'Only Technology Revolution Can Save The Earth'
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SCIENTISTS SAY A QUEST FOR CLEAN ENERGY MUST BEGIN NOW
By Andrew C. Revkin
New York Times
Friday, November 1, 2002
Meeting the world's rising energy needs without increasing global warming
will require a research effort as ambitious as the Apollo project to put a
man on the moon, a diverse group of scientists and engineers is reporting
To supply energy needs 50 years from now without further influencing the
climate, up to three times the total amount of energy now generated using
coal, oil, and other fossil fuels will have to be produced using methods
that generate no heat-trapping greenhouse gases, the scientists said in
today's issue of the journal Science. In addition, they said, the use of
fossil fuels will have to decline, and to achieve these goals research will
have to begin immediately.
Without prompt action, the atmosphere's concentration of greenhouse gases,
mainly carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, is expected to double from
pre-industrial levels by the end of this century, the scientists said.
"A broad range of intensive research and development is urgently needed to
produce technological options that can allow both climate stabilization and
economic development,"the team said.
The researchers called for intensive new efforts to improve existing
technologies and develop others like fusion reactors or space-based solar
power plants. They did not estimate how much such a research effort would
cost, but it is considered likely to run into tens of billions of dollars in
government and private funds.
The researchers, a team of 18 scientists from an array of academic, federal,
and private research centers, said many options should be explored because
some were bound to fail and success, somewhere, was essential.
The researchers all work at institutions that might themselves benefit from
increased energy research spending, but other experts not involved in the
work said the new analysis was an important, and sobering, refinement of
As they now exist, most energy technologies, the scientists said, "have
severe deficiencies." Solar panels, new nuclear power options, windmills,
filters for fossil fuel emissions and other options are either inadequate or
require vastly more research and development than is currently planned in
the United States or elsewhere, they said.
The assessment contrasts with an analysis of climate-friendly energy options
made last year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an
international panel of experts that works under United Nations auspices.
That analysis concluded that existing technologies, diligently applied,
would solve much of the problem.
One author of the new analysis, Dr. Haroon S. Kheshgi, is a chemical
engineer for Exxon Mobil, whose primary focus remains oil, which along with
coal generates most of the carbon dioxide accumulating in the air from human
Still, Dr. Kheshgi said on Thursday that "climate change is a serious risk"
requiring a shift away from fossil fuels. "You need a quantum jump in
technology," he said. "What we're talking about here is a 50- to 100-year
Dr. Martin I. Hoffert, the lead author and a New York University physics
professor, said he was convinced the technological hurdles could be
overcome, but worried that the public and elected officials may not see the
In interviews, several of the authors and other experts said there were few
signs that major industrial nations were ready to engage in an ambitious
quest for clean energy.
Prof. Richard L. Schmalensee, a climate-policy expert and the dean of the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management, said the
issue of climate change remained too complex and contentious to generate the
requisite focus. "There is no substitute for political will," he said.
The Bush administration has resisted sharp shifts in energy policy while
Europe and Japan have accepted a climate treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, that
includes binding deadlines for modest cuts in gas emissions. At
international climate talks that end today in New Delhi, leaders of
developing countries rejected limits on their fast-growing use of fossil
fuels, saying rich countries should act first.
President Bush has called for more research, led by the Energy Department,
on many of the technologies examined in the new analysis. But some energy
and climate experts said the extent of the challenge would likely require
far more focus and money than now exists.
Among the possibilities are space-based arrays of solar panels that might
beam energy to earth using microwaves. The panel described various nuclear
options, including the still-distant fusion option and new designs for
fission-based power plants that might overcome limits on uranium and other
Planting forests, which absorb carbon dioxide, cannot possibly keep up with
the anticipated growth in energy use as developing countries become
industrialized and as global population rises toward nine billion or more,
the panel said.
Some environmental campaigners criticized the study's focus on still-distant
technologies, saying it could distract from the need to do what is possible
now to reduce emissions of warming gases.
"Techno-fixes are pipe dreams in many cases," said Kert Davies, research
director for Greenpeace, which has been conducting a broad campaign against
Exxon Mobil. "The real solution," he said, "is cutting the use of fossil
fuels by any means necessary."
'ONLY TECHNOLOGY REVOLUTION CAN SAVE THE EARTH'
By Charles Arthur, Technology Editor
Friday, November 1, 2002
Diplomacy has failed -- meaning that only a revolutionary advanced
technology will save the Earth from relentless global warming driven by
greenhouse gas emissions, scientists warned yesterday.
Avoiding a catastrophic effect on climate from the burning of fossil fuels
would require political will, international cooperation and huge resources,
said the team from a group of American universities. But "no amount of
regulation" could solve the problem, they said.
Instead it would need dramatic leaps in technology, such as working fusion
reactors, solar panels the size of Manhattan floating in space, and a
"global grid" of superconducting power transmission lines to distribute
electricity without loss around the world.
Even short-term "defensive" measures -- such as removing carbon dioxide from
the atmosphere and burying it in underground reservoirs, or filling the
upper atmosphere with reflective molecules, or building a 1,250-mile-wide
mirror in space to divert some of the sun's rays -- remain far beyond our
capability, said Dr Martin Hoffert, professor of physics at New York
The researchers reported their findings in the journal Science, calculating
that the world's primary power requirements could triple in the next 50
years.Models indicated the Earth's temperature could climb by up to 4.5C
over the next century -- a temperature change equal to that of the global
cooling which caused the last Ice Age.
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