Can Current Energy Techs Stop Global Warming? Probably Not


In a remarkably interesting column in today's Washington Post, the invaluable Robert Samuelson discusses the prospects for significantly reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, especially CO2, over the next half century. His analysis lead him to believe that the prospect for deep cuts is dim. Samuelson correctly points out:

No government will adopt the draconian restrictions on economic growth and personal freedom (limits on electricity usage, driving and travel) that might curb global warming. Still, politicians want to show they're "doing something." The result is grandstanding. Consider the Kyoto Protocol. It allowed countries that joined to castigate those that didn't. But it hasn't reduced carbon dioxide emissions (up about 25 percent since 1990), and many signatories didn't adopt tough enough policies to hit their 2008-2012 targets. By some estimates, Europe may overshoot by 15 percent and Japan by 25 percent.

A new report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that global CO2 emissions will rise by 75 percent by 2030. So Samuelson is right–big cuts in GHG emissions will only be achieved if there are big tech breakthroughs in energy production.

During the Buenos Aires climate change negotiations, I looked at an analysis that showed just how hard it would be using current energy technologies to just stabilize emissions at current levels, much less cut them. All that being said, it would be silly to dismiss the possibility that such big breakthroughs may well occur. Always bet on human creativity.