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Study of Atmospheric CO2

The study herein suggested is neither a debate nor a rebuttal on CO2 greenhouse gas emissions. Rather it sets forth a challenge to the academic, scientific and environmental communities to determine the direction and effectiveness of the global effort necessary to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels.

It is acknowledged that many other gasses and particulates are also considered harmful to the environment. These emissions were omitted in order to reduce the degree of difficulty conducting this “what if” analysis.  

Whether right or wrong, CO2 levels of 400 parts per million (ppm) serves as a somewhat agreed on threshold for the planet Earth.  According to YaleEnvironment360, “when scientists first started measuring atmospheric CO2 consistently in 1958, the CO2 level stood at 316 ppm, just a little higher than the pre-industrial level of 280 ppm. Therefore, 400 was simply the next big, round number looming in our future.”

The proposed challenge is to quantify expected atmospheric CO2 levels under several scenarios ranging from the impossible to the horrific should the global community immediately reduce emissions from all anthropogenic or energy and fuel sources by: 100%, 75%, 50%, 25% and 0%.

Why is this important? Without knowing these values, we lose site of the potential measures that can save the planet or waste money.

Barry Stevens's picture

Thank Barry for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on February 11, 2019

It's a great point that sometimes gets lost-- the challenge is not only reducing emissions but accurately and consistently measuring our progress in doing so and determining the optimal goals. What is your take, Barry, on how the utility industry specifically should set their sights?

Barry Stevens's picture
Barry Stevens on February 11, 2019

Commentary to Study of Atmospheric CO2

While the mechanics of proposed challenge is tenable, physical achievement of the implied results to curb climate change is another story.

Reducing CO2 emissions to less than 400 ppm will have the greatest impact on China and the U.S., by far the world’s largest consumers of fossil fuels (petroleum, coal and natural gas), and to a lesser degree on the EU, India and Russia followed by Japan, Brazil, Indonesia, Canada and Mexico; according to a 2017 report by World Resources Institute.

U.S. 2014 carbon emission data by fuel source and sector from the U.S. Department of Energy indicates the Electricity Generation and Transportation sectors account for 70 percent of all CO2 carbons. emissions. Alone, Electricity Generation power plants fueled by coal and natural gas are the largest source of carbon emissions at 37 percent. Coal-fired electricity power plant emissions exceeded natural gas-fired power plants by a factor of 3.5.

To date, reducing CO2 emission by decreasing coal utilization through rising cost and federal and state regulations have failed to make a substantial impact on usage. While the cost of coal shows regional volatility, the U.S. Energy Information Association projects that U.S. coal prices will tend to increase by 2050, thereby making cleaner sources of power such as solar and wind more competitive as time goes on. Nevertheless, 2016 net electricity generation in the U.S. by source showed wind and solar energy at a 6 and 1 percent share, respectively.

The political effort to stem the flow of fossil fuels in the U.S. energy mix and stimulate the demand of alternative energy sources by legislation is currently in an upheaval.  Environmental Protection Agency Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, signed a plan to weaken Obama Administration’s federal legislation that made it almost impossible to build new coal-fired power plants and thereby suppress greenhouse gas emissions. Reuters reported on February 9, 2019, that “the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a major blow to President Barack Obama by putting on hold federal regulations to curb carbon dioxide emissions mainly from coal-fired power plants.”

The question remains has the world gone past the point of no return and any tangible effort will be window dressing on a quintessential problem that is raising its head not as a mathematical truism but as a horrific reality facing mankind?

Steven Johnson's picture
Steven Johnson on February 12, 2019

Existential Problem, can we as a species avoid a highly probable event.

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