Burning of fossil fuels constitutes the main source today of greenhouse gases. It is also the principal vector of anthropic action on the climate. But the relationship between energy and climate is far more complex that it seems initially. Scientific knowledge is advancing constantly and what is now noteworthy is that the players, whether they are private individuals, national and local authorities or business companies are becoming increasingly aware of the challenges that lie ahead. Where does science stand today and how can we use the available knowledge?
Ecologically speaking, coal is the worst energy source around. But it nonetheless possesses some almost irresistible features. It is still abundant, easy and cheap to mine. Promising technologies could allow cleaner, healthier ways to burn it. Let's have a look.
Fifteen years ago, with the advent of the “new economy”, brick and mortar businesses embodied the ancient world. But the energy transition has just turned the tables: the construction sector is going through a phase of unprecedented innovation. And the industry of brick and tile is at the heart of this revolution – a revolution which focuses on the energy performance of buildings but also on the life cycle of materials.
In the field of rail transport, climate change raises very concrete challenges. The infrastructure is already under heavy stress and suffers from waves of heat that distort the rails and from floods that can disrupt traffic. Passenger comfort raises additional problems. How can we adapt to these changes? How can we anticipate them? Major rail companies have been thinking about these problems for several years and are beginning to design new strategies of action on the short, medium and long term.
With such a range of possibilities, wherein lies the best approach to the goal of reducing global CO2 emissions? Might shifting perspectives on both lifestyle and technology come to be seen less as a constraint and more as the key to ever greater progress? The response to the current challenge depends as much on the emergence of disruptive innovation as on fresh perspectives toward current modes of energy production and consumption.
The green energy boom has opened up cracks in the electricity sector to force to the surface problems which until recently were of only marginal interest. Wind power in particular has provoked forceful debates. Among the subplots are questions over how to manage intermittency. The result is a multiplicity of paths to innovation, one of which leads directly to electricity storage.
To build a sustainable economy, consuming fewer natural resources, we need to think in terms of growth, not otherwise. The issue of sustainability should be tackled in a dynamic way. By setting a new model for the lifecycle of materials, we can project what the future's economic model could look like.
Micro-algae are driving a small technological revolution. Their cultivation marks a new era in the production of biofuels, reinventing industrial processes as well as economic models. In the United States and Europe, several projects are now moving from an experimenting phase to actual operation.
The global electricity sector is facing three major challenges: the security of supply to keep up with ever-mounting demand, the fight against climate change, and the global trend toward massive urbanization. Electricity will play a key role through low-emitting energy-generation technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These technologies already exist. Success will depend on how public policies are used to encourage innovation.
Nuclear energy is once more on the defensive, thanks to Fukushima. But day to day, fossil fuels are far riskier in the toll they take on people, not to mention their effect on global warming. And some renewables like ethanol and hydropower carry their own substantial, if underrated, risks. If Germany's move to shut down its nuclear plants turns out to be the start of a trend, what does it mean for our safety?
Green Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is no longer a distant dream. GreenTouch, a global consortium organized by Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs, is spearheading an initiative to innovate and create technologies that will allow networks to achieve an increase in energy efficiency by a factor of 1000. The hope is that the energy required to power today's communications networks, the internet included, for one day will eventually be enough to last... three years.
The failure of the Copenhagen climate change summit to formulate a successor to the Kyoto Protocol has cancelled hopes for the foreseeable future for any enforceable regulatory framework to deal with the global warming issue worldwide. Commentators have pointed the reticence of emerging economies along with recalcitrance of the US administration and the lobbying of powerful industrial interests. In Europe, Tax commissioner Semeta's proposal for a future EU carbon tax was placed on the backburner due to uncertainties on its economic effects. Observers have thus been left with three overriding questions: Where are we in the theoretical debate? What could be the next steps in the development of a low carbon fiscal model? What will be the economic impact of any future changes?
The combined challenges of energy and environmental security pose important national security questions and risks that, with few exceptions, remain poorly formulated and understood today. This article, adapted from a keynote address given by Carol Dumaine at the 8th International Security Forum in Geneva, Switzerland, shines light on these issues and calls for a common security framework to strengthen our ability to cope with global change.
The scientific jury may still be out on the causes of global warming (though most polls suggest roughly 11 of 12 climatologists see fossil fuel consumption as the literal smoking gun), but for non-experts, the large number of record-breaking high temperatures, floods, and other extreme weather events in 2010 has shifted the debate from asking is the weather changing to what will happen next.
Since the beginning of the industrial era, human activities have added new sources of climate variation to the above natural causes, which bring about atmospheric change.
Rarely has a debate preoccupied the media and public opinion as much as the one that is raging today on climate change and the possible impact of human activities.
It is not only in the financial sector that mathematical models are contested. Climate predictions are also subject to criticism from those who attribute fluctuations in global temperature to misconceived equations. For the past ten years, and especially recently, the scientific community has been tearing itself apart over an apparently simple question: Is the earth getting warmer and if so, is it because of human activity? Why such a heated debate? Because, behind this "simple" question lies one that is more profound, more political, and philosophical than it is scientific: Is humankind harming the planet?
Japanese fishermen reel in nets weighed down by jellyfish the size of small refrigerators. Tons of green algae wash up on the coast of Brittany, emitting enough hydrogen sulfide that it kills a horse- and leaves its rider unconscious. It might sound like the first reel of a cheap science fiction movie. Unfortunately, it's not. Many scientists believe these phenomena are actually symptoms of how global warming is changing the ecology of the oceans -a threat that may prove even more serious than atmospheric warming.