Technology with attitude

Cost of Fighting Global Warming Could be $45 Trillion

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A new report by the International Energy Agency offers a basic roadmap to drastically cutting fossil fuel emissions by 2050.

The study said that an average of 35 coal-powered plants and 20 gas-powered power plants would have to be fitted with carbon capture and storage equipment each year between 2010 and 2050.

In addition, the world would have to construct 32 new nuclear power plants each year, and wind-power turbines would have to be increased by 17,000 units annually. Nations would have to achieve an eight-fold reduction in carbon intensity — the amount of carbon needed to produce a unit of energy — in the transport sector.

Such action would drastically reduce oil demand to 27 percent of 2005 demand. Failure to act would lead to a doubling of energy demand and a 130 percent increase in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, IEA officials said.

The estimated cost in today’s dollars? $45 trillion.

That’s not pennies. And building 32 new nuclear power plants a year for the next four decades would certainly run into opposition, both from environmentalists and those who do not want such a massive proliferation of nuclear technology.

But, increasingly, nuclear power is looking like the only immediately viable alternative to fossil fuels. Note that the report calls for 17,000 new wind turbines a year as well but that clearly won’t come close to meeting energy needs. To reduce carbon emissions and avoid nuclear power, we have to hope for a major technological breakthrough in alternative energy sources such as solar or bio-fuels. Based on this IEA report, we don’t have time to sit around and hope. We need to take action now.

Of course, on the surface, this hardly seems like a plan most of the world will adopt anytime soon. I think combating global warming will be done on a far more ad hoc basis.