Can we live with zero emissions?

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Author: Matthew Wright March 11, 2008

On February 21, the interim Garnaut Climate Change Review was released. It states: "It is in Australia's interest for the world to adopt a strong and effective position on climate change mitigation."

Professor Garnaut also mentioned scenarios including what it would take if Australia was to be fair to developing countries and carry its historical burden to have a 50 per cent chance of meeting the long established EU goal of keeping warming under two degrees. To do this he suggested we would have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 90 per cent by 2050 - effectively, it's a zero emissions target.

So what would life be like with zero emissions? Is it even possible?

Yes it is, and here's how it looks...


Contents

[edit] It all starts at home

If your house was built after 2014, then you don't require any space heating or cooling as your house has been engineered to include passive solar design, as well as with enough thermal mass storage like concrete or rammed earth to get you warmly through many days of continuous cloud cover.

Your water is heated purely by an evacuated tube solar system in the summer months and boosted by an electric heat pump in the winter months. Lighting is vivid and dimmable, using Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs), which use five per cent of the electricity consumed by today's lighting.

There is no more gas in use, so if your house is of pre-2014 vintage it has been retrofitted to 8-star. The gas cooktop is gone, replaced by the European style induction cooktop, which cooks faster and gives better responsiveness than gas.

Our electric ovens are triple glazed - you can put your hand on the front while the thermostat is up and not get burnt.

Our televisions are Organic LED (OLED) display based. Sony has already released one and they use 10 per cent of the power of today's LCD flat-panel televisions.

Computers use the technology of the latest laptops with OLED displays and consume around 80 per cent less power than today's desktops.

Water collected from our roofs provides 100 per cent of our water.

[edit] Getting energised

Brown coal use ended in Victoria in 2014 and black coal was phased out in 2016 in the rest of the country.

By now, wind power already contributes 40 per cent of total power generation and we see rapid growth in concentrating solar thermal plants (these boil water to drive steam turbines to make electricity). Gas was used to repower coal plants during the transition to a zero emissions energy sector, but by 2020 gas has been phased out totally.

For energy security, reliable baseload and peak power demand, we use pumped hydro, compressed air storage, high temperature solar hydrogen storage, ammonia thermochemical storage and Phase Change Salt thermal batteries as well as flywheels and super-capacitors.

In 2020, geothermal technology takes off, allowing Australia to continue exporting energy based products such as aluminium.

[edit] Travelling and eating

We get around by traditional bicycle, fully enclosed electric assist bicycles, public transport and private cars.

Fast and frequent light and heavy rail account for 70 per cent of travel. Just like in the 1930s, trams and trains are now within 500 metres of most homes in cities like Melbourne and Sydney. By 2020, a massive rail network using the latest engineering is rolled out across our cities and major urban centres.

The streets are clean and there is no local air pollution in our cities.

Asthma rates and air quality related mortality fall dramatically as a consequence.

The vehicle fleet is a combination of electric vehicles (60 per cent) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (40 per cent). Congestion charges and road taxes motivate most people to use public transport. Intercapital trips are on the $100 billion 400km/h fast rail system, which links Perth, Melbourne, Cairns and Darwin.

International air flights are costly and are used to get from Darwin to Singapore. For trips to Europe or Africa, you take the Trans Asian Fast Train which links to the African Fast Rail. To get to the US, you take the Fast Train to Haerbin in China, then fly to Anchorage in Alaska eliminating all long haul flights. The only other flights are to small remote islands such as New Zealand and Iceland.

Shopping centres have been upgraded for energy performance; slashing their power consumption by 80 per cent. As you enter any commercial centres you'll notice the addition of air-locks (two sets of doors) to keep the heat out or in.

Energy used for production is listed on all foods, which are taxed based on their total life cycle energy input. Thus, vegetarian dishes are more popular, with the average family eating meat less than once or twice a week. Freight is almost exclusively done by rail, with shipping containers racing around the city on the tram network.

Waste is expensive and we all have a compost bin. Community food-producing gardening has become a popular pursuit and means our cities import 50 per cent less food from rural areas.

Entertainment is of course zero carbon, with the lights at the MCG being replaced by an array of thousands of high power LEDs.

Farming is predominately organic. Soil carbon is also big business.

Carbon dioxide is actually pulled out of the atmosphere by a process developed by the ancient South American Mayans called Bio Char. This involves cooking crop waste in the absence of oxygen and then using the synthetic gas to make biofuels for our plug-in hybrids and farm machinery. The by-product is the char, which takes carbon out of the atmosphere and even increases soil fertility. Farmers are paid for this, with the aim to return our atmospheric carbon to the pre industrial level of 270ppm.

Forests stewardship is rewarded. Reforestation with indigenous species becomes a new land use, which corresponds with the reduced farming footprint of a more vegetable based diet.

Recycling is about closing the loop. Usually 95 per cent of any product that comes to the end of its life after reuse is recycled.

Mining and construction now predominately use electric vehicles and tools. Consequently, according to the unions, life expectancy of blue collar workers now exceeds that of the white collar work force. The Unions are also happy about how quickly the renewable energy industry has grown to over 100,000 workers.

Materials are taxed according to their total life cycle, which means if management plans are not in place for mine tailings and industrial wastes, the costs are prohibitive, thereby promoting alternative materials.

[edit] And the best bit?

All the technology and know-how that was used to achieve this was commercially available at scale in 2007. I think we must make this change much sooner than 2050.

[edit] External links



This article is part of Greenprint that identifies strategies, actions and approaches for moving us towards a sustainable future.


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