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The Challenge: Meeting Global Energy Demands Sustainably

10/18/2006 6:00 PM Museum
Ernest Moniz, Director, MIT Energy Initiative; Kerry Emanuel, '76, PhD '78, Professor of Atmospheric Science

Description: Despite their calm demeanors, Kerry Emanuel and Ernie Moniz impart grave and pressing concerns about global warming to this Museum gathering. Emanuel admits that he was still a skeptic 20 years ago, but that detailed analysis of the earth's climate record, and sophisticated modeling have convinced him and a vast majority of his colleagues that we're witnessing a rapidly changing environment due to greenhouse gas emissions. The world is in the process of doubling its carbon dioxide emissions over the pre-industrial value of 280 parts per million. Experts project a 2-5 degree increase in the Earth's temperature, in our children's lifetimes. -What keeps some of us awake at night and in my mind drives us to take seriously why we have to deal with energy, is surprises. Things that we're worried about that might happen, that we don't know enough to rule out. These are low probability but high impact events that anyone with children worries about," says Emanuel. One such surprise might be the rapid melting of the Greenland ice cap (which vanished once before, in the distant past, amazingly fast). If all this ice melts into the world's oceans, says Emanuel, -you're talking about seven meters of sea level rise: say goodbye to Cape Cod, southern Florida, a lot of Manhattan." Emanuel, a hurricane specialist, also foresees much greater intensity of hurricanes, as the world warms up. This clear and present danger of climate change must force nations to control fossil fuel use, says Ernie Moniz. If we do nothing at all, carbon dioxide emissions will double over their pre-industrial values in 50 years -- a point of no return. Yet the task of completely altering our energy infrastructure in this timeframe -certainly violates no law of physics," says Moniz. We must be much more efficient in use of energy, especially in our residential and commercial buildings; we must find alternative transportation fuels; and we must achieve carbon-free or carbon-light electricity. There is no single -silver bullet" to wean us from fossil fuel addiction, and going from small-scale to large-scale production of energy alternatives will prove tricky. Just as important, says Moniz, to get going on this new portfolio of technologies will require political will: -There must be a policy put in place relatively soon that one way or another attaches a price to greenhouse gas emissions,' and encourage the market introductions of new forms of energy. Moniz believes that for the U.S., reengineering the economy toward energy independence plays to our technological strengths, and aligns environment and security interests.

About the Speaker(s): Kerry Emanuel has been on the faculty of MIT since 1981. He was previously at the University of California, Los Angeles. His research focuses on tropical meteorology and climate, with a specialty in hurricane physics. His interests also include cumulus convection, and advanced methods of sampling the atmosphere in aid of numerical weather prediction. He is the author or co-author of more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers, and two books, including Divine Wind: The History and Science of Hurricanes, (2005, Oxford University Press).

Emanuel received his S.B. in Earth and Planetary Sciences from MIT, and earned a Ph.D. in Meteorology from MIT in 1978. Ernest J. Moniz has served on the MIT faculty since 1973. He was Under Secretary of the Department of Energy from October 1997 until January 2001. He also served from 1995 to 1997 as Associate Director for Science in the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President. At MIT, Moniz was Head of the Department of Physics and Director of the Bates Linear Accelerator Center. His principal research contributions have been in theoretical nuclear physics, particularly in advancing nuclear reaction theory at high energy. Moniz received a B.S. degree in physics from Boston College, a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Stanford University, and honorary doctorates from the University of Athens and the University of Erlangen-Nurenburg. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Humboldt Foundation, and the American Physical Society and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Moniz received the 1998 Seymour Cray HPCC Industry Recognition Award for vision and leadership in advancing scientific simulation.

Host(s): Office of the Provost, MIT Museum

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

Category: Events | Updated over 2 years ago

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