In the 1890s, New York City was swamped -- not by a storm but something smellier, horse manure. Horses, the primary mode of transportation, dropped more than a million pounds each day, causing a sanitation crisis. No one found a fix, and some estimated the streets would eventually be buried several feet deep.
Then, "shift happened," says Harvard chemist Daniel Nocera. The automobile arrived, and almost overnight, it replaced horses and cleaned up the streets. Hailed as an environmental savior, it solved a seemingly insurmountable problem.
What a difference a century makes. Cars are now known contributors to the modern-day scourge of climate change. Their heat-trapping emissions have helped warm the planet beyond its natural variability. So sea levels have risen, and drought, heat waves and hurricanes have intensified -- as USA TODAY explored in a year-long series, "Weathering the Change."
As in the 1890s, society is once again looking for the next Big Fix -- whether high-altitude wind kites, "plug and play" nuclear reactors, giant synthetic trees to absorb carbon dioxide or sulfate aerosols to cool the planet. Next week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, two concepts will be on display: Toyota's hydrogen fuel-cell car, which emits no greenhouse gases, and Ford's hybrid, powered partly by renewable energy.
Yet will technology deliver this time? Or will inertia push the planet, already struggling with higher temperatures, to a cataclysmic breaking point?
"I'm totally optimistic," says Nocera, citing a plethora of technological advances, including his own "artificial leaf" for producing hydrogen fuel. "All over the world these things are happening."
He says projections are based on current conditions but innovation can shift the paradigm, adding: "That's what discovery can do."
Even optimists agree it won't be easy. "No amount of new technology will magically solve the climate problem or even help much," unless there's broad consensus on the need for urgent action, says Harvard physicist David Keith.
In Washington, D.C., where climate change remains politically divisive, action is unlikely. Congress has rebuffed a tax on carbon emissions, which Keith and other climate scientists say would be the best way to spur clean-energy innovation. Opponents such as the American Petroleum Institute say the tax could boost energy prices and hurt the U.S. economy.
Global leaders have also made little progress in agreeing to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Still, change is bubbling up. Dozens of states now require that a portion of their electricity come from renewable sources. In October, California became the first to require its utilities to install energy-storage equipment -- expected to boost technologies such as batteries that can be used when the sun doesn't shine or the wind doesn't blow. China has increased its use of solar power to reduce the smog blanketing its major cities. (continued...)
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Posted: 2014-01-21 @ 6:59pm PT
Hope the TRW (or LFTR or IFR) is deployed on the global scale so that these deniers will never know they were wrong!
Posted: 2014-01-11 @ 8:34am PT
Technology will not fix climate change. Climate change is a natural process that has occurred and will continue to occur for billions of years.
Posted: 2014-01-02 @ 3:33pm PT
What news editors never mention: You remaining believers might want to look up the consensus you see eagerly believe in because the IPCC's scientific consensus is nothing beyond "could be" a crisis and find us just one single IPCC warning that agrees with your certainty of a crisis. Science says it "could be", you tell kids you believe it will. Who's the fear mongering neocon now? Know what you are agreeing on.