A climate change expert has urged Australia to step away from the development of clean coal technology for power generation in favour of natural gas and nuclear energy.
Jesse Ausubel, director of the Program for the Human Environment at the Rockefeller University in New York, has also bagged renewable fuels like solar and wind power saying while they may be renewable they were not really environmentally friendly.
Mr Ausubel said he believed the push to develop clean coal technology would ultimately fail ““ because of the high cost involved and the problem of dealing with toxic waste products like sulphur and mercury.
“There is a lot of interest in somehow trying to salvage or protect the coal industry,” he told the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) conference.
“But truly making clean, zero emission coal is a very hard job.
“It is a lot easier to begin with natural gas.
“I won’t say it can’t be done, but in the end you’re still left with these hazardous waste piles.”
Mr Ausubel said a big mistake many environmentalists made was to think that renewable fuels were more friendly to the environment.
On a scale that mattered, he said, renewable fuels like ethanol and wind power required large areas of land which had to be developed at the expense of nature.
“I want more land left for nature, I don’t want hundreds of millions of hectares around the world planted out to provide whisky for my Toyota,” he said.
“I think that’s a horrible idea. I want land for bears or tigers or kangaroos.”
Mr Ausubel said while he was a firm believer in climate change he did not necessarily accept the dire predictions of some.
Referring to former US Vice President Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth, he said he preferred to view the impact of global warming and climate change as an “inconvenient likelihood”.
“The system of weather and climate is not perfectly determined,” he said.
“So when people ask me about the debate my reaction is that both sides are right.
“I think the weight of evidence is on the side of global warming ““ but we we don’t know for sure what will happen, and we don’t know in detail what will happen.”
Mr Ausubel said he believed natural gas should be the lead fuel over the next 50 years.
“Over the longer term, nuclear will resume its rise,” he said.
“The 21st century will be the century of methane (natural gas) but by 2100, nuclear will be dominant.”
By Tim Dornin
16 April 2007
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