A proposal, published in the journal of Science, makes the case for exploring means of countering climate change other than simple carbon reduction. In the proposal, an international team of researchers argue the value of directing some of the attention currently focused on achieving strict CO2 reduction targets towards the reduction of other greenhouse gases. The researchers, representing a variety of global warming related fields including: climate modeling, atmospheric chemistry, economics, agriculture and public health, posit that providing people with an easier and less costly alternative to forgoing the use of traditional fuel-powered vehicles could lead to far stronger commitment.

The proposal sets out to address the inherent dilemma in combating climate change, namely the difficulty of actually ensuring widespread public adherence to new restriction policies. Policies which, while widely supported in theory, are too often deemed draconian by citizens reluctant to abandon present practices. The researchers argue that this reluctance can be sufficiently countered by addressing two key concerns: cost and rewards. The researchers argue that not only do economic concerns outweigh ethical or environmental concerns on the level of individuals but they also ultimately trump such less crucial concerns at the highest levels of government as well. Secondly, the researchers argue that unless citizens are provided with clear, immediate benefits or improvements to their quality of life, the vague promises of a more sustainable and ecologically sound planet in the far-off future will not be sufficient to convince a majority of the public.

With these two concerns first and foremost in their minds, the researchers propose a reappraisal of the targets of our combined reduction efforts. They suggest that instead of focusing solely on reducing CO2 emissions our efforts would prove far more efficient if we were to widen the scope of these efforts. The proposal offers a list of 14 measures for more efficiently reducing climate change arguing that implementation of these measures would be far less resource heavy and produce much quicker results.  The specific measures proposed by the researchers include: switching to cleaner diesel engines and cook-stoves; replacing traditional kilns and coke ovens, use of which continues to be wide-spread across Africa and the Middle East; and capturing methane gases released by decomposing waste and oil wells. Through rapid and wide-spread implementation of these strategies, the researchers estimate that global warming would be reduced by 1 degree Fahrenheit; roughly a third of the warming projected in no action is taken and significantly more significant than the projected impact of current CO2 reduction measures.

Furthermore, the researchers claim that the effects of their approach would yield far more immediate results due to the drastic improvement in air quality, a fact which they predict would lead to anywhere between 700,000 and 4.7 million fewer premature deaths a year. These measures are also claimed to be far more economically feasible for the developing world, providing a full return on investment over the course of five to ten years.

This suggested new approach has already garnered significant praise from such world-leading experts and Ted Nordhaus, of the Breakthrough Institute, and reaffirms the need for continuing research into climate change mitigation. However, there is an element of risk attached to such arguments as those made by this team of researchers. In offering his praise of the researchers’ proposals Chris Field, Stanford University climate scientist and leader of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, did, however, voice his concern regarding the possible effects of these results on the attitudes of policy makers. These risks lie in the potentially counterproductive confusion which such news may engender in the public as well as among policy makers, confusion which could easily lead to a growing sense of apathy and defeatism as well as a weakening of current CO2 reduction measures. Thus, while it is imperative that we remain vigilant in pursuing the most efficient solutions to our grand societal challenges, we must also be wary of research which encourages the wholesale rejection of prevailing methods and models so as to not sow the seeds of hopelessness among the public.

Source: More details regarding the proposal an enviroevaluation.org

Read more:
NY Times article on the historical context 
The study in full