NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Why Reducing CO2 Emissions Won't Work

May 12, 2003

Environmentalists claim that unless carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are reduced to pre-1990 levels, polar ice caps will melt and coastal areas will flood. One problem ignored by this claim is that the technology to stabilize global atmospheric levels of CO2 does not exist.

  • Just to stabilize the atmospheric level of CO2 at 550 parts-per-million (ppm) -- double pre-industrial levels and substantially higher than the present level of about 370 ppm -- could require generating as much as 40 terawatts (TW) of carbon-free energy, or four times the power currently generated by all fossil fuels in the world, according to a report in Nature.
  • Existing alternative energy technologies are limited -- for example, according to a report in Science, producing just 10 TW of carbon-neutral biomass power requires a land area equivalent to that used by all human agriculture today.
  • And producing 10 TW using wind-turbines would require building 100 turbines, each nearly the size of the Washington Monument, every day for the next 100 years.
  • Furthermore, the energy storage capacity needed to balance out these technologies' intermittently generated power does not exist.

Hydrogen-powered cars are carbon emissions-free, but their fuel cells would require far more than the world's supply of platinum. Fusion could produce more power than any known source, but research is moving too slowly to meet power demands.

Developing, diffusing and deploying needed innovative technologies could take 50 to 100 years and cost trillions of dollars.

Meanwhile, climate change science is not settled. Scientists with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics now find that the 20th century is neither the warmest nor that with the most extreme weather of the last 1,000 years. They also report that the sun may dim in mid-century, producing cooler temperatures.

Source: William Kovacs (U.S. Chamber of Commerce), "Why CO2 mandates won't work," Washington Times, May 7, 2003.


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