Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Jim Hansen's "Threat to the Planet"

James Hansen from NASA has an article called "Threat to the Planet", ostensibly a review of the three recent climate change books The Weather Makers (Tim Flannery), Field Notes from a Catastrophe (Elizabeth Kolbert) and An Inconvenient Truth (Al Gore), in last week's NY Review of Books.

If you are not familiar with this weekly publication, it consists of analysis of topical (climate change, terrorism) or arcane (mid-18th century Prussian dance) subjects by leading scholars, disguised as reviews of new books. Though some of the articles are little more than intellectual chest-thumping that just screams for parody, others contain some of the best analysis of leading political issues.

In "The Threat to the Planet", which follows the tradition of barely mentioning the books being reviewed, Hansen articulates an important point about the need for both conservation and technology:

"To achieve the alternative scenario [slow/stop climate change] will require prompt gains in energy efficiencies so that the supply of conventional fossil fuels can be sustained until advanced technologies can be developed."

Those critical of conservation or energy efficiency measures as a central part of climate change mitigation should remember this point. Advanced energy technologies will be the long-term solution. We can probably all agree on that. However, given the time it will take to develop and implement such technologies, and the short time we have to begin serious emissions reductions in order to avoid dangerous changes in climate, conservation and energy efficiency measures are crucial in the short-term.

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