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Noel Laporte

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What form of renewable energy has or will have the lowest impact on biodiversity?

Climate change, air pollution, rising sea levels and species extinction can all be attributed to the increasing usage of non-renewable energy in the world today. Non-renewable energy reserves are diminishing and finite with an ever-increasing demand from countries around the world. Coal, natural gas and oil all have detrimental effects on the environment. These effects are both local and global, harming species throughout the world. As we consider different renewable forms of energy, can we rank their potential impacts on biodiversity?


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      Apr 23 2013: In a climate change policy course I took last term, we talked about how energy efficiency efforts can have a huge impact on reducing GHG emissions. While it's not a form of renewable energy, increasing our efficiency can still impact biodiversity by lessening the strain on resources, renewable or not. This will become increasingly important as other nations industrialize and raise their standard of living to a degree that requires vast consumption of energy.

      Types of energy efficiency efforts include appliance standards, demand-side management, building energy codes, and tax credits. Since many actions toward efficiency are actually financially beneficial in the long run, I don't think enough has been done to exploit these investment opportunities. For example, the average price of electricity in 2000 was 7.4 cents/kWh. The cost effectiveness of appliance standards, or price per kWh saved, is 3.8 cents/kWh. Even without considering environmental benefits, it's a worthy investment to make. On the other hand, solar costs about 40 cents/kWh, making it a much more expensive way to reduce dirty energy consumption.

      The McKinsey Curve (*) is a really cool depiction of the abatement cost of CO2 emissions considering a wide variety of technologies. On the left you see a slew of actions that would actually save you money in the long run, as well as reducing GHGs. As you move across the curve, you can see the cost by the height of the bar and the potential gigatons of carbon reduced each year by the width of the bar. Many of the cost-saving actions deal with energy efficiency.

      Again, this is not a form of renewable energy that can carry us into the future, but it's worth including in the conversation. As we learned from Thomas et al (whether or not you buy their precise calculations), climate change will have a huge impact on biodiversity, so reducing GHGs is an important task.

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        Apr 23 2013: Hi Mika! So it looks like reforestation is a relatively small carbon reduction at a relatively high cost. Is that right? If so, then the McKinsey Curve doesn't seem to account for the ecosystem services, which could be monetized, of conserving biodiversity and other services provides by forests. Would you agree? Could you imagine recasting this curve while considering the economic value of biodiversity?
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          Apr 23 2013: No, I don't believe the McKinsey Curve takes into account anything other than the cost of abatement and the potential gigatons of CO2 reduced. I agree that a more nuanced analysis could consider the other potential benefits associated with each of these actions, including the ecosystem services that come from conserving biodiversity. I also wonder what exactly the cost portion includes. Some of the technologies, like solar or car hybridization, obviously have high input costs but I wonder if it takes into account the cost of disposal, whereas something like deforestation wouldn't have an "after the fact" cost.
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        Apr 23 2013: How much energy will we save if everyone goes to bed early and turns off all the lights and appliances each night?

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