That, apparently, is the only conclusion that can be drawn from a report in today’s Washington Post:
The task of cutting greenhouse gas emissions enough to avert a dangerous rise in global temperatures may be far more difficult than previous research suggested, say scientists who have just published studies indicating that it would require the world to cease carbon emissions altogether within a matter of decades.
Their findings, published in separate journals over the past few weeks, suggest that both industrialized and developing nations must wean themselves off fossil fuels by as early as mid-century in order to prevent warming that could change precipitation patterns and dry up sources of water worldwide.
Using advanced computer models to factor in deep-sea warming and other aspects of the carbon cycle that naturally creates and removes carbon dioxide (CO2), the scientists, from countries including the United States, Canada and Germany, are delivering a simple message: The world must bring carbon emissions down to near zero to keep temperatures from rising further.
Leaving aside the scientific merits of this proposal and talk about politics and practicality for a second.
Politically, it seems incredibly unlikely that the rest of the world is going to convince a nation like China, whose output of greenhouse gases in increasing at an annual rate of 8% to leave aside the economic growth that using fossil fuels is bringing them for the “good of the planet.” And without getting the Chinese on board, reductions from the rest of the world are, at least according to this study, going to be entirely meaningless.
Practically, reducing carbon emissions to almost zero within mere decades would either mean scientific advances at a rate we’ve never seen before, or a return to a pre-industrial state of living, because even so-called green energies aren’t entirely green:
The only power sources that produce little or no carbon are nuclear, wind, geothermal, and, maybe, solar and tidal. Hydroelectric, i.e. damming rivers and using the force of falling water to move turbines that generate electricity. The dams produce lots of carbon in the form of methane released into the atmosphere from the slowed water behind the dam. Various alternative fuels, e.g. ethanol produced from whatever source and biodiesel also produce carbon. They’re no solution.
Actually producing solar cells produces carbon, too.
Wind, solar, geothermal, and tidal have similar problems, i.e. you’ve either got to transport the power to where the people who need it are or you’ve got to move the people to where the power is (or both).
I don’t know what the solution is, but advocating a return to the stone age certainly isn’t it.