Climate Change: Accelerating the Search for Solutions with Chris Field

The fact that the room is really full
today, it says that we’re really in kind of a different era in awareness
of the issue of climate change. What’s really brought it home to me,
is that I get more questions now about climate change anxiety than
about climate change solutions.>>[APPLAUSE]
>>But what I want to do it is to present what I would call a guardedly
optimistic approach. I wanna explain how, especially based
on the work we’re doing here, but around the world, there is a path forward. And that’s a path forward that
allows us to build a combination of robust economies and
vibrant communities. I’ll spend just a couple minutes
characterizing where we are with climate change, where we might be headed. And then I wanna unravel
kinda piece by piece how we can build a durable set of solutions. I think everybody is aware of the fact
that climate has been more warming over more than a century. Essentially, no question that we have
seen dramatic warming on the land and on the oceans. A few years ago when the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change, the official body that reports on
where we are with the science, said that there’s no question,
it’s warm, it’s unequivocal. And it’s extremely likely,
more than 98% likely, that the majority of the warming over the last half century,
or so is caused by humans. Rather than provide you with a lot
of details of why we have this level of confidence,
I wanna take you back a few more decades. This is a paper that was published
in April of 1896 by a brilliant Swedish chemist,
a gentleman named Svante Arrhenius. And it’s about what you would expect
to happen in terms of climate if you were to double the concentration
of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. And what’s striking is,
in 1896, 123 years ago, Arrhenius knew the three key
things that you need to know to make an accurate assessment of
the effects of CO2 on climate. He knew that carbon dioxide
is a heat-absorbing gas, he knew roughly what
wavelengths it absorbs. And it absorbs the energy that you and
I emit or that objects that are about
our temperature emit. He understood that a warmer atmosphere
holds more water vapor, and that water vapor is
a powerful greenhouse gas, amplifying whatever the effects
of carbon dioxide are. And he understood in 1896,
that over many decades there’s a gradual partitioning of carbon
dioxide between the atmosphere and the oceans, with most of it
eventually ending up in the oceans. You take these three pieces and
you put them together, and you can come up with an estimate of what
happens if you double carbon dioxide. Arrhenius got about the right answer,
and for the last 123 years, there have been literally tens of
thousands of scientific papers that have challenged each one of those three
fundamental pieces of our understanding. And not found any of them
to be incorrect in any way. So all of our research about fine tuning
has been about, are there factors that amplify a little bit or suppress
a little bit the amount of warming. What happens in terms of the spatial
distributions of temperature and precipitation. And what happens to
the temporal distributions and the rate at which these changes unfold. I think the fact that this
understanding has been robust for more than a century, provides a little
bit of a grounding about why we feel like the challenge is well
understood enough to take action on. The way I think about it is that
the fundamentals of climate change, are understood kind of like the same level
as which we understand the function of electric motor or a fluorescent light. What we also know is that we have
clearly exited the era where climate change impacts
are about future hypotheticals. We’re seeing climate change
impacts around the world now. And we’re seeing impacts that
are increasingly severe, widespread, and
in some cases irreversible. I’ll highlight just a few of
the kinds of things we are seeing. And these are well known to most of you
and they are in the news almost everyday. It’s a picture of Oroville reservoir
during California historic drought from 2012 to 2016. It’s the same reservoir that have
the spillway damage by having too much precipitation in 2017. And what we know with a very high level of
confidence is that this kind of pervasive drought gets to be more and more frequent
as the summertime temperatures get to be warmer, essentially no question. It’s a picture of the of the Lake fire
from 2016, four of the 20 biggest fires that California has ever experienced
have been in the last two years. And there’s no question that
there’s a strong link between warm summer conditions, dry fuels,
and the propensity for fires to reach these catastrophic
magnitudes that we’ve seen. There are other factors that are involved
in the increase in malfire as well, but there’s no question of a role for
climate change. The third example I want to
talk just briefly about is, this super heavy precipitation we’re
seeing with recent hurricanes. This one’s from Hurricane Harvey
near near Houston. And and we have known for a long time that
a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture. We know that a warmer ocean can
allow hurricanes to persist for longer amounts of time. And we know that a decrease in the
temperature gradient between the Equator and the poles tends to
slow the steering winds. So that hurricanes now have a potential to
stay around for days rather than hours. And all of those
contribute to the historic precipitation that we’re
seeing in places like Houston. So there’s no question that there’s
a link with climate change. That the kind of events that we’re seeing, that are really causing significant
disruption in the last days. You’ve probably read about the,
more than $30 billion of liability that PG&E faces for
recent wildfires in California. If we look into the future, the simplest thing we can say
is that the more it warms, the more we risk impacts
that are truly unmanageable. And and I want to talk about thinking
about this lesson in a slightly different way than you’ve
probably heard about. And we have a tremendous ability to
adapt to changing circumstances. Humans are amazingly adaptable species,
and as long as things aren’t fundamentally
out of control, we can adapt. But there’s a risk with large amounts
of warming that will pass a series of tipping points that change
the world from one that’s manageable fundamentally to
one that’s fundamentally not. And I wanna talk about this a little bit, setting a stage with a picture
of two possible features. If you look at that top figure,
the blue banner across the bottom, is essentially what we might expect
in a world of ambitious mitigation. This is a world that stabilizes global
temperatures at somewhere between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius above
pre-industrial levels. It’s a world where we see about as much
warming in the future as we’ve seen from the start of
the Industrial Revolution till now The amount of warming is shown
on the left hand panel here. And it’s a world where
I’ll argue as we go along, we can fundamentally use the adaptation
tools that are available to us, to manage the impacts
of a changing climate. In the pink banner across the top figure,
is a world of continued high emissions. This is a world that has not only warmed
something like 8 Fahrenheit since pre industrial, but as a world it’s warming
it almost 1 degree Fahrenheit per decade. And I’d argue and so
a world that’s shown here in the in the right hand image at
the end of the 21st century, this is a world where most continental
areas are 8 to 10 Fahrenheit average. Warmer than they were in
pre-industrial times. And where there are a wide range
of lines of evidence that indicate that we really can’t even predict
what the impacts would be, the probability of cascade and
tipping points is so great that we’re really on very thin
ice when we try to predict specifics. I just wanna talk about two
important aspects of the, the evolution of these impacts over time. If you look at the period from now
until pretty close to mid century, the striking thing about the two
temperature column banners maybe, for what happens is that there’s really a lot
of overlap between what happens in a world of ambitious mitigation, the blue banner
and a world of continued high emissions. They don’t really separate
over the next few decades. And you can think about this as
an era of committed climate change. This is an area of,
think about it as climate responsibility. A bunch more changes here occur,
we need to be prepared for those and we need to make investments
in dealing with them. The second half of the century is
really an era of climate options, where decisions that we make, when we
should have made a decade or so ago and that will make for the next decade
will really control whether or not those two banners do separate or not. And they control the difference between a
world that’s fundamentally manageable, and one does not. Let me talk just a little bit about
what kind of tipping points we might anticipate. And with each of these, we have a very high level of confidence
that there is a tipping point. We have a low level of
confidence about where it is. We have high confidence that
we haven’t passed it yet. And we have pretty high confidence that in
that world of continued high emissions at the end of the century, a world that’s
maybe 8 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial, we will
have crossed one or more. But one of the most important
ones concerns sea level rise. This is a picture of an ice
sheet in Antarctica. And there’s a,
incredibly important geophysical factor that creates a tipping
point that commits us over some centuries to many
meters of sea level rise. The nature of this tipping point is
because ice is really really heavy, it pushes continental areas down,
and if you look at the surface of the rocks under Antarctica,
they’re sloped inward from the coast. And once the grounding line where the edge
of the ice is sitting on the rocks and no longer floating passes this point
where the continent is tipping downward, going inward,
the ice becomes fundamentally unstable. Even if we cool the climate again, it will continue to retreat as a result
of the physics of the way ice moves. So there is some point at which
large parts of Antarctica cross a tipping point such as
even if we call later, we’ll see, over a few hundred years,
several meters of sea level rise. During the 21st century,
in the world of ambitious mitigation, we might see another 1 to
2 feet of sea level rise. That’s gonna cause real problems,
it’s already causing real problems. During the 21st century in a world
of continue to high emissions, we might see three to four
feet of sea level rise and the most recent estimates from NOAA, are
numbers up to 9 feet of sea level rise. But once we pass this tipping point,
we’re committed over the next, say 400 years to something like
50 feet of sea level rise. Now 50 feet of sea level rise totally
eliminates most coastal cities, dozens of small island nations
fundamentally disappear. And to the extent that there’s a truly
existential component to climate change risk this large amounts of sea
level rise from a sheet collapse. Really represents a fundamental one. And it’s interesting and important to recognize that that’s
changes over several centuries. But if you think about
the world’s great coastal cities, almost all of them have been there for
several centuries. A second tipping point I wanna talk about
operates in a fundamentally different way. This is a tipping point, such that,
even if we reduce human-caused greenhouse gas emission to zero, emissions continue
from the non-human parts of the world. This is a picture of a frozen soil in
eastern Siberia, it’s called a yedoma soil, and it contains very large amounts
of organic matter that are frozen into it. So organic matter that’s accumulated
over the last 50,000 years and represents an amount of
carbon dioxide equivalent, that’s about 4 times the amount
that’s in the atmosphere now. Most of you know that high latitudes
are the part of the planet that’s warming most rapidly. As these frozen soils thaw, this organic
matter, it’s basically frozen grasses and little plants,
is exposed to the atmosphere, and we know from experimental studies
where people chopped it up and thawed it out that this
can decompose rapidly. Some of it decomposes as carbon dioxide,
some of it decomposes as methane, an even more powerful greenhouse gas. And as it does that, we risk crossing
a tipping point where continued thawing of the permafrost results in
an increment of warming that is sufficient to cause the next amount of permafrost to
thaw and gets us into a vicious cycle. And once we pass that the even
if human emissions of greenhouse gases are brought down to zero,
we’ll see a continuous increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and
it continue with warming. So this is a tipping point where the
warming becomes potentially unstoppable. The third kinda tipping point I wanna talk
about is more of a social one, and climate change is a complicated problem we need
the world to work together to solve it. And this genuine concern that the ability
of the world to maintain things like cohesive governments really depends
on the amount of warming that occurs. This is really beautiful work from my
colleague in the department Earth’s system science Marshal Burke. And what Marshal and his colleagues
observed is that, when you look at most climate change impacts that we have
been able to explore in detail, they have the structure
that you can see here that temperature has relatively little effect
and then you kind of fall off a cliff. This is the pattern for corn yield, but
you see the same thing if you look at for example, worker productivity,
and the temperature doesn’t make much difference,
you hit some temperature fall off a cliff. If you if you look at whole economies,
you see a similar thing, if you look back in time, For countries that are in
places that are currently cool, an unusually warm year results
in a increase in GDP per capita. In countries that are currently warm, an
unusually warm year results in a decrease in output per capita, reflecting
this kind of pattern expressed over the hundreds of thousands of components
that go into making a macroeconomic GDP. So if you take this pattern,
observed from the data of what’s happened over the world’s
economies over the last 50 years, and say, okay, let’s take that sensitivity. And now we’ll put it into these
projections of what a world of continued high emissions might look like
at the end of the century. You get a pattern like this one,
where the countries that are shown in blue benefit, they get an increase in per
capita GDP from the warming that occurs. And the countries that are shown in red
have a deficit, a decrease in per capita GDP from the warming that occurs,
and the effect is large. You can see that the impact
in Europe is that projected warming would increase
per capita GDP by about 50%. And the projected warming at this
level would decrease per capita GDP in Southeast Asia and
Sub-Saharan Africa by about 75%. Of course, there are many, many other factors that influence
per capita GDP on top of this. But this temperature sensitivity
emerges very clearly from the observations to date. And when I look at a pattern like this,
with essentially all of the developing world suffering profound
negatives from a changing climate, and much of the developed
world experiencing positives. It speaks to me about the risk of
a world that becomes ungovernable, in terms of approaching solutions
that need to be addressed by the world community taken together. So there are at least these three kinds of
tipping points that we need to be aware of, one related to commitment to
large amounts of sea level rise. A second one that’s related to
the possibility that the warming becomes a vicious cycle that can’t be stopped,
even if emissions go to zero. And the third one is a little
less well-established. But it speaks to the risk that, if climate change is producing divergent
effects in different parts of the world, there’s a real risk that we wouldn’t
have the ability to produce the kind of governance that’s necessary
to yield real solutions. So how much time do we
have to solve the problem? A really useful way to think about this.>>[LAUGH]
>>I have a point here [LAUGH]. So the the way to think about this is
that there’s a strikingly one-to-one relationship between the amount of
greenhouse gases that are emitted by human activity, from the start
of the Industrial Revolution until the time the last ton is emitted, and
the amount of warming that occurs. And so we know, with a high level of
confidence, that if we wanna have a 66% chance of keeping the total
warming below 1 and a half centigrade, which is the level that’s been
discussed most recently in the Paris climate agreement,
we can release 2,790 billion tons of CO2. And it sounds like a really,
really big number, and you say, well, great, why worry about it? But the number that we’ve already released
through 2017 is 2,220 billion tons. That means that, in some sense, the remaining budget is 570. It’s a small fraction of what
the lifetime budget was. And the rate at which we’re emitting,
and 2017’s the most recent year for which we have data,
was about 42 billion tons per year. So you guys are Stanford graduates, you’re good at arithmetic,
divide 41.7 into 570. And that says that we’re essentially
committed to a warming of 1 and a half Celsius, and
if emissions continue at the 2017 rates, in something like August of 2031. Put that in your calendars. Now, the reason that I’m optimistic isn’t because I think we can
maintain the budget within this level. But I think that the important difference
we wanna focus on going forward is finding ways to decrease the emissions and
keep us a world of ambitious mitigation, in contrast to
the world of continuing high emissions. And at least for me,
it’s about finding the accelerator pedal, and that’s what I really wanna talk
about for the rest of this time. So how are we gonna solve this problem? Really, there are five key pieces,
and unfortunately, we often only talk about
the technology piece. The technology piece is important,
but it’s far from the most important. The five pieces are technology, finance. Somehow we gotta pay for this. Policy, how do we incentivize
the right behaviors? Adaptation, how do we deal with
the climate changes that can’t be avoided? And leadership. So before I start talking
about the specifics, let me say just one more quick thing
about the nature of the problem. Everybody has their favorite thing
that’s producing greenhouse gases, and for some people, it’s transportation,
and for other people, it’s electricity. Some people care about
building heating and cooling. But a lot of the reason this is
a hard problem is because there are greenhouse gas emissions associated
with almost everything in the economy. There certainly is some
that comes from transport, although if you look at the global total,
transport’s only about 15%. Electricity is a big sector,
making things, heating and cooling buildings is a big sector. A really important sector that we often
don’t focus sufficiently on is the one at the top that’s shown in green, and is
agriculture, forestry, and other land use. In many senses, this ag sector is the
biggest contributor to greenhouse gases, and it’s one of the ones
that’s the most challenging. The ones that we’re really
set to make rapid progress on are mostly the electricity and
transport sectors. Here’s another way to look
at that same set of data. We tend to talk all the time about carbon
dioxide, which is the top bar there. We’re currently getting just a little more
than 2 watts per meter squared out of carbon dioxide, and 2 watts per meter
squared doesn’t sound like much. That’s like one little
Christmas tree bulb. But there are a lot of meters squared in
the world, and if you add enough of them, you get a profound impact of warming. But it’s not the only greenhouse gas. That second bar, it says other WMGHG,
so other well-mixed greenhouse gases. It’s got methane, natural gas, which
comes not only from only gas production, but also from agriculture and
animal husbandry. Nitrous oxide, laughing gas, is an important climate change agent
that comes mainly from agriculture. It comes from the management of manure and from putting too much
fertilizer on fields. And halocarbons, refrigerants that are And another one of these sort of sticking
points in climate as we deploy more and more air conditioning to help people
adapt to rising temperatures. We use more and more of these refrigerants
that are powerful greenhouse gases. It’s also important to
note that there are some human made gases that
are making it cooler, and that includes the two blue bars at
the bottom which are labeled as aerosols. It’s basically the kinds of pollutants
that come from burning diesel, and from coal fired power plants,
and the particles, profound impacts on human health, but they are
making the climate a little bit cooler. And as we have made progress in cleaning
up air pollution, we actually have amplified the amount of warming we get
from any given mix of greenhouse gases. Okay, now I’m ready to transition
to the solutions portfolio. And I wanna emphasize that there’s no
single solution that is a total home run. I like to say there’s no silver bullet,
but there is silver buckshot. And it’s everything from increasing efficiency to being
thoughtful about adaptation. And let’s start looking
at at what we can do to get the carbon out of the energy system. The first thing we can do, by far the most
cost effective is to increase efficiency. This is a picture of Jim Sweeney, I don’t know if anybody took a class
from Jim Sweeney in SNE, but has been counting of energy efficiency for
a half century. And is just demonstrated with convincing
detail that it’s the cheapest, highest impact thing we can do to decrease
the emission of greenhouse gasses. The second thing we need to work
on when we look at manage and demand is the growth of human population. There have been a number of studies now
that have shown that simply meeting existing demand for family planning can
reduce emissions with an abatement cost, or cost per missions reduced for
about $1 per ton of CO2. And across the rest of the economy, we look at costs from anywhere
from 10 to $1,000 a ton of CO2. So managing demand across the full
spectrum of ways that we can do it, super important. Often these are the most cost effective,
in fact, they yield economic benefits. The second thing we do need to do is
focus on making electricity carbon free. I don’t know does anybody recognize
this particular PV array? This is Stanford’s first large scale
PV array, it’s in Kern County. It’s a 50 megawatt array. And when Stanford’s second big PV array
comes online, which will probably be next year in Fresno County,
the university will be producing more electricity from photovoltaics
than it consumes on an annual basis. The next thing we need to,
one thing, backwards. The other thing that’s really striking
about 100% non-emitting electricity is it we have now passed a threshold
where we are almost all the world. Electricity from renewable
especially wind and solar is cheaper than
electricity from fossil fuel for the next generation of PV array
that Stanford has bought. The long term purchase price for the
electricity is two cents a kilowatt hour. And that’s about half of what
you would need to pay for just the fuel to make electricity
from natural gas or from coal. So Stanford’s approach is not
only making a consumer have 100% renewable electricity, but
it’s also saving the university money and the most recent studies indicate
that over two-thirds of the world renewal was the cheapest
way to add electricity. There’s some reasons that we’re not
seeing it go instantly everywhere, but cost isn’t the main factor
that’s limiting at this point. So once we’ve got 100% renewable
electricity, we need to electrify as much as possible and that includes things
like electrifying light transportation. And we’ve reached a transition,
I would argue, where in many environments, electric vehicles are not only
the lowest polluting option, but also the most attractive in
terms of the owners experience. I don’t have a Tesla, I wish I did. But the electric I have is
really fun to drive and and it’s just an outstanding car. And then there’s some things where we
truly don’t have technology alternatives, that include things like making cement,
or making steel, or flying airplanes.>>[COUGH]
>>And for those, we need to use carbon offset so that the emissions
from the manufacturing or flying are offset by the removal of CO2 in
either something like growing forests or are captured from the atmosphere and
pumped underground. The photo on the right hand side is a picture of an ethanol producing
plant that’s in Decatur, Illinois. And it is currently in
the ethanol manufacturing process capturing and pumping underground
a million tons per year of CO2. It sounds like a lot and it is a lot. It’s a tiny fraction what we need to do,
but it’s a wonderful technology demonstration. So when we look at the energy options, the striking thing is how many there
are and how cost effective they are. And they go from wind and
solar to biomass electricity, to net power, the electricity generation
system with built in carbon capture and storage that’s currently
deployed in Houston. To large scale hydro to nuclear, and we
can talk about nuclear later if you want. There are some big challenges and that
the biggest challenge in transitioning to 100% wind and solar powered electricity
system is how you do the storage. It’s not that hard to figure out how
you do storage for a few minutes or a few hours. Sources like the batteries and the Tesla
Power Wall, work really well for that. Once you get the longer term storage,
it really gets to be a lot more challenging and we don’t have all
the pieces of the technology answer. A one key piece is gonna be like what
you see in the upper right hand photo. That’s a picture of Stanford’s
central energy system, I don’t know if you guys have visited it,
I think it’s coolest part of campus.>>[LAUGH]
>>And it basically is three gigantic tanks that store hot and
cold water and the basic idea is when we have
renewable electricity available, we use that electricity
to make hot water and cold water that we can use to heat and
cool the buildings. And then when the sun’s not shining,
the winds not blowing. We still have that hot and
cold water that’s available. Now those of you who are keeping up with
Stanford news probably noticed that there were a couple of cooling curtail
months this summer that indicate we still have a couple of kinks that
haven’t been worked out entirely. But it has the potential to be just
an incredibly important energy storage system. And I talked about the, when we talk
about the cost of energy storage, it’s about $100 a kilowatt hour for
the batteries. And probably about $10 a kilowatt hour for
the thermal storage. Another set of options that’s
probably more like $1 a kilowatt hour is pumped hydro. This is a nice example of a Purpose
built reservoir where when the sun’s not shining, the water runs from the top
reservoirs to the bottom one. When the sun is shining and
you got tons of extra electricity, you pump the water from
the bottom one of the top one. And you can think about this
as just a giant battery. But it’s a giant low tech battery that’s
made of dirt rather than than cobalt and all these things that are hard to mine. And then a final set of storage
technologies that I think we’ll be attracted in the long run
is we’re getting better and better at making chemicals
from electricity. And when you were in junior high, you
probably did experiments where you used a battery to electrolyse water and
hydrogen and oxygen. If you have a lot of free electricity,
you can make hydrogen from it. And once you have hydrogen,
that can be a raw material for making a wide variety of useful chemicals,
up to and including if you wanted to,
jet fuel or other hydrocarbons. So I think in the long run, this pathway
is gonna be incredibly important for producing large amounts of storage that,
I mean, we can have the kind of grid
reliability that hopefully, gets us away from that PG&E power cutoffs. Also, we’re seeing technology advances
that are extremely important in a wide range of other areas. It’s a picture of the impossible burger. And I mentioned that the largest
source of emissions overall, the largest source of climate change
forcing us from agriculture, forestry, and other land use, the meat production is
probably the source of two-thirds of that. And if we can find ways to
produce meat more effectively, explore meat alternatives, we really can make big progress on
a huge contributor to climate change. I wanna mention one other area of
technology solutions, before leaving it. Not cuz I think it’s a good idea but just
because people ought to be aware of it. And there’s been a lot of discussion about offsetting warming by shooting
a different pollutant in the atmosphere, one that tends to reflect light,
rather than to absorb it. And it’s often called solar geoengineering
or solar radiation management. I’m involved now in work to evaluate
whether this would be a cheap and simple way to offset warming. And it looks like the answer is like most
of the technology solutions that we’ve explored is the things that look
like they’re gonna be cheap and simple in the early stages are a lot more
complicated, a lot more expensive, and a lot more difficult to
manage in the long run. And so I encourage people not to
be counting on solar radiation management as the ultimate fix, in addition to which it doesn’t address
many of the impacts of climate change. Okay, let me switch to just a couple
of quick comments on finance. I think that that the message
I wanna to leave you with in the technology space is that we really
have a compelling set of technologies. They’re entirely affordable in
many cases but their financial and policy impediments to them being
deployed is as rapidly as they should. There’s sort of two philosophies of
the way that decarbonization might spread through the world’s developing countries. One is that the developed countries do
it first, and these technologies become cheap, then they become the attractive
option to the developing world. The other is that we find some way in
order to incentivize the adoption, the technologies earlier in the developing
world with some kind of cash investments. But nobody’s gonna invest in any of
these technologies unless there’s a good prospect of reasonable rate of return. The thing that’s been so
challenging over the last few years, in the last several years, has been
a flip flopping policy regime where there are incentives and
there weren’t and they were back. And it makes it really, really hard
to make thoughtful investments. And this expectation of a stable
regulatory environment, absolutely fundamental. And in addition to that, we already have a
whole bunch of subsidies that are in place that favor the legacy
technologies whether it’s for electricity production or
for liquid fuels. And simply creating
a level playing field for the non-emitting option
is incredibly important. Another thing that’s really important
is that the traditional energy sources have access to a whole bunch
of important financial tools that renewable energy simply doesn’t. And this includes things like
long-term loans at appropriate rates, or access to master limited partnerships,
just a wide range of financial instruments that are extremely important
for making something like this work. And then as I sort of
started down the road before, there really needs to be
an understanding that it’s the companies with the financial wherewithal
are either gonna do this first and drive the cost down or they need to start
making investments and seeing it happen. One of the things I hope was clear in
my earlier comments is that climate change is something where even if the US, the entire developed world finds
a way with zero emissions in 2050. If that technology hasn’t
penetrated to the developing world, it doesn’t help anybody. Let me say a few things about policy. In the United States,
the foundation on which our policies for tackling climate change is based
is the 2009 Endangerment Finding where the EPA is required to
address greenhouse gas emissions. I was involved in a study earlier this
year that asks if there’s any evidence indicating that the Endangerment Finding
was not robust scientifically. And what we found across every
category they looked at, it said the evidence is much stronger now. And the range of impacts is much
greater than was anticipated. We’ve been fortunate so far that
the one thing that the EPA has not tried to roll back is this
Endangerment Finding. So the legal foundations for
tackling climate change is still in place. But it’s really interesting when
you look at this specific policies, there’s a super wide range of things. So for example,
there’s an investment tax credit on solar, illustrated in
the upper-right panel there. California has a low carbon fuel
standard that’s been important for decreasing emissions from
vehicle transportation. And there’s been a ton of discussion
about implementing a carbon tax. As you know California has a cap-and-trade
which is kinda similar to a carbon tax. And economists always argue that putting
a price on carbon is the most effective way to decrease emissions. The experience in California,
I don’t know for California is but for every ten environmental regulations
that are released in California, nine of them get tied up in lawsuits. And so I’m a big believer in
going with multiple approaches. But there is an expectation
that a carbon tax of $50 a ton, that’s about $0.50 on a gallon of
gasoline would push us off the current emissions to something that’s well within
the standards of the Paris Agreement and would reduce emissions
by something like 50%. When we think about policy it’s important
to recognize it’s not just the federal government, it’s a little
about California. There’s also a really a lot of encouraging
progress going on among corporates. Walmart has a project
called Project Gigaton. It’s intended to remove billion tons
of CO2 from their supply chain. We can often think about Walmart as
a leader in environmental efforts. But this is by far the largest
corporate commitment to sustainability. And Walmart has an emissions profile and they it’s about half as many emissions
as we have across all of California. So really giant impacts and
they’re ones where Walmart is taking partly as a good
governance investment, but partly because they see
themselves saving money as well. Let me just say a couple
things about adaptation. We tend to think about if we wanna
solve the climate problem without, what we really need to invest
in is decreasing emissions. But I hope the message that
you’re taking from my comments is that what we really wanna do is
produce a livable world in the future. And that livable world has got to
be a mix of keeping ourselves in this world of ambitious mitigation so
that adaptation can work. And adaptation can work, we know that
it often produces win-wins in terms of economic development and
protecting people from disasters. It’s everything from building
smart infrastructure, having good insurance mechanism for
sharing risk. Early warning has time and
time again proven it to be most effective investment in protecting lives and
property. In some cases we’re seeing
that protective structures, thing like sea walls really work. And increasingly people are looking
at not only the need for relocation but options for
using relocation, moving individuals, communities,
whole island populations, in a way that it isn’t declaring defeat
but moving toward a better life. So the way I think about adaptation
is that we wanna be preparing for tomorrow while we’re improving our
competitiveness and resilience for today. Okay, I wanna talk about one other theme
that’s really important in all of this. And it’s really striking how
the global conversation about climate change just been galvanized
by a 16 year old Swedish girl. You know what? The attention that’s assembled is fine.>>[APPLAUSE]
>>It’s really amazing, I could go on for years and never capture the kind of
attention that she has as you guys know.>>[LAUGH]
>>But leadership is really important, and the rest of the world looks really
closely at a plot like this says, who is responsible for
emissions over decades? And you probably know that now,
China is the world’s largest emitter on an annual basis,
almost twice as much as the US. But historically, the big emitters
are Europe and North America. And that really is viewed by
the rest of the world as a strong indicator of responsibility for
being their first actor. But leadership is not just
about historic responsibility, it’s also about competence and capacity. If you say well, what’s it gonna
take to solve the climate challenge is things like being
able to mobilize finance. It’s about being able to manage
international logistics to make thoughtful investments in R&D. And those are things
that the rich world and the US especially
are historically good at. And I would argue that they represent an
opportunity to take a leadership position. And to capitalize on that leadership
position by building the companies and the jobs of the future. A final aspect of this leadership that’s
incredibly important is that we’re seeing a wide range of impacts of climate change
on issues that impact National Security. Air Force Base in Mississippi, but we see climate change driving
conflicts around the world. And if we wanna have a stable world, then an investment in climate
leadership is gonna be really critical. So how do we get there? You just say,
I think we can find the accelerator pedal. At this point, policy action at the stage
of the US government really central. But there are a whole bunch of
investments that can pay off. The most important one,
is that climate change needs to shift from being the eighth priority
on people’s need for action, to being the first or
the second or the third priority. And once it is, we can implement program
for the really comprehensive and systematic, people say don’t we
need to go to a war footing? And the magnitude of the problem, it actually doesn’t require that kind of
a commitment, it’s a commitment more like a commitment to build the interstate
highway system in the 1950s and 60s. If we doubled investment in tackling
the climate problem, we could put ourselves on a trajectory to be close
to that world of ambitious mitigation. the second thing that we need to do
is really up our investments in R&D. This is a picture of the Elon Musk
Hyperloop idea that would provide airplane travel speeds on the ground
with essentially no emissions. And I have no idea if that would work, but we need to be looking at solutions
that are over the horizon now. The third thing we need to do is recognize
that not knowing what’s gonna work that we need to be pursuing multiple options. And that ranges all the way from
things like encouraging the increase in the area of forest,
stopping cutting down forests. Cuz they’re our cheapest,
most effective, natural carbon sinks. To things like meet alternatives
reducing emissions from agriculture, to making fuels from hydrogen that
I don’t know which are gonna work. We want a portfolio of options
that we can invest in. We also need to manage adaptively. We’re gonna face changing conditions, and we need to be able to deal with those
in a way that’s not incredibly disruptive. Shutting off the power. This is a picture of
the Thames Barrier in London. It was designed to be activated
under flood conditions maybe one or two times a decade. And it’s now operated
dozens of times a year. And it was designed so that the level
of flood protection could be increased with the modest investment going forward. And then the final thing that
we really need to do and it’s where I feel like we in the
scientific community have done the worst job of making the case is that we need
to capitalize on the opportunities that are inherent in tackling climate
change as well as the challenges. And when we really look across the
spectrum of building out new technologies for mitigation, new technologies for
adaptation, new tools for finance and policy, what we’re really talking
about is building a robust economy and vibrant communities for the 21st century. We’re building a better world, and it’s a world that I think
we should be aspiring to.

1 thought on “Climate Change: Accelerating the Search for Solutions with Chris Field

  1. What do you mean by climate change? That's the real question. That graph is false. Wow, and bringing up a 1896 hack. Depending on what decade you pick, you get different results. ? Why don't you tell them CO2 only composes about .02% of our atmosphere? That's why they picked it, because any change in concentration will seem extreme. Plus it follows the long term temperature swings, somewhat. Why aren't we talking about water vapor? You are aware of that water vapor blocks most of the radiation from the Sun? It is the dominant greenhouse gas. Actually nighttime low temps are higher today, but daytime high temps are lower. This because of urbanization. CO2 has nothing to do with climate change. Learn how the climate and our atmosphere really works. The Sun is a major factor as well. Stop being fooled. All they want is control and money.

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