Dollar Bill amongst leaves

A dollar a day keeps climate change at bay

Whoever said it isn’t easy being green clearly hasn’t met the scientists at Berkeley Lab, who unveiled analysis which could help offer a roadmap for the US to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

In conjunction with the University of San Francisco (USF) and the consulting firm Evolved Energy Research, Berkeley Lab has published detailed analysis, which suggests that the US could achieve carbon emissions neutrality by mid-century, at a net cost as little as $1 per person per day.

The analysis involved painstaking work to produce a model of the US energy and industrial sectors, offering readers the first ever peer-reviewed study into how the country could have a net-zero carbon economy by 2050.

Keeping the planet cooler

You may wonder, why does carbon neutrality by 2050 matter? In short, decarbonisation of the world’s most industrialised and post-industrial economies means saving us from nothing short of an ecological disaster down the road. If the entire world is in a position to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, global warming would be limited to 1.5 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels, according to the IPCC.

A rise by more than 1.5 degrees, and our planet could start to change beyond recognition. Coral reefs could go extinct, for example, along with a range of other lifeforms that inhabit our planet, setting off a chain reaction we can’t reverse.

By methodically increasing energy efficiency, switching to electric technologies, utilizing clean electricity (especially wind and solar power), and deploying a small amount of carbon capture technology, the United States can reach zero emissions

– Research article quote : Carbon Neutral Pathways for the United States

The US plays a pivotal role in convincing other countries to make the necessary changes in the next 29 years, having emitted 16.06 metric tonnes of CO2 per capita in 2019, according to Our World in Data.

“The decarbonization of the U.S. energy system is fundamentally an infrastructure transformation”, according to Margaret Torn, a senior scientist at Berkeley Lab, and a lead author of the recent study the lab co-wrote.

“It means that by 2050. we need to build many gigawatts of wind and solar power plants, new transmission lines, a fleet of electric cars and light trucks, millions of heat pumps to replace conventional furnaces and water heaters, and more energy-efficient buildings – while continuing to research and innovate new technologies.”

Less costly than you think

Most encouragingly, such a transformation as the one suggested by the recent paper need not be a costly endeavour. In fact, the various pathways to achieving net-zero carbon by 2050 have net costs which exist in a limited range, between little more than 0.2 per cent to 1.2 per cent of GDP. The main pathway would cost little more than 0.4 per cent of GDP over time, while the cheapest pathway, according to the paper, would allow 90 per cent of electricity to be generated by wind and solar power.

Other pathways include ideas for including solar, wind and bioenergy power generation in the US’ energy mix, but the paper admits such a pathway could prove more costly, and require more land to achieve such an outcome. Crucially, reliance on oil is something which could tip the scales, and affect costs even further.

As we’ve seen with the big freeze down in Texas recently, reliance on hydrocarbons supplied through poorly-insulated pipes led to blackouts and power cuts across the state, as the pipes froze and knocked out much of the state’s energy infrastructure. Oil prices over the next 29 years could be subject to violent swings, which may add to the costs down the road.

Limiting reliance on oil means transitioning towards a clean energy mix, which could result in potentially steadier energy prices. But why stop at net-zero emissions? Researchers estimate that pushing for negative carbon emissions (removing more carbon from the atmosphere than they add to it) could be achieved at a minimal cost (0.6 per cent of GDP) by mid-century, so long as investment in carbon capture, greater use of biofuel and other cleaner fuels is pursued.

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