NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 21, 2007

The actual politics of global warming defies Hollywood's stereotypes.  It's not saints vs. sinners.  The lifestyles that produce greenhouse gases are deeply ingrained in modern economies and societies.  Without major changes in technology, the consequences may be unalterable.  Those who believe that addressing global warming is a moral imperative face an equivalent moral imperative to be candid about the costs, difficulties and uncertainties, says columnist Robert Samuelson.

Despite variations, many of the reports on global warming reach similar conclusions:

  • Regardless of how serious the threat, the available technologies promise at best a holding action against greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Even massive gains in renewables (solar, wind, biomass) and more efficient vehicles and appliances would merely stabilize annual emissions near present levels by 2050.

The reason: Economic growth, especially in poor countries, will sharply increase energy use and emissions, says Samuelson.

The latest report came last week from 12 scientists, engineers and social scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  The report, " The Future of Coal," was mostly ignored by the media.

Coal, as the report notes, is essential:

  • It provides about 40 percent of global electricity.
  • It's cheap (about a third of the cost of oil), abundant and poses no security threats.

Especially in poor countries, coal use is expanding dramatically:

  • The United States has the equivalent of more than 500 coal-fired power plants with a capacity of 500 megawatts each.
  • China is building two such plants a week.
  • Coal use in poor countries is projected to double by 2030 and would be about twice that of rich countries (mainly the United States, Europe and Japan).
  • Unfortunately, coal also generates almost 40 percent of man-made carbon dioxide (CO2), a prime greenhouse gas.

Source: Robert J. Samuelson, "Hollywood's Climate Follies," Washington Post, March 21, 2007.

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