The new EPA rules on future power plants will limit but not reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the near future, and maybe ever, if natural gas prices remain low. No new coal-fired plants are really on the horizon post-2012, and while without carbon capture and sequestration equipment they couldn’t be built, nobody’s clamoring to build them.
So while phasing out coal is not at all a bad thing, it’s not really being accomplished by this rule as much as by market forces. Which means that we’re looking at what amounts to a status quo as far as emissions goes. And the status quo is not only inadequate to stop climate change in the future, but the tipping point is on the verge of being reached, according to Scientific American:
The world is close to reaching tipping points that will make it irreversibly hotter, making this decade critical in efforts to contain global warming, scientists warned on Monday.
Scientific estimates differ but the world’s temperature looks set to rise by six degrees Celsius by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are allowed to rise uncontrollably.
As emissions grow, scientists say the world is close to reaching thresholds beyond which the effects on the global climate will be irreversible, such as the melting of polar ice sheets and loss of rainforests.
“This is the critical decade. If we don’t get the curves turned around this decade we will cross those lines,” said Will Steffen, executive director of the Australian National University’s climate change institute, speaking at a conference in London.
You don’t even hear the words “climate change” nowadays. The political system has utterly failed to address this challenge. And I don’t see that turning around in the next eight years, though one can never be sure. I think we’ve moved to a point where climate mitigation will factor more heavily than emission reduction. The energy infrastructure will have to change anyway, because oil is a scarce resource and natural gas may not be able to be extracted safely. But I think we’re going to have to deal with the mess we’ve made of the planet rather than inducing healing in it.