Wednesday, February 07, 2007

"Global Warming and Hot Air"

Read the full op-ed piece by Robert J. Samuelson in The Washington Post of February 7, 2007.

Samuelson says
The dirty secret about global warming is this: We have no solution. About 80 percent of the world's energy comes from fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas), the main sources of man-made greenhouse gases. Energy use sustains economic growth, which -- in all modern societies -- buttresses political and social stability. Until we can replace fossil fuels or find practical ways to capture their emissions, governments will not sanction the deep energy cuts that would truly affect global warming......

Nor will existing technologies, aggressively deployed, rescue us. The IEA studied an "alternative scenario" that simulated the effect of 1,400 policies to reduce fossil fuel use. Fuel economy for new U.S. vehicles was assumed to increase 30 percent by 2030; the global share of energy from "renewables" (solar, wind, hydropower, biomass) would quadruple, to 8 percent. The result: by 2030, annual carbon dioxide emissions would rise 31 percent instead of 55 percent. The concentration levels of emissions in the atmosphere (which presumably cause warming) would rise.......

What we really need is a more urgent program of research and development, focusing on nuclear power, electric batteries, alternative fuels and the capture of carbon dioxide. Naturally, there's no guarantee that socially acceptable and cost-competitive technologies will result. But without them, global warming is more or less on automatic pilot. Only new technologies would enable countries -- rich and poor -- to reconcile the immediate imperative of economic growth with the potential hazards of climate change.

Meanwhile, we could temper our energy appetite. I've argued before for a high oil tax to prod Americans to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Comment: I am afraid he is is right that global warming is happening and is going to worsen; that the only question is how much. I also agree that we need to increase R&D, and an aggressive effort to promote fuel efficient transportation should be undertaken in the United States. (I would add stronger requirements on manufacturers for fleet efficiency, such as including SUVs in the fleets.) Newly industrializing countries will be the worst offenders in adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, and we should use all our bilateral and multilateral diplomatic influence to encourage them toward better environmental policies. However, the United States is by so far the worst per capita atmospheric polluter, that we must get our own house in order. Until we do so, our diplomatic efforts well be seen as "the pot calling the kettle black". JAD

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