This week the University of Notre Dame made a public commitment to control its emissions of greenhouse gases (as well as reduce water use and trash generation). The article announcing the plan to the university community can be found here, and the plan itself is here.

Here's my opinion on the plan--I'm glad that we now have one, but I don't think its very visionary. I think and hope that we can do better.

I've been frantically working on a paper for which I am suffering some significant writers block.

So today I defer to an interesting blog post by Rob Socolow (Princeton University) on where he talks about a paper that he published with Steve Pacala in 2004 about how to stabilize carbon emissions to the atmosphere.

In 2004, Socolow and Pacala argued that the challenge of stabilizing carbon emissions should be broken down into "wedges" or pieces of emission reduction achieved by a variety of different strategies such as efficiency gains, wind power, avoided deforestation, etc. They argued that a diverse portfolio of wedges--7 wedges to be precise--could level our emissions so that we could avoid catastrophic climate change and cap carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere at twice the level it was before the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

Since 2004, we would now need 9 wedges, instead of 7, because our emissions have grown rapidly. But the point remains the same--breaking down the problem into more manageable pieces can make a large goal achievable. Socolow and Pacala's argument (today, as well as 7 years ago) also avoids the tendency among policy makers and the public to want to find one or a few best alternatives that by themselves substitute for our use of fossil fuels. That single best alternative is probably not going to happen, at least not anytime soon.

Mark Lynas's "Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet" has re-calibrated climate change for me. And that's saying a lot because I think about this stuff pretty much all of the time. I've just finished reading Six Degrees (though I realize I am discovering this book three years after its publication), and I think its premise is brilliant. It's brilliant because it organizes the scientific literature on climate change into a unique framework, one that helps the reader visualize future outcomes. It takes the census-range of projected climate change that is likely to occur by 2100, somewhere in the range 2-6 degrees Celsius, and breaks that into single degrees. The first chapter, 1 degree, covers the impacts of climate changes that we see already today--things like shifts in species ranges, changes in fire frequency, and pest outbreaks. The second chapter imagines a climate that's 2 degrees warmer that the pre-industrial average temperature, a world that may have more intense hurricanes and summer drought in California due to decreased winter snow fall, for example. And so on.