A Global Climate and Energy Project – Big Ambitions at Stanford

WASHINGTON The Global Climate and Energy Project announced last month by Stanford University is a welcome collaboration between academia and the private sector that holds the promise of shedding much-needed light on the debate on global warming.

The project?s purpose is as ambitious as sending men to the moon once was: to foster the development of a global energy system with significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions and provide abundant and efficient energy for a world population projected to increase by some 21 percent in the next two decades.

Tapping the best minds at Stanford, other academic institutions and private research labs around the globe, the project holds the promise of leapfrogging beyond the economically disastrous Kyoto Protocol.

The draconian and poorly thought out restrictions in Kyoto would stifle economic growth in the world?s most advanced nations, while allowing the full-throttle economies of emerging giants like China, India, Indonesia and Brazil to continue spewing carbon dioxide emissions at will.

The Stanford project will seek to provide the kind of clean energy alternatives that will allow all nations to dramatically reduce man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

Some 2 billion people in poor nations in Asia, Latin America and Africa live on less than $2 a day, and those nations will house most of the additional 1.3 billion people arriving by 2020. So it is obvious that we desperately should be expanding, not constricting, the world?s economy and energy supplies. Global warming may or may not be an impending crisis. The contribution of human activity to climate change may or may not be a significant factor. Before we pare back economic growth in Europe, Japan, the Pacific Rim nations and the United States, and thus curtail the export hopes of emerging nations, we need to make judgments based on real science. Lumping together the conflicting worst-case-scenario computer simulations cited in the report by the UN Panel on Climate Change does not constitute science. Rather it seems to be based more on ideological wishful thinking.

Projecting weather 100 years out by computer models seems absurd when local meteorologists armed with Doppler radar technology are lucky to correctly forecast the next week?s weather more than half of the time. The chief supporters of the Kyoto Protocol display a hugely patronizing attitude toward the private sector, assuming that it acts in the public interest only when goaded by governmental regulations.

In fact, the productivity of private industry has provided governments with billions of dollars for the remarkable environmental cleanup of the past three decades. And it has poured additional untold billions into private and nongovernmental environmental projects.

As the Stanford project explores better ways to utilize proven and economical energy sources like petroleum, coal and nuclear power, and develops ways to realize the promise of hydrogen, magnetic fusion, geothermal energy, the wind, the sun and biomass, we ought to be guided by five tenets:

1) Carbon dioxide levels probably will increase for decades to come as the result of population and economic growth.

2) Continued improvements in energy efficiency can reduce the intensity of energy use but not enough to offset the need for more energy to meet the economic aspirations of the world?s current 6.2 billion people, let alone 7.5 billion in a mere 20 years? time.

3) No nation is willing to pay the political price for the economic devastation that will occur if it seriously suppresses its energy use.

4) No advanced nation or group from such a nation has a right to sanctimoniously demand that people from developing nations forgo their hopes for a better standard of living.

5) Governments should utilize, not hamper, corporations that have strong commitments to advancing technology.

Initially funded with grants totaling $225 million from ExxonMobil, General Electric, Schlumberger and E.ON, the energy project will be completely administered by Stanford University. The selection of Franklin M. Orr Jr., dean of Stanford?s School of Earth Sciences, to head the new project guarantees that it will be independent.

The writer is president of the George C. Marshall Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. He contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.

Copyright © 2002 The International Herald Tribune

Partner & Fellow Blogs