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Home » Global Change, Sustainability

The costs of carbon

Submitted by on January 16, 2009 - 9:44 am
What is the best way to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere?

We all know that reducing global warming will require reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. But there are so many ways to do this- by reducing our energy use (driving a fuel efficient car, using less electricity, …), by pulling carbon from the air and putting it back in ecosystems (planting trees, fertilizing the ocean, …), or by displacing our energy use to systems that produce less carbon (like some biofuels) or none at all (solar, wind). While there is no doubt that solving global warming will require many solutions all working together- no one solution will be enough (see Pacala and Socolow’s “wedges”), we stilll need to make decisions about what to do first, how much it will cost, and how to allocate our efforts to the various solutions (or “wedges”).

So what are the cheap and easy ways to reduce carbon, and what are the hard and expensive ways?
The now classic figure (above), recently republished by Arne Mogren in the IGBP Global Change NewsLetter (No. 72 December 2008), makes it very easy to see which solutions are the easy ones, and which are hard and expensive.

Looking at this chart, it is easy to see that using energy more efficiently is the first and easiest way to solve global warming- and saves money - while biofuels are expensive, even compared with capturing carbon from coal-fired power plants. Have a look- what would you do first?

Detail of the chart: carbon_cost_curve_2008_detail.png (239.25 kb)

Recent source of the chart: Arne Mogren: Climate Change Can Be Curbed – Will it Happen? in the IGBP Global Change NewsLetter No. 72 December 2008

Original Report and source of the chart, by Arne Mogren of Vatenfall (with help from McKinsey)- an excellent summary of the carbon mitigation options! < download here>.

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