In the second of two videos, MIT’s Professor of Atmospheric Science, Kerry Emanuel, explores the complex relationship between climate change and our economy. Professor Emanuel emphasizes the need to transform the energy market in the U.S. and move away from fossil fuels, to tackle the climate change issue, and give the U.S. a competitive edge in the market.
[00:00:00:00] KERRY EMANUEL: I'm Kerry Emanuel. I'm a professor of atmospheric science here at MIT. I've been at MIT for 36 years. Before that, I was at UCLA for three years. And I've been interested in the atmosphere since I was a young child, and dreamed that I might make a profession of it some day. And I have. Over my professional career, my interests have shifted a little bit more in the direction of tropical meteorology and climate.
[00:00:33:07] Most of the scientists who study these things tend to ignore or brush aside the politics. There are a few of us, and I guess I'm included in this, who try to make politicians, policymakers, and so forth aware of the risks that we're incurring going forward, so that they, hopefully, some day, will pass intelligent legislation and other policies to deal with those risks.
[00:01:00:15] Politicians need to understand that we scientists are really trying to understand how the climate system works. And some of us are also trying to quantify the risks associated with climate change. We don't have a political agenda. We're simply trying to understand the risks.
[00:01:23:11] It's very important for people working on solutions-- and that includes the [INAUDIBLE] political scientists, social scientists-- to understand fundamentally where the science is in terms of the assessment of risk going forward. What are the risks? What is the time frame over which we must deal with those risks to be effective? In other words, that sets the foundation for everything they would do to try and deal with or mitigate that risk.
[00:01:58:21] There are some potentially very large risks to civilization. Those risks have to do mostly with the consequences of sea level rise and the fact that the distributions of rainfall favor both more droughts and more floods. And historically, in human history, whenever we see climate change that leads to food and water shortages, that, in turn, leads to political instability. And political instability in a nuclear armed world is something that ought to be avoided.
[00:02:33:07] The good news is that we can transform our energy economy very quickly to get away from carbon and/or extract carbon from the atmosphere. We need to very rapidly put in place policies that encourage innovation in those directions. And if we did that, I'm confident that science and engineering would very rapidly solve these problems while probably improving the economy.
[00:02:59:21] Let me say this. Two numbers on the table-- the global energy market is $6 trillion annually. US GDP is $17 trillion. So energy is more than a third of the US GDP.
[00:03:16:01] Right now, the energy markets are transforming away from carbon toward innovative new sources. And right now, China is leading that charge, with America talking about going backwards to coal. We can't afford to cede a $6 billion market to the rest of the world. We should be the leaders in that innovation. And we should be capturing as much of that market as we can. This is good and necessary for our economic well-being, even if you don't particularly care about climate change.
[00:03:48:12] There are whole other disciplines in science and engineering that are trying to understand, what are the solutions that are out there that could help us mitigate the risks? I don't think we've been talking nearly enough as a society about those solutions. Because some of them are really exciting.
[00:04:07:15] Unfortunately, they're portrayed, in the media and elsewhere, as sort of economic armageddon-- that we're going to have to go back to the Stone Ages, where we don't have electricity, or it's very expensive. On the contrary, there are some interesting alternative energy sources-- and I don't just mean renewables-- that could drive the price down and could make power even more plentiful than it is today.
[00:04:35:18] I think there will be bipartisan unity if policies are proposed that make sense economically-- if they improve the economy. And I think that's where the focus should lie today. How can we best transform our energy, not just to solve the climate problem-- although that, to me, is very important, but to give us a competitive edge in energy?
[00:05:02:13] There are many reasons to think that we ought to be transforming our energy economy, even if climate were not on the table. First and foremost, eventually we will run out of fossil fuels. The projections on the table now is that oil and gas will be exhausted at the current rate of consumption and projecting forward about the end of this century-- coal a little bit later than that. So eventually, we have to transform away.
[00:05:31:10] If we can get a 50-year head start on that transformation, not only might we solve the climate problem, but we might, as a nation, get an edge in this very, very strong market of energy. That's what I think we need to be doing. And rather than holding that innovation back by subsidizing old means of energy production, we should encourage, perhaps through carbon pricing, the development of new sources.
Climate Science and Climate Risk: A Primer (PDF)
12.340x Global Warming Science, an MITx course on edX