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  • Writer's pictureTom Mast

How to Conquer Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions

Ready, Fire, Aim…or

A Professional Blueprint, a Roadmap

Tom Mast, founder Solve American Gridlock

Reference: Panama Canal, Wikipedia

The task of gaining true control over GHG emissions – for both the U.S. and the globe – is gigantic! Hydrocarbon fuels, the industrial revolution, mechanized and fertilized agriculture, modern materials, lighting, heating and cooling, and hydrocarbon-powered land, sea, and air transportation have been among our largest and most rapidly growing industries for some 100+ years, closer to 200 in some fields. Challenges to gaining control include:

  • The primary sources of electrical energy generation have to be replaced soon, but on a timetable that does not produce gaps in our essential energy needs.

  • Most transportation uses liquid hydrocarbon fuels for sound reasons – because they pack a lot of energy into much less space and weight than the alternatives.

  • Food production, transportation, storage, and preparation are very dependent not only on energy, but on fertilizers as well, most of which are based on hydrocarbons.

  • An important portion of people do not believe that Global Warming and its result Climate Change are real – or at least real enough to disrupt their lives.

  • Also, both believers and non-believers in huge numbers are not willing to volunteer to sacrifice comfort, convenience, and money voluntarily for GHG emission reductions that seem so ephemeral and complex.

  • Under-developed countries understandably want to have the advantages abundant energy brings. They want the biggest bang for the buck – the most energy and the benefits that flow from it – and they are likely to use forms of energy exceptionally bad for GHG emissions, like coal.

That is a very cursory list of the challenges that gaining control to mitigate global warming, but you get the point. How have we done so far? Emissions have barely leveled off in the U.S. and are out of control globally. Leveling off isn’t success; GHGs last for decades or centuries, so their accumulation in the atmosphere is cumulative. Emissions must be reduced to or near zero on a careful schedule. #climatechange

Let’s talk about project management. It is no accident that important large projects can get finished on-time and on-budget. The techniques for doing so have been developed over time and are well recognized. They don’t include flying hundreds of leaders on private jets to global resorts every five years to plan, and they don’t include having members of congress select projects and their timing with no blueprint to guide them. Doesn’t it seem fairly certain that the most-massive-of-all-projects, combatting global warming, will fail if it doesn’t have an overall professional Blueprint; including ways to have everyone participate – to have skin in the game?

Conquering GHG emissions is arguably the largest project to face the U.S. and the world. It dwarfs the pyramids, polio, the Hoover Dam, sending a man to the moon, and perhaps defeating fascism. It must span decades and generations, something that adds immensely to its complexity and difficulty, but this only makes all that much more important our taking care to use the best tools and minds available.

The Panama Canal was one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken. The idea of an Atlantic-to-Pacific Ocean water shorter water route date back to the King of Spain in 1534, so it was clear early-on that the advantages would justify a grandiose project. The English briefly considered it in 1668. The Spanish outlined plans between 1788 and 1793. Note that these early ideas never broke ground, probably because their advocates realized that the task without modern energy and equipment was virtually impossible. In 1876-1878, France sent teams of engineers to Panama. By this time, steam power had arrived with the potential of multiplying human effort immensely. The first attempt to build the canal began with the French in 1881. France had experience building the sea-level Suez Canal, but the Panama Canal was much more difficult due to the rain forests, steamy and very wet climate, disease, and the need for locks. The leader wanted a sea-level canal, but had not visited the site during the eight months of the year that are the wet season. He did realize that locks were necessary. He didn’t plan on the dangerous snakes, yellow fever, and malaria that killed thousands of workers. It wasn’t known then that mosquitos carried diseases. The project continued until 1889 when it went bankrupt with 22,000 dead workers. One of the shortcomings of this work was the lack of a well-researched Blueprint before work began.

Another French company was formed in 1894. It did more careful planning, concluding that locks were required. But, the United States led by Teddy Roosevelt became interested and aggressive, and soon bought the equipment and control. The negotiations with Columbia and Panama were completed by 1903. Work commenced in 1904. Immediately, working conditions were given priority and health and mosquito control had a special and effective leader. The sea-level method was rejected by the engineer most familiar with the challenges. The French construction equipment was replaced promptly with new equipment . The canal was finished in 1914, two years ahead of the target date. Success came from having a plan and the resources.

The U.S. spent $500 million (about $13.5 billion in 2021 dollars) on the Panama Canal. It is noteworthy that the U.S. included in its recently passed Inflation Reduction Act some $369 billion for climate change matters, and the Infrastructure Bill included $150 billion, for a total of $519 billion. Since this amount will be a small part of the ultimate total amount required, it gives credence to the immense size of the GHG emissions task.

Note that from the time France began engineering studies until it sold out to the U.S. was 27 years, and the project was a failure. Not enough homework was done. From the U.S. took over until the canal was completed was 11 years, and the project was successful. Large projects that result in success do the necessary homework and pull it all together into a comprehensive Blueprint.

Now, back to the global warming task at hand. International meetings setting voluntary targets for various countries has incented some countries to action, but others have chosen to ignore them; wrote in December 2020 that China was building 184 coal-fired power plants! The graph above show global results. The world does not have a professional and long-range blueprint for combatting GHG emissions. Neither does the U.S.! Every time one viewpoint in Congress picks up the minimum votes, it passes whatever it can. The costs, timetables, priorities, and sequencing get short shrift. To succeed in this gigantic task, the details matter, and they must mesh well; for this, we must have a blueprint/roadmap/plan to follow. The U.S. can and should do this project correctly to set the example.

Furthermore, there is a way to incent all the people and organizations to take the proper actions for mitigating GHG emissions. It is called Carbon Pricing. Substances that ultimately cause GHG emissions including coal, oil, and natural gas will have an assessment proportional to their emissions potential placed on them near their sources by the government. This raises their costs, and the companies selling them will pass the costs down through the supply chain to the ultimate consumers. Prices of all affected products – cars, homes, tomatoes, shoes, heating – will increase in proportion to the GHG emissions they cause. The assessments will increase each year, providing ample notice to consumers to plan changes in their habits and purchases; this will cause a predictable reduction in the demand for hydrocarbons and other GHG substances in a way that will allow their producers to reduce the supplies to fit the demand. #globalwarming

To avoid pulling all the money of the assessments out of the country’s economy, a mechanism to return the monies to the people should be instituted.

SUMMARY: What should America do to get control over GHG emissions?

  • Create an Independent Congressional Commission of professionals including scientists, economists, and project planners to create a long-term Blueprint for combatting GHGs.

  • Base this Blueprint on carbon pricing to get everyone involved, with a return of the funds collected back to the public.

  • Institute a border fee designed to stimulate other countries to do their part in this GHG battle.


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