- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

The climate-change debate rages on with ever more twists and turns. Scientists with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics now find that the 20th century is neither the warmest nor that with the most extreme weather of the last 1,000 years. Harvard scientists also report that the sun may dim in mid-century, producing cooler temperatures.Despite these findings, environmentalists claim that unless, consistent with the aims of the international Kyoto Protocol, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are reduced to pre-1990 levels, polar ice caps will melt, coastal areas will flood and disasters will abound. Industry counters that computer models predicting such disasters are flawed and that imposing CO2 emissions limits would limit energy use and be economically disastrous.Congress has stepped into the fray, and in the next few weeks the Senate will consider energy-legislation amendments that impose limits on CO2 emissions from electric utilities and other sources.Unfortunately, there is a major flaw in all this current “fixative” thinking. Simply put, no matter how strong any Senate mandate, the technology needed to stabilize global atmospheric levels of CO2 does not exist. This crucial fact, noted in science journals, is woefully ignored.As reported in Nature, just to stabilize the atmospheric level of CO2 at 550 parts-per-million (ppm) — double what it was in pre-industrial times and substantially higher than the present level of about 370 ppm — could require generating as much as 40 terawatts (TW) of carbon-free energy. That is four times the amount of power currently generated by all the fossil fuels in use in the world today. Moreover, as reported in Science, policies aiming to constrain CO2 emissions won’t solve the problem because existing technologies have severe deficiencies limiting their use.The Science article notes that producing just 10 TW of carbon-neutral biomass power requires using a land area equivalent to that used by all of human agriculture today, and producing that much power using wind-turbine technology requires building 100 wind-energy turbines, each nearly the size of the Washington Monument, every day for the next 100 years. Analogous problems arise if solar powered photovoltaic arrays are employed. A further complication is that energy storage capacity needed to balance out intermittently generated power from these technologies does not exist, and no existing effort will produce it. Hydrogen-powered cars are carbon emissions-free, but the demand for platinum to be used in the fuel cells of all the millions of tomorrow’s cars far exceeds the world supply of platinum. Fusion could produce more power than any known source except the sun, but fusion research is moving too slowly to meet power demands.Additionally, developing countries such as China and India, which are large (and growing) emitters of CO2, will not endanger their economic growth by abandoning the use of coal, a cheap and abundant resource. Simply put, even if the entire industrialized world achieved the CO2 reductions called for in the international Kyoto Protocol, the overall effect on atmospheric levels of CO2 would be minimal, and global levels would continue to rise substantially. This is one problem that neither the U.S. Senate nor the Kyoto-ites can legislate away.Rather than fighting over economically punitive Senate mandates or a largely irrelevant protocol, what is needed is an all out abandonment of near-sighted legislative fixes in favor of a far-reaching “Marshall Plan” for developing advanced carbon emissions-free technologies that are not now available. If the climate change conundrum is a Gordian knot, technological innovation is the sword that will cleave it through.Developing, diffusing and deploying needed innovative technologies could take 50 to 100 years. The undertaking could cost trillions of dollars, but investments could be spread over decades. Benefits would accrue to everyone: society, through deployment of technologies that can stabilize atmospheric CO2 levels; industry, by moving new technologies into the market place; and nations, through technology access, patent and licensing agreements, and creation of stable governmental structures needed to support the endeavor.Finally, even if serious climate problems do not arise, the effort will lead to new ways to generate large amounts of energy for the continued economic growth of the world economy.William Kovacs is vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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