What Are Ways to Solve Climate Change? | Opinion

This originally appeared on Quora. Answered by Richard Muller

Any solution must address the fact that the origin of future global warming is expected to come from emissions from the developing world. The developing world is poor, so any solution but be subsidized, profitable, or something that benefits the country in some other way.

There are three key methods that address all of these:

  1. Energy conservation and energy efficiency. This is generally more profitable than creation of new useful energy.
  2. Switch from coal to natural gas. This is particularly important in China. Natural gas has low air pollution, and China needs that benefit. The claim that fugitive methane is a serious problem is exaggerated.
  3. Nuclear power. It is safe, the waste problem has been solved, and it produces virtually no CO2.

I am not optimistic about the key solution touted by others: carbon tax. The reason is that the goal of carbon tax is to encourage the user to use a cleaner but more expensive source of energy. (If it were cheaper, no tax would be necessary.) Even though China claims to support the idea, and has tried it, I don’t believe it will be a major part of their program, because they currently can’t afford more expensive energy. Similarly for the rest of the developing world.

climate change The sun rises over an oil field in California’s Monterey Formation. David McNew/Getty Images

The US cannot afford to subsidize carbon free energy in the developing world. Best is to develop new technologies, and set an example that the developing world can afford to follow. On the three items above:

  1. Energy conservation. We have been developing efficient appliances and lightbulbs; that is good. The rest of the world is far ahead of the US in developing energy efficient autos, so we have little to contribute. Electric autos of the kind we are developing will not be affordable in the developing world. (And electric autos in China produce more CO2 than gasoline since they run on coal.)
  2. Natural gas. The US has been setting a good example. Our own emissions have been reduced, not because we planned to do so, but because natural gas has ½ to ⅓ the emissions of the old coal plants they replace.
  3. Nuclear. The US has set the wrong example. This is where we have been most derelict. The US has been saying to the world that nuclear power is not safe enough for us. That example discourages its use in the developing world. We need to show that we consider nuclear power safe, clean, and good for the world.

Global warming can be stopped. A vigorous program in the three items I list will do the job far better than would the treat proposed at Paris. The US needs to set a better example in energy conservation and nuclear; we need to continue to set the excellent example we have been setting in the use of shale gas.