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 today.
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.
are pipe dreams in many cases. The real solution is cutting the use of fossil
fuels by any means necessary.
"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 earlier projections.
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 activities.
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 time scale."
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 urgency.
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 fuels.
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
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