Global Warming’s Technology Deficit

COPENHAGEN – Our current approach to solving global warming will not work. It is flawed economically, because carbon taxes will cost a fortune and do little, and it is flawed politically, because negotiations to reduce CO2 emissions will become ever more fraught and divisive. And even if you disagree on both counts, the current approach is also flawed technologically.

Many countries are now setting ambitious carbon-cutting goals ahead of global negotiations in Copenhagen this December to replace the Kyoto Protocol. Let us imagine that the world ultimately agrees on an ambitious target. Say we decide to reduce CO2 emissions by three-quarters by 2100 while maintaining reasonable growth. Herein lies the technological problem: to meet this goal, non-carbon-based sources of energy would have to be an astounding 2.5 times greater in 2100 than the level of total global energy consumption was in 2000.

These figures were calculated by economists Chris Green and Isabel Galiana of McGill University. Their research shows that confronting global warming effectively requires nothing short of a technological revolution. We are not taking this challenge seriously. If we continue on our current path, technological development will be nowhere near significant enough to make non-carbon-based energy sources competitive with fossil fuels on price and effectiveness.

In Copenhagen this December, the focus will be on how much carbon to cut, rather than on how to do so. Little or no consideration will be given to whether the means of cutting emissions are sufficient to achieve the goals.