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The Gap Between Climate & Energy Reality

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorOctober 29, 2011 7:56 AM


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I imagine that some folks in the climate policy and politics arena have been growling at this essay in Nature by Jane C. S. Long. Why would that be? Let's just say that some advocates for climate reality have a little problem with energy reality. And some of them are probably howling at Andy Revkin for his follow-on interview with Long. Here's an excerpt: Q: If the need for breakthroughs is so clear cut, do you foresee any path "” particularly in an era of prolonged economic uncertainty "” to building political and social support for the kind of sustained "energy quest" (my term) that would be required to have a chance of making leaps instead of tweaks?

A: Interestingly, your term energy "quest" was used by Dan Yergin in his new book, which in 800 pages (!) largely seems to agree with our estimate of what the "quest" is. And I, ironically, have been saying that emission-free fuel which is not based on biomass is the new "prize."

I think the world is looking at Germany. They have taken the "common wisdom" renewables approach, which we think may be really a difficult path, but they are very committed to making it work. It probably can work up to a point, and the question is will they do the ancillary work (i.e., make load balancing work without emissions or leakage) to result in a reliable, truly emission-free electricity system. And the question is how much will it cost them to do it this way? They will still have the fuel problem. They have at least tried to prevent their low-carbon fuel standards from impacting food supply. I think its a good bet there won't be enough biomass for their needs. So watching Germany will be one factor societal learning. If I knew the answer to your question, though, I would be shouting it from the mountaintops. One idea is that now is the time for philanthropy to kick in big-time. Our government is clearly broken on this issue. Members of the administration have said that they can't even go on the Hill and say the word climate anymore I think there are foundations out there that have been spending a lot of money on trying to get a climate agreement and not getting progress. Perhaps instead of pushing for an agreement which is hard because we really don't how to implement the required changes, they might turn their attention to more strategic elements of the energy system itself so the world has options. The only other answer I can think of, is to help enable people to be better citizens through simple clarity, accuracy and honesty in describing what the energy system is all about and what is required to change it. *** The whole exchange at Dot Earth, which also includes input from other energy experts, is well worth the read.

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