Many years ago, I protested at the
gates of a nuclear power plant. For a long
time, I believed it would be easy to get
energy from biomass, wind, and solar.
Small is beautiful. Distributed power, not
I wish I could still believe that.
My thinking changed when I worked
with Marty Hoffert of New York Univer-
sity on research that was first published
in Nature in 1998. It was the first peer-
reviewed study that examined the amount
of near-zero-emission energy we would
need in order to solve the climate problem.
Unfortunately, our conclusions still hold.
We need massive deployment of affordable and dependable near-zero-emission
energy, and we need a major research and
development program to develop better
energy and transportation systems.
It’s true that wind and solar power
By Ken Caldeira
have been getting much more attractive
in recent years. Both have gotten signifi-
cantly cheaper. Even so, neither wind nor
solar is dependable enough, and batter-
ies do not yet exist that can store enough
energy at affordable prices to get a mod-
ern industrial society through those times
when the wind is not blowing and the sun
is not shining.
Recent analyses suggest that wind and
solar power, connected by a continental-
scale electric grid and using natural-gas
power plants to provide backup, could
reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from
electricity production by about two-
A climate scientist argues that public attitudes must
change so that it is no longer acceptable to dump
carbon dioxide in the sky.