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What Can We Do?

In his Rough Guide to Climate Change, Robert Henson states that "the global-warming problem isn't going to be solved tomorrow, next week, or next year: we're in this one for the long haul. And there isn't one single solution. We need governments to agree and enforce targets; innovators to develop low-carbon energy sources and improve energy effiency; and individuals to do their best to reduce their own carbon footprints."

Consider the table below, which lists numerous technologies that are currently available or are expected to become available within the next 25 years. Please keep in mind that these are practices that would be implemented by governments, communities, and industries—we will explore steps that families and individuals can take in a later reading.

Sector Key mitigation technologies and practices currently commercially available Key mitigation technologies and practices projected to be commercialized before 2030
Energy Supply
Improved supply and distribution efficiency; fuel switching from coal to gas; nuclear power; renewable heat and power (hydropower, solar, wind, geothermal and bioenergy); combined heat and power; early applications of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS, e.g. storage of removed CO2 from natural gas). CCS for gas, biomass and coal-fired electricity generating facilities; advanced nuclear power; advanced renewable energy, including tidal and waves energy, concentrating solar, and solar PV.
Transport
More fuel efficient vehicles, including hybrid vehicles, cleaner diesel vehicles, & biofuels. Shifting from road transport to rail and public transport systems. Increased non-motorized transport (cycling, walking, etc.). Improved land-use and transport planning. Second generation biofuels; higher efficiency aircraft; advanced electric and hybrid vehicles with more powerful and reliable batteries.
Buildings
Efficient use of lighting and daylighting. More efficient electrical appliances and heating & cooling devices. Improved cook stoves, insulation, and passive & active solar design for heating & cooling. Increased use of alternative refrigeration fluids and recovery & recycle of fluorinated gases. Integrated design of commercial buildings including technologies, such as intelligent meters that provide feedback and control; solar PV integrated in buildings.
Industry
More efficient end-use electrical equipment. Improved heat and power recovery; material recycling and substitution; control of non-CO2 gas emissions; and a wide array of process technologies used in industry. Advanced energy efficiency; CCS for cement, ammonia, and iron manufacture; inert electrodes for aluminium manufacture.
Agriculture
Improved crop and grazing land management to increase soil carbon storage; restoration of cultivated peaty soils and degraded lands; improved rice cultivation techniques and livestock and manure management to reduce CH4 emissions; improved nitrogen fertilizer application techniques to reduce N2O emissions; dedicated energy crops to replace fossil fuel use; improved energy efficiency. Improvements of crops yields.
Forestry Improved afforestation (the establishment of a new forest by seeding or planting on nonforested land); reforestation; forest management; reduced deforestation; harvested wood product management; use of forestry products for bioenergy to replace fossil fuel use. Tree species improvement to increase biomass productivity and carbon sequestration. Improved remote sensing technologies for analysis of vegetation/ soil carbon sequestration potential and mapping land use change.
Waste
Management
Increased landfill methane recovery; waste incineration with energy recovery; composting of organic waste; controlled waste water treatment; recycling and waste minimization. Biocovers and biofilters to optimize CH4 oxidation.
Key mitigation technologies and practices by economic sectors. Sectors and technologies are listed in no particular order.
Adapted from Table SPM.3 in the IPCC AR4 WG3 Summary for Policymakers.

There doesn't appear to be a shortage of steps that we can take to reduce our carbon emissions, but there is no single fix. Rather than exploring each of the sectors, along with their associated practices, we'll take a closer look at a specific mitigation strategy and how one community is trying to reduce its climate impact before moving on to personal mitigation approaches.

One final caveat—some of the technologies listed here may be associated with other environmental concerns (e.g. increased uranium mining and the subsequent need for nuclear waste storeage that would be required by more nuclear power plants).

Last modified May 8, 2008 by Dennis Ward.

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The Winter 2009 issue of The Earth Scientist, focuses on Earth System science, including articles on student inquiry, differentiated instruction, geomorphic concepts, the rock cycle, and much more!

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