Menus Subscribe Search

It’s All One World for Energy Concerns

• July 09, 2009 • 6:55 PM

A recent energy policy summit concluded what the Group of 8 powers are learning: The Third World may require help reducing heat-trapping gases.

Global warming, as its name suggests, will require a global response and global solutions, according to experts convened by Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, but those global solutions don’t negate the need for local tailoring.

For example, greenhouse gas emissions from developing countries have exceeded those from developed countries since 2006, said Jonathan Wiener, Duke University professor of law and environmental and public policy. One likely reason is “leakage” — an unintended consequence of cutting emissions in the developed world.

Tighter regulations in Europe may push manufacturing to China, Wiener said. But lighter regulations in China can allow greater emissions for the same amount of manufacturing, which means “leakage can exceed 100 percent.”

Since greenhouse gases mix across the globe, he explained, “no matter where they’re emitted or where they’re abated, they have a globally mixed effect. This puts a premium on international agreement.”

Participants in Indiana University’s “Search for Wise Energy Policy” in Washington, D.C., didn’t actually find one. (One panelist suggested it be called a “quest,” rather than a search, in recognition of its Quixotic nature.) Participants didn’t vote on a policy or attempt to arrive at a formal consensus, but some general themes were sounded.

For example, developed countries need to help developing countries use energy cleanly and efficiently, because poor nations must consume more energy to pull themselves out of poverty. Meanwhile, affluent countries’ economies will suffer if they attack global warming without new technologies.

Global energy use cannot be cut in the foreseeable future, because a third of the world’s population currently lacks access to any energy at all, said Margo Thorning, senior vice president and chief economist at the American Council for Capital Formation. Poor nations’ most-critical problems can’t be solved without increasing their energy use, she said.

If it doesn’t increase efficiency, even the United States will need 23 percent more electricity by 2030, said Carnegie Institution President Richard Meserve.

Affluent countries face a dilemma in promoting development of technologies to control emissions, said Charles Weiss, professor in Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. (His new book, written with William B. Bonvillian, is titled Structuring an Energy Technology Revolution.)

“We want intellectual property protection to encourage our companies to do research and development,” he explained, “but we want other companies to adopt this technology.”

Governments need to rethink protections so they can promote both innovation and technology transfer to developing countries, Weiss said.

Panelists identified an assortment of potential new energy sources.

Underground heat could become a larger energy source if water could be injected deep into the earth to be heated, then returned to the surface to generate electricity, Weiss said. Less expensive drilling technology needs to be developed, however, he added.

The United States has a “vast” supply of unconventional energy resources, said Jim Bartis, senior policy researcher at the RAND Corp. and former U.S. Department of Energy executive. Among them are heavy oil (which is more dense than regular oil), tar sands (a thick petroleum mixed with clay, sand and water), oil shale (rocks that release oil when heated), coal converted to liquid fuel and biomass (such as plants and garbage).

The United States’ oil shale deposits are the equivalent of triple Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves, Bartis said, but serious environmental challenges must be overcome. One promising idea calls for heating shale in the ground and capturing the vapor without the pollution of mining, he said, but that technology has not been developed.

Technology does exist to reduce coal’s emission of greenhouse gases, Bartis said, but uncertain costs have contributed to no “clean-coal” power plants having been built.

The world is on the verge of a “nuclear renaissance,” said Meserve, a former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Currently, 44 nuclear power plants are under construction around the world, and many developing countries want to access nuclear power, he said. Companies in the United States have filed applications to construct 26 nuclear plants, more than three decades after the last U.S. permit was issued.

Cost and politics are the primary barriers to constructing new plants in the United States, Meserve said. Plants currently operate safely and securely, he said, and nuclear waste can be stored safely under ground.

Existing nuclear plants produce cheaper electricity than coal-fired plants, he said, but that’s partly because their construction costs have been amortized. Building a new plant today would cost $3 billion to $6 billion, which he described as a “bet-your-company” investment.

The nuclear power infrastructure also must be reconstituted, a decade and a half after the last plant went on line, he said. “You need to rebuild the network of suppliers” and address the fact that “a large number of schools shut down their nuclear engineering departments.”

Sign up for our free e-newsletter.

Are you on Facebook? Become our fan.

Follow us on Twitter.

Add our news to your site.

Tom Price
Tom Price is a Washington-based freelance writer who focuses on public affairs, business, technology and education. Previously he was a correspondent in the Cox Newspapers Washington bureau and chief politics writer for the Cox papers in Dayton. He is author or co-author of five books, and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, Rolling Stone, CQ Researcher and other publications.

More From Tom Price

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

August 1 • 2:22 PM

Warmer Parenting Makes Antisocial Toddlers More Empathetic

Loving care may be the best antidote to callous behavior in young children.


August 1 • 2:00 PM

The Federal Health Insurance Exchange Remains Surprisingly Active

New federal data, obtained by ProPublica under the Freedom of Information Act, shows nearly one million insurance transactions since mid-April.



August 1 • 6:00 AM

The Idea of Racial Hierarchy Remains Entrenched in Americans’ Psyches

New research finds white faces are most closely associated with positive thoughts and feelings.


August 1 • 4:00 AM

How and Why Does the Social Become Biological?

To get closer to an answer, it’s helpful to look at two things we’ve taught ourselves over time: reading and math.



July 31 • 4:00 PM

Thank You for Your Service: How One Company Sues Soldiers Worldwide

With stores near military bases across the country, the retailer USA Discounters offers easy credit to service members. But when those loans go bad, the company uses the local courts near its Virginia headquarters to file suits by the thousands.


July 31 • 2:00 PM

A New York State of Fracking

Court cases. A governor’s moratorium. Pending health study. A quick guide to the state of fracking in New York.


July 31 • 11:17 AM

How California Could Power Itself Using Nothing but Renewables

We don’t need fossil fuels.


July 31 • 8:00 AM

Should Athletes Train Their Memories?

Sure, but it probably won’t help.


July 31 • 6:00 AM

Universal Basic Income: Something We Can All Agree on?

According to Almaz Zelleke, it’s not a crazy thought.


July 31 • 4:00 AM

Medical Dramas Produce Misinformed, Fatalistic Viewers

New research suggests TV doctor dramas leave viewers with skewed impressions of important health-related topics.


July 30 • 4:00 PM

Still the World’s Top Military Spender

Although declining in real terms, the United States’ military budget remains substantial and a huge drain on our public resources.



July 30 • 2:04 PM

The Rise of the Nuisance Flood

Minor floods are afflicting parts of Maryland nearly 10 times more often than was the case in the 1960s.


July 30 • 2:00 PM

The (Mostly Awful) Things You Learn After Investigating Unpaid Internships for a Year

Though the intern economy remains opaque, dialogue about the role of interns in the labor force—and protections they deserve—is beginning to take shape.


July 30 • 12:00 PM

Why Coffee Shortages Won’t Change the Price of Your Frappuccino

You’re so loyal to Starbucks—and the company knows it—that your daily serving of caffeine is already marked up beyond the reach of any fluctuations in supply.



July 30 • 10:00 AM

Having Difficult Conversations With Your Children

Why it’s necessary, and how to do it.


July 30 • 8:00 AM

How to Make a Convincing Sci-Fi Movie on a Tight Budget

Coherence is a good movie, and its initial shoot cost about the same amount of money as a used Prius.


July 30 • 6:00 AM

Are You Really as Happy as You Say You Are?

Researchers find a universal positivity bias in the way we talk, tweet, and write.


July 30 • 4:00 AM

The Declining Wage Gap for Gay Men

New research finds gay men in America are rapidly catching up with straight married men in terms of wages.


July 30 • 2:00 AM

LeBron James Migration: Big Chef Seeking Small Pond

The King’s return to Cleveland is a symbol for the dramatic shift in domestic as well as international migration.


July 29 • 4:00 PM

Are Children Seeking Refuge Turning More Americans Against Undocumented Immigrants?

A look at Pew Research Center survey data collected in February and July of this year.


July 29 • 2:00 PM

Under Water: The EPA’s Ongoing Struggle to Combat Pollution

Frustration and inaction color efforts to enforce the Clean Water Act.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

Warmer Parenting Makes Antisocial Toddlers More Empathetic

Loving care may be the best antidote to callous behavior in young children.

The Rise of the Nuisance Flood

Minor floods are afflicting parts of Maryland nearly 10 times more often than was the case in the 1960s.

America’s Streams Are Awash With Pesticides Banned in Europe

You may have never heard of clothianidin, but it's probably in your local river.

How Textbooks Have Changed the Face of War

War is more personal, less glorious, and more hellish in modern textbooks than in the past. But there’s still room for improvement.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.