Preventing a Climate Catastrophe
by John Rudolph

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Economic Incentives for Reducing Emissions

Malcolm Wilson - photo by John Rudolph

"This is the most complete laboratory of its kind anywhere in the world," says Malcolm Wilson, who runs the office of energy and environment at the University of Regina. Inside a building that looks like an airplane hanger, scientists conduct tests on a working model of a power plant smoke stack. Their goal is to develop an inexpensive method for removing carbon dioxide from power plant emissions.

Economics and technology go hand-in-hand in the effort to cut emissions of greenhouse gasses.

Wilson continues, "What we need to do is really figure out what the economic benefits of avoiding climate change really are, so that we can start to set a real value on CO2 that we prevent from release to the atmosphere."

This idea of putting a price on carbon, so you know how much money you are saving by not releasing it into the atmosphere, may be just as important as technological advances like carbon capture and storage. Some countries impose a tax on carbon emissions. Norway's carbon tax helped bring about a CO2 capture and storage project on a Norwegian gas platform in the North Sea.

There is broad agreement that if the right economic incentives are put in place, the technology will quickly follow. But where to focus those incentives? There are several competing strategies for curbing emissions.

"Efficiency, renewable energy, and carbon capture and storage," says David Hawkins, director of the climate change program at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington D.C. Energy efficiency is at the top of his list.

"As the world grows, the smarter we are about using energy, the more economic well-being we can support without having to either strip a lot of fossil fuels off the landscape or occupy a lot of the landscape with windmills or solar panels. And so there's always gonna be an advantage for efficiency."

While University of Calgary climate researcher David Keith agrees that efficiency is important, he points out that even when efficient methods are available, people don't always use them. Gas-guzzling Hummers still sell when gas prices reach record levels.

What excites Keith is new technology. A number of emission reduction technologies are already in use - solar energy, hydro-power, planting trees and crops to absorb carbon dioxide - and one of Keith's favorites: wind energy.

"Wind power is just raring to go," says Keith. "The rate is going up like a rocket, and there are enormous amounts of companies who are eager to supply wind power."

Wind supplies 20 percent of Denmark's electricity, 6 percent of Germany's power, and 4 percent of Spain's.

In the United States, less than one percent of the nation's electricity comes from wind power. But some states, including California, Texas and Minnesota, are aggressively developing their wind resources.

Next - Minnesota Windmills

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