I have tremendous respect for McKibben, but am profoundly frustrated that the conversation about climate change never moves beyond the dubious aspects of the science to the clear and stunning solutions. Some of McKibben's ideas about humans needing to cooperate more in order to solve global warming are right on the mark, but to make that clear we must have a better understanding of what can and must be done.
Energy efficiency is the only technology which is available in sufficient quantity today at a sufficiently low cost to get us on the path to a carbon free economy. Tripling 2008 U.S. utility efficiency spending would cost $9 billion and save $27 billion. That is merely raising all states to the level of the best states already running such programs. Raising 2008 electric utility efficiency spending five times saves $45 billion, and allocating a third of that to renewables gets us to zero coal in about 20 years, and zero electric sector emissions in about 25 years.
It also creates millions of jobs, stimulates the economy, and repairs and improves most homes and commercial buildings. The electric sector must be pursued aggressively because the natural gas sector can also be brought to zero in about the same time, but depends on renewable electricity to heat buildings which cannot be fully retrofitted with insulation, and replacement of the 18% of natural gas which generates electricty.
Further, the best petroleum response is electric vehicles, and while something better may emerge soon, it is a good bet that we will need electric generation to avoid fueling those cars with coal.
Taking this set of scenarios to their conclusion could take pages. But climate change is literally the first time the human race has run into the physical limits of our environment. We will either learn to behave as a species, as opposed to behaving as individuals, or we will suffer the consequences. Warming is probably of secondary importance to ocean pH change. Warming threatens global hydrology and the ability to feed billions of people. Those who make light of the threats are simply not good students. But warming is complex. Ocean pH change is pretty simple, and we're changing the precise chemical balance in the ocean which most aquatic life manipulates in order to form their bodies. Carbon enters the ocean and becomes carbonic acid, a weak acid, but one which is strong enough to be biologically significant at the levels we currently have caused. Over this century the prospects are deeply disturbing to those who understand this part of the science.
But the best question for this forum is "If there are such strong concerns, and the solutions are so attractive, why do we have such an incredibly difficult time thinking about and discussing response strategies?" Some states save tens of billions of dollars each year, and yet most people dismiss efficiency as a trivial side-show. In fact we can't build enough renewables fast enough unless we find a dramatic funding source, and efficiency savings provide that. But we still can't seem to have that conversation.
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