Speaker: Robert Socolow of Princeton University
The extraordinary progress recently in wind and solar power, as well as batteries, brings into view an alternative future for the global energy system, with little use of fossil fuel. Within the energy analysis community, some researchers are tempted to declare: "Mission Accomplished."
Whoa! It is one thing to view a future and another to realize it. Right now, the developing world is industrializing on the backs of new coal and natural gas power plants. If all of the world’s current fossil fuel power plants were to have a 40-year lifetime, these plants would emit 350 billion tons of CO2 to the atmosphere before they retired, and new construction has made this measure climb 4% per year. Comparably important global “committed emissions,” largely ignored today, are embedded in the complexes of hi-rise apartment buildings sprouting in the world’s expanding cities. By comparison with providing viable alternatives to these resilient high-carbon patterns of development, how high a priority is CO2 removal from the atmosphere? Has its time really come? Closely related issues to be addressed in this talk include the intermittency of wind and solar power; the need for greater effort to understand technical and social limits on how fast the energy system can change; and the dangers inherent in every “solution” to climate change, if implemented casually. I see a new academic domain, Destiny Studies, emerging. It will explore humanity’s collective future and ask what "accomplishing the mission" ought to require.
These talks are made possible through the U-M Distinguished Faculty and Graduate Student Seminar series award from the Provost and the Office of Research and are co-hosted by the Energy Institute, School for Environment and Sustainability, and Erb Institute for Sustainable Enterprise. UMEI will be issuing specific announcements with talk titles and abstracts as each date approaches.
Henderson Room, Michigan League