Earth: The Sequel
(Norton 2008) 252pp ISBN 978-0-393-06690-6
There have been several good books published recently at the semi-popular level covering a variety of views on Global Warming. For example Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” sounds the alarm by looking at what is happening all around us. Joseph Romm’s “Hell and High Water,” written by a physicist and reviewed in P&S, April, 2008, gives the scientific basis of global warming and makes alarming predictions. To avoid catastrophe worldwide nations must cut emissions of greenhouse gases in half over 50 years, implying that the United States must cut emissions by 80%! Krupp and Horn are well aware of the situation but nevertheless take an optimistic view that, bad as the situation looks, the US can overcome the problems through the dynamism of innovators and entrepreneurs, coupled with the adoption of the appropriate method of charging polluters for the carbon they produce.
Fred Krupp might be best described as an eco-lawyer. He graduated from Yale University, has a law degree from University of Michigan, and has taught Environmental Law at both schools. In 1984 he became the president of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a national non profit organization that links science, economics, law, and innovative private sector partnerships. Krupp and the EDF believe that environmentalists by themselves will not solve the global warming situation. It is vital that there be a strong connection to industry, its financial means, and the market place. Hence they are prepared to talk with industry and together work to obtain solutions to environmental problems.
Miriam Horn is now on the staff of the Environmental Defense Fund. She has worked for the U.S. Forest Service and written for numerous newspapers and magazines including Vanity Fair and the New York Times.
One of the problems needing urgent solution in the 1980s concerned acid rain. Krupp worked with the administration that eventually embraced a proposal suggested by EDF, and submitted it to Congress. The result was the Clean Air Act of 1990. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the EDF proposal was the world’s first emission cap-and-trade system. Krupp and Horn use the success of the Clean Air Act to support adoption of a cap-and trade-system as a prime step in solving global warming. In this system the U.S. Congress determines an overall limit on allowable pollution. Each industry is allotted a cap on the pollution they are allowed to produce. Industries themselves determine how they achieve those limits. Heavy polluters with allowances below their current pollution production can trade pollution allowances with those whose pollution is lower than their allowed amount. The cap is ratcheted down over time so that the amount of pollution falls. The system rewards light polluters who profit from the trade, whereas heavy polluters must pay for allowances purchased from light polluters. This maintains market competition by encouraging entrepreneurs to invent new ways of decreasing acid rain pollutants or new ways of producing energy with lower carbon emissions. Krupp and Horn consider this the most appropriate way to benefit from America’s boundless capacity for invention and from its equally important venture capitalists who provide the essential financial support.
The first part of the book describes the cap-and-trade process in some detail and explains why it is superior to carbon taxes and subsidies in producing a level playing field in which renewable energies can effectively compete with carbon producing energy sources of the past. The cap-and-trade mechanism has the remarkable property that it works for all energy sources.
Next, Krupp and Horn devote many chapters to a wealth of information on many projects gleaned from their personal interaction with entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. They describe the basic ideas of the entrepreneur and where and how they find the very large sum of money necessary for their commercial development. They systematically investigate each of the prospective green energy sources, dividing the book into chapters on energy from the sun, energy from living matter, ocean energy, geophysical energy, reconsidering coal, and a short section on nuclear energy. Some of these projects are well known and well along their developmental path. Others are “way out” with no guarantee that they will survive their infancy, but with great possibilities if they do. Indeed in chapter 9 they admit that up to this stage the book has focused on possibilities for reducing global warming pollution that are still just out of reach and in this chapter they consider solutions which can be applied relatively quickly to forestall the immediate crisis. These include schemes for protecting the remaining Brazilian and Indonesian rainforests (because of their rate of deforestation Indonesia and Brazil rank third and fourth in greenhouse gas emissions); elimination of other greenhouse gases, especially methane; energy efficiency (emulating California); energy intelligence (the energy equivalent of the internet, to distribute energy to where it is needed); the replacement of greenhouse-gas-intensive industrial materials (e.g. drywall and cement) with “greener” materials; electric cars, which still need great improvements in storage capacity, recharge time, lifespan and affordability of batteries; and reducing driving including smarter real estate development.
The final chapter, “The World of Possibility”, maps the extraordinary flights of invention possible, outlining even more futuristic possibilities and efforts to remove the excess CO2 that has already been dumped in the atmosphere. They reiterate that to save the planet, rapid innovation and deployment of known technologies is essential. Cap and trading is the necessary catalyst, eventually world wide. They believe that whether the latter happens or not is largely determined by the USA which is now the only developed country not under a carbon cap. The starting point must be the U.S. Congress. Mobilization on the necessary scale will only occur when U.S. leaders pass laws allowing alternative energy sources to compete fairly with oil and coal. To Krupp and Horn this means accepting a hard cap on greenhouse gases.
In one sense the book is a great pep talk. This is probably necessary in a world which could easily succumb to hopelessness in the light of the enormous task ahead.
Emeritus Professor of Physics, Michigan State University
This contribution has not been peer refereed. It represents solely the view(s) of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of APS.