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Forging a Clean Energy Future

Forging a Clean Energy Future

This video was recorded at MIT World Series: Karl Taylor Compton Lecture Series. For those seeking reassurance that American politicians take climate change and clean energy seriously, look no further: Jeff Bingaman wraps his arms around this enormous issue, and sets forth an ambitious national agenda to address the challenge. Bingaman sees a new attitude emerging in Washington. Politicians have begun to grasp that reduced dependence on foreign oil is not enough, and that today's energy challenge requires an overhaul in the way the entire world produces, stores, distributes, and uses energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This means moving entire economies from fossil fuels, says Bingaman, to non-emitting energy sources. This urgent, immense challenge is happening "in a world of growing demand for energy as billions of people are rising out of poverty," he says. The U.S. can hardly tell India not to bring its new gigantic coal-burning power plants online, which will emit more than 23 million tons of CO2 a year, "when most of us here have never known a life without electricity." Solutions must come from new technologies, which are more likely to emerge with appropriate incentives such as the cap-and-grade regulations Bingaman and his Senate colleagues are designing that recognize the actual costs of continued greenhouse emissions. But more should be done to encourage the development of these technologies, especially, as Bingaman notes, given inadequate political action in the past decades to promote, prioritize, and sustain science and technology enterprise in a way that could create a new, clean energy economy. Bingaman describes how, for example, successive administrations pursue their own new vehicle technologies, rather than sticking with a single strategy. Tax incentives for wind turbines and solar energy development ebb and flow, resulting in a "boom and bust cycle that sends the wrong message to entrepreneurs," says Bingaman. Bingaman lays out five steps for the U.S. to establish leadership in the clean energy field: strengthening science and technology responsibility at the highest levels of government, including giving high level budget responsibility to the President's Science Advisor; prioritizing critical, enabling energy technology areas, with the help of the Science Advisor and National Academies; developing roadmaps and assigning responsibility for pursuing each technology area, with the involvement of academic, government and industry representatives; ensuring sustained focus and adequate funding by requiring the President to submit a separate budget document to Congress each year detailing requests for each technology area; and finally, reviewing and updating energy technology priorities every five years.

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