by Arjun Makhijani (Author)
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Takoma Park, MD - At the G-8 summit in Germany in June 2007, President Bush promised to "consider seriously" the European Union goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to limit global temperature rise to about 4 degrees Fahrenheit. A new study concludes that the United States could eliminate almost all of its carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2050. It also concludes that it is possible to do so without the use of nuclear power. The landmark study, Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy, was produced as a joint project of the Nuclear Policy Research Institute and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research.
"A technological revolution has been brewing in the last few years, so it won't cost an arm and a leg to eliminate both CO2 emissions and nuclear power," said Dr. Arjun Makhijani, author of the study and president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. "We can solve the problems of oil imports, nuclear proliferation as it is linked to nuclear power, and carbon dioxide emissions simultaneously if we are bold enough."
The "Roadmap" concludes that the United States can achieve a zero-CO2 economy without increasing the fraction of Gross Domestic Product devoted to lighting, heating, cooling, transportation, and all the other things for which we use energy. The fraction was about 8 percent in 2005. Net U.S. oil imports can be eliminated in about twenty-five years or less, the study estimated.
"The climate crisis has put the earth in the intensive care unit," said Dr. Helen Caldicott, President of NPRI and a physician who has long advocated elimination of nuclear weapons and nuclear power. "We must respond to this acute clinical crisis and act today to save the planet, without resorting to nuclear power, which will aggravate our problems. Dr. Makhijani's report is essential reading for all who care about our future."
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that a global reduction of 50 to 85 percent in CO2 emissions is needed to limit the temperature rise to less than about 4 degrees Fahrenheit. If emissions are allocated equitably, in view of the greater historical and present emissions of the United States and other Western countries, the Roadmap estimates that the United States will have to eliminate 88 to 96 percent of its CO2 emissions. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, a treaty that the United States has ratified, places a greater responsibility on developed countries to reduce their emissions in view of historical and present inequities.
According to the Roadmap, North Dakota, Texas, Kansas, South Dakota, Montana, and Nebraska each have wind energy potential greater than the electricity produced by all 103 U.S. commercial nuclear power plants. Solar energy is even more abundant - solar cells installed on rooftops and over parking lots can provide most of the U.S. electricity supply. Recent advances in lithium-ion batteries are likely to make plug-in hybrid cars economical in the next few years.
"Plug-in hybrids should become the standard-issue car for governments and corporations in the next five years. That demand will make prices come down to the point that it can become the standard car design in the next decade," said S. David Freeman, President, Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners and former chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority. "The health benefits of eliminating fossil fuels and greatly reducing urban air pollution will be immense. Dr. Makhijani's study also shines a light on how we can liberate our foreign policy from oil imports."
Mr. Freeman was the Director of the Energy Policy Project of the Ford Foundation at the time of the Arab oil embargo in 1973. That project's report (A Time to Choose: America's Energy Future), which he, Dr. Makhijani, and others co-authored, became the foundation of U.S. energy policy in the mid- to late-1970s.
"What is really innovative about this Roadmap is that it combines technologies to show how to create a reliable electricity and energy system entirely from renewable sources of energy," said Dr. Hisham Zerriffi, Ivan Head South/North Chair at the University of British Columbia and an expert on distributed electricity grids. "The United States must take action now in order to lead and this Roadmap lays out specific steps that it should take. The study is also remarkable in that it provides backup plans and recommends redundancies that are important for avoiding major missteps on the road to an economy with zero-CO2 emissions."
The study recommends an elimination of subsidies for nuclear power and fossil fuels, and also for biofuels like ethanol when they are made from food crops.
"Ethanol from corn is inefficient and, at best, has only a marginal effect on reducing greenhouse gas emissions" said Dr. Makhijani. "Even at current production levels it is causing inflation in food prices in the United States and hardship for the poor in Mexico and other countries. Biofuels can be made much more efficiently, for instance from microalgae, on land not useful for food."
The study recommends a "hard cap" on CO2 emissions by large fossil fuel users (more than 100 billion Btu per year). The cap would be reduced each year until it reaches zero in 30 to 50 years. There would be no free emissions allowances, no international trade of allowances, and no offsets that would allow corporations to emit CO2 by investing in outside projects to reduce emissions. The emissions of smaller users would be reduced by efficiency standards for appliances, cars, homes, and commercial buildings.
Copies of the 23-page executive summary of the report are available at www.ieer.org/carbonfree. The full study will be available for download in August 2007. It will be published as a book by RDR Books in the fall of 2007.