A special report in the July/August issue of MIT’s Technology Review concludes that we can avoid the catastrophic effects of global warming if we act now. The report says that we need more effective deployment of existing energy technologies while we begin building a sustainable energy infrastructure for the future. The main culprits in the global warming crisis are the greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, that are emitted from burning fossil fuels. About 80% of worldwide power comes from fossil fuels and demand is growing. Moving to renewable, carbon-free energy sources is the ultimate goal.
Respected NASA climate scientist, Jim Hansen, has been sending the warning signals since the 1980’s. Hansen believes that we have not yet seen the full effects of the greenhouse buildup. He says that global warming lags behind the greenhouse buildup for 2 primary reasons: 1) The excess energy first heats the oceans with the atmosphere to follow later, and 2) The pollution in the air dims the sunlight and thereby offsets as much as half of the warming effect. The irony is that reducing air pollution will likely increase global warming.
Hansen’s computer models show that temperatures will rise 2 to 3 degrees if we stay on our current path. That would make earth as warm as it was about 3 million years ago, a time when the seas were 15 to 35 meters higher than they are today. At those levels as many as half a billion people would be living under water.
Hansen and his team of researchers believe the solution is in making existing energy technologies more efficient to buy time (a couple of decades) while we develop new technologies to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 80%. Technology Review’s report goes on to highlight some of the efficiencies that can be achieved with today’s energy technologies; such as, cleaner coal technology, recyclable nuclear energy, better methods of producing ethanol, and new approaches to oil exploration. It also points out the future prospects for wind and solar energy, both of which are renewable and carbon-free.
As Jim Hansen says, “No court of justice or court of international opinion will forgive us for what we’re doing now, because now we know the problem and we’re just pretending we don’t understand it. We are going to be responsible, but it will be our children and grandchildren that have to pay.”