Friday, September 16, 2005

Environment and technology

When Russia signed up for the Kyoto Protocol, making it go into effect, Putin won praise from across Europe for having taken the responsible stance and saved us all from disaster (while the US greedily and wantonly destroys our precious environment). As was pointed out at the time, and most Europeans are clearly too naive to see, Russia signed up because it is set to make a tidy sum out of the treaty. Now an official of Unified Energy Systems, Russia's state-owned energy monopoly, confirms how much they hope to make:
Russia will be able to receive $1.5 billion between 2008 and 2012 by selling its emissions credits for carbon dioxide emissions to other Kyoto protocol countries, an official from Unified Energy Systems (UES) said Friday.
How could anyone doubt that they signed up just to save the environment?
Meanwhile the National Center for Policy Analysis has released an interesting study (file in pdf) comparing the cost and effectiveness of the Kyoto Protocol and the cost of adapting to the warming that is taking place.
The projections underlying this study are from researchers who are sympathetic to mitigation. However, their conclusions show that adaptation is preferable. Cost estimates are based on reports from various United Nations-affiliated organizations. The findings:
·By 2085, the contribution of (unmitigated) warming to the above listed problems is generally smaller than other factors unrelated to climate change.
·More important, these risks would be lowered much more effectively and economically by reducing current and future vulnerability to climate change rather than through its mitigation.
·Finally, adaptation would help developing countries cope with major problems now, and through 2085 and beyond, whereas generations would pass before anything less than draconian mitigation would have a discernible effect.
The Kyoto Protocol will cost participating countries about $165 billion annually. Kyoto, however, will not stabilize, much less reduce, atmospheric concentrations of CO2. Stabilizing atmospheric levels of CO2 at 550 parts per million (much higher than today’s levels) would cost several trillion dollars. Halting climate change, if that were possible, would cost many more trillions of dollars. Focused adaptive measures to reduce or eliminate the risks posed by malaria, hunger, water shortage, coastal flooding and threats to biodiversity, by contrast, would cost less than $10 billion a year. Moreover, these measures can be implemented now.
I think it is also important to keep in mind that developing technology has the potential of dramatically changing the situation, and money wasted on the Kyoto Protocol is money not spent on developing new and exciting technologies such as this:
Filling up your car with hydrogen fuel at the local filling station might not be too far off in the future, thanks to a team of researchers at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU).
Harnessing the energy of hydrogen has been considered a way to stem the rampant production of CO2 from fossil fuel combustion, which is believed to contribute to global warming. Using hydrogen, in contrast, merely produces water vapour upon combustion.
Scientists’ efforts to tap the lighter-than-air, inflammable gas as an energy source have gone unrewarded for years. The researchers at DTU found a way, however, to store hydrogen in a tablet form, overcoming the challenge of storing the volatile fuel.
"The last 20 years, researchers worldwide have tried to find a practical way to store hydrogen. We have found the way," said Claus Hviid Christensen, professor of chemistry at DTU.
"Before, the amount of hydrogen needed to fuel a passenger vehicle for 500km occupied the same space as nine passenger vehicles. With our pill, the same amount of energy can be contained in a normal 50 litre tank," said Christensen.
The discovery has the potential to open a new chapter of Danish innovation in the energy sector, similar to the leading position enjoyed in the wind energy sector.
Applications for the discovery include supplying batteries in portable computers or mobile phones, according to Ulrich Quaade, a professor at DTU who worked on the project.
Sounds promising. It is too bad that projects like this one are overshadowed by absurd, overly expensive and ultimately ineffective schemes like the Kyoto Protocol. (Several links via JunkScience.)

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