Study sees potential for acceleration in U.S. emissions

Nov 13, 2007

U.S. greenhouse gas emissions could grow more quickly in the next 50 years than in the previous half-century, even with technological advances and current energy-saving efforts, according to a new study by MIT's Richard Eckaus, the Ford International Professor of Economics, emeritus, and his co-author, Ian Sue Wing (Ph.D. 2001).

What's more, technology itself may be more the stuff that dreams are made on than the most available tool for reducing CO2 emissions or solving the global energy crisis, cautions Eckaus.

"There is no a priori reason to think technology has the potential for reducing energy use while meeting the tests of economics. It's politically unappetizing in the U.S., but in Europe, gas costs six dollars a gallon. Make energy more expensive: People will use less of it," Eckaus says.

In their paper, "The Implications of the Historical Decline in U.S. Energy Intensity for Long-Run CO2 Emission Projections," published in the November issue of Energy Policy, Eckaus and Wing portray the changing interplay among technology, energy use and CO2 emissions, based on a simulation of the U.S. economy.

"We found that, in spite of increasing energy prices, technological change has not been responsible for much reduction in energy use, and that it may have had the reverse effect," Eckaus says of their results.

The researchers studied the periods 1958 to 1996 and 1980 to 1996 and projected from 2000 to 2050. Based on their findings from the past 50 years and adjusted for a more realistic expectation for technological changes, they found that the rates of growth for energy use and emissions may accelerate from the historical rates of 2.2 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively.

"The rates of growth could be higher by a half percent or more, which becomes significant when compounded over fifty years," Eckaus says.

He acknowledges it has become counterintuitive to question technology's potential to solve the energy problem. But U.S. steelmaking illustrates how fossil fuel consumption can increase along with technological change: Steelmakers' furnaces are now electrical, reducing coal use at the plant. But coal generates some of the electricity that powers the factory furnace, resulting in more CO2 emissions.

"The net savings in this case comes from the use of scrap steel instead of iron ore, not from new furnace technology," Eckaus says.

A former consultant to the World Bank, Eckaus has been an advisor on economic policy to Egypt, India, Mexico and Portugal, among other countries; he advocates policies to control both energy use and CO2 emissions.

"Technological change will not necessarily reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Energy taxes or a system of caps on energy use and trade in emissions permits are necessary," he says.

In a new paper on a related topic, "Unemployment Effects of Climate Policy," (PDF) Eckaus and co-author Mustafa H. Babiker of Aramco model the negative effects on labor employment of policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions. They then propose economic policies to counteract these effects.

"Climate change is a social and economic problem. If society wants to do something about it, it will have to bear the cost. It won't be free. It's an unprecedented social problem that requires a social response," Eckaus says.

According to Eckaus and Babiker, emissions restrictions policies generate the social problem of unemployment by reducing the demand in some industries for workers. The lowered output, in turn, would lead to reductions in the GNP by as much as 4 percent in the coming decades--a depressing effect on the U.S.

"If there were two policies, instead of just one--a counteracting labor market policy, as well as the emissions restrictions--the negative direct economic effects could be completely eliminated," they write.

In conversation, Eckaus suggests a labor market policy--a wage subsidy such as reduced labor taxes--to aid workers displaced from such industries as petroleum refining, automobile-making, metal fabricating and some chemical industries.

"Most studies assume labor and wages will adjust; some assume these will adjust quickly. But our study shows unemployment will go up, and adjustments won't necessarily follow quickly. We need an economic policy to address that," he says.

"We might expand and subsidize public transportation systems. We could launch a transportation-stamp program, to operate like food stamps: 'Get a stamp and get on a bus!'" he says.

Eckaus, Babiker and Wing are affiliated with the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Climate Change.

Source: MIT

Explore further: US delays decision on Keystone pipeline project

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

MIT sees acceleration in US greenhouse emissions

Nov 19, 2007

U.S. greenhouse gas emissions could grow more quickly in the next 50 years than in the previous half-century, and technological change may cause increased emissions rather than control them, according to a new study by an ...

Recommended for you

US delays decision on Keystone pipeline project

Apr 18, 2014

The United States announced Friday a fresh delay on a final decision regarding a controversial Canada to US oil pipeline, saying more time was needed to carry out a review.

New research on Earth's carbon budget

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —Results from a research project involving scientists from the Desert Research Institute have generated new findings surrounding some of the unknowns of changes in climate and the degree to which ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

lengould100
not rated yet Aug 14, 2008
Maybe rather than laying off a lot of autoworkers we should get them to work scrapping SUV's and using the materials to manufacture efficient PHEV's.

More news stories

China says massive area of its soil polluted

A huge area of China's soil covering more than twice the size of Spain is estimated to be polluted, the government said Thursday, announcing findings of a survey previously kept secret.

UN weather agency warns of 'El Nino' this year

The UN weather agency Tuesday warned there was a good chance of an "El Nino" climate phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean this year, bringing droughts and heavy rainfall to the rest of the world.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...