Physicist Martin Hoffert Calls For Massive Energy R&D To Slow Global Warming While Protecting Economic Viability
Findings Presented In October 29th Nature
NYU physicist Matin I. Hoffert and a team of researchers have concluded that Earth's atmospheric CO2 content cannot be stabilized without a tenfold increase in carbon-emission-free power generation over the next 50 years. Hoffert's team sought to quantify the changes necessary to stabilize atmospheric CO2 content at twice pre-industrial levels (an amount that, according to the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, could still have adverse effects on global climate and ecosystems).
Hoffert's team has concluded that it will be necessary to boost carbon-emission-free power generation from 1.5 terawatts today to 15 terawatts in 2050. Equivalent to a 150 percent increase in today's total energy production, this implies a massive transition in the global energy system.
Hoffert's team also describes this transition in terms of overall power generation. Today, 85 percent of the world's 11 terawatts comes from fossil fuels and 15 percent comes from non-fossil fuels. Hoffert's team found that non-fossil-fuel generation must account for at least 50 percent of the 30 terawatt total in 2050.
Published in the October 29th issue of Nature, Hoffert's findings are based on an energy consumption scenario developed by the IPCC in 1992. This model expresses carbon dioxide emissions as the product of four variables: (1) CO2 emissions per unit of energy, (2) energy consumption per unit of economic output, (3) economic output per person and (4) total population.
Hoffert said, "Stabilizing CO2 at twice pre-industrial levels without untenable economic disruptions implies a massive shift to carbon-free power, particularly in developing nations. There are no energy systems technologically ready at present to produce the required amount of carbon-free power.
"However, there are renewable, fission and fusion concepts incorporating innovative technological ideas at early research and development stages that could, in principle, provide needed carbon-free power. But without policy incentives to overcome socioeconomic inertia, these could take more than 50 years to penetrate to their market potential.
"The bottom line is that we are going to need an international effort pursued with the same urgency as the Manhattan Project or the Apollo space program. The roles of governments and market entrepreneurs in the eventual deployment of such technologies need to be considered more comprehensively than we have been able to do here. It is our hope that the potential adverse effects of humanity on Earth's climate will stimulate new industries in the 21st century, as did the Second World War and the Cold War in this century."
Support for this research was provided by the Department of Energy, NASA and the National Science Foundation. Institutions involved in the research included NYU, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the University of Illinois, Margaree Consultants, the University of Toronto, Stanford University, Tulane University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
Reporters seeking a copy of Hoffert's article should contact Nature's Lauren Funkhouser at (202) 626-2505.