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Exciting, Unrelenting Steps to a Carbon Constrained Economy - 2050 Starts Yesterday

Technologies enhance our capabilities, but they will never replace our heart...or a sharp, caring mind. Our challenge for 2050 will require everything we've got.

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I've been intrigued by the year end observations and trends, as well as projections for the coming year. But arching over all those short term ideas is the long term...and our long term commitments.

"Characteristics of the energy sector—long capital investment cycles,5 a high degree of system inertia, and the tendency for past developments to strongly influence current technology choices—highlight the need to continue and expand policies to promote technological change and enable significant decarbonization by midcentury." Pew Center on Global Climate Change

We've been a long time getting to this mountain top of energy reliance, and it will take a long walk down the mountain to get to realistic elevations.

Steps to a Carbon Constrained Economy

A significant reduction in annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States and throughout the world by 2050...that's the long term projection.

We need both near-term and long-term actions that take advantage of current technologies and opportunities and that also make substantial investments in the technologies and values of the future. I find that technologists are relying almost exclusively on "technologies" as the solution(s). But having seen emotions and values and systems drive the glut of energy-rich solutions we currently put at the center of our lives, I know that technology is only as good as the hands that operate those solutions.

With that in mind, here's is a list of the TEN technologies that the Pew Center identifies as the most valuable for the coming 50 years.

In 2004, the Pew Center held a workshop (the “10-50” Workshop) to understand the technologies likely to enable a low-carbon future by mid-century (50 years) and identify policy options for the coming decade (10 years) to help “push” and “pull” these technologies into the market.

"The transition to a low-carbon economy could have other benefits, such as increasing energy security, improving public health, and promoting economic development, but it will take several decades and will not be easy," they warn us.

Common Themes and Policy Recommendations

• Clear and consistent policy signals are urgently needed. • A portfolio of technologies and policies will be needed to drive the absolute reductions of GHG emissions necessary to address climate change. • A low-carbon technology revolution will require both leadership and broad engagement throughout society. • It is essential to start now.

Technology-Specific Policies

Energy Efficiency.

The technological potential for energy efficiency improvements now and in the future is significant, yet this potential is not likely to be realized through market forces alone. Accordingly, policies that address the technical, cost, and societal hurdles facing widespread improvements in energy efficiency are needed. In addition to price signals and reporting, certain standards, incentives, and RD&D programs can increase the use of efficient technologies.

Hydrogen in Transportation.

Specific policies are needed to address the major challenges to hydrogen becoming the low-carbon transportation fuel of the future (probably after 2025).

Carbon Sequestration/Coal Gasification.

In order to answer critical R&D questions and to commercialize carbon capture and storage by 2025, significant effort must be made over the next 10 to 15 years.

Advanced Nuclear Power Generation.

The ability of nuclear power to play a significant role in reducing GHG emissions over the next half-century depends upon what happens in the next 10 to 15 years.


Despite the significant potential for growth of renewables, these sources currently provide only a small fraction of commercial energy in the United States and around the world. Closing the gap between the current low level of renewables deployment and their high potential will require significant and sustained policies.

Getting Married...

This is like deciding to get married. Unfortunately, we're already pregnant we we have to make every decision faster, more responsibly, and without "normal" preparation time.

But we still have to prepare for staying married at least until 2050... and that's just 40 years away. And a lifetime of changes will take place in the coming 40 years.

Family (and Community) Changes Over the Coming 40 Years

Education will still be needed to be good family leaders, good citizens, good providers and good parents. Food is a daily challenge and will continue to be as we reform agriculture and distribution. Water is essential, as we're seeing in Haiti -- natural disasters get in the way of the basic services we take for granted. Stable government is needed, and we need to make hard, responsible choices for our own current betterment -- and for our future, and our children's future.

These choices aren't easy. And they aren't all about technology -- but technology at the right time and at the right scale can certainly be helpful.

So what social "techne" is necessary to complement hard technologies?

Literacy - reading, writing, arithmetic, computers, emotional, relationships

Mastery of productivity - both home and community productivity that cares for our personal health, our children and our aging population -- and our job skills that we trade for fluidity in the marketplace.

Ethic and morals - taking to heart the "golden rule" and additional rules that are necessary when we live in an increasingly dense, over-populated world that is running short on resources.

Tolerance and diversity - continually expanding our mind, heart, and understanding of different cultures, diverse species, and the ultimate living system -- the earth. Restoration, appreciation, self-discipline are all part of a respectful civilization.

Smell the roses - and the buttercups and the pine needles. Reconnecting with nature is the ONLY way we can understand the complexities of weather, species interconnected survival, our volatile planet's forces, and our own impact on even the smallest species we crush under our feet.

These are unrelenting times. We can't stop. We can't just do the expedient thing. We do need to do the very best "right thing" we can conceive -- and birth -- and nurture... and then let it march onward to it's own maturity in ways we could never have imagined possible.

We have many exciting adventures ahead of us. If we get back to the basics of living carefully, very carefully, in this one world that we all share.

Happy 2010...and may we have robust, life fulfilling, sustainable 2050.

Edited by Carolyn Allen
| sustainability | editorial | technology | clean technology | clean technology innovation | clean tech | clean energy | energy efficiency |


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