Gambling with the Future: Energy, Environment, and Economics in the 21st Century


In the late 1950s measurements of the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere began at Mauna Loa in Hawaii. It soon became clear that atmospheric CO2 was increasing and the scientific community began to try to understand why, and what the consequences might be. It was not until the "Earth Summit" in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 that governments began to support a worldwide effort to understand what is now called Global Climate Change. Today, it is generally accepted that human activity is affecting the heat balance of the planet and that the greenhouse effect from increased CO2 will increase the global temperature with uncertain consequences. We are already in a regime that has no precedent in the last 400,000 years, and these consequences are almost certainly bad if greenhouse gas concentrations increase unabated. The driving force is the increase in global population and the economic development, coupled to energy use that everyone wants so as to increase their standard of living. I summarize the evidence, the projections for the next fifty to one hundred years, and outline what our options are. The problem can be brought under control without miraculous intervention if we have the will, something that is not at all clear.

Last Presented

October 5, 2004: Stanford University
Applied Physics Colloquia


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