image from IQ2
The Intelligence Squared Green Festival on Climate Change was a full day's worth of important information and debate on many issues confronting mankind about the future of our planet. With a cast of heavy hitters, from scientists to professors to CEO's, it was an opportunity to hear serious people talk about serious matters.
The first big debate was "Countdown to Armageddon--how long have we got?" It featured two people taking the position that "it's too late, the damage has already been done", two arguing "we must act now" and another two insisting that "the threat is over-exaggerated."
In the "it's too late" camp, Eric Bettleheim, of Sustainable Forestry Management said that there is no miracle cure and fossil fuels are the only answer. He said that the developing countries are all burning wood in order to survive and that time is running out because of the booming population in these countries. He felt that there was no chance of slowing down the CO2 emissions there. Tony Juniper, former head of Friends of the Earth argued that it is not the lack of science that hinders our ability to stop the rising CO2, it is the lack of political will.
Sir David King, respected scientist, and Mohan Munasinghe (pictured) Vice Chair of the IPCC, took the position that "we must act now." King said that we have to stay below the 450 parts per million level of CO2 and we are at 430 now. His advice: "we have to adapt and mitigate", it is the next generation that will have major problems. Munasinghe felt that "we must cut emissions by 2020 or else" but we are slipping backwards from the lax Kyoto agreement.
The "climate change is over-exaggerated" team were greeted with general hilarity. Viscount Monckton of Brenchley was introduced as "a mathematics millionaire and inventor" and he presented a very convincing slide show which proved that there were more polar bears, no loss of ice or snow coverage in the Arctic, no increase in sea levels, no trend in hurricanes and temperatures were on the downturn. His partner in debate, James Woudhuysen argued that since cities are getting bigger and people are leaving the countryside that the need for burning wood will decrease.
For a change in tone, turning to real science, the next debate was "Biofuels--essential or a waste of time?". This one featured a Chief Scientist at BP (Steve Koonin), a government fuels regulator (Nick Goodall) and a representative from The Carbon Trust (Dr. Ben Graziano). This was quite a technical discussion, with no real answers.
Koonin said that we need alternative sources of fuels because transportation makes up 22% of emissions and uses 14% of green house gas. He said that ethanol was a "lousy fuel", butanol was" a better one" and that "we should be able to do it better--government policy should encourage this."
The UK biofuels regulator said that UK policy is that the right biofuels can make a carbon saving. The UK needs rural development and economic diversification by growing a different kind of crop for biofuels.
Graziano also agreed that a second generation of biofuels was needed. The Carbon Trust is putting a lot of research money into micro algae because it doesn't need arable land or fresh water and you get 5 to 10 times the energy. However this is a long term project and needs much more research and development. The BP representative noted the "technical immaturity" of the business at this time. It is a practical engineering problem to grow enough to make it economical and bring down the price. He said that "economics and materiality" are key.
More tomorrow on "Can Asia go green (and if it doesn't has the world had it?)". Intelligence Squared