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Professor Touts Fossil Fuel Alternatives

In the last installment of a series on climate change, a New York University physics professor who advocates carbon-free energy explains his perspective on wind power, solar fission and other technologies.

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    The latest international assessment of climate change came up with a roadmap to stem global warming. Panel chair Rajendra Pachauri.


    You can look at technology, you can look at policies, but what is an extremely powerful message in this report is the need for human society, as a whole, to start looking at changes in lifestyles and consumption patterns.


    The report, drafted by a United Nations network of 2,000 scientists last week in Bangkok, said the world must act quickly between now and 2050 to make significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. If countries continue with business as usual, gases will rise between 25 percent and 90 percent over the next 25 years, according to the report.

    Scientists said cuts could be achieved without significantly harming the world's economy. They recommended greater use of renewable fuels, nuclear power, fuel efficiency, and changing farming practices.

    In the end, all nations agreed that emissions could be curbed or sustained for a reasonable cost. The authors estimated that to achieve the sharpest reductions would cost less than 3 percent of the total global gross domestic product by 2030.

    Before the panel released its report, I spoke with Marty Hoffert, a physicist at New York University and advocate of alternative energy sources.

    Professor, if the goal is not just stopping the increase of the emitting of greenhouse gases, but eventually cutting what's in the atmosphere, give us your best shot, your best proposal for getting that daunting task done.

  • MARTY HOFFERT, New York University:

    The most important thing is to focus on three classes of carbon-neutral power, which together — or perhaps even individually, we don't really know yet — could do the job of stabilizing the world's climate, even as the GDP of the world grows about 3 percent a year.

    Those three areas are coal gasification, where the CO-2 carbon dioxide collected and buried underground. The second category is nuclear power, but nuclear power that's based on a fuel that's efficiently long-lived, that it could be a stainable energy source. And the third, of course, is renewable energy, primarily solar and wind power.

    And we need to be building an infrastructure that would be adequate to run the world on those three sources. I would say that's the highest priority, because, if we don't do that, we're already building the wrong infrastructure for the second half of the 21st century because of the enormous investments that are made in energy power.