Wedges analysis

The stabilization wedges concept has been expanded and has reached new audiences through several articles published during the past year. For Scientific American, Co-Directors Rob Socolow and Steve Pacala wrote a new synthesis of the concepts that addressed division of responsibility between nominally industrialized and nominally newly industrializing countries. Socolow also collaborated with Jeff Greenblatt (now at Environmental Defense) and Keywan Riahi (IIASA) in a paper presented at the biannual Carbon Capture and Storage meeeting in Trondheim, Norway, in which they presented a simple mathematical method to display the “wedges” associated with any emissions trajectory and applied their method to show the strong “green” assumptions implicit in the IPCC “SRES” scenarios.

In another collaboration, Socolow and Harvey Lam of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering co-authored “Good enough tools for global warming policy” for the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical & Engineering Sciences. The paper allows the non-specialist to explore idealized emissions trajectories and to understand the magnitude of the stabilization assignment (depending on stabilization level) and how the time to get the job done depends on the maximum pace for disengagement from fossil fuels (a scarcely explored parameter). Finally, Socolow is also working with Bryan Mignone, a CMI alumnus at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., to understand how assumptions about how the costs of mitigation options (non-carbon energy and CO2 capture and storage among them) affect prescriptions for prospective CO2 tax schedules. They hope to generate cross-talk between those, largely in the engineering community, who design energy conversion facilities and develop costs of low-carbon alternatives and those, largely economists, who insert costs into integrated assessment models.



During the past year Co-Directors Pacala and Socolow continued efforts to inform a variety of stakeholders about the wedges concept and the need to start cutting emissions now. On the policy front, Pacala was invited to speak about available carbon-cutting strategies at a closed door roundtable discussion entitled “Exploring Greenhouse Gas Technologies” for the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. He also accepted an invitation to join the board of Environmental Defense. Professor Socolow is helping to identify “Grand Challenges for Engineering” for the National Academy of Engineering, participated in the World Economic Forum in Davos, served as principle consultant to the World Wildlife Fund’s Energy Task Force, and is a member of a small advisory group to former Vice President Al Gore.

In the realm of popular communication, both Socolow and Pacala provided technical guidance for Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth,” which shows a wedges diagram as part of a concluding argument that we already have the tools to get started on mitigation. Professor Pacala also contributed to two television shows about climate change – “Can We Save Planet Earth?” with David Attenborough for the BBC, and “Global Warming. What You Need to Know” with Tom Brokaw for the Discovery Channel.

The board game based on the stabilization wedges concept has continued to grow in popularity, and the group is now expanding outreach efforts to reach high-school teachers. In response to a request by advisory board member John Holdren (now President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)), Socolow and Roberta Hotinski (CMI’s former Information Officer) will be demonstrating the wedges game with electronic voting at the AAAS annual meeting for an audience of 500, roughly half of whom will be high school teachers. Hotinski, who is now serving as a consultant for CMI on outreach, developed a teachers’ guide to the Stabilization Wedges Game for this event that is now available on the CMI website. She is also providing guidance to teachers who use the board game in classroom settings and continues to present the wedges concept and facilitate wedge workshops for diverse groups around the country.