If, however, we seek to protect the climate while there is still time to do so, we must embrace a fundamental transformation in our energy behavior: nothing else will make a significant difference. In practice, this devolves into two fundamental postulates. We must substantially reduce our consumption of fossil fuels, and we must find ways to capture and bury the carbon by-products of the fossil fuels we do consume.
Various strategies have been proposed to achieve these objectives. Those that offer significant promise should be utilized to the maximum extent possible. This is not the place to evaluate these strategies in detail, except to make a few broad comments.
First, as noted, since 42 percent of American carbon dioxide emissions (the largest share) are produced through the combustion of petroleum, anything that reduces oil consumption -- higher fuel-efficiency standards for motor vehicles, bigger incentives for hybrids, greater use of ethanol, improved public transportation, car-pooling, and so -- should be made a major priority.
Second, because the combustion of coal in electrical power plants is our next biggest source of CO2, improving the efficiency of these plants and filtering out the harmful emissions has to be another top priority.
Finally, we should accelerate research into promising new techniques for the capture and "sequestration" of carbon during the combustion of fossil fuels in electricity generation. Some of these plans call for burying excess carbon in hollowed-out coalmines and oil wells -- a very practical use for these abandoned relics, but only if it can be demonstrated that none of the carbon will leak back into the atmosphere, adding to the buildup of GHGs.
Global warming is an energy problem, and we cannot have both an increase in conventional fossil fuel use and a habitable planet. It's one or the other. We must devise a future energy path that will meet our basic (not profligate) energy needs and also rescue the climate while there's still time. The technology to do so is potentially available to us, but only if we make the decision to develop it swiftly and on a very large scale.
IREJN is Connecticut's Interfaith Power and Light. Visit us at www.irejn.org.