This article, appearing on Judith Curry’s Climate, Etc. website, assesses the probable costs and feasibility of the Net Zero by 2050 approach in the United States. Its conclusion? Net Zero is a pipe dream.
By Michael J. Kelly, Climate, Etc., March 4, 2023
In this article, I imagine that I have been appointed the first CEO of a new agency set up by the United States Federal Government with the explicit goal of actually delivering a Net Zero CO2 Emissions Economy by 2050.
My first task is to scope the project and to estimate the assets required to succeed. This is the result of that exercise, and includes a discussion of some consequences that flow from the scale and timescale for meeting the target.
The cost to 2050 will comfortably exceed $12T (trillion) for electrification projects and $35T for improving the energy efficiency of buildings, a work-force comparable in size to the health sector will be required for 30 years, including a doubling of the present number of electrical engineers, and the bill of specialist materials is of a size that for the USA alone is several times the global annual production of many key minerals.
On the manpower front one will have to rely on the domestic workforce, as everywhere else in the world is working towards the same target.
The scale of this project suggests that a war footing and a command economy will be essential, as major cuts to other favored forms of expenditure, such as health, education and defence, will be needed. Without a detailed roadmap, as exemplified by the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors that drove the electronics revolution after 1980, the target is simply unattainable.
My analysis requires the climate change community to go back, in all humility, and ask themselves really how bad will (as opposed to might) the world’s climate become? The proposed solution seems far worse for society than the problem.
Half of their analyses of the future climate are based on a CO2 emissions scenario (RCP8.5) now debunked as excessively high rather then the more likely RCP2.5 scenario. Their candor at this point would assist those making the case for funding climate adaptation, which will only be carried out when it becomes necessary. In the parlance of the Second World War, “Is this journey really necessary?”
Short of command economy, Net Zero is a pipe dream
This report gives the bare facts about what is implied by committing to a net-zero emissions economy for the United States. Short of a command economy, it is simply an unattainable pipe dream, and we will struggle to get 10–20% of the way to the target, even with a democratic mandate to proceed. I think that the hard facts should put a stop to urgent mitigation and lead to a focus on adaptation.
Mankind has adapted to the climate over recent millennia, and is better equipped than ever to adapt in the coming decades. With respect to sea-level-rise, the Dutch have been showing us the way for centuries.
Climate adaptation in the here and now is a much easier sell to the U.S. citizenry than mitigation. There is a very strong case to repeal the net-zero emissions legislation and replace it with a rather longer time horizon.
The continued pressure towards a net-zero economy will become a crime of sedition if the public rise up violently to reject it. The silence of the National Academies and the professional science and engineering bodies about these big picture engineering realities is a matter of complicity.