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Reining in carbon dioxide levels imperative but possible

The Earth Institute at Columbia University Implementing a plan to keep rising carbon dioxide levels from reaching potentially dangerous levels could cost less than 1 percent of gross world product as of 2050, a cost that is well within reach of developed and developing nations alike. Moreover, without simultaneous progress in the way energy is found, transformed, transported and used, the world is in danger of facing a severe energy crisis sometime within the next century. Those are the conclusions of a report by Klaus S. Lackner and Jeffrey D. Sachs of The Earth Institute that appears in the most recent issue of Brookings Papers on Economic Activity published by the Brookings Institute.

"Today's technology base is insufficient to provide clean and plentiful energy for 9 billion people," the authors write. "To satisfy tomorrow's energy needs, it will not be enough simply to apply current best practices. Instead, new technologies, especially carbon capture and sequestration at large industrial plants, will need to be brought to maturity."

Primary energy use worldwide is currently about 14 trillion watts each year and rising. This equates to 2.2 kilowatts (kW) per person globally and results in the release of nearly 25 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Residents of the U.S., however, use 11 kW per person, 85 percent of which comes from burning fossil fuels, a process that contributes to the rising level of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere.

"Technology in general and energy at its base ultimately define the carrying capacity of the Earth for humans," says Lackner, director of the Center for Sustainable Energy at the Earth Institute. "If the rest of the world consumed carbon at the U.S. rate, carbon consumption and emissions worldwide would be six times what they are today. This would not only exhaust available oil supplies by the end of the century or sooner, but would also threaten widespread environmental damage."
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Contact: Ken Kostel
kkostel@ei.columbia.edu
212-854-9729
The Earth Institute at Columbia University
8-Mar-2006


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