McClaughry: Achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050

By John McClaughry

A popular commitment among candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for president is a declaration of the year in which the United States must be made to achieve “net -zero carbon dioxide emissions.” Joe Biden vowed to get us there by 2050. Andrew Yang bid 2049 and Corey Booker offered 2045. Bernie Sanders’ entry is 71% net-zero by 2030.

It’s generally harmless when politicians make extravagant promises about things they say they can make happen 30 years from now, when most of them (at least Biden and Sanders) will be dead. But let’s overlook that, and examine just what steps the nations of the world would have to take to achieve that global 2050 net-zero target.

John McClaughry

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Our authority here is Prof. Roger Pielke Jr. of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado. Lest anyone think he is one of those awful “deniers” of climate change beholden to the fossil fuel industry, Pielke himself says “I believe climate change is real and that human emissions of greenhouse gases risk justifying action, including a carbon tax.”

But Prof. Pielke is a hard headed scientist, not easily swayed by propaganda about hurricanes, wildfires, droughts, sea levels, and the like. Indeed, he has been a major target of the climate change emergency industry, for using actual data to show that most of the climate disaster claims one hears from climate change activists are simply unsupportable.

Here’s the case he made in a Sept. 30 column in Forbes. He uses the well regarded BP Statistical Review of World Energy as his data source. That source projects that humanity will combust about 12,000 million tons of oil equivalent (“mtoe”) fossil fuels in 2019.

There are 11, 961 days between next Jan. 1 and Jan. 1, 2050. To maintain only the current level of energy consumption — and benefit — we’ll need to deploy over 1 mtoe of carbon-free energy, and decommission a like amount of carbon-based energy, each day until 2050.

But the International Energy Agency projects an annual 1.25% annual increase in global energy consumption to 2040. That rate of increase would require about 0.5 mtoe per day to 2050. The total comes to around 1.6 mtoe per day.

The 1400 Mw Turkey Point nuclear plant in Florida generates the equivalent of 1 mtoe per year. So, says Pielke, to achieve net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, the world would need to deploy three [1400 Mw] Turkey Point nuclear plants every two days, and decommission an equivalent amount of fossil fuel plants every two days, starting tomorrow and continuing to 2050.

For those uncomfortable with using a nuclear plant as a measuring rod, Pielke offers this illustration. “Net-zero carbon dioxide would require the deployment of about 1500 2.5 Mw wind turbines over about 300 square miles, every day [for thirty years].”

He adds, “of course in this analysis I am just looking at scale, and ignoring the significant complexities of actually deploying these technologies. I am also ignoring the fact that fossil fuels are the basis for many products central to the functioning of the global economy, and eliminating them is not nearly as simple as unplugging one energy source and plugging in another.”

Even if one factors in carbon dioxide sequestration, not yet deployed except in test beds, and radical energy conservation and efficiency measures, it would be hard to get down to even the level of starting up just one Turkey Point reactor a day for thirty years. Nor does Pielke consider the necessity of some sort of reliable backup (natural gas) to keep the electric grid operating when wind and solar generators aren’t generating.

Pielke also runs the numbers for the US alone. “To reach net-zero by 2050, the US would need to deploy one new nuclear power plant worth of carbon free energy about every 6 days, continuing from now to 2050. … To attain net-zero by 2030, the US would have to deploy a new nuclear plant about every other day.”

Pielke’s conclusion: “Can we hit net-zero by 2050? The scale of the challenge is huge, but that does not make achieving the goal impossible. What makes achieving the goal impossible is a failure to accurately understand the scale of the challenge and the absence of policy proposals that match that scale.”

When you hear a climate change activist saying “to save the planet we must achieve net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, ban all fossil fuels, rely on conservation, hydro, wind and solar, and reject any thought of increasing nuclear electricity,” you are hearing foolishness from somebody who doesn’t have a clue.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Images courtesy of go-greener-oz/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0 and John McClaughry
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10 thoughts on “McClaughry: Achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050

  1. John, this article clearly outlined the scope of the carbon issue scientifically or probably more accurately, numerically. Thank you, as I have not read it done this succinctly. While impossibly daunting on the face of it, what makes it really mind boggling is the Global Political Economics of any climate remediating endeavor.
    For example, would I trust China to enter into a Global agreement that evenly impacts both Countries? How about Russia? I would guess that maybe 1/2 (most?) of the worlds countries would only enter into any agreement believing it will disproportionally affect them in a positive way vs the other signees – used as just another method for competitive advantage. As you know well, this has already happened with the 2015 Paris Accord. It asked everyone to spend billions to decrease carbon emissions, asked everyone to trust each other, yet had no reliable mechanism to verify, in any way, that presumed trust.

  2. Clearly, the cure proposed by climate change demagogues may be worse than the disease, … if what they are proposing to cure even is a disease – a prospect unsupported by 100,000 years of historic data.

    Yes, humans create ‘millions of metric tons of Carbon Dioxide’ annually. But that’s still only a ’trace’, equivalent to, …if my placement of the parts-per-million decimal point is correct, …only 8 one thousandths of a percent of the earth’s atmosphere.

    And yes, climate change can be, and has been, detrimental to life on earth, as we know it.

    But, …again, 100,000 years of Greenland ice core data don’t connect these dots.

    What did the climate-change demagogue say to the climate-change denier? Nothing important.

    What did the climate-change denier say to the climate-change demagogue? Ditto.

    What’s important to me is the nature of the inevitable political tyranny likely to be imposed by whichever majority prevails. This is why I’ve spent the last 40 years preparing, to the extent that I can, for either eventuality. Bring it on.

  3. To eliminate CO2, have a job for Liberals spitting this, take a cork and plug all volcanoes. Stop the sun spot cycles every 11 years, deflect all incoming asteroids, deflect the 100,000 year cycle of global cooling (we’re now due), stop weather changes (saving CA), stop the destruction (burning) of the Amazon and CA forests, clear and repair the ozone hole at the south pole, no plastics, return to the cave man days when all this started and do what they attempted in the Middle Ages by trying to eliminate all energy (including all forms of transportation and elec generation). The Utopian world.

    Yet I also expect they will seek to eliminate the substance dihydrogen monoxide, can be hazardous to your health if not properly treated and respected and you won’t benefit from it’s values.

    Just saying, trying to assist the elitists / fundamentalists. They are trying to educate “US” heathens. VT, the experimental station and their base.

  4. It’s sad how the masses are manipulated with constant threats of apocalypse, unless we buy their agenda. These children are innocent, terrorized victims of foolish adults who don’t think or care.
    We need carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Life depends on it. Warming predictions are not reality based.
    Aside from that, Roger Stone is innocent, and epstein didn’t kill himself.

  5. “When you hear a climate change activist/lunatic folks saying: “to save the planet we must achieve net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, ban all fossil fuels, rely on conservation, hydro, wind and solar, and reject any thought of increasing nuclear electricity,” you are hearing foolishness to the nth degree from somebody who doesn’t have a SLIGHTEST clue.”

    Those folks are engaging in inane blathering.

    I have been making the same argument as Prof. Pielke for about 15 years, starting with the ENERGIEWENDE in Germany.

    Millions of everyday products, including fertilizers and drugs and clothes and shoes and cars, etc., are made from fossil fuels.
    How would it be possible to make all those products with wind and solar and hydro?

    All transportation infrastructure and vehicles and their operation from wind and solar?
    All building sector infrastructure and buildings and their operation (heating/cooling/electricity) from wind and solar?

    Look out of the window, and you will see no wind and no sun in New England many days throughout the year.
    Last week my neighbor’s solar panels were all, or partially, covered with snow and ice for 5 days.
    Would the electricity generation shortage come from batteries, at 15 to 20 c/kWh, added to the 5 c/kWh NE wholesale price, just for storage?

    • True enough Williem, once petrol is diminished from autos and the drilling rigs destaffed and quantity of oil diminished the cost will go up dramatically for every item that uses petrol in its manufacture..
      The climate zombies have no clue of the damage their objective will cause on the economy and the cost of living surviving in a oil free environment. Without oil even the plastics in their greenweenie forms of electric generation will become unaffordable. With the unwillingness to
      use the one savior NUKE POWER there won’t even be enough of that to feed all the ele cars no one can afford say nothing of lighting/heating/running your house. The left is quite good at spending great amounts of money to accomplish nothing, look to the great society @ 21trillion…

  6. So far it’s all blather. All these do gooders talk about is carbon free tomorrow or long after they are gone to their maker, but as far as I can tell, none have offered a viable road to their destination. It’s as if I said it and puff, it will be done. Not sure what a carbon tax will accomplish beyond creating a hardship on those least able to afford it.

  7. Oh science and numbers, the kryptonite of any good propaganda scheme!

    People have no idea how much energy we use, no idea. The other easy tell you are dealing with a lie is from your lead photo. If the sea level were in fact going to rise that much by 2050 wouldn’t the insurance companies demand or raise the rates for all,properties, within that area? It would be essentially uninsurable, aka unbuildable!

    The end is coming, one of the oldest tricks to control the masses ever invented. It’s been used for at least 6,000 years. They’ve been talking about it in the bible at least 2,000 years. They talk about those who know the end of time as nothing but chalatons, beware. Pretty good relevant advice for 2019, huh?

    Countries and states will end that talk about that in the book of kings, it’s a pretty simple formula that is repeated over and over. One way a country prospers, another way a country self destructs. Our founding fathers knew this, it’s one reason we are a republic.

  8. I’m confused, this plan is to be CO2 free by 2050, but the Democrats ” AOC ” green new deal
    author, only gave us ten to twelve years before we explode ?? and Vermont’s very own buffoon
    Socialist Sanders promotes her plan…….. why for votes, yup he knows about BS.

    Sounds like they are just spinning our wheels, I could almost believe there’s a problem but
    when the ” Promoters ” of such claims over the years never come to fruition, just more fear
    mongering for an agenda.

    So what’s the US Environmental Protection Agency doing with it’s $8.8T budget per year, if
    the world going to explode ??

  9. Lets have a little experiment. Make all those that want an end to fossil fuels have smart meters that the utility can use to turn off power to a structure. Then make the end of fossil fuel people stipulate if they want an end or not. Then we get serious, and cut off power to those who say yea, when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine.

    That ought have an immediate education effect on their limited thinking.

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