Do we need a World War II style mobilization to decarbonize the United States Economy?
The American Prospect has a new issue out on climate change, and I highly recommend the article by Jeffrey Sachs.
Sachs does an excellent job explaining why we do not need a World War II style mobilization to decarbonize the United States economy. We can achieve a high level of decarbonization by 2050 at a modest aggregate cost (Sachs guesses 1 to 2% of output) by replacing existing power plants, vehicles, furnaces, etc. with green technologies at the end of their useful lives, using the resources that would have been used for this purpose anyway.
Sachs also explains very clearly how accelerating the timetable for a clean energy transition will greatly increase the cost and economic disruption for small gains and is probably not justifiable. This point does not seem to be widely understood. Here is Sachs:
Consider, for example, the challenge of decarbonizing the U.S. fleet of some 200 million light-duty vehicles. Suppose, as an illustration, that cars last for 20 years, and that ten million vehicles are currently retired each year and replaced with ten million newly produced vehicles. The industry’s production capacity is geared to ten million sales per year. In order to shift the U.S. automobile fleet to electric vehicles, the industry must be retooled.
Let us stipulate for purposes of illustration that converting the U.S. automotive industry to the production of ten million BEVs per year will require a decade, providing the time not only to retool existing production lines and to design the new vehicles, but also the time to build new supply chains for batteries and other components. As of 2030, all new U.S. vehicle production and sales will be electric. Between 2030 and 2050, the entire fleet of 200 million internal combustion vehicles will be phased out and replaced by electric ones.
Could this happen, instead, by 2040? That would require replacing 200 million vehicles during a ten-year period, 2030 to 2040. Annual production and sales of electric vehicles in the 2030s would have to average 20 million vehicles, twice the current industrial capacity. Yet after 2040, production and sales would fall for many years because of the young age of the BEV fleet. The production boom would be replaced by a bust. In the long run, production would revert to ten million per year on average. Moreover, the early conversion of the fleet would only reduce emissions to the extent that the U.S. power system also had been decarbonized and expanded by 2040 to accommodate the 200 million electric vehicles.
Perhaps the early replacement of internal combustion engine vehicles by 2040 could be accomplished, but the extraordinary costs of the early scrappage of existing vehicles, the massive rise in overall vehicle production to 20 million per year during the 2030s, and the subsequent closure of industrial capacity after 2040 would effectively require the nationalization of the automobile industry. And the emissions from the temporary boom of automobile production could easily overwhelm any emissions reductions achieved by the early scrappage of the internal combustion engine fleet.
This simple parable is meant to illustrate a point. We will need until 2050 to achieve full decarbonization. Even then, we will be incurring many extraordinary costs to meet the mid-century target, including the early closure of hundreds or even thousands of fossil fuel–based power plants. Yes, we should have started decarbonization in earnest in the 1990s, by adopting the Kyoto Protocol. Instead, it was spurned by the U.S. Senate. So here we are in 2020 with far too little time left for climate safety. Yet we must proceed.
I am curious to know if people find this persuasive . . .
When I moved from aerospace to inkjet manufacturing I was going from a 1 shift per day business to a round the clock business. The rapid growth that came from putting color printing in every home was countered by the long slow move to a more paperless society. Retooling manufacturing lines was an annual consideration and opening and then closing entire sites happened in 3 to 4 year intervals.
If consumers want electric vehicles, the manufacturers are going to change what they build regardless of the disruption that Sachs predicts.
I had two points. Consumption will drive what is produced. Shift work can accommodate a 2 or 3 fold difference when demand changes rapidly.
I haven’t read this latest piece, but I have a detailed analysis of a Sachs report on the same topic from a few years ago in my book on climate change. I explain that his implicit carbon budget far exceeds the IPCC’s “two thirds chance of two degree” limit. If you game the target it’s not too difficult to lowball the cost.
Alas, the alternative of WWII-style mobilization is not sufficient either, a topic for another day.
I wonder if the replacement interval for electrics would be 20 years. What if mechanically the time would increase to 30 or 40 years.
Most cars are replaced for fashion not function.
My 1990 Dodge diesel pickup runs just fine as does my 2001 Dodge diesel. Can’t get spare parts from the mfg but these trucks will never wear out.
Maybe the cars can be produced so it would be easy to dress them up in fancy clothes every decade or so?
Out here in the Gamma Quadrant the old coots are reliving their youth by having and driving the car they lusted after when in high school.
Electric cars may well last longer than internal combustion vehicles. That plus the likelihood that batteries will be manufactured overseas means that the conversion to EVs will be a real challenge for the domestic auto industry.
How can we decarbonize and bring back King Coal?
Isn’t the most important issue facing the USA, the employment state of coal miners?
I once figured that even if we could reach 50% renewables today, that 100 years from now when we need 10 times as much power (all rich countries, population growth), that 50% would only amount to 5% of what we need then. This seemed to me that from the purely physics standpoint, nuclear was the only way to go — all nuclear.
Good luck making the whole world go all nuclear in a hurry.
Have just read Alexander Sammon’s, December 5, 2019 article in the American Prospect:
The Tantalizing Nuclear Mirage —
Many see nuclear power as a necessary part of any carbon-neutral mix. The reality isn’t so simple.
Seems nuclear is more likely to shrink than grow because of the massive water needs.
Does that leave the only hope for civilization a quick development of THERMONUCLEAR technology. Can an all-out, WWII Manhattan Project to develop thermonuclear be the only hope for the planet?
The book to read (I could only read about half — too technical in parts) is: The Future of Fusion Energy by Jason Parisi and Justine Ball.
Seems the way to thermonuclear is pretty fully marked out ( it took the best brains on the planet to go from steam pumps pushing water out of mines to transportation and manufacturing) — but there is so much work to do on so many angles that it might take 50 years.
* * * * * *
For the history of steam power among other power sources, check out: Energy: A Human History by Richard Rhodes (Pulitzer Prize winning author of Th Making of the Atomic Bomb).
All this talk about conversion is too little too late. Climate disaster and climate wars are already baked in the cake.
The only way to forestall this is carbon capture. We have to remove carbon from the atmosphere on a global scale to prevent disaster. Everything else is just virtue-mongering, whistling into the graveyard instead of past it.
Any idea how carbon capture is supposed to work? Anybody working on it; any sources to link to?
So just learn how Termites do it!
Cellulose to Sugar can provide all the Carbon-neutral fuel we need. Our regular 200 Million+ vehicles can use with small modifications and a change from Copper to Brass gets rid of the corrosion problem in fuel lines.
Termites live inside their food source. When you learn their energy production methods, make sure you can use it for any transportation of cellulose you may need.
Google is your friend. Google “carbon capture technology.”
Here is just one link that came up within a second or two of searching: