Dr. Socolow’s idea is deceptively simple: rather than trying to tackle the whole problem at once, break it down into little pieces and focus on those. In the source article from last December's issue of Environment, he breaks down the emissions “triangle”--the difference between the status-quo greenhouse gas emissions trendline and the total reduction required to stabilize atmospheric GHG concentrations--into smaller, more manageable segments. These segments can be "filled" by improvements in five different areas:
- Energy conservation
- Renewable energy
- "Enhanced natural sinks" (forest- and land-management)
- Nuclear energy
- Fossil carbon management (sequestration of CO2 and other greenhouse gases)
If the successor treaty to Kyoto for the post-2012 period were made up of nested agreements focusing on individual slices of the problem, we might have a process in which all countries would willingly participate in some segments--and thus contribute towards bringing global emissions down to a sustainable level. For example, the EU might choose to pursue all segments, while the US could opt in for sequestration and nuclear power, but out for other areas. China and India might find renewables and reforestation attractive, while opting out of higher-cost sequestration.
This sounds potentially chaotic, but it aligns nicely with the pragmatic approach being pursued in the G-8 and elsewhere, of focusing on areas of agreement, rather than seeking unattainable universal agreement. It also puts the emphasis on truly solving the problem, rather than on satisfying preconceived notions of what a solution must look like.