On Wednesday morning, before a chaos of other obligations, I heard yet another panel on impending climate-change disasters, but this one left me strangely less despondent than some of the others. The speakers were Thomas Lovejoy, a long-time biodiversity expert, and David Hayes, who has recently become the #2 official in the Department of Interior.
Lovejoy's presentation began with a reminder of all the bad things that are happening to wildlife, to biodiversity, to life in the ocean, etc as CO2 levels in the atmosphere go up, taking temperatures with them. But then, in the pivot to the "you don't have to jump out the window just yet" part of the presentation, he emphasized how huge a role the Earth's own natural processes and vegetations -- its forests, grasslands, wetlands, even deserts -- can play in absorbing much larger quantities of carbon from the atmosphere than they do now and thereby reducing the greenhouse effect, if they are protected and managed in a different way. He called this process "Re-Greening the Emerald Planet," and he supplied several charts (which I don't have) to show how powerful the effect could be.
He tied this analysis to perhaps the most frequently-used chart in modern climate-change thinking -- one produced by McKinsey & Co and the McKinsey Global Institute comparing the relative costs of different measures to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) levels in the atmosphere. (For more on the study, here. For discussion, here.) On the chart, the below-the-line items, on the left side, are GHG-reduction measures that save more money than they cost. Most of these are sheer efficiency measures (insulating buildings, switching to more efficient lights). The above-the-line escalating figures on the right are the rising costs of other abatement measures. The most expensive of them are high-tech "carbon capture and sequestrian" systems, plus protecting forests in heavily-populated Asian countries. (Click for larger.)