It’s hard to imagine everybody making the necessary sacrifices for the U.S. to be carbon-neutral in 30 years, even if it does mean the difference between an inhabitable or uninhabitable planet. But an optimistic new study from Princeton claims that yes, it is possible.
The 345-page Princeton University report, published last Tuesday, explains several ways that the U.S. could attain the goal of carbon-neutrality by 2050. The report’s six pillars are efficiency and electrification; clean electricity; zero-carbon fuels; carbon capture and storage; non-CO2 emissions; and enhanced land sinks. The keys to success are quick government action and money upfront.
The clean electricity pillar relies on a dramatic increase in wind and solar power. This would provide many new jobs, and it would require a massive scaling up of production of turbines and photovoltaic systems. According to the study, we’d need up to 120 times as much capacity to produce the photovoltaics for solar power and 45 times our current capacity for wind turbines. Obviously, this is would require a huge commitment from the top. Individuals trading their Keurig for sun tea isn’t going to cut it.
The efficiency and electrification approach focuses on improving our end-use energy productivity. This means more efficient lighting and heating in businesses and homes, such as expanded use of heat pumps. However, some researchers have posited that this approach could have a rebound effect, as people save money on energy costs only to spend it on some other goods or services that use energy and release emissions. This approach also requires widespread use of electric vehicles.
The Princeton report also examines ideas like biogas or biomass collection and regenerating forests and other land sinks. What will all this take? Princeton estimates we can get to net-zero by 2050 with a $2.5 trillion investment, plus seriously committed and motivated leadership. But we need to start now.
Image via Angie Warren