'Nature': Energy tech not moving fast enough for climate change

Journal's controversial commentary argues that scientists overestimate the impact of energy efficiency and clean technology in climate change models.

Science journal Nature published a commentary on Wednesday that argues that scientists' climate change models overestimate the impact of low-carbon energy technologies.

A transition to cleaner forms of energy is one of the pillars of any discussion around mitigating global warming, along with policy and changes in lifestyle.

In their article, the Nature authors pick apart the assumptions built into the climate change reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In short, they argue the IPCC studies are "dangerously" optimistic regarding the pace of clean technology and energy efficiency adoption.

An excerpt:

"Here we show that two thirds or more of all the energy efficiency improvements and decarbonization of energy supply required to stabilize greenhouse gases is already built into the IPCC reference scenarios. This is because the scenarios assume a certain amount of spontaneous technological change and related decarbonization. Thus, the IPCC implicitly assumes that the bulk of the challenge of reducing future emissions will occur in the absence of climate policies. We believe that these assumptions are optimistic at best and unachievable at worst, potentially seriously underestimating the scale of the technological challenge associated with stabilizing greenhouse-gas concentrations."

The article has been picked up by a number of climate specialists, including a follow-up discussion in Nature itself titled "Are IPCC scenarios achievable?" It's well worth a read if you want to educate yourself.

Andrew Revkin from New York Times has started a discussion at his blog. The Wall Street Journal's Environmental Capital blog weighs in.

On Grist and his own blog, author Joseph Romm rails against the conclusions, calling it a "pointless piece."

I'm not qualified to pick apart the arguments put forth in the Nature article in detail. But I have argued in the past against the belief that technology is a panacea in the climate change discussion.

Clean tech is all the buzz in the investment world, but it will take decades to make truly transformative changes to the energy business.

That doesn't mean those technologies shouldn't be pursued; they should. But it does place the onus squarely on policy makers, who do have powerful levers to control the pace of technological change.

Another point worth making: there isn't one technology that gets the world over the hump to a cleaner energy infrastructure. The silver bullet idea really doesn't make sense; what's sensible is a "silver buckshot" approach that emphasizes rapid implementation.

 

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