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Special “Science” issue: Sustainability and Energy

Science Magazine
The 9 February 2007 edition of Science examines one of the vital scientific and societal issues of our time — the need to move toward new sustainable sources of energy in the face of human-induced climate change, increasing worldwide energy demand, and dwindling supplies of fossil fuels. A special podcast provides interviews on the state of science, funding, and policy in the sustainable-energy arena., meanwhile, profiles three scientists doing sustainable-energy work in the private sector. And, for historical perspective, we’ve gathered together some previous energy special issues of Science.

EB Ed: Most of the articles are behind a paywall. However several features are free:

Editorial: Energy and Sustainability

The perils of oil dependence and climate change, coupled with the demand for large increases in the per-capita availability of energy services, compel an early transition to a different path. Its requirements include a reduction in global population growth (achievable, fortunately, by means that are desirable in their own right) and a sharply increased emphasis on improving the efficiency of energy conversion and end use (aiming to improve the energy efficiency of the world economy not by 1% per year but by 2% per year or more).

Also required is a several fold increase in public and private investments to improve the technologies of energy supply.

Introduction to special issue: Energy for the Long Haul

Perhaps the greatest challenge in realizing a sustainable future is energy consumption. It is ultimately the basis for a large part of the global economy, and more of it will be required to raise living standards in the developing world. Today, we are mostly dependent on nonrenewable fossil fuels that have been and will continue to be a major cause of pollution and climate change. Because of these problems, and our dwindling supply of petroleum, finding sustainable alternatives is becoming increasingly urgent. This special issue focuses on some of the challenges and efforts needed to harness renewable energy more effectively at a sufficient scale to make a difference and some of the people who are working on these problems.

Science podcast

This week’s entire show focuses on sustainability and energy, and includes interviews with Harvard University chemist George Whitesides on the long-term priorities for energy research, Dan Clery on the current energy R&D budget, Cambridge University energy economist Michael Grubb on Europe’s emissions-trading program, and MIT scientist Daniel Nocera on the prospects for creating hydrogen fuel cleanly and cheaply.

Online back issues with articles on energy:

21 April 1989 issue
10 February 1978
19 April 1974 issue

(9 Feb 2007 issue)
This special issue is both heartening and discouraging. Heartening because the subject of energy is being discussed and research efforts are underway. Discouraging because the magazine skirts peak oil and the necessity for conservation, efficiency and changes to our lifestyle. As UTAH writes in a comment on The Oil Drum

RR, You should be complimented on dealing with the issue at hand by changing your lifestyle. This is in marked contrast to today’s SCIENCE, “Sustainability and Energy,” devoted to techno-geek/cornucopian means to sustain our perilous current consumptive standard of living.

None of the titles of the articles reflect the screamingly obvious truth that the fastest, most cost-effective way to respond to the energy problem is by not using it in the first place. Neither the efficiency route of Amory Lovins is mentioned, nor the practical proposals of George Monbiot.

The prospect of peak oil is not mentioned, and yet is it not a scientific problem that would enforce dramatic constraints on energy solutions? Can’t peak oil be addressed in a scientific manner? A snippet from Science magazine in 1998 (“The Next Oil Crisis Looms Large–and Perhaps Close”) indicates some awareness:

Many economists foresee another half-century of cheap oil, but a growing contingent of geologists warns that oil will begin to run out much sooner–perhaps in only 10 years. The optimists are mainly those who put their faith in new technology for finding and extracting oil and expect that production will meet rise in demand until about 50 years from now–plenty of time for the development of alternatives. But the pessimists say that even taking into account the best efforts of the explorationists and the discovery of new fields in frontier areas like the Caspian Sea (see sidebar on p. 1130), sometime between 2010 and 2020 the gush of oil from wells around the world will peak at 80 million barrels per day, then begin a steady, inevitable decline.


“Nature” special on the IPCC report

The first volume of Climate Change 2007, the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), was published on 2 February. In a Special Report Nature’s news team sums up the document’s main conclusions and assesses initial reactions to it. Two related Commentaries look at some practical steps being taken in response to climate change.

EB Ed: Most of the articles are behind a paywall. However two articles are free:

Light at the end of the tunnel: An emphatic and clear status report on global warming opens the way for action — presenting new risks.

From words to actions

The scientific case for global warming is overwhelming. So what next for the IPCC? Helping policymakers decide what to do now may require radical reform, reports Jim Giles.

After [further reports from the IPCC], the decision about what to do rests with politicians.

(8 Feb 2007)
The last sentence is haunting – the decisions about climate change resting with politicians. The assumption is that of a passive populace, manipulated and directed by manager-politicians.

This view conflicts with the reality that politicians are often backward compared to the general population when it comes to awareness and concern about global warming. This has certainly been the case with the Bush administration in the United States.

This view also minimizes the power of community and religious groups to effect changes in lifestyle and behavior.

Scientists, like the rest of us, have vested interests and blindspots. -BA