Current CO2 concentration in the atmosphere

Some graphical perspective on emissions goals

Among the rush of stories about today’s speech by President Obama, is Brad Plumer’s piece in the Washington Post, Obama tries the kitchen-sink approach to global warming. It include the following graph from the US Dept. of Energy:

This illustrates the current US pledge of reducing CO2 emissions 17% below the 2005 level by 2020. Seems fair enough.

Without implying anything about what Brad wrote, let me present an edited version of this graphic, in which I extended the vertical axis to zero and the horizontal axis to the year 2050, and I added an asterisk and notation for an 80% below 1990 emissions in 2050 goal:

Clearly, there is an astonishing amount of low-hanging fruit in our CO2 emissions. We can make huge improvements simply by pushing energy efficiency measures, as well as updating our infrastructure to something more Anthropocene-friendly — count the unnecessarily large vehicles in the parking lot the next time you buy groceries, for example. But getting all the way to the red asterisk will require a lot more than making those relatively painless changes.

Everyone here who thinks it will be easy, fun, cheap, or politically possible to achieve that 80% goal, please let me know how this happens. Provide numbers, show your work, etc.

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