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According to the U.S. Congressional Research Service, the U.S. has spent $1.3 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. What would have happened if that money had been spent on projects to reduce the amount of electricity that is generated from fossil fuels? To find an answer to that question, I searched the internet for data. Here’s what I found:
That level of spending would have paid for:
The outfitting with solar energy panels of more than 48 million single family homes. This would have reduced the demand for electricity generated by fossil fuels by 20.3 percent.
The construction of mega wind farms that would have generated 125 percent of the electricity that we generate with fossil fuels, while using only 1.15 percent of our land.
Depending on which approach we used, these changes would have reduced our CO2 emissions by from 891 to 2,345 million tons per year. The higher number – which would result from mega wind farm construction – is equal to more than 17 percent of total estimated global CO2 emissions from electrical power generation.
If there was the same level of spending globally to switch from fossil fuels to wind or solar, global CO2 emissions due to electrical generation could be reduced by nearly 50 percent by 2050. To eliminate all of the electrical power CO2 emissions would require a doubling in spending to $260 billion per year. While a lot of money, it needs to be kept in mind that this is just double what the U.S. alone has spent on warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan and is only equal to a little over 4 percent of global GDP of $62 trillion.
Still, some scientific models suggest that to avoid catastrophic climate change, the elimination of CO2 emissions is necessary by 2020, less than ten years away! The generation of electricity would be emission free by that time if spending were increased to $1 trillion per year. This seems like an impossibly high level of spending, but it is equal to only about 1.7 percent of global GDP! Plus, it would also eliminate the need for spending on fossil fuel projects.
How could such a worldwide program be implement and funded? It would seem that a necessary first step would be the establishment of a multi-national body of scientists and leaders that would be responsible for developing an intervention strategy based on an anticipated level of spending. The strategy would consist of a timeline of specific projects that would be undertaken in all of the countries of the world. Funds would be committed by each nation based on its level of CO2 emissions. To meet the 2020 deadline, this would require an annual commitment from the United States of about $185 billion. Again, while a lot of money, this is equal to only about 5 percent of total federal spending in 2010.
Of course, the implementation of such a strategy won’t solve the problem of CO2 emissions entirely. The effects of transportation – which emits nearly 2,000 million tons of CO2 per year – will be left unaddressed. And as that dimension is addressed, there will likely be impact on this dimension, the obvious being additional electrical demand caused by electric vehicles. Of course, there would also be a concomitant reduction in CO2 emissions from those sources.
There is also the possibility that the solar and wind technologies analyzed here will be found to not be suitable for uniform worldwide distribution. Mega wind or solar projects or the outfitting of homes with solar panels may simply not work everywhere. This leaves an unknown in terms of spending and technology.
Still, this analysis suggests that the problem of climate change is eminently manageable from both a cost and a technology standpoint. What has so far been missing (as has been so often proclaimed) is the will to take action.
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About the Author
Edward J Jepson
Edward J. Jepson, Jr. has a masters degree and a Ph.D. in Urban and Regional Planning. Before its closure in 2009, he taught planning for e
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