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    As Earth Warms, the Hottest Issue Is Energy
    Posted on Wednesday, November 19, 2003 @ 21:08:58 GMT by vlad

    General Overtone writes: By KENNETH CHANG, New York Times, November 4, 2003

    Suppose that over the next decade or two the forecasts of global warming start to come true. Color has drained from New England's autumns as maple trees die, and the Baltimore oriole can no longer be found south of Buffalo. The Dust Bowl has returned to the Great Plains, and Arctic ice is melting into open water. Upheavals in weather, the environment and life are accelerating around the world.
    Then what?


    If global warming occurs as predicted, there will be no easy way to turn the Earth's thermostat back down. The best that most scientists would hope for would be to slow and then halt the warming, and that would require a top-to-bottom revamping of the world's energy systems, shifting from fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas to alternatives that in large part do not yet exist.

    "We have to face the fact this is an enormous challenge," said Dr. Martin I. Hoffert, a professor of physics at New York University.

    But interviews with scientists, environment advocates and industry representatives show that there is no consensus in how to meet that challenge. Some look to the traditional renewable energy sources: solar and wind. Others believe use of fossil fuels will continue, but that the carbon dioxide can be captured and then stored underground. The nuclear power industry hopes concern over global warming may help spur a revival.

    In an article in the journal Science last November, Dr. Hoffert and 17 other experts looked at alternatives to fossil fuels and found all to have "severe deficiencies in their ability to stabilize global climate."

    The scientists believe that technological fixes are possible. Dr. Hoffert said the country needed to embark on an energy research program on the scale of the Manhattan Project that built the atomic bomb during World War II or the Apollo program that put men on the moon.

    "Maybe six or seven of them operating simultaneously," he said. "We should be prepared to invest several hundred billion dollars in the next 10 to 15 years."

    But to even have a hope of finding a solution, the effort must begin now, the scientists said. A new technology usually takes several decades to develop the underlying science, build pilot projects and then begin commercial deployment.

    The authors of the Science paper expect that a smorgasbord of energy sources will be needed, and they call for intensive research on radical ideas like vast solar arrays orbiting Earth that can collect sunlight and beam the energy down. "Many concepts will fail, and staying the course will require leadership," they wrote. "Stabilizing climate is not easy."

    The heart of the problem is carbon dioxide, the main byproduct from the burning of fossil fuels. When the atmosphere is rich in carbon dioxide, heat is trapped, producing a greenhouse effect. Most scientists believe the billions of tons of carbon dioxide released since the start of the Industrial Revolution are in part to blame for the one-degree rise in global temperatures over the past century. Carbon dioxide concentrations are now 30 percent higher than preindustrial levels.

    With rising living standards in developing nations, emissions of carbon dioxide are increasing, and the pace of warming is expected to speed up, too. Unchecked, carbon dioxide would reach twice preindustrial levels by midcentury and perhaps double again by the end of the century. That could force temperatures up by 3 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, according to computer models.

    Because carbon dioxide is colorless, odorless and disperses immediately into the air, few realize how much spills out of tailpipes and smokestacks. An automobile, for example, generates perhaps 50 to 100 tons of carbon dioxide in its lifetime.

    The United States produces more carbon dioxide than any other country by far. Each American, on average, generates about 45,000 pounds of carbon dioxide a year. That is about twice as much as the average person living in Japan or Europe and many times more than someone living in a developing country like Zimbabwe, China or Panama. (Even if the United States achieves President Bush's goal of an 18 percent reduction in the intensity of carbon dioxide emissions by 2012, the output of an average American would still far exceed that of almost anyone else in the world.)

    Even if all emissions stop, levels of carbon dioxide in the air will remain high for centuries as the Earth gradually absorbs the excess.

    Currently, the world's energy use per second is about 12 trillion watts which would light up 120 billion 100-watt bulbs and 85 percent of that comes from fossil fuels.



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