Over 300 attendees listened to words of warning from several of the world’s preeminent experts on energy this weekend, as part of the second annual Emerging Energy Technologies Summit.
Organized by the UCSB Technology Management Program, the conference brought business professionals, scholars, policy makers, engineers and others interested in the subject together to discuss everything from environmental considerations to energy shortages to alternative fuel profitability.
Chancellor Henry T. Yang opened the conference by referencing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report, released Feb. 2, which states that global warming is unequivocal, and the 20th century’s rapid increase in global temperature is very likely due to human causes.
“Our topic this year is particularly timely,” Yang said. “With the recent release of the [IPCC] report on climate, this issue is more than ever on the forefront of national and international consciousness. Our panelists and speakers will be sharing their ideas, insights, practical experience and long range visions on how our world can make the transition from a carbon fuel based economy to a sustainable, alternative fuel-based economy.”
The first day’s discussion focused on petroleum, including society’s heavy dependence on oil and the waning supply, the environmental and geopolitical problems it causes, and alternative sources of energy.
Journalist Paul Roberts, author of The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World, spoke at the conference concerning these issues. He said the public is well aware global warming exists, but the problem’s abstract nature and its indirect effects on individuals give politicians little incentive to pass energy-related legislation.
“On the plus side, we as a scientific, engineering community are much more focused on energy today than a generation ago,” Roberts said. “However, all it takes is a drop in the price of oil for there to be a collective sigh of relief and for people to think we somehow solved our energy crisis.”
According to Roberts, issues associated with the slowly, but surely, diminishing supply of global oil reserves are of import, particularly with respect to the enormous rise in China’s oil consumption.
“China cannot produce enough oil enough on its own, just like the U.S., and soon it will catch up to and surpass the U.S. in oil consumption,” Roberts said. “With the limited amount of global oil reserves this will cause all sorts of political problems.”
However, University of California Energy Institute Director Severin Borenstein said energy supply as such is not a problem, due to the availability of alternative fuel sources in the U.S., particularly coal, though there are tradeoffs associated with its use.
“If we ignore the political problems associated with oil and the environmental problems associated with the burning of coal, we have enough fuel to keep to make sure our grandchildren have plenty of energy,” Borenstein said.
Meanwhile, the second day of the conference focused on solutions to environmental problems. National Geographic magazine Assistant Executive Editor Tim Appenzeller said climate change has become permanent.
“Even if we today we stop all carbon dioxide emissions, the global temperature is already irreversibly locked at two degrees higher,” Appenzeller said.
UCSB environmental studies professor Bill Freudenburg suggested taxing oil companies for carbon dioxide emissions in order to force more environmentally efficient greenhouse gas emissions.
“We need to use oil more efficiently,” Freudenburg said. “Currently the government gives oil companies a 30 percent subsidy for taking oil out of the ground and burning it.”