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Olivia Davis

Group 1:

Although the proposals recommended in the wedges will help reduce climate change, there is another important component to consider: without implementing these changes via policy, they accomplish nothing. Businesses have no incentive to reform their practices to reach these goals without taxes, subsidies, or other laws to alter the entire structure of the industry.

Furthermore, the path to policy implementation often involves watering down the proposed changes in order to satisfy consumers and/or businesses. Such modifications typically make the original policies less effective. Wind power, for instance, would be less expensive if offshore wind turbines were located closer to land. However, due to aesthetic values, the turbines are located farther from the shore, thus requiring more power to transfer energy a longer distance.

Deciding which policies to enact and how to do so is another area of tension. Environmentalists have the same general end goal in mind: to sustain the environment and conserve the planet. The trouble arises when they must determine the best ways to do this. Constant lobbying and disagreement uses up resources that instead could be designated to conservation efforts. The inability to reach common ground results in no conservation efforts being implemented at all.

Sharp political divides also hinder sustainability. For example, Apple derives half of its energy from renewable resources. Upon discovering this information, one of the company’s largest business investors recommended that Apple reduce its renewable energy usage. The investing company opposed energy regulations and viewed Apple’s practices as a sign of submission to the government.

The need to tiptoe around the politics of conservation makes it more difficult to get anything done. It requires allocation of resources to lobbying, extensive compromising, and other efforts to get everyone on board. By the time a policy is finally implemented, resources have been exhausted, enemies have been made, and policy effectiveness has been diminished. In order to make a difference, agreements on conservation policies need to be reached sooner, more frequently, and without changes that defeat the policy’s original purpose.

Blake Spencer

The wedges that are highlighted in these articles are good suggestions for the entire economy to adopt. The address many of the hot topic issues such as energy consumption, a necessary fuel shift, and deforestation. In relation to the other articles we read for yesterday it puts all of these wedges into context and stresses the urgency at which change is happening and the potential outcomes of sitting idle. One of the major wedges that we saw, prevalent in the articles was the possible benefits of shifting to wind or natural gas to produce hydrogen, which would fuel our cars and homes. This process would lessen the environmental externality caused by the rising demand for fuel.

We saw two related issues in these articles: How feasible are these changes in a timely manner? and how can the government or society provide the incentive structure to make these changes happen? All of these wedges have visible benefits but as of right now the cost outweighs the benefit. The cost of switching is very high and either new cheaper processes and changes must take place or it must become cheaper to use the alternative energy sources. The manner we talked about in class, and the one our group agrees could be the most feasible way to accomplish these goals is a gas tax. This would make the abatement cost of 'greener' companies lower and force coal powered industries to shift. To produce this tax, different groups will have to come together politically to use the current system to make substantial positive changes in the way we use and produce energy.

Blake Spencer

Group 5 ^^^


The biggest question our group had was related to the feasibility of some of the 15 methods for stabilizing the nation's carbon emissions listed in Stabilization Wedges article. We discussed how substituting biomass fuel for fossil fuel would use 1/6 of the world's cropland by 2054. We questioned if the benefits of producing 100 times the amount of ethanol the US currently produces would be worth using up that amount of land. Similarly, we questioned the feasibility of putting 2 million windmills on coasts or offshore. Both of these wedges seem like they would require an amount of resources and space that might outweigh the positive impacts their implementation have on carbon emissions and climate change.

Another question that we posed was "Would people drive their cars more if more economical cars were created?". Our thought was that people would be less concerned with limiting their driving to limit the emissions from their vehicles if they knew their emissions per mile (for example) were much lower in their new HFC vehicle. This is similar to the predicament discussed in class in the case that peoples' heating/cooling/electricity bills were much lower due to a switch to natural gas usage. People would be less concerned about conserving energy if they knew they could use their heating/cooling and lights without restraint and still pay a fraction of the cost that they used to pay. We thought this same mindset might occur in a situation where people could drive as much as they wanted and still not emit as much exhaust from their HFCV as when they limited their driving in their old car.

A very interesting portion of class was the discussion about South Carolina's dependence on nuclear energy. We have discussed the pros and cons of nuclear energy before and the biggest issue with nuclear as an alternative to coal and other forms of energy is the fear of accidents stemming from the Chernobyl incident. South Carolina has shown that nuclear energy is an alternative that can be put into action rather effectively, and we already know the benefits that come from substituting nuclear energy for coal-burning. There are cons and potential disasters innate in all forms of energy (e.g. oil spills and disasters in transportation of shale gas). If people can get past the stigma about danger that has been attached to nuclear energy, South Carolina has shown that this could be a viable way to profoundly reduce our carbon-emissions and take a big step towards becoming a much more environmentally conscious nation.

-Nick Biumi, Hannah Gilmore, James McCullum, Catherine Klinedinst, Minh Ton

Matt Ziemer

Group: Matt Ziemer, Mary Beth Benjamin, Bayan Misaghi, and Kingsley Mooney
“Stabilization Wedges”

In this article, Pacala and Socolow demonstrate that for the world to perpetually stabilize at the CO2 level target of 500-ppm per-year carbon emissions need to be limited to approximately the current level of 7 billion tons per year despite growing demand for energy. Under the “business-as-usual” approach, total CO2 emissions around the world are projected to double their current rate over the next 50 years ultimately reaching 14 billion tons. Rather than seek a silver bullet with the capability of flattening the trajectory with the implementation of merely one approach, the authors seek to explore how using a variety of current technologies can maintain current emission levels. The key to the proposal is scale. Currently, these technologies are not being used at a large enough scale to cause a significant impact on annual carbon emission. They put forth 15 avenues that are possible, with each being able to reduce one-seventh of the projected increase. The idea is that if we can implement seven of these proposals, global CO2 emissions could remain at present levels and the total CO2 concentration would stabilize at around 500 ppm. The wedges are comprised of a variety of potential pathways for reducing carbon emission from more efficient vehicles to greatly increasing the use of wind energy. This approach provides a simple and straightforward way to think about potential ways to reduce CO2 emission by simply selecting, whichever seven wedges you think would be most feasible. An important caveat is that these wedges are not how policy can be enacted but rather they are the potentially beneficial results of effective carbon policy. This article inspires the reader to think about if they could design the ideal carbon policy what seven wedges would they put into their basket.
My selection of wedges would focus on improving efficiency as well as a transition toward alternative and nuclear power. Three wedges seem to be the most practical first steps. First, while a transition away from coal power and toward natural gas power, as specified in wedge 5, would not eliminate our dependence on carbon-based power, it would switch us to a more efficient energy source. Secondly, transitioning to more efficient cars and buildings as outlined in wedges 1 and 3 are logical steps. They would be beneficial in two ways, foremost is the obvious benefit of reducing C02 emissions, but also in helping businesses and individuals save money spent on energy, particularly heating and cooling, in the long-run.
The next three would have to be changes, which take a longer time period to implement as alternative power plants, and especially nuclear power plants take a long time to plan and build. Wedges 10 and 11 call for a massive increase in the use of photovoltaic and wind power, a 700- and 100-fold increase of current levels respectively. While this jump seems colossal, the technology seems to have reached a point where such an expansion would be possible. If the true price of carbon is accounted for, the cost of these to alternatives begins to look more attractive and since they are still relatively new, costs are likely to decrease over time and there may be greater room for efficiency improvements.
Aside from their costs, an argument against these technologies is where they would be built, because people generally do not want to see a wind turbine from their beach house. I would counter that while these solutions may not be ideal, they do seem to beat the alternative of the beach house being destroyed by increasingly intense storms or submerged due to rising sea levels. While nuclear seems to generate a degree of fear and paranoia, these concerns may be largely unfounded. In the United States many more people have been killed by health complications linked to fossil fuel extraction and emission than have ever been hurt by nuclear power. The potential for catastrophic meltdown exists, but the risk could to be greatly mitigated with new designs and proper oversight. Current plants may not have been designed to protect against terrorist act, but that does not mean next generation nuclear plants cannot be designed to be prepared. Between the increases in efficiency and the transitions away from carbon-based energy, we have six wedges of the required seven wedges. For the seventh wedge I do not propose one of the ones provided in the article, rather a combination could account for it. While some of the other wedges may not be achievable, individuals and firms making progress towards several of them combine (and perhaps investing more in the other six wedges) could be enough. For example, a greater increase in the use of nuclear and wind power, along with reductions in deforestation, wider spread conservation tillage, and an overall reduction in vehicle usage could provide the final wedge.

Alex Retzloff

Pacala and Socolow’s paper on stabilization wedges provides a fine overview of the various ways in which society can work to reduce the rate of carbon emissions and the overall amount of carbon in the atmosphere. The fifteen different wedges they identify are creative and insightful, but they have varying degrees of applicability. One of the major impediments to the use of these wedges is public policy and public opinion. The United States is very conservative in its energy policy—some might even argue overtly recalcitrant when it comes to modern climate science and its influence on policy. Although regrettable, such unwillingness to listen to the scientific community and act on its recommendations and warnings is the reality. In order to implement any of the fifteen wedges, yet alone the seven wedges requisite for Pacala and Socolow’s reduction portfolio to work, there will need to be massive political maneuvering and campaigning to get the government and the American people to work towards implementation.

This brings us to one of the main points in Schrag’s natural gas paper. Schrag makes the novel argument that the natural gas lobby and the environmentalist lobby are actually more alike than many would think. Both should encourage the government to implement a carbon tax because doing so would both reduce the nation’s consumption of coal, thus increasing the demand for natural gas, while simultaneously decreasing the rate of emission of carbon into the atmosphere, something the environmentalists greatly desire. People say that politics makes for strange bedfellows and perhaps none are stranger than the natural gas lobby and the environmentalists lobby, but if both get together and combine their political weight, they can both save themselves and the planet.

Returning to the issue faced in implementing Pacala and Socolow’s wedges, the notion posited by Schrag is perhaps the only way in which national public policy can be pressured to change to the point at which the implementation of the wedges can occur. Only if large interest groups like the natural gas lobby work with the environmentalist lobby will public opinion shift towards embracing a policy aimed at reducing both carbon emissions and overall atmospheric carbon.

If we accept that the lack of public support and governmental policy is chiefly what prevents the implantation of Pacala and Socolow’s wedges, then we should identify which wedges require the smallest degree of public policy shift to work. In my opinion, the first seven wedges people should focus on are: Efficient vehicles, efficient buildings, reduced use of vehicles, wind power for coal power, reduced deforestation/plus reforestation, conservation tillage, and efficient baseload coal plants. These wedges are, in my opinion, the least likely to cause massive public opposition and require the least amount of radical change for them to be implemented. In the beginning, the key to reducing carbon emissions and the amount of carbon in the atmosphere will be to focus on simple life-style changes and enhancing efficiency rather than focusing on major overhauls of old technologies and practices or on the use of new technologies.

Alex Retzloff

^^Retzloff, Smith, Flores, Travis

Mac Keers

One of the articles that we spent time discussing was the one about wedges. While all of the solutions were interesting, the article didn’t present an adequate way to bring the various changes about. The problem stems from the idea that each of these changes should be brought about individually through legislation or R&D spending. This is inefficient because a target for each would have to be developed and this might create a suboptimal outcome. For example, we might overspend on increasing the efficiency of factories but under spend on windmills because we don’t have sufficient information to pick accurate targets for the time being. Instead, the solution we talked about in class seems to be superior; put a price on carbon. This accomplishes our goal while allowing markets to optimize the scale of improvements in each category. The most important thing is that we know exactly how much we want to scale back carbon emissions and we can probably get an idea of how much a price increase will impact emissions. Once we have figured out the correct price (this could be adjusted easily if the target is missed) then markets will work out the best way to get there. This might mean that some wedges are completely ignored. For instance, if it turns out that some alternative energy measures are not going to reach the goal in the most efficient way possible then they will be ignored, this prevents the need to waste resources. All in all, it was surprising that this idea wasn’t more directly forwarded in the article since it seemed like a fairly obvious way of dealing with all of the different wedges that were proposed.

Something that is equally interesting was brought up by one of the earlier groups. This is the question of how consumers would change their behavior in the face of a price for carbon. One possibility is that the change will be limited since many people have fixed amounts that they need to travel each day and there are limits to public transportation options in many places. This leaves only carpooling as an option and this may be inconvenient or some people may simply be averse to it. However, just like the gas tax for corporations, the price increase might alter behavior in another way, it would increase the potential returns on alternative forms of transportation. In other words, incentives would be created for new forms of transportation to be created, this might be more active/new public transport systems or R&D for more fuel efficient vehicles, since it will be easier to recoup the costs of these kinds of vehicles through the decreased consumption of gasoline. Again, using market incentive through an increase in the price of gas can guide the direction of individual behavior to decrease overall carbon emissions.

A final thought was on the article about natural gas. While the idea of alternative energy lobbyists was nice in theory, it’s unlikely that this kind of collective action could be forced. Instead, people should focus on why highly toxic forms of energy like coal burning are so politically popular and work to peel away these misconceptions. This is no simple task but it might prove to be more viable than wasting money battling against the long-standing and incredibly wealthy coal companies, this is not the best way that resources could be used. It’s even possible that these kinds of energy companies should go to states where coal isn’t used at all so that they can begin to find a foothold and accrue profits. If they can prove to be successful and clean at the same time it will be easier for them to accrue political capital later on. Then we might see non-coal companies being supported by politicians even in regions where talking about taxing carbon are political suicide.

Ashley Cole

Group 5: Ashley, Mark, Greta, Clay, and JT

The paper our group focused on was, “Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years and Current Technologies”. There is a great deal of debate centering around the climate and carbon issue we are currently facing on a global scale. In order to meet growing energy needs without furthering compromising the health of the atmosphere, we need to figure out a way to limit atmospheric CO2 to a concentration of less than double preindustrial levels.

This paper presents 15 potential wedges, highlighting the fact that the combination of any 7 will succeed in the stabilization goal. Although the authors offer numerous possibilities, our group selected a portfolio of wedges that we believe would be most efficient in achieving the goal. The options we selected were: efficient vehicles, efficient baseload coal plants, gas baseload power for coal baseload power, biomass fuel for fossil fuel, a combination of nuclear, wind and PV power for coal power, and reduced deforestation. In regards to hydrogen-fuel cell vehicles, we talked about how important a full cost accounting analysis would be. Given the conversion costs and new infrastructure that it would take to switch from a fossil-fuel economy to a hydrogen economy, it would be imperative to know the total of these costs in order to compare with the costs associated with natural gas and oil in order to accurately decide whether this option is cost efficient and viable.

Since the authors do not discuss anything about cost, it is hard to differentiate between the options based on cost efficiency alone. Further, we also discussed political implications. While any form of policy regarding this subject is bound to face some sort of backlash, it is probably more difficult to pass a portfolio of different strategies (the 7 wedges) than simply lobbying for one specific policy.

Sarah Knenlein

The alternative energy fuel-cell vehicle article highlights the importance of a gas tax by showing the benefits of these alternative energy options. Looking at the externalities of alternative energy fuel cell vehicles compared to the current situation, the article estimated the range for a possible gas tax to make up for this externality. Wind generated hydrogen fuel cell was determined as the most beneficial option compared to the status quo. The gas tax should then be between $0.29- $1.80 to offset the externality of us not currently using wind generated hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. This leads to the discussion of the stabilization wedges. All of the wedges discussed in the paper were reasonably addressed with the only problems being the likelihood of political agreement on these wedges. The wedges concerning an increase in car efficiency are practical and could be implemented if a gas tax was applied forcing the car companies to produce cars that could have higher mpg as well as discourage drivers to drive as much. Relating the fuel cell vehicles to the wedges, if the alternative energy groups (solar, wind, natural gas) got together to impose a carbon tax on coal companies it would force them to change their tactics and could increase the coal efficiency levels which would satisfy one of the wedges. One of the wedges discussed involved nuclear energy with the only detriment to it being that we would have to revive societal confidence in nuclear energy. This wedge seems like a fairly reasonable option but even the shale- natural gas paper stated that the US wasn’t going to be implementing any more than 9 nuclear power plants by 2035. This just heightens the need to encourage policy as much as possible or else we will not be able to make the cuts needed to reduce our emissions to 500ppm.

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