The United States can significantly cut its emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases by aggressively pursuing energy efficiencies and renewable energy technologies. That's the conclusion of a new report released Wednesday [1/31/07] by the American Solar Energy Society in Washington, during a week when the nation's capital was abuzz with Congressional hearings and news briefings focused on the challenge of global climate change.
The Solar Energy Society report says meeting that challenge in the United States will require Congress and the White House to make major changes in U.S. energy policy.
The new report was released to the public at a hearing room in the U.S. House of Representatives, with lawmakers and supporters from environmental groups in attendance.
Congressman Henry Waxman called the report a breath of fresh air. "Essentially what this report finds is that we have the tools to fight this battle and win. With renewable energy and energy efficiency we can achieve substantial reductions in our greenhouse gas emissions."
The report is based on nine studies by a team of climate experts that evaluated the extent to which energy efficiency and renewables can reduce carbon emissions by 2030.
Report editor Chuck Kutscher says the findings demonstrate that these measures can prevent emissions from climbing even as the economy grows. "The six renewable technologies have the potential to make the kind of deep cuts needed in our carbon emissions, needed to prevent the most dangerous consequences of climate change."
In round numbers this adds up to a reduction of 1.2 billion tons of carbon emissions annually by the year 2030.
Kutscher says approximately 57 percent of those reductions would come from energy efficiency and about 43 percent from renewable sources of energy including solar, wind, bio-fuels, biomass and geothermal. "The United States is blessed with an abundance of world-class renewable energy resources, distributed throughout our country. When these are harnessed along with energy efficiency opportunities, we have the capability to tackle the global warming challenge head on."
Kutscher adds, "All we need is a national commitment to do it, and the courage to act now."
Congressman Henry Waxman takes that commitment seriously. His "Safe Climate Act" was one of several bills introduced in the first days of the new legislative session, setting the stage for urgent climate change debate on Capitol Hill. "I think it is important to set very clear goals of emission reductions, not only the amount, but the time frame. And then putting the cap on carbon emissions is essential to add to what this report recommends."
Waxman also called for federal programs to permit polluting companies to trade these emissions limits among themselves.
The report does NOT address nuclear power, which advocates say could help lower carbon emissions. Opponents question its safety, expense and the problem of radioactive waste.
Sierra Club head Carl Pope says further development would require massive government subsidies to make nuclear power competitive in the marketplace. "I think what this report reveals is that even if nuclear power never becomes competitive -- and it isn't today -- we can still solve our global warming problem. And that means that we should not be artificially forcing nuclear power into the market mix as some of the current proposals would do."
Energy consultant Lee Lane says the United States must consider a full portfolio of emissions-reducing technologies including nuclear, but adds that in looking at the bigger picture, large polluting nations like China and India must also be persuaded to act aggressively. "If somehow those countries are not induced to reduce their greenhouse gases, then what the United States does will simply be swamped and offset by emissions growth in other places."
Lane advocates development of low-cost technologies that even poor countries could afford to adopt. "For that we are going to need a well structured, well thought program of governmental research and development."
American Solar Energy Society's Chuck Kutscher supports continued research and development. He says inaction by the United States is no longer an option in today's world. "We feel that if we start getting serious about displacing carbon in this country, then we can show real leadership with the rest of the world and hopefully the developing nations will follow suit."