Don’t be depressed over the latest IPCC report, just learn the lesson: we CAN live well and prosper, cleanly

The IPCC at the end of March issued another report warning of the serious consequences of untrammeled dumping of man-made carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere. Read the report, and it’s hard not to come away under a pall of numbed helplessness.

Electricity, the only energy whose increased use can result in less CO2 emissions. The only viable large scale CO2-free electricity is made in nuclear reactors. The planet needs more nuclear.

For example, the IPCC says, in the Summary for Policymakers in its March 2014 Working Group II report:

  • … negative impacts of climate change on crop yields have been more common than positive impacts.
  • Impacts from recent climate-related extremes, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones, and wildfires, reveal significant vulnerability and exposure of some ecosystems and many human systems to current climate variability.
  • Climate-related hazards exacerbate other stressors, often with negative outcomes for livelihoods, especially for people living in poverty

So yes, it is dire.

But not hopeless. The IPCC, in page 14 of the same report, says

The overall risks of climate change impacts can be reduced by limiting the rate and magnitude of climate change.

How can we limit the rate and magnitude of climate change?

By reducing the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) we put into the air. It’s no secret how to do this. It is a simple two step process. These steps are:

  1. Stop using fossil fuel to make electricity. Make electricity with nuclear energy, as much as possible.
  2. Shift activities that are currently fossil-fueled—motor vehicle transportation and space heating are two of the biggest such activities— to electric power as much as possible.

My home jurisdiction of Ontario has achieved since the year 2000 what I believe to be North America’s biggest Step 1, in the form of the biggest annual CO2 reduction from a single sector. That sector is electricity generation. In 2000, CO2 emissions from Ontario’s electricity generation sector were more than 40 million tons (see Environment Canada’s National Inventory Report Part 3 1990-2009, p. 89). Last year, 2013, they were, by my professional estimate, less than 13 million tons.

That’s a CO2 emission reduction of better than 27 million tons.

We achieved this huge reduction mainly because we brought six nuclear reactors back into service. They had been taken out of service in the mid- to late-1990s.

Those returned are generating power as I write this. Tables 1 and 2 in the left-hand sidebar of this blog show the fuels that are providing electricity right now, today. As you can see, nuclear provides the most electricity. And as you can see in the “CO2, tons” columns in each of the tables, all that power comes with zero CO2.

Now, I don’t like the 1,444 tons of CO2 that the combustible fuel units in this province put into our air in the last hour. Nobody does. They are precisely what the IPCC refers to when it says that the “overall risks of climate change impacts can be reduced by limiting the rate and magnitude of climate change.” If we limit them, we have a chance.

How can we limit the rate and magnitude of climate change?

By reducing the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) we put into the air. It’s no secret how to do this. It is a simple two step process. These steps are:

  1. Stop using fossil fuel to make electricity. Make electricity with nuclear energy, as much as possible.
  2. Shift activities that are currently fossil-fueled—motor vehicle transportation and space heating are two of the biggest such activities— to electric power as much as possible.

My home jurisdiction of Ontario has achieved since the year 2000 what I believe to be North America’s biggest Step 1, in the form of the biggest annual CO2 reduction from a single sector.

Can we limit them? Of course—Ontario, in bringing the six laid-up nuclear units back into service did exactly that. To repeat: we reduced annual power-sector CO2 by more than 27 million metric tons.

Which means, other jurisdictions have to follow our example.

We set the example. We limited, spectacularly, the CO2 emissions from power generation.

The rest of the world can too.

That takes care of the first easy step. The second step—shift more currently fossil fueled activities to electricity—is less easy but can achieve similarly dramatic reductions in CO2.

Again, using Ontario as an example, gasoline powered light cars and trucks put more than 35 million tons of CO2 into the air in 2009. They did so en route to using about 27 billion kilowatt-hours of energy.

We could easily get 27 billion kWh of motive energy from electricity instead of burning 15.5 billion liters of gasoline to get it. But we need the transportation equipment, i.e., the electric cars, that will receive it.

Automakers have rolled out a number of all electric vehicles. We need more. They need better batteries.

But it is doable. And it must be done.

3 comments for “Don’t be depressed over the latest IPCC report, just learn the lesson: we CAN live well and prosper, cleanly

  1. April 7, 2014 at 16:34

    After transport, the other half of energy consumption in buildings must also be addressed:  space heat and DHW, both largely from fossil fuels.

    There is a lot left to do.  It’s a shame that Ontario has no current plans to build more nuclear capacity, there’s no end of ways to put it to use.

    • April 8, 2014 at 08:06

      Yes, it’s a shame we have shelved Darlington B. We’re living proof of low-carbon growth and we’ve done it with equipment that we invented.

      But that doesn’t square with what the Depression Industry wants to put out: doom and gloom, and higher sales of anti-depressants.

      Environment Canada (same publication I mentioned in the article) says that Ontario Commercial/Institutional “Energy” put 13 million tons of CO2 into the air in 2009; Residential put 18 million. It would be interesting to know what proportion of those numbers was for space heating and what for hot water.

  2. Robert Budd
    April 10, 2014 at 19:09

    Unfortunately it looks more and more like Ontario is being steered down the Energiewende imitation road. Gov’t is telling the OPA to come up with energy storage, combined heat and power and the green zombie death march with the large renewable procurement. Everything seems to be setting up for Darlington to be on the block.
    The Ontario Fedearation of Ag. is calling for a massive investment in natural gas distribution in the face of higher electricity rates. I spoke with the owner of a large poultry layer operation recently. He said his barn used to be 100% electric, now its propane for heating. He just paid $20k for the propane till the end of Feb.
    Ontario is becoming more fossil dependant than ever before, and the so called Clean Air Alliance is thrilled with its new green grid.

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