to be buried. Currently many governments are approving coal plants on the assumption that CCS will become viable in the near future. However if it does not, then we are locking our energy system into dirty coal instead of renewable energies that are clean from the outset. There is also likely to be massive local opposition to such plants as carbon dioxide is deadly.
4) Desertec- Solar Plants in the Sahara
Massive power plants erected on the Sahara will probably be powering part of Europe by 2015 and by 2050 possibly 15% of Europe’s energy. Although this is a rather pessimistic prediction. If 5% of the Sahara desert was covered with Solar panels then that would be enough to power the entire World!
A consortium of companies is already planning the first plants and it has the support of the German Government. The idea, if realised, would dramatically change the energy mix of Europe and possibly the world. The only real question that remains to be answered is whether the governments of Europe will fully support the idea and realise its potential.
Outlined above are some of the ideas that may rescue humanity, or may lead them to distraction. We are pursuing several major bullets and they will probably have major effects on our CO2 levels. They are all at different levels of development and their realisation is dependent on either technology or investment. In the case of CCS and fusion the investment is not lacking but the technology is still in its infancy. In the other cases it is the opposite, the investment is lacking to realise the potential.
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