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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change (2)

On Monday, the developing countries walked out of the Copenhagen Conference for a few hours over a leaked draft of a treaty that would remove their exemption from the Kyoto Treaty's CO2 reductions. This suggests that getting to an agreement will be hard, possibly impossible, but even if an agreement is reached, the chances of it actually resulting in something useful would seem to be vanishingly close to zero.

There are good arguments, not least the fact that the supply of fossil fuels is ultimately finite, for converting the world economy to sustainable sources of energy. On the other hand, there are technological, logistical, and cost issues - not least being how to store electricity at a reasonable price - that make it impossible to do so overnight or even in the near future. That doesn't mean that we should do nothing but increased funding for basic and applied research is urgently needed.

The inevitable conclusion is that it is going to get a quite a bit hotter and rising sea levels will be an uncomfortable consequence. This will last for a few hundred years until the conversion to sustainable energy development is complete.

Developing the expertize and infrastructure to adapt to the likely new circumstances is the critical priority. Chasing pie-in-the-sky technologies such as CCS (carbon capture and storage) which, even if they can be made to work safely and effectively, will be grotesquely expensive, is not a recipe for prosperity.

Expect a bull market for hydraulic and civil engineers from the Netherlands which is, after all, a country that has thrived for centuries even though one third of its land area is below sea level.

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