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The World Wants a Solution to Climate Change: Here It Is

This week in Doha, Qatar, world leaders are struggling with how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions fast enough, and in amounts great enough, to protect people from the droughts, food shortages, rising sea levels, and severe weather events that climate change is likely to bring.

Leaders are debating a range of solutions including carbon sequestration and policies and practices to help people prepare for the effects of climate change (“adaptation”). In fact, world leaders have been meeting to discuss possible solutions to climate change for 20 years. Yet the cheapest, cleanest, and fastest resource the world has for reducing greenhouse gas emissions remains vastly underused: energy efficiency.

Energy efficiency means better practices and technological innovations that reduce energy consumption while getting the same or better results. Airtight houses that keep people comfortable. Cities with clean, fast public transit, light bulbs that produce the same amount of light for a fraction of the energy—these practices and technologies have been around for decades, yet they still aren’t the norm. (See results of ACEEE International Scorecard where the highest score awarded for any country was just 67 out of 100.) The question that should concern leaders is, Why?

A new analysis by ECOFYS and commissioned by Philips for the United Nations Climate Change Conference estimates that energy efficiency can generate over a third of the emissions reductions we need by 2020. An ACEEE analysis found that in the United States the potential savings are even greater. Meanwhile, vast amounts of energy are wasted through outdated and inefficient practices while the greenhouse gases emitted by fossil fuels used to power these practices continue to billow into the sky.

If the world is going to address climate change in a meaningful way, world leaders must look beyond present policies that cling to old, outdated practices and technologies and instead adopt policies that will shape a future we all want to live in. Energy efficiency will help us get there. 

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David Hone's picture
David Hone on Dec 11, 2012 12:14 pm GMT


Sorry to rain all over your parade and risk sounding like Ebenezer Scrooge at Christmas time, but energy efficiency and reducing emissions are not one in the same. In fact there is plenty of evidence to show that improvements in energy efficiency actually add to emissions on a global basis, simply because of the rebound effect (Jevons Paradox and other such anomalies). Even worse, positioning energy efficiency as a panacea for climate change risks badly misinforming policy makers on how the energy system actually works.


Thomas Garven's picture
Thomas Garven on Dec 11, 2012 3:20 pm GMT

There is a good Wikipedia article on Jervons Paradox.  Here is a small snipit.  

"The Jevons paradox has been used to argue that energy conservation is futile, as increased efficiency may increase fuel use. Nevertheless, increased efficiency can improve material living standards. Further, fuel use declines if increased efficiency is coupled with a green tax or other conservation policies that keep the cost of use the same (or higher).[3] As the Jevons paradox applies only to technological improvements that increase fuel efficiency, policies that impose conservation standards and increase costs do not display the paradox.".

It is my intention to continue to conserve and find ways to improved the efficiency of the things around me.  Over the last 10 years I have cut my consumption of electricity in my 1707 sq. ft. home by about 50% from $200/month to $100/month on a level pay plan.  I pat myself on the back but shouldn't because it was rather easy to do even thou electric rates have increased about 15% over that 10 year time period.  

It is my belief that a lot of the so called paradoxes just don't apply to a lot of  people who believe that improved conservation and efficiency can be significant contributors to our reduced use of carbon based fuels. 

Good article/blog posting. 

David Hone's picture
David Hone on Dec 11, 2012 3:40 pm GMT


I agree that EE can reduce local emissions, such as for your house. But I don' think the global emissions picture is helped by improving EE. Rather, further growth is enabled becuase energy is made available by the EE measures, which in turn means that this energy gets consumed. EE can have real benefits for an individual or a business, but we shouldn't confuse that with the need to reduce emissions globally. In that regard, EE is not the solution.


Edward Kerr's picture
Edward Kerr on Dec 11, 2012 5:10 pm GMT


I hate to the bearer of bad news but EE is not going to be a solution the the Climate Crisis. Nor will, as I believed until recently, stopping the burning of fossil fuels or anything else for that matter. What most people haven't a clue about is that there are "positive feedback loops" in the natural system and  that the "tipping points" have been broached. The, so called, "Methane Bomb" has exploded and there is no way to stop the devastation that is on it's way. It won't actually be the heat by it's self that will do us in. Thought the heat will disrupt food production before the final insult. It will be the acidification of the oceans and the death of the phytoplankton that produces a major portion of the earths oxygen that will put the final nail in humanities coffin. Sadly, this event will not be a linear one but rather an exponential one. This realization has led me to personal despondency as I now will have the unpleasant task of trying to explain to my children and grandchildren, that some time back a sea change occurred and no one noticed.

Had we headed the call 20 years ago we might have had  a chance. I'll leave you to ruminate on that truth.

With best personal regards,

Edward Kerr

Thomas Garven's picture
Thomas Garven on Dec 11, 2012 5:37 pm GMT


You are correct that my contribution to efficiency improvement and emission [EE] reduction is not very significant when viewed as a global problem.  However, a country like the U.S. [and other developed countries] which are at the top of the energy food chain so to speak, the impact can be significant.  That however will not stop or reduce other countries from choosing coal, cow dung, wood or kerosene as their fuel of choice.

I am not a big fan of mandated carbon reduction programs like Cap and Trade or even things like a Carbon Tax.  Oh sure in some areas and for certain contaminates they have worked.  But, based on my 72 years of life, most of these programs are nothing more than schemes to increase the amount of taxes collected which in turn gets skimmed off to grow the size of governments.  I once wrote that I would support a "Carbon Tax" if 90% of the tax was used ONLY for renewable energy projects AND that the money would be spent something like the following.  

1. 10% of the money collected would be retained by the government as a management fee to facilitate renewable energy projects and fund transfers.

2. 10% of the money collected would be spent to purchase solar panels, wind turbines and other renewable energy equipment manufactured in the U.S. for use in countries without electrical system infrastructure.  Each quarter newly graduating Electrical Engineers at the college level would be paid out of the governments management fee funds to accompany the hardware to each construction site, manage the installation and train the operating personnel.  What a great way to start a careen in electrical engineering.    

3. The remaining 80% of the Carbon Tax funds would be spend in the U.S. on renewable energy systems.  

Now I fully understand that a plan like this will never happen because the leadership, desire and urgency to make it happen doesn't exist.  A program like this wouldn't be much different than our current foreign aid program except for the way it is structured.  

If you don't like the above how about skimming off 25% of our existing foreign aid budget for each country and spend that on renewable energy systems for needy countries.  In my opinion that would be far better than 1 or 2 more F-16 fighter jets.    

Or Instead of sending $10 billion to a few countries in foreign aid we send them $7 billion in cash and $3 billion in solar, wind, and related renewable energy equipment manufactured in the U.S. The $7 billion will most likely end up buying weapons to kill people with or end up in some dictators pocket.  The $3 billion in direct spending would end up raising 10's of thousands of people out of poverty while reducing their carbon footprint.  I would gladly pay a Carbon Tax if I knew my money was going to help people live a better life for the next 30-40 years.

What do you think?  I would certainly like to read some of your ideas, suggestions and recommendations  how we should proceed.  

Tom G. 


Thomas Garven's picture
Thomas Garven on Dec 12, 2012 1:17 am GMT


I found your posting to be - well - like someone who has given up on life.  Almost makes me feel like we should give up and stop living and certainly quite having children because they will surly die a sudden and early death.  I looked for something in your posting that said to me that there is at least "hope" if we do thus and so.  Or even a bit of anger against your fellow man for not heading the warning signs.  

I don't share your belief structure.  There are alternative energy systems coming on line.  There are advancements being made in bio-fuels.  There are electric vehicles coming to market to reduce our burning of fossil fuels.  There are new turbines that make hydro power more efficient.  There are new CO2 turbines in development which are far more efficient that our steam turbines.  More and more people are switching to heat pumps instead of burning oil or natural gas.  Our younger generation is learning that driving is hurting our planet and more and more of the younger generation are walking, ride sharing or using transit systems.    

I could go on describing hundreds of other advancements but it is my hope that YOU also begin again to have hope.  Our biggest challenges are not technology or the political fights we need to win but rather loosing "we the people".  If we the people give up hope then maybe you are right; the individuals, businesses, corporations and countries that are killing our planet win.  I will NEVER give up the good fight for my children and grandchildren and neither should you.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Dec 12, 2012 4:33 am GMT

Here's a fascinating lecture by Professor David McKay, "Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air" and here is a text based summary:

He does discuss the potential for efficiency improvements, but does not express much optimism.  His main message is that we should be prepared to allocate a very large amount of land for renewables.


Edward Kerr's picture
Edward Kerr on Dec 12, 2012 4:38 am GMT


Thank you for the concern. I haven't, as yet, completely abandoned hope. I agree that many new technologies are being developed and IF they were adopted in a SERIOUS way there might be a chance. Seeing what happened at the latest global conference does not allay my fears. The major CO2 emitters agreed 20 years ago to do something but didn't and now they (US included) have said that they are no longer going to honor their earlier commitment. So it's business as usual. If you can find hope after viewing this talk I'd like to know what that hope might be.


I've spoken with Guy and he is as dismayed as am I. Even as long as 5 years ago the situation was dire and virtually nothing is being done. Physics is physic and the atmosphere respects none of mans prejudices. It dosen't care about your color, gender, faith, politics, age, state of health, intelligence or where you draw your borders. Considering that 98 or so % of all the species that have ever lived are now extinct, it also appears that the planet could give a hoot less as to whether or not it has passengers.

To better understand the mechanics of how the planetary system works you might enjoy this talk from '08... {}

At 67 I simply plan to live out my life as honorably as I can. For now though I am dreading how I am going to broach this subject with my children and grandchildren or even if I should.

Blessing to you and your family...



Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Dec 12, 2012 5:17 am GMT

Sid, there is an important distinction between low grade heat and high grade heat.  

High temperature heat (>400C) is called high grade, since it can be used for many different things, including electricity production.  Low temperature heat (say <150C) is low grade, because it is not good for much other than space heating, and it's inconvenient since it is expensive to transport over distances.

The only kind of power plant that has much hot air going up the smoke stack is the simple combustion turbine (which burns natural gas, at well over 1000C).  Because they cost about the same as the much more efficient combined cycle plant, they are only used where their uniquely fast throttling is required, (e.g. balancing rapid changes in electrical demand, especially when there is a lot of wind power on the grid).

Combined cycle plants start with a gas turbine, but then send the hot exhaust (which carries the waste heat at around 500C) to a heat-recovery-steam generator.  This device (which fills a giant building!) uses the exhaust to make steam that turns a turbine to make more electricity.  They are about 60% efficient (compared to 40% for simple combustion turbines).  Much of the remaining wasted energy is low temperature heat from the steam coming from the low pressure steam turbine, at only around 40C ... barely enough to warm a passing river, and certainly not warm enough for any economic purpose.

A variation on this is combined heat and power, wherein the steam from the heat-recovery-steam generator is used for some industrial process.  This does produce good over-all efficiency, but it involves trade-offs of many other factory planning issues.

Jonathan Sample's picture
Jonathan Sample on Dec 13, 2012 4:17 pm GMT

This article, and the ECOFYS report to which it refers, are unhelpful and misconstrued.

You (and ECOFYS) are making the classic and straightforward mistake of seeing the CO2 problem as a "flow" problem, rather than as a "stock" problem. While many other commentators do the same thing, being in good company does not necessarily put one on the side of reason.

So what's the "flow" approach, and why is it wrong? This approach looks only at the rate of flow of CO2 into the atmosphere, typically between the present and an arbitrary cut off date (usually 2020 or 2050, but it's not important), and takes the view that anything which reduces the flow of CO2 emissions during this period, must be a solution. Hence, energy efficiency looks like a cheap and useful thing to pursue! At first glance, it's nice and intuitive - and the elegant simplicity of the findings "feels" right to the reader. However, what happens after the cut-off date? Is the problem solved, game over? Here, the flow approach offers nothing. The graph ends in 2020 or whenever, and the assumption is that the trend will continue. Sadly, that assumption is likely to be wrong. After all, the CO2 problem is about how great a stock of CO2 is allowed to accumulate in the atmosphere before CO2 emissions (ie, the flow of CO2 into the atmosphere) comes to a halt. Or is made to come to a halt.

Which brings us to the "stock" approach. This approach sees the CO2 problem from a longer-term perspective. In fact, the CO2 problem is only "solved" when mankind stops emitting CO2 into the atmosphere (either by stopping digging up [fossil] hydrocarbons, or by installing CCS at a large scale) - typically when the cost of unabated burning off hydrocarbons becomes higher than that of renewable or nuclear energy (or CCS). Helpful/effective CO2 policy then acts to bring forward this end point - basically by making the cost of burning hydrocarbons unabated relatively more expensive than that of using renewables, nuclear or CCS.

Interestingly, any explanation of the "stock" approach doesn't rely on a 2020 cut-off to hide the inconvenient details: the CO2 solution, such that it is, is defined as that elusive point when mankind stops the unabated burning of hydrocarbons. I'm reluctant to make predictions as a rule, but here I make an exception: that point is highly likely to lie well beyond 2020, 2050, or even 2100!

So how does energy efficiency look under the stock approach? Sadly, it doesn't look too promising. For one thing, there are two types of energy efficiency. One of them, carbon-augmenting, makes things worse - even if it might appear to make things better by 2020. Carbon-augmenting efficiency improvements increase the efficiency with which mankind uses fossil fuels, while leaving renewables, nuclear, and CCS unaffected. Hence a more efficient internal combustion engine or a higher efficiency domestic boiler can be classed as carbon-augmenting. In the long-term, such efficiency improvements postpone the point at which unabated burning of hydrocarbons becomes more expensive than the renewable, nuclear, or CCS alternative. The total economically viable stock of hydrocarbons that we will eventually burn, increases. Carbon-augmenting efficiency improvements are not a basis of an effective CO2 policy.

The other type of energy efficiency improvement, carbon-neutral, doesn't really make much difference. Here, things like better home insulation or more efficient lighting, make it cheaper to use both unabated hydrocarbons and their renewable, nuclear or CCS alternatives. And it does this in equal measure, such that the point at which mankind stops the unabated burning of hydrocarbons, remains unchanged. Far from being a cheap and obvious solution, carbon-neutral energy efficiency improvements don't really change that much from a CO2 point of view. There is one exception to this, which of course this article and the ECOFYS report are too simplistic to address, let alone be aware of: carbon-neutral efficiency improvements, to the extent that Gigatonne X of cumulative CO2 emissions might take place at a later point in time than otherwise, may allow slightly more time for the price of renewables to decline further (ie, before Gigatonne X of cumulative emissions is reached). Hence, for this reason alone (and it is far from certain to hold), carbon-neutral efficiency improvements might be worth a try - but the benefits, far from being the obvious and easy ones set out in this article, are uncertain and subtle.

To conclude, we don't have that many choices. A CO2 tax, in one form or another, is the only viable solution that economists have come up with so far. By contrast, energy efficiency policy, by itself (as described in this article) is, at best, about as effective as pushing on a rope. ECOFYS and the ACEEE ought to reflect carefully on what they are doing, and whether it is really helping to improve CO2 policy formation. There is a fundamental difference between the practical tools available to reduce CO2 emissions (of which there are many, as outlined by ECOFYS) and the policies available to enable them to work effectively (of which we currently only really have one: CO2 taxes).

Interested readers will find a fuller explanation of these arguments in the European Energy Journal. The article, written by myself, is called "The Limits of Energy Efficiency", and can be accessed through

Thomas Garven's picture
Thomas Garven on Dec 12, 2012 8:46 pm GMT

O.K Ed, my last posting on this story:

I watched both of your provided links and associated presentations and they are both interesting and depressing at the same time.  However, there is nothing NEW in the presentations that I didn't already know.  I did however much prefer Guy McPherson's presentation because it does one thing the other presentations do NOT DO.  He provides at least ONE solution at the end of his presentation which is – go plant a garden.  

Over the last 10 years or so I have watched many presentations by climate scientists and reviewed the comments of hundreds of posting on blog sites like this one.  The reports and postings are full of information, charts, projections and most of the scientific reports - but not all of course - are filled with gloom and doom.  After all this time here is what I have learned about Global Warming and Climate Change or whatever we are calling it today.   

Almost no one offers any SOLUTIONS.  You can call it a strategy, strategic plan, worldwide or national goals or objectives or anything of that nature.  We are still talking about delayed reports, melting ice, methane gas, temperature rises and CO2 concentration.  

What this tell me is that almost no one is listening to climate scientists and that does not surprise me in the least.  Scientist are by their very nature comfortable in a university or lab somewhere.  They don't by their very nature interact well with people.  Their presentations are focused on PRESENTING their DATA and not on the presentation of SOLUTIONS resulting from the examination of their DATA.  In other words they are probably the worse individuals to be delivering the climate change message and this is my biggest personal complaint.  We have the wrong MESSENGER.  Albert Einstein said something profound when he theorized that if you keep doing the same old thing over and over again expecting a different result you are probably not the sharpest cheddar in the deli case.  And that is precisely what we are doing – having conference after conference expecting a different outcome.  

If the perceived problem is that the media is not reporting the severity of the global warming problem then shouldn't one of the action items or goals of a world conferences be an action plan to correct this perceived failure of message delivery?  Shouldn't climate change scientists and college professors studying climate change be pounding on the doors of media companies saying what the heck is the matter with you people. This rhetorical question of course leads me to the conclusion that college professors and scientists will not willfully go outside of their so called comfort ZONE any more frequently than they have to to keep their jobs.  People working in labs are there because they are comfortable there and TRY to avoid conflict.  In my not so humble opinion, we have not yet found the right message and messenger have we?   

Someplace in the journals of social science you can probably find that PEOPLE find value in  THINGS and that is why most people on this planet buy stuff.  There will probably also be notations in social science about how people FOLLOW other people who they either TRUST or who can SOLVE a problem for them.  I hate to say this but “Climate Change” is a PROBLEM statement not a THING to buy or a PERSON to follow.  It seems to me that we are still at the stage of trying to get people to ACCEPT a problem statement as something they should buy into.  Or that we should follow climate scientists who have not demonstrated that they can solve the problem.  There is no trust in their ability to lead the people.      

My summary:

I firmly belief that it is “we the people” who will solve the climate change problem not some government agency or scientific group.  We the people will solve the crisis because we love our children and grandchildren and we have this burning desire procreate.  While we can not finish the job in one generation our next generation MIGHT and therefor it is my belief that we MUST talk with our children and grandchildren about climite change.  We owe them at least that much if they are to survive.  

p.s.  I really enjoyed the posting by Jonathan Sample who after rejecting almost everything  ever said about conservation and efficiency had this to say: 

“To conclude, we don't have that many choices.  A CO2 tax is the only viable solution that economists have come up with so far.  By contrast, energy efficiency policy, by itself (as described in this article), is at best, about as effective as pushing on a rope.”. 

Really, “A CO2 tax”, “economists” and “energy efficiency”…by itself”.

I believe we have billions and billion of choices and those choices will be made by the people who inhabit this planet.  It is those billions who will solve climate change – not some Tax, Economist and CERTAINLY not energy efficiency by ITSELF.  

Thomas Garven's picture
Thomas Garven on Dec 12, 2012 10:02 pm GMT

Well said Jim - let's get to it.  

Marijan Pollak's picture
Marijan Pollak on Dec 14, 2012 1:43 am GMT

I have solution but nobody believes there could be solution and my is also unbelievably good as well.

My WindSolars could do it if mass produced as cost of electicity (100% clean, from wind ad sun) would be under 10 € per MW, and without need for backup and with next to unexistent Land Footprint or even negative one. Since my WPSs could use 5m/sec. wind economicaly justifiable and even producing profit, and such wind could be found on at least 20 times moe locations than standardly required 10m/sec. where sunshine is present mostly anywhere, so my WindSolars could be perfect distributed power supply working 24/365, thus saving also on long distance  transmission lines cost. Built in Greenhouses  would even increase food production, too. With so cheap electricity all transportation could be electrical and cheap, Water-from-Air installations of agricultural capacity would provide water for crops, people and livestock, that is crucial in hot and dry climate where sunshine is aboundant, too.

Carbon capture and sequestation could also be implemented cheaply at CO2 emission sources and get paid for cleaning exhaust from existing thermo centrals, while producing usefull and marketable products using electrolyse of CO2 and poducing Electrographite and Oxygen, and earning Carbon Credits as well. 

Interested parties could contact me on oberon(at)

Edward Kerr's picture
Edward Kerr on Dec 14, 2012 2:26 am GMT


You are preaching to the choir here. I agree with almost everything that you have said. I too have criticised people who state the problem but offer nothing in the way of a solution. On my blog ( I have focused on the technologies that I believe would allow us to generate all the electricity that we need and produce all of the liquid fuels that we need and do so in a carbon neutral way.

However, after viewing Guy's talk I became really concerned that all might be for naught. I was a bit confused by Guys hopefulness after stating that we are headed for extinction in a short time so I went and read the original paper from Malcolm Light ( ) to get a better understanding. It turns out that we have the technology to destroy methane in the atmosphere and we also have the ability to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere too. So, no matter how dire the message, there is the slim possibility of averting this looming catastrophe.

Unfortunately, all of the world's major governments will need to be involved. You claim that it is "we the people" who will do it and you are right IF all of us get on the same page and force the worlds governments and the pertinent corporations to act and do it NOW. Of course, that will be asking a lot so I won't be having any more kids (not likely at 67 anyway) but I will be dedicating the rest of my life to addressing, in any way that I can, this issue.

Blessing to you and your loved ones,


Thomas Garven's picture
Thomas Garven on Dec 14, 2012 3:06 am GMT

Good blog site Ed.

Keep up the good work - people ARE listening.  It is people like yourself who have changed the hearts and minds of millions of American people.  Over 75% of the American people NOW support renewable energy.  Thank you for all of your efforts.  

Here is another site you might enjoy. 


Edward Kerr's picture
Edward Kerr on Dec 14, 2012 3:18 am GMT

Thanks Tom...

ralpph allen's picture
ralpph allen on Dec 17, 2012 6:56 pm GMT


""Also, for every 3 green jobs created in the private sector, 1 job is created in government, but, as a general rule, for every job created in government about 2 jobs are destroyed in the private sector, largely due to added economic inefficiencies; no one would claim government is more efficient than the private sector. In tabular format:""


I think that is total crap. I am sorry referencing yourself as the source of information is like saying :It's true cause I said it before here."


I do agree that energy efficiency is the low hanging fruit. BUT any major change in the direction of future energy generation will need initial government money to make it happen at an accelerated rate.


A couple of game changers for wind and solar and electric cars are the:


 MIT metal battery with first implementations expected in 2014 with big private financing/backing that is over 70% efficient and works using cheap materials.


The Calbattery where the a new anode is claimed to make existing batteries 300% more efficient and 30% of current costs.


Thomas Garven's picture
Thomas Garven on Dec 31, 2012 4:43 pm GMT


Let's chat about this offline at:

Please put "ENERGY" on the subject line.  I worked in the energy and public utility sector for 30 years and might be able to help.  

Tom G. 

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