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Sir Martin Rees: We Need a Massive Research Program for Clean Energy
Alex Steffen, 8 Aug 06

The Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees, who knows something about catastrophes, has called for a multi-billion dollar crash program to bring clean energy technologies to market:

A carbon tax on companies generating the most greenhouse gas could be used to fund the project. "Private companies themselves won't provide an adequate research effort even for technologies that may turn out to be the most important ones, because they're still furthest from market," Prof Rees said.
According to the International Energy Agency, 80% of the world's energy needs will be met by fossil fuels by 2030. Nuclear, hydroelectric, biomass and waste power will provide only 17%, with other renewables such as solar and wind accounting for less than 2%.

Rees calls this a recipe for catastrophic climate change. Lots of others agree, and, indeed, many leading scientists say we need overall planetary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of 60-70% over the coming decades.

One often hears, in discussions about sustainability, that small steps add up. In reality, the kind of changes our societies need to undergo are truly massive, whether we're talking about climate change, reducing our cities' ecological footprint, or making our own personal consumption habits more sustainable. These things are going to require huge investments and fundamental redesigns of major aspects of our civilization, not just minor changes to a few of our daily habits.

While it's encouraging to see such a rapid sea-change occuring in the public perception about sustainability, we mustn't lose sight of the fact that we still have an enormous challenge ahead of us, and the odds are not yet at all reassuring. For instance, while clean energy is having a banner year with the venture capitalists, and some companies are investing heavily in climate solutions, Exxon-Mobile remains the largest and the most profitable company in the world.

Rees is right. It's time to think big, and invest accordingly.

(image: Steve Roe)

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Obviously more funding on a grand scale for technology is required in addition to the personal behavior changes that must occur. But energy and food subsidies also need to be realigned, and public policy requires a great transformation.

If discreet units of government such as cities began to analyze energy use, and projected energy use, combined with impacts from energy price increases, some profound economic development opportunites would be realized. Metabolistic analysis of cities or regions would help overcome random inefficient development while providing critical incentives for energy efficiency, public transportation, new urbanism approaches, green building, passive cooling, green roofs and infrastructure. The result: decreased operating costs, grid draw, local air pollution and carbon emissions. This would also build strong local economies. See for more details.

Posted by: Warren Karlenzig on 10 Aug 06

I have been reading about astrophysics and cosmology most of my life.I've also done a lot of reading on global warming,and am a member of many environmental groups focused on mitigating the effects of biodiversity and species loss, and fighting desertification, deforestation, and global warming. The Appollo Alliance would fit perfectly with Sir Martin Ree's proposals.Also,I am starting a large underground coal fire fighting company and will be selling the co2 credits to finance the contractors to put out the fires. Any help on research on this area would be

Posted by: Mark J. Fiore on 16 Aug 06



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