Climate Stablization Wedges – an update, responses and critiques

A well know proposed strategy for reducing carbon emissions was the 2004 “wedges” paper in by ecologist Stephen Pacala and engineer Robert Socolow (Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1100103). For more on wedges see Carbon Mitigation Initiative website at Princeton.

Robert Socolow has recently published an update on the wedges paper, in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which discusses the failures of their proposal, he reaffirms the wedges approach and argues that they should have presented their work differently – specifically:

…advocates for prompt action, of whom I am one, also bear responsibility for the poor quality of the discussion and the lack of momentum. Over the past seven years, I wish we had been more forthcoming with three messages: We should have conceded, prominently, that the news about climate change is unwelcome, that today’s climate science is incomplete, and that every “solution” carries risk. I don’t know for sure that such candor would have produced a less polarized public discourse. But I bet it would have. Our audiences would have been reassured that we and they are on the same team — that we are not holding anything back and have the same hopes and fears.

and he proposes that:

To motivate prompt action today, seven years later, our wedges paper needs supplements: insights from psychology and history about how unwelcome news is received, probing reports about the limitations of current climate science, and sober assessments of unsafe braking.

There are responses onThe Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists website and Climate Central that include the Nicholas Stern and others.

Andrew Revkin on DotEarth has an number of US and energy oriented comments from earth system scientist Ken Caldeira, my former colleague at McGill economist Chris Green and others as well as response from Socolow.

Rob Hopkins from Transition Town movement presents a view from local sustainability action.  He worries that the wedges approach can actually make our current situaiton worse – in Giving Robert Socolow a Wedgie (so to speak). He argues that systemic strategies that improve local resilience could be much more successful by addressing multiple issues that focusing on energy and CO2.

Socolow argues that part of the blame for the fact that the world hasn’t adopted the wedges approach can be laid at the door of the environmental movement, for being so upbeat and chipper about the impacts and not acknowledging that there will be ‘pain’ alongside the ‘gain’ (as it were).  …  I think it is far more likely that most of Pacala and Socolow’s wedges are, ultimately, unfeasible due to their own energy intensity and cost in a contracting global economy.

Socolow and Pacala’s wedges were conceived and proposed solely as responses to climate change.  Yet, of course, climate change is not the only challenge we face.  As the World Economic Forum’s recently-released analysis of the risks facing the world over the next 10 years identified, extreme energy price volatility and the fiscal crisis sit alongside climate change, closely followed by economic disparity, collectively leading the field in terms of risks we need to be building resilience to as a matter of urgency

9 thoughts on “Climate Stablization Wedges – an update, responses and critiques”

  1. Climatologists miss the big picture because they don’t recognize thermodynamic constraints and lack eco-literacy. Their models do not incorporate the contraction of nonrenewable production and thus the permanent contraction of the economy. They base their models on assumptions of permanent growth in energy production.

    And climate mitigation policies are like trying to stop a car exhaust by stuffing a banana up the tailpipe (think Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop). Or, judging from the smarties’ solutions at Princeton, mitigate by cutting down all the banana trees and just burn them for gas. Or maybe both at once.


    Really, Princeton? Really? You boys must be smoking some good banana, and spending too much time at the Princeton Economic Club cocktail parties.

  2. List of Princeton Mitigation strategies from the link above:

    Produce current coal-based electricity with twice todays efficiency.
    Increase wind electricity capacity by 10 times relative to today, total = 2 million large windmills.
    Replace 1400 coal electric plants with natural gas-powered facilities.
    Install 100 times the current capacity of solar electricity.
    Use 40,000 square kilometers of solar panels (or 4 million windmills) to produce hydrogen cells
    Capture AND store emissions from 800 coal electric plants.
    Produce hydrogen from coal at six times today’s rate AND store the captured CO2.
    Capture carbon from 180 coal-to-synfuels plants AND store the CO2
    Increase ethanol production 12 times by creating biomass plantations = 1/6th world cropland
    Add double the current global nuclear capacity to replace coal-based electricity.
    Eliminate tropical deforestation.
    Adopt conservation tillage in all agricultural soils worldwide..

    As Wanooski said elsewhere, you can’t have your planet and capitalize on it too.

  3. Nuclear energy should be, and should stay our last option for energy production. Too many risks are associated to it and other alternatives are offering a much better and socialy acceptable choice.

    We must develop a smotth, soft, cool approach to sustainable development – supporting education/human rights, arts/culture and health programs in developing countries. develop strategies to counter desertification, support collective transportation etc… I sincerely don’t think that nuclear energy is a valid universal option.

    More flexibility is needed in public policies related sustainable development and should promote a more balance / equilibrate approach to formal and non-formal economy – encouraging investments in local/regional projects.


  4. Action should be re-oriented and follow simple processes, integrating formal and informal economy.

    1) counter desertification and introduced new agricultural pratice – living mulch, extensive and local agriculture (the actual financial model only support intensive monoculture), new agricultural technologies (greenhouses etc…)

    2) development of public/collective transport systems in and out towns (light and long-distance trains)

    3) use of renewable energy (geothermal, solar, wind and bioenergy)

    4) implementation of information and communication infrastructures – development of internet for education.

    5) conservation strategies to preserve and value biodiversity

    All those actions must be put into a long term financial vision that would insure viable investment in education, health and cultural programs.We should not forget that developing and emerging countries are partners and should share an equitable part of the benefits – maybe through the establishment of an international currency like the bancor that was ounce proposed by Keynes – and revived since 2010 by an Experts panel on Reform of the monetary system .

  5. We must develop a smotth, soft, cool approach to sustainable development – supporting education/human rights, arts/culture and health programs in developing countries. Develop strategies to counter desertification, support collective transportation and renewable energy (no nukes) etc…

    More flexibility is needed in public policies related to sustainable development and should promote a more balance / equilibrate approach to formal and non-formal economy – encouraging investments in local/regional projects. Works made by the Experts Panel for the introduction of an international currency – inspired by Keynes’ Bancor – should help put things in perspectives and develop a long term vision.

    Jasmin Farand

  6. Smooth, soft and cool approaches sounded just as good 30 years ago – and were not implemented.

    Now we’re in the same boat as if we’d not been keeping up with domestic cleaning and gardening for that long. You need a big, concentrated, sudden, massive effort to compensate for not doing things properly, smoothly, sensibly in the first place. And you have to acknowledge that those years of neglect have cost you more than time. At home, you’d have ruined floor coverings, rusting metal, rotting wood, garden plants choked to death by rampant climbers ….. and all those other things we know happen to neglected homes and business premises.

    Unfortunately, we can’t turn back time and we can’t ‘knock it down and build a new one’ when it comes to the planet as many people would do with a building in such a bad state.

    There’s no reason why we can’t be reasonable, considerate and supportive where that’s needed. But we do those kind and thoughtful things in the same way as medical staff do when people are fearful of procedures. We never deviate from the objective of getting it done. Painlessly would be nice, but if there’s no ‘nice’ option we do it anyway.

  7. Jasmin Farand: Nuclear power is the safest source of electricity there is. You are working for the coal industry. Go ahead and try wind and solar with YOUR money, not my money. You will go broke buying batteries.

    Please read “Prescription for the Planet” by Tom Blees, 2008. The IFR eats nuclear waste.
    “Power to Save the World; The Truth About Nuclear Energy” by Gwyneth Cravens, 2007

    book: “Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy”


    Deaths per terrawatt year [twy] for energy industries, including
    Chernobyl. terra=mega mega [There are zero sources of energy
    that cause zero deaths, but not having the electricity causes the
    far more deaths because not having electricity is a form of poverty.]

    fuel……… ……..fatalities… …..who……… …….deaths per twy
    coal……… ………6400…… ……workers……….. ………342
    natural gas….. ..1200…… …..workers and public… …85
    hydro…….. …….4000….. …….public………… …………883
    nuclear…….. ………31…… ……workers………… ………….8

    Nuclear power is proven to be the safest. Source: “The Revenge
    of Gaia” by James Lovelock page 102. As you can see,
    psychological problems are preventing the wider use of nuclear
    power. Chernobyl is included.

    I have no connection with the nuclear power industry. I have
    never had any connection with the nuclear power industry. I am
    not being paid by anyone to say this. My sole motive is
    to avoid death in the collapse of civilization and to avoid
    extinction due to global warming.

    To explain why a reactor cannot be a bomb, I will have to tell you how to make a bomb.

  8. To Adelady and Aasteroid Miner :

    I am not working for the coal industry and I am p^romoting renewable energy… I think both of you knows nothing in Environment…Should learn some philosophy, first, and then about how to make a garden….

    If you have any intelligent comments, do not hesitate to contact me and put your real name on the board (and show your face).

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