Climate War Game – A Free Lunch

I’m at CNAS’ climate war game listening to Diana Farrell from the McKinsey Global Institute. So far my takeaway from the exercise has been rather gloomy; Farrell presented a more hopeful view, informed by McKinsey’s construction of supply curves for carbon emissions reductions. I found her opening point particulaly critical: don’t wait for energy supply-side silver bullets to save us, when there are demand-side opportunities now.

McKinsey supply curve for global emissions reductions
Per-Anders Enkvist, Tomas Nauclér, and Jens Riese, What Countries Can Do About Cutting Carbn Emissions, McKinsey Quarterly, April 2008

McKinsey’s supply curves (and others from bottom-up modeling efforts) indicate large reductions available at low or negative cost. The idea of cheap negawatts has been around for a long time. Hard line economists have also been declaring the idea dead for a long time (see my old bibliography of the top-down/bottom-up debate).

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Climate War Game – First Salvo

Sunday evening I attended the kickoff of a CNAS war game, Clout & Climate Change, examining the intersection of climate policy and national security. I’m on the science advisory team, along with Drew Jones and Lori Siegel from the Sustainability Institute. We hope to provide real-time, model-based decision support. The exercise brings together a rather extraordinary talent pool, so it’s a daunting task.

Peter Schwartz delivered an opening talk on scenario planning; he made a compelling case for robust thinking. He also set a tone that has haunted much of the subsequent proceedings: there are striking technological options for dealing with climate, but progress is difficult because people are caught up in their individual worlds (they want more stuff). As a result, he expects that lots of adaptation will be needed. Negotiations since have borne out his framing: aggressive targets (-80% by 2050) appear elusive in the face of the perceived need for continued economic growth to keep US and EU workers happy, avoid regime change in China, and provide for development in the poorest regions.

Paty Romero-Lankao asked the key question of the evening. To paraphrase crudely, she wondered whether a focus on technology and adaptation missed the point; that one must also address the lifestyle issues that are the underlying driver of growth. Amen. Lifestyle is a tougher nut to crack than technology, but to borrow Peter’s phrase guiding scenario planning, it’s important to avoid thinking, “that can’t happen.”