Not Global Warming Silly… it’ our wastefulness

Posted on April 6, 2008. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The charged and complex debate over how to slow down global warming has become a lot more complicated.
New York Times – Andrew C. Revkin

Wasted Energy

Most of the focus in the last few years has centered on imposing caps on greenhouse gas emissions to prod energy users to conserve or switch to nonpolluting technologies.

Leaders of the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change — the scientists awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year with former Vice President Al Gore — have emphasized that market-based approach. All three presidential candidates are behind it. And it has framed international talks over a new climate treaty and debate within the United States over climate legislation

But now, with recent data showing an unexpected rise in global emissions and a decline in energy efficiency, a growing chorus of economists, scientists and students of energy policy are saying that whatever benefits the cap approach yields, it will be too little and come too late.

The economist Jeffrey D. Sachs, head of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, stated the case bluntly in a recent article in Scientific American: “Even with a cutback in wasteful energy spending, our current technologies cannot support both a decline in carbon dioxide emissions and an expanding global economy. If we try to restrain emissions without a fundamentally new set of technologies, we will end up stifling economic growth, including the development prospects for billions of people.”

What is needed, Mr. Sachs and others say, is the development of radically advanced low-carbon technologies, which they say will only come about with greatly increased spending by determined governments on what has so far been an anemic commitment to research and development. A Manhattan-like Project, so to speak.

And time is critical, they say, as China, India and other developing nations march headlong into the modern world of cars and electric consumption on their way to becoming the dominant producer of greenhouse gases for decades to come. Indeed, China is building, on average, one large coal-burning power plant a week.

In an article in the journal Nature last week, researchers concerned with the economics, politics, and science of climate also argued that technology policy, not emissions policy, must dominate.

Mr. Sachs pointed to several promising technologies — capturing and burying carbon dioxide, plug-in hybrid cars and solar-thermal electric plants. “Each will require a combination of factors to succeed: more applied scientific research, important regulatory changes, appropriate infrastructure, public acceptance and early high-cost investments,” he said. “A failure on one or more of these points could kill the technologies.”

In short, what is needed, he said, is a “major overhaul of energy technology” financed by “large-scale public funding of research, development and demonstration projects.”

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