Editor's blog: Going Green

Posted: 15 August 2008

Several new stories on this website highlight the growing predicament of politicians faced with the essential need to cut down fast and firmly on carbon emissions from all sources if the world is to be saved from climate catastrophe, and the more immediate demands by the people and industry for cheap and plentiful power supplies.

Targets for renewable energy and energy efficiency are more easy to set than to deliver, which is no doubt why the British Prime Minister's announcement on the subject this week, has met with a good deal of cynical comment. (See: UK to outline plans for a 'green revolution').

James Hansen
James Hansen
But the pressing case for immediate action could not be stronger, as Dr James Hansen made clear this week. Speaking exactly 20 years after he first warned the US Congress and the world that global warming was real and deadly, the Director of the Goddard Space Center, repeated his call for action with unprecedented force.

Without an effective government-led response, the world was now in danger of passing 'tipping points' that will lead to disastrous climate changes, he said. These could include a two-metre rise in sea level by the end of this century, hundreds of millions of environmental refugees and mass extinctions that will wipe out half the earth's species. The common assumption that it is safe to aim at a temperature increase of not more than 2 degrees Celsius is, he says, 'a recipe for disaster'.

And the most important step in curbing emissions lies in cutting back on the use of coal, unless its carbon emissions can be cleaned, captured and stored safely - a technology which has yet to be developed. Unfortunately, the demand for coal has never been greater.

Delta Power Station, fueled by coal, Mount Piper, New South Wales, Australia© WWF-Canon / Adam Oswell
As an investigation by the Washington Post earlier this year, made clear, coal is once again booming, with world consumption growing by 30 per cent in the last six years and coal prices rising 50 per cent in recent months. Much of this is fuelled by the ravenous demands of China's industrial appetite, a country whose carbon dioxide emissions last year accounted for two-thirds of the world's total increase of just over 3 per cent. (See: China dominates last year's global CO2 rise). At the same time, China's per capital emissions at 5.1 metric tons per person were far less than the 19.4 metric tons emitted by citizens of the United States, or the 15 tons emitted by those of the European Union. So the buck rests with all of us to put the pressure on governments and industry to press ahead with policies that will encourage everyone to 'go green'.

John Rowley