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If the United States wants to curb carbon emissions which bring about global warming, current energy technologies just won’t get the job done.
While there is a debate about the entire global warming issue, there are scientists that feel in order to avoid the risks brought about by climate change, steps must need to occur to prevent the mean global temperature from rising by more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Current climate models indicate to achieve this goal it will require limiting atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations to less than 450 parts per million (ppm), a level that implies substantial reductions in emissions from burning fossil fuels.
The present atmospheric level of CO2 is 385 ppm, 105 ppm above the pre-industrial level of about 280 ppm. Under current conditions, those numbers should continue to rise.
“So far, efforts to curb emissions through regulation and international agreement haven’t worked,” said New York University physicist Martin Hoffert. “Emissions are rising faster than ever, and programs to scale up ‘carbon neutral’ energy sources are moving slowly at best.”
There a couple of factors as to why current energy technologies are not sufficient to reduce carbon emissions to a level advocated by scientists, Hoffert said.
One, alternative energy sources, such as solar and wind electricity, are not adequate to achieve “massive market penetration,” which requires utility-scale systems that can store intermittent supplies of power until they are needed.
While Denmark and Norway have developed methods for this type of storage, these aren’t “widely feasible in the United States, and other approaches to store power are expensive and need substantial research and testing,” Hoffert said.
Two, there is a growing reliance on carbon-emitting fuels.
“As natural gas and oil approach peak production, coal production rises, and new coal-fired power plants are being built in China, India, and the United States,” Hoffert said.
It is easy to point out what is not working, but harder to bring about solutions. Hoffert does offer an array of approaches that would bring about new technologies while at the same time reducing the world’s reliance on fossil fuels. But it all comes down to money.
“Broad investment will be crucial to enabling basic research findings to develop into applied commercial technologies,” he said.
“Carbon taxes and ramped-up government research budgets could help spur investments,” he said. “But developing carbon-neutral technologies also requires, at the very least, reversing perverse incentives, such as existing global subsidies to fossil fuels that are estimated to be 12 times higher than those to renewable energy.”

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