These malignant and malevolent risks seem to stem from very different causes—and different kinds of people, with different backgrounds, tend to look at them separately. This cultural separation—analogous in some ways to C. P. Snow's famous description some decades ago of the intellectual world's division into the two cultures of literature and science—hinders cooperative action. For the issues at hand, let's call this a division between the tree-hugger culture, focused on carbon, and the hawk culture, focused on terrorism.
Both the malignant and malevolent problems described here are extraordinarily grave, and much too urgent to await a lengthy debate between the two cultures about how intensely we should believe that each risk will become manifest. This is especially true because, as suggested below, the steps needed to contend successfully against both types of problems appear to have a great deal in common, at least in the important field of energy.
A hawk who is steeped in the history of the Muslim Brotherhood but has no time for the history of glaciers need not be required to pledge his belief that climate change will hit a certain degree by a certain date. Scientific theories, Karl Popper taught us, must always be held tentatively; they are productive precisely to the degree that they offer an invitation to be disproved. Even as society used Newton's theories for centuries, the path of human progress was to give others a chance to create theories that would replace his. Eventually Einstein's did.
Nevertheless, we should argue to our hawk that as a matter of judgment, not certainty, there is sufficient evidence of developing climate change that he or she should take the issue seriously. Further, if we consider together plausible climatic tipping points and the increased emissions from world economic development, there is a risk that such change could become cataclysmic. Thus, the only responsible course of action is to begin now to deal with the problem as sensibly and affordably as we can.
We should say something similar to a tree hugger who is quite attentive to possible change in the North Atlantic meridional overturning circulation but who believes that to deal with terrorism now and for the foreseeable future we need only enforce the criminal law—and that a rogue state or terrorist EMP attack on the United States must be someone's idea of a film plot for the PG-13 market. The tree hugger's blind spot is precisely where the hawk's eyes are trained, and vice versa. But our tree hugger needs to remember that fanatic enemies with access to destructive technology have already wreaked mass death on modern societies. The tree hugger needs to keep an open mind, remember the Nazis, and recognize that evil exists, and happens.
As a thought experiment we might try inviting a tree hugger, someone strongly committed to reducing the risk of climate change, to address a major malignant issue by producing a short list of policies that could soon lead to substantial reductions of emissions. We will ask the tree hugger to focus on the ways in which we generate electricity, fuel transportation, power industry, and operate buildings, leaving such topics as preventing deforestation and promoting proper agricultural practices until later. We want him to focus on energy because we are going to submit his list to someone else for comment—a hawk who is heavily focused on energy security— to see if there is anything on which they can agree.
For our tree hugger we decide to summon the shade of John Muir, the father of our national parks system and the first president of the Sierra Club, and for our hawk, the shade of George S. Patton, commander of the Third Army in World War II. They eye each other warily, but agree to undertake our project.
After sitting and pondering thoughtfully for a time under some redwoods, Muir submits a list of nine proposals for Patton's consideration:
1. Begin with improving the energy efficiency of buildings.
Muir notes that Wal-Mart is finding that with such simple steps as painting its store roofs white and adding skylights, the company is getting 20 percent improvement in energy efficiency today and expects 25 to 30 percent improvements by 2009. And Muir has seen a recent McKinsey & Company report that says that merely by using existing technologies (where there is an internal rate of return of 10 percent or more) we can reduce world energy demand by 125 to 145 QBTUs (quadrillion British thermal units) by 2020, 20 to 24 percent of end-use demand. The vast majority of this, the report says, would be in buildings of all sorts, including industrial facilities, and would contribute up to half the greenhouse gas emission abatement needed to cap the long-term concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at 450 to 550 ppm.31 Muir knows that the Rocky Mountain Institute's thorough work shows even more opportunity for energy savings from reduced energy use in buildings.32
"I'm completely with you on this one," says Patton. "Less need for energy, less need to add generating capacity and transmission lines to the grid. Every day, the grid reminds me more and more of the Maginot Line, just sitting there vulnerable to being taken out by creative tactics—the less we need it the better. And I like the fact that this efficiency stuff makes money for the folks who implement it rather than costing something."
2. Radically increase the use of combined heat and power (CHP).
His second item, Muir says, could be implemented relatively quickly and would let us get dual use from energy instead of wasting a lot of the heat our industry produces by just venting it into the atmosphere. About a third of Denmark's electricity, for example, comes from CHP. Only about 8 percent of
U.S. electricity comes from CHP, but the problem—like building efficiency— is not that we don't have the technology. Rather, Muir says, our commitment to wasting heat is determined by culture and regulations. Much of the reason CHP struggles in the United States is because of the opposition of state public utility commissions (PUCs). Certain steps are needed to ensure safety, Muir concedes, but the Danes have figured this out and completely changed their system in just twenty years. To do what they've done we just need to change most states' PUC policies. CHP generally has the effect of generating electricity and heat closer to where they are used, in relatively small facilities, Muir notes.
"Go, Danes!" says Patton. "You know, John," he continues, "I admit I was pretty skeptical when I agreed to do this with you, but I've gotta admit I'm learning some things and I like this one, too. Just using energy we're already producing—makes all the sense in the world. And it looks like each of these two ideas of yours reduces the need for new centralized power generation plants as well as new long-distance transmission lines. Relying on smaller, more distributed, production should improve resilience against terrorist attack. Keep 'em coming."
3. Create strong long-term incentives for small-scale (single-building-based) distributed generation of electricity and heating and cooling. Forty out of fifty states, Muir says, now have "net metering" laws that in principle make it possible for those who have generating capacity—say roof-top solar photovoltaic systems—to sell some home-generated electric power back to the grid. But in practical terms, state laws and regulations leave a lot to be desired in making this work. The cost of home-generated power is about to decline sharply, says Muir. As thin-film and nano-solar technologies come on the market at costs substantially below those of today's silicon cells, and as solar collectors are integrated into building materials such as shingles, these technologies can begin to have a substantial effect on the need for central power generation. Small-scale wind turbines, operating at lower wind speeds than the large wind turbines, are beginning to come into the singlebuilding market as well. Distributed solar and wind technologies complement one another, since generally the sun shines at a different time of day than the wind blows, and increased use of both can be facilitated by storing electricity in improving batteries. Shallow (heat pump) geothermal is showing promise for heating and cooling of individual buildings; together with distributed solar and wind it may be able to satisfy a very substantial share of individual building energy needs. Distributed generation will be renewable and hence not carbon-emitting, Muir notes: a coal-fired power plant will not fit on a roof.
"John," says Patton, "anyone who has ever been in combat knows that you need flexibility and initiative at the small-unit level because the unexpected always happens, and if your small units are good you can adapt faster. I've always said, "Small had damned well better be beautiful." You have to be able to put maximum reliance on your platoon leaders and sergeants—that's how I was able to relieve Bastogne so fast. You're making me see that the same logic applies to having an energy system that's resilient against terrorist and EMP attack. Damn, are you sure you don't have a military background?"
4. Follow California's lead and decouple sales from earnings for electric utilities to encourage conservation and grid modernization.
This is a big one, says Muir. California, he notes, initiated this simple step some twenty years ago; there, and (very recently) in several other states, utilities' earnings are based on their investment, not their sales of electricity. But in the other forty-plus states, utilities must sell more electricity in order to earn more for their shareholders. It doesn't matter if it's used wastefully—the incentive systems established by forty-some PUCs don't deter waste. In California and the other few states, though, if a utility invests in making the grid "smarter," say, to help consumers conserve electricity, it earns more for its shareholders. The effect of decoupling sales from earnings is dramatic: over the last twenty years, electricity use per capita in California has stayed flat, while that of the rest of the country has increased 60 percent. Major double-digit improvements in energy efficiency are possible if the other approximately forty PUCs would just admit that what a few states have done is problem-solving and that their own current policies are problem-creating.
"Sounds great," says Patton. "I know California screwed up on the Enron thing a while back—hell, everybody screws up sometimes—even I did once. But the Californians sure have this decoupling right. Say, who writes those other forty PUCs' fitness reports? Why don't their superior officers just relieve them of command and put somebody in charge who's willing to learn from what the California folks have done?"
5. Give steady and long-term encouragement to the deployment of renewable electricity generation for the grid from wind, solar, hydro, and geothermal. Muir tells Patton that many incentives such as tax credits for such deployment have been periodically interrupted, delaying, for example, production of wind turbines and slowing the introduction of these technologies.
"Well," says Patton, "if we have to add to the grid I suppose these are okay. The grid will be around for a long time, so we have to improve its resilience by stockpiling transformers and defending better against cyber attacks in any case. But even if we improve its defenses and make it cleaner, increasing our reliance on a Maginot Line is not my favorite way to go. I liked your efficiency and CHP and rooftop ideas better, but I guess I can go along with these—I like the fact that at least some of them probably won't be too large and can be distributed to some extent. Also, power plants using sun, wind, hydro and geothermal aren't vulnerable to terrorist interruption of their fuel supplies."
6. Vigorously develop carbon capture and storage (CCS) for coal-fired power plants.
Muir points out that this may well rely on the already-developed technology of integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) plants, which facilitates CO2 capture. The hard part is sequestering the CO2 permanently where it will not leak into the atmosphere. The CO2 gas may be pumped into existing oil and gas wells to enhance recovery from them. Pumping it into saltwater aquifers deep beneath the earth also shows promise for long-term sequestration.
Again, Patton is only lukewarm. "Adding to the grid just gives the terrorists eyeing our transformers and the crazy guys with EMP attack plans a bigger target," he says. "But if we can't get all the power we need by implementing your ideas about reducing demand and increasing distributed generation, then I'm okay with this CCS stuff, but reluctantly."
7. Provide tax incentives for the purchase of plug-in hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles (PHEVs). Now for transportation, Muir says. GM has announced the production of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid (PHEV) in 2010 (they call it an "electric vehicle with range extension"); Toyota's Prius was designed originally with an all-electric mode for driving, so it is well on the way to being a plug-in once a battery more capable than that in the current Prius is supplied. Other manufacturers are gearing up to produce plug-ins as well. There are dozens of hybrid vehicles, principally Priuses, that their owners have converted into PHEVs using currently available batteries. A PHEV that is plugged into a standard 120-volt socket in a garage overnight can be driven 32 to 65 kilometers (20 to 40 miles) the next day on this charge. Once it reaches the end of the electricity supplied in its overnight charge it becomes an ordinary hybrid, using both gasoline and electricity until it can be charged again. These vehicles seem to be getting over 160 kpg (100 mpg) once their initial all-electric driving is factored in. (Muir suggests to Patton he take a look at the websites pluginamerica.com and calcars.org.
The average U.S. light vehicle is driven just over thirty miles a day, Muir adds. It is clear that, in addition to providing consumers the ability to drive for some tens of miles a day on inexpensive off-peak overnight electricity at a fraction of the cost of driving on gasoline, moving from a standard internal-combustion-engine vehicle to a PHEV reduces greenhouse gas emissions substantially. A recent Pacific Northwest National Laboratory study has estimated that if 73 percent of the current U.S. fleet of light-duty vehicles were converted to PHEVs that were able to drive just over thirty miles all-electrically and were charged during off-peak hours, no new power plants would be needed. Moreover this would displace 6.5 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, or approximately 52 percent of the nation's oil imports. The average reduction nationally of greenhouse gases would be in the range of 27 percent per car, more in states using little coal to produce electricity, around zero in heavy coal-using states.33 And over time cleaning up the grid also cleans up PHEV emissions: as electricity production is modified—say, via renewables or coal with carbon capture and sequestration—CO2 emissions are further reduced.
Finally, PHEVs can replace certain "ancillary services" that cost about $12 billion annually, such as fossil fuel purchases to stabilize and regulate the grid's operations and "spinning" reserves to deal with power outages. Keeping just a small number of PHEVs plugged into the grid after they are charged creates vehicle-to-grid (V2G) connections that replace fuel-consuming functions.34 This can mean a lot less use of fossil fuel and also substantial payments back to plug-in hybrid owners. One Federal Energy Regulatory Commission member even calls plug-ins "cash-back hybrids." Grid modernization can help implement such major innovations.
"John, now you're talking again," says Patton. "Electricity (and plug-ins) can do to oil what electricity (and refrigeration) did to salt around the time I was born—destroy the damned stuff as a strategic commodity. Salt used to be a really big deal because it was the only way to preserve meat. People even fought wars over it. But now nobody gives a damn what country has salt mines. Since around the time I commanded the Third Army, maybe before, the number one strategic commodity has been oil. It sure was in the war. If old Tooey Spaatz, God bless him, hadn't persuaded FDR to let him hit Ploesti and Leuna and take out the Germans' fuel, they would have had enough for the Panzers to get to Antwerp and the Battle of the Bulge could have gone the other way."
Patton shakes his head sadly. "You know, John, there are some jaspers at the Council on Foreign something-or-other in New York who say we're doing a 'disservice to the nation' by trying to get the country away from oil dependence. Do they think it's a 'service' to make it easier for some other country to have the leverage over us that we had over the Germans in the war? Those guys would probably also tell drunkards to make sure they have a glass or two of red wine every day for their health—not crazy in the abstract, but sure as hell not the message a guy in his cups needs to hear. But you're telling those council guys to get with the program and help get us off oil fast—John, you're my man."
8. Mandate a rapid transition to flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs). Muir says this is simple, and would mean that both U.S.-produced vehicles and imports could use at least gasoline, ethanol (particularly cellulosic), butanol, and methanol in any mixture. This would create a market for renewable fuels by removing a needless barrier, Muir points out. He adds that using such fuels can substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially when the feedstocks are biomass and waste. The cost is modest—around $100 per vehicle or less. Between 2002 and 2005, Brazil moved from 5 percent to 75 percent of their new vehicles' being FFVs. Incentives such as tax credits should be provided promptly to encourage pumps for these fuels to be installed at stations.
"Hey, John," Patton booms. "I'm fine with markets and cap-and-trade and all that, but sometimes ya gotta just tell people to, damn it, do it. I got no problem with mandates—hell, if you gotta move fast and it's important, I absolutely love 'em. We did it for cars with seat belts and air bags because people's lives were at stake. Well, they're at stake because of oil dependence too. Getting away from that dependence is a matter of national security. Somebody just needs to show as much gumption as the Brazilians and issue a damned order about obvious stuff like this."
9. Provide incentives for the production of renewable fuels and specialty chemicals from cellulosic biomass; give special attention to the desirability of using waste products as a feedstock, particularly where methane is thereby reduced. Muir points out that we should be moving away from hydrocarbons and toward carbohydrates generally as feedstocks for liquid fuels, electricity generation, and chemical production. But he is especially worried about a number of wastes producing methane if left in their natural state because of the latter's potency as a greenhouse gas—more than twenty times that of CO2.
"Fine with me, John," says Patton. "Let's clean stuff up while we get off oil—a threefer: helps thwart the terrorists, reduces that carbon you're so worried about, and things smell better. I'm gonna start calling you 'God's janitor.' Basically you're nine for nine. Pretty interesting—we keep getting to the same place as long as we don't have to agree with one another's reasons for going there. Who'da thought it?"
"But there are three things you didn't mention," he adds: "Nuclear power, hydrogen, and coal-to-liquid transportation fuels. I've seen a lot of guys lobbying lately on all three of those—must be some money behind 'em. What do you think?"
Patton and Muir talk for a while and agree that nuclear power plants may be an acceptable last resort if we have to add generating capacity in the United States. Muir winces at the prospect, but in spite of the waste storage problem he's always been worried about, he's come reluctantly to support nuclear in some cases because of nuclear plants' lack of carbon emissions. Patton has a nagging problem with terrorist threats to power plants, but agrees that it would be very hard to cause a core meltdown. The two agree we should definitely oppose spreading nuclear energy around the world to new countries, since with today's treaties and inspections it's impossible in practical terms to stop countries from using their nuclear "electricity" programs as a way to get into the nuclear weapons business.
The hydrogen discussion just takes a few seconds. Both see some uses for hydrogen, but when they start talking about driving the "hydrogen highway" in family cars with hydrogen fuel cells and hydrogen storage and pumps at neighborhood filling stations, they shake their heads, amazed at the cost—especially, they chuckle, since the only infrastructure fueling cost you need for plug-in hybrids is an extension cord for each car-driving household.
Coal-to-liquids (CTL) is their only area of disagreement. Muir hates the carbon it would produce; Patton likes the way it undermines oil. As they finish their discussion, Patton puts a hand on Muir's shoulder and says, "John, tell you what I'll do. Even though CTL plants would use American coal, which I like, some plants might need a big infrastructure that could be vulnerable to terrorists, which I don't like. I'm happy with your transportation ideas because they move us toward small local plants and distributed production of fuel, whether electricity or liquid—nicely resilient. How about this: unless they figure out how to sequester enough of the carbon from CTL to satisfy you, I won't drop this option but I'll move it down to the bottom of my list—but in exchange I'd like a little help from you on another matter: I think the Army needs at least two to three more armored divisions. What do you say?"
"George," laughs Muir, "You're a piece of work. I might be able to talk myself into rolling over for one or two of those things, but, if I do, for each one I support I'm going to need your backing for at least one new national park."
"John," says Patton, "I like your style. Say, can you hunt in those places?"
"George," gasps Muir, "you are absolutely imposs—"
Patton grins. "Just pullin' your chain."
As they stroll off together into the evening haze, Patton's ghost begins slightly to resemble Humphrey Bogart, and Muir's, Claude Raines. Patton grins and says, "Y'know, Johnny, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship."
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