The New York Times recently reported a sad fact summed up in the headline: “Budgets Falling in Race to Fight Global Warming.” (subs. req’d) reporter Andrew Revkin notes, “research into energy technologies by both government and industry has not been rising, but rather falling.”
The article is important and well worth reading in its entirety. Unlike many articles on this subject, it does not neglect the critical area of energy efficiency, and cites John Holdren, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science:
The most immediate gains could come simply by increasing energy efficiency. If efficiency gains in transportation, buildings, power transmission and other areas were doubled from the longstanding rate of 1 percent per year to 2 percent … that could hold the amount of new nonpolluting energy required by 2100 to the amount derived from fossil fuels in 2000 –a huge challenge, but not impossible.
The article reflects a tension in the scientific and energy communities between those who believe the solution to global warming is developing new technologies, and those who believe we have to begin taking action now deploying existing technologies. I think the correct position was well summed up by Tony Blair in 2005:
We need to invest on a large scale in existing technologies AND to stimulate innovation into new low-carbon technologies for deployment in the longer term.
There really is no competition between technology research and technology deployment. Existing technology can go a long way towards buying us time to develop new technologies, but all the breakthroughs in the world won’t help us if we dither so long that we pass critical points of no return. The time to act is now.