Michael T Klare: Global Warming: It’s All About Energy


Richard Moore

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From: Bill Totten <•••@••.•••>
Subject: [WrldCty] Global Warming: It's All About Energy
Date: Thu, 22 Feb 2007 16:55:43 +0900
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by Michael T Klare

Foreign Policy In Focus (February 15 2007)


Finally, after years of effort by dedicated scientists and activists like Al 
Gore, the issue of global warming has begun to receive the international 
attention it desperately needs. The publication on February 2 of the most recent
report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), providing the 
most persuasive evidence to date of human responsibility for rising world 
temperatures, generated banner headlines around the world. But while there is a 
growing consensus on humanity's responsibility for global warming, policymakers 
have yet to come to terms with its principal cause: our unrelenting consumption 
of fossil fuels.

When talk of global warming is introduced into the public discourse, as in 
Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth", it is generally characterized as an 
environmental problem, akin to water pollution, air pollution, pesticide abuse, 
and so on. This implies that it can be addressed - like those other problems - 
through a concerted effort to "clean up" our resource-utilization behavior, by 
substituting "green" products for ordinary ones, by restricting the release of 
toxic substances, and so on.

But global warming is not an "environmental" problem in the same sense as these 
others - it is an energy problem, first and foremost. Almost ninety percent of 
the world's energy is supplied through the combustion of fossil fuels, and every
time we burn these fuels to make energy we release carbon dioxide into the 
atmosphere; carbon dioxide, in turn, is the principal component of the 
"greenhouse gases" (greenhouse gases) that are responsible for warming the 
planet. Energy use and climate change are two sides of the same coin.

Fossil Fuel Dependency

Consider the situation in the United States. According to the Department of 
Energy (DoE), carbon dioxide emissions constitute 84% of this nation's 
greenhouse gas emissions. Of all US carbon dioxide emissions, most - 98% - are 
emitted as a result of the combustion of fossil fuels, which currently provide 
approximately 86% of America's total energy supply. This means that energy use 
and carbon dioxide emissions are highly correlated: the more energy we consume, 
the more carbon dioxide we release into the atmosphere, and the more we 
contribute to the buildup of greenhouse gases.

Because Americans show no inclination to reduce their consumption of fossil 
fuels - but rather are using more and more of them all the time - one can 
foresee no future reduction in US emissions of greenhouse gases. According to 
the DoE, the United States is projected to consume 35% more oil, coal, and gas 
combined in 2030 than in 2004; not surprisingly, the nation's emissions of 
carbon dioxide are expected to rise by approximately the same percentage over 
this period. If these projections prove accurate, total US carbon dioxide 
emissions in 2030 will reach a staggering 8.1 billion metric tons, of which 42% 
will be generated through the consumption of oil (most of it in automobiles, 
vans, trucks, and buses), forty percent by the burning of coal (principally to 
produce electricity), and the remainder by the combustion of natural gas (mainly
for home heating and electricity generation). No other activity in the United 
States will come even close in terms of generating greenhouse gas emissions.

What is true of the United States is also true of other industrialized and 
industrializing nations, including China and India. Although a few may rely on 
nuclear power or energy renewables to a greater extent than the United States, 
all continue to consume fossil fuels and to emit large quantities of carbon 
dioxide, and so all are contributing to the acceleration of global climate 
change. According to the DoE, global emissions of carbon dioxide are projected 
to increase by a frightening 75% between 2003 and 2030, from 25.0 to 43.7 
billion metric tons. People may talk about slowing the rate of climate change, 
but if these figures prove accurate, the climate will be much hotter in coming 
decades and this will produce the most damaging effects predicted by the IPCC.

What this tells us is that the global warming problem cannot be separated from 
the energy problem. If the human community continues to consume more fossil 
fuels to generate more energy, it inevitably will increase the emission of 
carbon dioxide and so hasten the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, 
thus causing irreversible climate change. Whatever we do on the margins to 
ameliorate this process - such as planting trees to absorb some of the carbon 
emissions or slowing the rate of deforestation - will have only negligible 
effect so long as the central problem of fossil-fuel consumption is left 

State of Denial

Many political and business leaders wish to deny this fundamental reality. They 
may claim to accept the conclusions of the IPCC report. They will admit that 
vigorous action is needed to stem the buildup of greenhouse gases. But they will
nevertheless seek to shield energy policy from fundamental change.

Typical of this approach is a talk given by Rex W Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon 
Mobil, at a conference organized by Cambridge Energy Research Associates on 
February 13. As head of the world's largest publicly traded energy firm, 
Tillerson receives special attention when he talks. That his predecessor Lee 
Raymond often disparaged the science of global warming lent his comments 
particular significance. Yes, Tillerson admitted, atmospheric carbon dioxide 
levels were increasing, and this contributed to the planet's gradual warming. 
But then, in language characteristic of the industry, he added, "The scale 
advantages of oil and natural gas across a broad array applications provide 
economic value unmatched by any alternative". It would therefore be a terrible 
mistake, he added, to rush into the development of energy alternatives when the 
consequences of global warming are still not fully understood.

The logic of this mode of thinking is inescapable. The continued production of 
fossil fuels to sustain our existing economic system is too important to allow 
the health of the planet to stand in its way. Buy into this mode of thought, and
you can say goodbye to any hope of slowing - let alone reversing - the buildup 
of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

What to Do

If, however, we seek to protect the climate while there is still time to do so, 
we must embrace a fundamental transformation in our energy behavior: nothing 
else will make a significant difference. In practice, this devolves into two 
fundamental postulates. We must substantially reduce our consumption of fossil 
fuels, and we must find ways to capture and bury the carbon by-products of the 
fossil fuels we do consume.

Various strategies have been proposed to achieve these objectives. Those that 
offer significant promise should be utilized to the maximum extent possible. 
This is not the place to evaluate these strategies in detail, except to make a 
few broad comments.

First, as noted, since 42% of American carbon dioxide emissions (the largest 
share) are produced through the combustion of petroleum, anything that reduces 
oil consumption - higher fuel-efficiency standards for motor vehicles, bigger 
incentives for hybrids, greater use of ethanol, improved public transportation, 
car-pooling, and so - should be made a major priority.

Second, because the combustion of coal in electrical power plants is our next 
biggest source of carbon dioxide, improving the efficiency of these plants and 
filtering out the harmful emissions has to be another top priority.

Finally, we should accelerate research into promising new techniques for the 
capture and "sequestration" of carbon during the combustion of fossil fuels in 
electricity generation. Some of these plans call for burying excess carbon in 
hollowed-out coalmines and oil wells - a very practical use for these abandoned 
relics, but only if it can be demonstrated that none of the carbon will leak 
back into the atmosphere, adding to the buildup of greenhouse gases.

Global warming is an energy problem, and we cannot have both an increase in 
conventional fossil fuel use and a habitable planet. It's one or the other. We 
must devise a future energy path that will meet our basic (not profligate) 
energy needs and also rescue the climate while there's still time. The 
technology to do so is potentially available to us, but only if we make the 
decision to develop it swiftly and on a very large scale. _____

Michael T Klare is a professor of peace and world-security studies at Hampshire 
College, a Foreign Policy In Focus columnist, and the author of Blood and Oil: 
The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependence on Imported 
Petroleum (Metropolitan Books, 2004).


Published by Foreign Policy In Focus (FPIF), a joint project of the 
International Relations Center (IRC, online at www.irc-online.org) and the 
Institute for Policy Studies (IPS, online at www.ips-dc.org).

Copyright (c) Creative Commons - some rights reserved.

Recommended citation: Michael T Klare, "Global Warming: It's All About Energy"

(Silver City, NM & Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In Focus, February 15 2007).



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