Climate wedges – one way to cut carbon emission

Posted on June 25, 2007

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Back in January, I wrote a peice on my personal blog The Daedalnexus titled A Sane(r) Energy Policy where I discussed the idea of “carbon wedges” that has been developed by the Carbon Mitigation Initiative of Princeton University. In a nutshell, each carbon “wedge” represents roughly 25 Gigatons (25,000,000,000 tons) of carbon that isn’t emitted into the atmosphere, and we’ll need seven wedges to stabilize our atmospheric carbon levels at 500 ppm by 2050, or just less than twice pre-Industrial levels. Additional wedges would be required to actually lower atmospheric carbon after that.

I was listening to National Public Radio on the way into work this morning when a new story in their Climate Connections series came on, and this story was about the wedge idea from Princeton. Specifically, a new game has been developed to illustrate just what needs to be done and to provide the players a sense of the magnitude of the changes necessary. For example, doubling the efficiency of every vehicle on the roads from 30 MPG to 60 MPG by 2050 gives you one whole wedge – of a necessary seven wedges. You can get another wedge by roughly tripling the number of nuclear power plants in the world today. And it can all be done with existing technology – if the political and economic will is present.

I’m happy to see the wedge concept get some good press, because it’s a simple way to explain a very complex process, and it gives people a sense of the magnitude of the problem without necessarily sounding alarmist. After all, if we can do it today, then new technologies (high efficiency nanotechnology-based solar cells, for example) may make it easier to do in the future.

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