Fixing Global Warming- 2 perspectives
This is part of a series exploring how collective intelligence can create a better world. Read the whole series here.
Think you’ve landed on the solution to the global warming crisis, if only you could get someone to hear you out? Tired of your friends and family suddenly remembering “other plans” and darting off the moment you start laying out your glorious ideas? Finally, there’s an alternative to tormenting your near-and-dear: Climate CoLab, a project from the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, wants to provide you — yes, you! — with a listening ear, through a platform that makes it easier for everyone to come up with solutions to climate change. Why are they so interested in what you have to say? Because, as Climate CoLab principal investigator Thomas Malone sees it, top-down approaches like international treaties or national legislation don’t seem like they’re going to get us out of our planetary pickles. So he’s decided to see what us regular schmos can come up with, instead.
By crowdsourcing ideas on everything from enacting carbon taxes to reducing bus emissions and designing more efficient buildings, Climate CoLab hopes to dig up “new angles, new perspectives, new ways of looking at things,” the lab’s community manager, Laur Fisher, says. CoLab staffers do this by organizing contests where anyone can submit a creative climate solution. Then they call on expert judges to weed through and pull out the schemes that actually might be feasible (because, as Malone explains, while crowds are very good at coming up with out-of-the box ideas, we’re not always very practical). Finally, the judges choose one set of winners, then turn to crowdsourcing again, letting users vote for their favorites. This not only creates a way for more people to get involved, but could also hone in on which solutions are socially viable, because, while groups of people aren’t necessarily the most analytical, “crowds can do a good job of assessing what crowds want,” Malone says — an important thing to know when trying to garner support in order to put a plan into action.
Last year, Climate CoLab held 18 contests, reeling in about 400 proposals from a fairly diverse group from around the world. Submissions ran the gamut from fun to pragmatic, and from grounded in reality … to clearly not. Examples of winning proposals include getting kids to develop eco-friendly habits through a Tamagotchi-like “pet” that you keep alive through green deeds, and developing power plants that remove excess CO2 via wet limestone scrubbing. While overall the contestants were an educated bunch – 84 percent had graduated from college, and 58 percent had completed or were currently attending graduate school – they didn’t necessarily come from environmental fields. For example, Dennis Peterson, who has now won three Climate CoLab contests, is a software engineer who calls himself an amateur when it comes to climate change. Still, he produced an overarching plan to reduce carbon emissions that won the popular choice award in 2011. He won another popular choice award in the “electric power sector” category in 2013 with his proposal to invest in nuclear fusion.
While winning a Climate CoLab contest doesn’t mean that your big idea will ever become reality, Fisher hopes the stamp of approval will lend a certain credibility to the ideas. “What we do have the privilege of at MIT is being a connective power,” Fisher says. From inventors and funders to experts and policy makers, “we do work really hard on connecting our winners with the right people to move things forward.” For Peterson, the awards meant he got to present his plans to a group at the United Nations, to another group of staffers at the U.S. Congress, and at a conference at MIT. “Before I started on all of this, I was on Reddit commenting on [climate-related articles] all the time. But that’s kind of less satisfying than talking to the UN or going to a conference,” Peterson says. “[Colab] is a way of taking ideas and putting them into a forum that has a little more chance of becoming something real.” When it comes to dealing with climate change, “we never know where the breakthrough ideas are going to come from, or what they’re going to look like,” Fisher says. Who knows: maybe, it could even be one of yours.
Samantha Larson is a science nerd, adventure enthusiast, and fellow at Grist. Follow her on Twitter.
2- The Big Fix
This is the first in a series of [New York Times] articles examining potential solutions to climate change.
By JUSTIN GILLIS MAY 30, 2014
Grates are the first step in capturing cow manure to remove methane, a greenhouse gas, and use it generate electricity, keeping the gas out of the air. Credit Sally Ryan for The New York Times Sally Ryan for The New York Times
KEWAUNEE, Wis. — Bryan T. Pagel, a dairy farmer, watched as a glistening slurry of cow manure disappeared down a culvert. If recycling the waste on his family’s farm would help to save the world, he was happy to go along. Out back, machinery was breaking down the manure and capturing a byproduct called methane, a potent greenhouse gas. A huge Caterpillar engine roared as it burned the methane to generate electricity, keeping it out of the atmosphere. The $3.2 million system also reduces odors at Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy, one of the largest in Wisconsin, but it would not have been built without a surprising source of funds: a California initiative that is investing in carefully chosen projects, even ones far beyond its borders, to reduce emissions as part of the battle against climate change. “When they came out here and told us they were willing to send us checks, we were thrilled,” Mr. Pagel said. California’s program is the latest incarnation of an increasingly popular — and much debated — mechanism that has emerged as one of the primary weapons against global warming. From China to Norway, Kazakhstan to the Northeastern United States, governments are requiring industries to buy permits allowing them to emit set levels of greenhouse gases. Under these plans, the allowable levels of pollution are steadily reduced and the cost of permits rises, creating an economic incentive for companies to cut emissions.
The system encourages companies to find the least expensive ways to make the cuts, either by adopting cleaner energy technology or by investing in outside emission-control projects, like the Pagels’ methane digester.
Congress rejected a national plan of this type during President Obama’s first term, but 10 states, including most of those in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, have developed their own programs. And the approach is expected to get a huge lift on Monday when Mr. Obama unveils a long-awaited national plan requiring states to lower their power plant emissions. One likely effect will be to encourage more states to adopt systems like California’s.
Already, the approach is spreading worldwide, with the number of people living in places that have such a system nearing one billion, or 14 percent of the world’s population, including about 80 million Americans.
“The point now is to say, look, this can work, it can be scaled, and please join,” said Frank A. Wolak, an economist at Stanford University.
Yet in the decade it has been used to tackle global warming, this approach has had a turbulent history. The world’s largest such system, in Europe, has had severe problems, including gyrations in the prices that polluters have to pay. Given a lack of evidence that the system can actually solve the emissions problem, some environmental groups and scientists have developed serious reservations…..
….California as Pioneer
Mary Nichols cut her teeth as a young lawyer by successfully suing the California state government for violating the federal Clean Air Act. She has long since become an insider, running the most powerful state environmental agency in the country, California’s Air Resources Board.
Ms. Nichols — chosen by a Republican governor and kept on by the Democrat who succeeded him — said that when her agency set out to create a carbon market, her European counterparts were candid in advising the state how not to repeat their mistakes. “It was an act of great generosity on their part,” she said. California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, signed in 2006 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, set a goal of lowering California’s greenhouse gases in 2020 to the 1990 level, a cut of 28 percent from the level they had been expected to reach in 2020 without the law.
Even after it was signed, the law was the subject of political and legal battles, with oil companies and other polluters fighting to overturn it. When voters were asked whether they wanted the state to tackle global warming in 2010, they voted 62 percent to 38 percent to move forward with the law, which requires more efficient cars, more renewable power on the state’s electric grid and many other steps. A centerpiece was a provision capping emissions from big polluters, including power generators and gasoline refiners, and setting up a permit-trading system…..
How a Carbon Market Works
Governments around the world are experimenting with issuing permits that allow industries to emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, then restricting those permits to rein in carbon emissions.
NY Times graphic from CA Air Resources Board
As the Climate Changes, So Does the Language
Climate change has created its own vocabulary of concepts and institutions. Here are a few of the terms that often come up in discussions of the problem and its proposed solutions.
Carbon market: A financial market where government-issued permits that regulate greenhouse-gas emissions are traded as a commodity.
Cap and trade: A government-created system to restrict emissions by imposing a limit, or cap, on the amount of pollution that can be spewed into the atmosphere by certain industries. The government issues permits or carbon allowances to industries for the amount of greenhouse gases they are allowed to emit, then gradually reduces the cap and the number of permits, providing a financial incentive for those companies to pollute less. Companies that need fewer permits can trade with those that need more permits on a financial commodities market, with the price driven by supply and demand. The higher the price of the permits, the greater the incentive to reduce emissions.
Greenhouse gas: A type of pollutant that scientists say contributes to global warming. The primary pollutant is carbon dioxide, but there is also methane, nitrous oxide and many refrigerants.
Carbon allowances: Government-issued permits to industries that allow them to pollute up to a certain limit.
Carbon offsets: Projects that lower carbon emissions in nonregulated industries, such as forestry or farming. These projects produce “offset credits” that can be traded on the carbon market and used by polluters to comply with emissions limits. Governments usually set limits on how many of these types of credits polluters can use.
Carbon price: The cost to industries or companies for each ton of greenhouse gas that is emitted in a given period. The cost can be established directly by the government, in the form of a tax or a set price for permits, or indirectly through carbon markets, where permits are traded freely and supply and demand sets the price.
Carbon pricing: A system that requires polluters to pay for their carbon emissions.
Pollution rights: Permission given by a government to an industry or company to pollute up to a certain controlled level. Such a system leaves it up to the company or industry to figure out the best way to stay within the limit.
Emissions Trading System: A financial market created by the European Union to trade the carbon allowances issued to industries to control carbon emissions. The system has been in effect since 2005 and covers about 11,000 power plants, industrial facilities and airlines in 31 countries.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: A body of scientists and other experts appointed by the United Nations to periodically assess and issue reports about the status and impact of climate change on the planet.
National Climate Assessment: A report issued periodically by the federal government and prepared by a panel of scientists and other experts, including representatives of fossil-fuel companies, to assess the status and impact of climate change on the United States.
Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative: A cap-and-trade system limiting emissions in nine states in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions. The system has raised $1.7 billion for the governments, which have mostly put the money back into clean-energy projects.
A version of this article appears in print on May 30, 2014, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: A Price Tag on Carbon as a Climate Rescue Plan. Order Reprints|Today’s Paper|Subscribe