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Why CO2 Mandates Won’t Work  

Unfortunately, there is a major flaw in all this current "fixative" thinking. Simply put, no matter how strong any Senate mandate, the technology needed to stabilize global atmospheric levels of CO2 does not exist. This crucial fact, noted in science journals, is woefully ignored.

The climate-change debate rages
on with ever more twists and turns.
Scientists with the Harvard-
Smithsonian Center for
Astrophysics now find that the 20th
century is neither the warmest nor
that with the most extreme weather
of the last 1,000 years. Harvard scientists
also report that the sun may
dim in mid-century, producing cooler
temperatures.

Despite these findings, environmentalists
claim that unless, consistent
with the aims of the international
Kyoto Protocol, carbon dioxide
(CO2) emissions are reduced to
pre-1990 levels, polar ice caps will
melt, coastal areas will flood and
disasters will abound. Industry
counters that computer models predicting
such disasters are flawed
and that imposing CO2 emissions
limits would limit energy use and
be economically disastrous.

Congress has stepped into the
fray, and in the next few weeks the
Senate will consider energy-legislation
amendments that impose limits
on CO2 emissions from electric utilities
and other sources.

Unfortunately, there is a major
flaw in all this current “fixative”
thinking. Simply put, no matter how
strong any Senate mandate, the technology
needed to stabilize global
atmospheric levels of CO2 does not
exist. This crucial fact, noted in science
journals, is woefully ignored.

As reported in Nature, just to stabilize
the atmospheric level of CO2
at 550 parts-per-million (ppm) – double
what it was in pre-industrial
times and substantially higher than
the present level of about 370 ppm –
could require generating as much as
40 terawatts (TW) of carbon-free
energy. That is four times the
amount of power currently generated
by all the fossil fuels in use in
the world today. Moreover, as
reported in Science, policies aiming
to constrain CO2 emissions won’t
solve the problem because existing
technologies have severe deficiencies
limiting their use.

The Science article notes that
producing just 10 TW of carbon-neutral
biomass power requires using a
land area equivalent to that used by
all of human agriculture today, and
producing that much power using
wind-turbine technology requires
building 100 wind-energy turbines,
each nearly the size of the
Washington Monument, every day
for the next 100 years. Analogous
problems arise if solar powered
photovoltaic arrays are employed. A
further complication is that energy
storage capacity needed to balance
out intermittently generated power
from these technologies does not
exist, and no existing effort will produce
it. Hydrogen-powered cars are
carbon emissions-free, but the
demand for platinum to be used in
the fuel cells of all the millions of
tomorrow’s cars far exceeds the
world supply of platinum. Fusion
could produce more power than any
known source except the sun, but
fusion research is moving too slowly
to meet power demands.

Additionally, developing countries
such as China and India, which are
large (and growing) emitters of
CO2, will not endanger their economic
growth by abandoning the
use of coal, a cheap and abundant
resource. Simply put, even if the
entire industrialized world achieved
the CO2 reductions called for in the
international Kyoto Protocol, the
overall effect on atmospheric levels
of CO2 would be minimal, and global
levels would continue to rise substantially.
This is one problem that
neither the U.S. Senate nor the
Kyoto-ites can legislate away.

Rather than fighting over economically
punitive Senate mandates
or a largely irrelevant protocol,
what is needed is an all out abandonment
of near-sighted legislative
fixes in favor of a far-reaching
“Marshall Plan” for developing
advanced carbon emissions-free
technologies that are not now available.
If the climate change conundrum
is a Gordian knot, technological
innovation is the sword that will
cleave it through.

Developing, diffusing and deploying
needed innovative technologies
could take 50 to 100 years. The
undertaking could cost trillions of
dollars, but investments could be
spread over decades. Benefits
would accrue to everyone: society,
through deployment of technologies
that can stabilize atmospheric CO2
levels; industry, by moving new
technologies into the market place;
and nations, through technology
access, patent and licensing agreements,
and creation of stable governmental
structures needed to support
the endeavor.

Finally, even if serious climate
problems do not arise, the effort
will lead to new ways to generate
large amounts of energy for the
continued economic growth of the
world economy.

William Kovacs is vice president
for Environment, Technology
& Regulatory Affairs at the
U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

William Kovacs

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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