subscribe
e-newsletter
digital edition
product info
advertise
Mcgraw Hill Construction
    Subscribe to GreenSource the magazine
of sustainable design: $19.95 for one year
comment

PEOPLE:
Stable-Wedge Theory

09/2009

Interview by Charles Linn, FAIA

Robert Socolow is a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and the co-director of the Carbon Mitigation Initiative at Princeton University. Originally a theoretical physicist, he now devotes his time to studying global carbon management and fossil-carbon sequestration. Socolow recently spoke with contributing editor Charles Linn, FAIA, about his influential stabilization wedge idea and the role architects can play in decreasing carbon emissions.

Robert Socolow
Photo: Jorge Colombo
As the world continues to emit carbon into the atmosphere at a dizzying rate, Robert Socolow advocates using a variety of new technologies that will curb future emissions.
Rate this project:
Based on what you have seen and read about this project, how would you grade it? Use the stars below to indicate your assessment, five stars being the highest rating.
----- Advertising -----

GreenSource: What inspired you to study the viability of reducing carbon emissions on a global scale?

Robert Socolow: We have a long-term challenge, which I call fitting on the planet. There are many of us, and we want to live well but we don’t fit. Even after we stabilize the world population, we will be pressing against global limits in the atmosphere, absorptive capacity for carbon dioxide, fossil-fuel resources, water, and land. We live on a single planet; everybody’s carbon emissions get stirred together to give you a single rising number.

GS: Can you explain the main concepts from your paper entitled “Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years with Current Technologies”?

RS: When Stephen Pacala and I developed this idea in 2004, the world was putting 25 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year (right now it’s 30 billion). At this rate, we estimated that the number would rise to 50 billion tons per year by 2055. We sought to understand how the world could keep this from happening, so we decided to cut the problem into wedges. Each wedge corresponds to an environmental strategy that would stop the world from emitting 4 billion tons of carbon dioxide on a yearly basis. For example, building one million 2 mW windmills instead of coal plants between now and 2055 would reduce global emissions by 4 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. You need about eight of these wedges to get the job done, and this aggregate of solutions has the potential to take care of our planetary problems.

GS: How does architecture fit into the wedge theory?

RS: If electricity use in buildings is reduced by one-fourth using advanced lighting, improved air conditioning and appliances, and cogeneration systems that integrate heat and electricity in building structures, you would have a wedge. If the energy efficiency in buildings isn’t measured, it isn’t going to happen. We must start with the goal of improved performance and the expectation that we don’t exactly know how to do it. If we spend the time and money researching and learning, then we will see much deeper reductions in energy use in buildings. I started this initiative in the 1970s, and there is still not as much progress as I would have hoped.

GS: In your view, what can architects do in order to mitigate the effect of carbon on the environment?

RS: Most architects consider my stance a performance-oriented view of building design. Another view of architecture focuses on what the building looks like, its historical references, and how people use it, but not the resources that go into it. Every building is a resource-consuming machine, and many architects put that issue into a subordinate category. Energy efficiency is the most benign way to address climate change; the alternative is to generate more energy, but every energy source has its dark side. Architects can work with policy-makers to create strong incentives to achieve energy efficiency. The world will be well served if the next generation of architects creatively addresses these environmental challenges.

Edited by Mae Ryan

share: more »

This article appeared in the September 2009 print issue of GreenSource Magazine.

 Reader Comments:

Sign in to Comment

To write a comment about this story, please sign in. If this is your first time commenting on this site, you will be required to fill out a brief registration form. Your public username will be the beginning of the email address that you enter into the form (everything before the @ symbol). Other than that, none of the information that you enter will be publically displayed.

We welcome comments from all points of view. Off-topic or abusive comments, however, will be removed at the editors’ discretion.

----- Advertising -----
Click here to go to product info Page
Daily Headlines
McGraw-Hill Construction

Search Sweets

Example: Building Products, CAD, BIM, Catalogs
Search
Reader Feedback
Most Commented Most Recommended
Rankings reflect comments made in the past 14 days
Rankings reflect comments made in the past 14 days
Recently Posted Reader Photos

View all photo galleries >>
Recent Forum Discussions

View all forum discusions >>
----- Advertising -----
Click here to go to product info Page
Reader Feedback
Most Commented Most Recommended
Rankings reflect comments made in the past 14 days
Rankings reflect comments made in the past 14 days
Recently Posted Reader Photos

View all photo galleries >>
Recent Forum Discussions

View all forum discusions >>