The Carbon Crunch

The Carbon Crunch

DIETER HELM
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt32bxv1
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  • Book Info
    The Carbon Crunch
    Book Description:

    Despite commitments to renewable energy and two decades of international negotiations, global emissions continue to rise. Coal, the most damaging of all fossil fuels, has actually risen from 25% to almost 30% of world energy use. And while European countries have congratulated themselves on reducing emissions, they have increased their carbon imports from China and other developing nations, who continue to expand their coal use. As standards of living increase in developing countries, coal use can only increase as well-and global temperatures along with it.

    In this hard-hitting book, Dieter Helm looks at how and why we have failed to tackle the issue of global warming and argues for a new, pragmatic rethinking of energy policy-from transitioning from coal to gas and eventually to electrification of transport, to carbon pricing and a focus on new technologies. Lucid, compelling and rigorously researched, this book will have a lasting impact on how we think about climate change.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18864-6
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Physics, Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. Preface and Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Imagine a historian writing in 2050, or even 2100, about the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. No doubt the current Great Recession will be prominent, and compared with the Great Depression of the 1930s. The rise of China, the nuclear challenge of Iran, and the Arab Spring might all feature. But what will also stand out is that this was the first time that humans faced a major global environmental threat, and politicians started to grapple with the consequences. Rising global temperatures, almost certainly caused by human activity, threatened the very idea of economic growth, and if unchecked could...

  7. PART ONE: Why should we worry about climate change?
    • CHAPTER 1 How serious is climate change?
      (pp. 13-31)

      Why don’t we take climate change as seriously as scientists tell us we should? Climate change ought to be something that we can easily grasp. It lends itself to disaster movies,¹ to iconic photographs of polar bears on small lumps of ice in melted seas, and to glaciers collapsing into the sea. Droughts, floods, hurricanes and heatwaves capture the imagination.

      It is not as if the scientific evidence is getting weaker. On the contrary, the science continues to progress – as do the emissions – and the forecasts have not got any better. The latest annual update from the International...

    • CHAPTER 2 Why are emissions rising?
      (pp. 32-55)

      What causes the carbon emissions and, in particular, their growth? If man-made emissions are one of the proximate causes of global warming, what lies behind these emissions? Where do they come from? Why are they going ever upwards? Although to many the underlying causes may seem obvious, it turns out that understanding them radically changes the focus of policy that aims to limit – and then reverse – their growth. We have been looking in the wrong places, and it is therefore hardly surprising that climate policies have been poorly targeted and as a result have been ineffectual.

      It is...

    • CHAPTER 3 Who is to blame?
      (pp. 56-72)

      Who is to blame for the rising emissions? Who is responsible? Is it China, and to a lesser extent India? China burns the coal; the coal leads to emissions; the emissions cause global warming; and therefore it is easy to conclude that China is a major cause of global warming.

      But whilst China may provide a convenient scapegoat, assigning responsibility is an altogether more complex matter. This requires an ethical dimension. Responsibility is not just about causality, but also about rights and entitlements. Hence we need a framework for deciding not only whocausedthe carbon emissions, but also who...

  8. PART TWO: Why is so little being achieved?
    • CHAPTER 4 Current renewables technologies to the rescue?
      (pp. 75-99)

      How should governments respond to the rising emissions? Not surprisingly, there are lots of ideas, and many lobbies, interest groups and NGOs pushing particular ‘solutions’ and even ‘silver bullets’. Everyone, it seems, has a view, especially when there are potentially large subsidies on offer.

      In Europe, many interested parties – and many politicians – are pretty sure they ‘know’ the answers. They develop ‘road maps’, scenarios and forecasts, and use these to justify the answers towards which they feel well disposed. Analysis becomes a tool to support predetermined technology choices, and the task of policy design is to effect the...

    • CHAPTER 5 Can demand be cut?
      (pp. 100-119)

      If conventional renewables on the supply side are not going to close the carbon gap – at least until new technologies come along – then what about the demand side? Do we really need more energy? Couldn’t we get by using less energy more efficiently? This is the second great hope of governments, green parties and green NGOs.

      The conventional argument is that energy demand can be decoupled from economic growth, so we can have more consumption with less energy. We just need to be more efficient in the ways we use energy. This, it is argued, is an open...

    • CHAPTER 6 A new dawn for nuclear?
      (pp. 120-137)

      Alongside renewables and energy efficiency, another technology has been championed by some as a solution to climate change. Nuclear power advocates promise zero-carbon energy, and they claim that it is a competitive and secure source of supply. The climate change agenda has, some claim, given nuclear a new lease of life after three decades in the doldrums. They argue that only it can provide large-scale, low-carbon electricity generation.

      The green NGOs, by contrast, have a long history of opposing nuclear, both military and civil. The reasons are deep and profound. Their strategy of current renewables plus energy efficiency could be...

    • CHAPTER 7 Are we running out of fossil fuels?
      (pp. 138-155)

      All three of the ‘silver bullets’ – current renewables, energy efficiency and nuclear – rely on the assumption that the conventional wisdom about fossil fuels is right: that we are running out of them and that therefore it is inevitable that the prices will go ever upwards, punctuated by periodic crises. Sadly this assumption is wrong: we are not about to run out, and there is nothing inevitable about rising prices.

      As we have seen in the last three chapters, current climate and energy policies assume that renewables will be a good bet, because they will be increasingly cost-competitive against...

    • CHAPTER 8 A credible international agreement?
      (pp. 156-172)

      If specific technologies, and the associated policies, are not sufficient to bridge the gap between aspirational targets and the carbon reality, what about the overarching framework within which they are set? Is Kyoto an appropriate framework? Has it contributed anything substantive to the reduction of emissions? Is it ever likely to? And if not, why not?

      It is now two decades since the world came together at the Rio Earth Summit, and signed up to the 1992 UNFCCC. The science of climate change was then quite new. The IPCC had been set up two years earlier. These were heady days:...

  9. PART THREE: What should be done?
    • CHAPTER 9 Fixing the carbon price
      (pp. 175-194)

      Let’s take stock of the argument so far. The current approach to climate change is not working, and it is not likely to work any time soon. Emissions will keep going up, and it will be another decade before anything substantive happens on the Kyoto front – if at all. In 2020, some 30 years after the baseline for the agreed targets for carbon reductions, the Durban agreement holds out the prospect that there may eventually be some sort of legally binding agreement. It is a hope, but not a guarantee. By that time the carbon concentration may have crossed...

    • CHAPTER 10 Making the transition
      (pp. 195-212)

      The overwhelmingly immediate question in climate change is how to stop and then reverse the dash-for-coal, and to do it quickly. This dominates all other immediate climate issues: fail to achieve this and we are in serious trouble. It is patently obvious that we need a transition strategy – in particular, one that heads off the enormous projected expansion of coal-fired power stations, and gets the existing ones closed as fast as possible. Anything like the 1000 GW of new coal plant planned for China and India through to 2030 spells disaster for the climate, as do plans for new...

    • CHAPTER 11 Investing in new technologies
      (pp. 213-231)

      None of the existing technologies, save perhaps nuclear, has the capacity to provide a substantive impact on emissions sufficient to make decarbonization a realizable objective. Nuclear has its own problems, and there is little or no possibility that it will be deployed on a very large scale any time soon. Existing technologies have much to offer, but are nowhere near up to the task. Gas is atransitionaloption that ought to be taken seriously. But beyond that, the gap between what needs to be done and what is on offer is just too great. The carbon problem will not...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 232-246)

    The naturalist Edward O. Wilson concluded his collection of essaysIn Search of Naturewith a provocative chapter, ‘Is Humanity Suicidal?’:

    Unlike any other creature that lived before, we have become a geophysical force, swiftly changing the atmosphere and climate as well as the composition of the world’s fauna and flora … No other single species in evolutionary history has ever remotely approached the sheer mass in photoplasm generated by humanity.¹

    It takes a naturalist to appreciate the enormity of the experiment we are currently conducting on our planet. Given the prospect of 9 billion people, a wall of consumption,...

  11. Endnotes
    (pp. 247-259)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 260-267)
  13. Index
    (pp. 268-274)