Campus & Community

Conference addresses need for renewable energy development

In Professor Martin Hoffert’s view, saving the world is a choice: Either find new technologies to replace the oil and gas that the world has left or do nothing, use it all up and by the end of the century revert to being hunter-gatherers.

Those are the choices if you look carefully at the data, Hoffert said in an address Thursday at the University of Denver.

“We’re basically out of gas by the end of the century,” said the New York University professor of applied science. “We’ve already used half of the world’s recoverable oil. If we don’t develop these [alternative technologies], we’re not going to make it. I don’t think we appreciate that.”

The good news, he says, is that the energy crisis is solvable. The bad news is it needed to be started “yesterday” and will require a $30 billion a year crash program in renewable energy development.

It also will require the U.S. Department of Energy to be elevated to authority equal to the Defense and State departments; a federal brain trust set up like Franklin Roosevelt’s War Production Board; a mass political movement that has the same urgency as the civil rights movement; and a sitting president “you can talk to.”

Hoffert delivered his analysis Thursday to more than 600 people from 22 states and four foreign nations attending the 17th annual land use conference sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute at the Sturm College of Law. The conference, which concludes March 7, is the largest of its kind in the nation and one of the largest at DU.

Hoffert said there are three ways to get out of the energy bind: learn how to use coal without releasing greenhouse gases; investigate “green nukes,” which are safer than those at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island; and develop renewable energy technologies, principally wind and solar.

“I’m pretty down on biofuels,” he said, except for ocean algae, which has potential for “high productivity without a large use of land.”

Other ideas that should be pursued are: carbon capture and storage; development of pure fusion; mounting wind turbines on skyscrapers; developing solar hydrogen systems and ultralight cars; using compressed air energy storage; and launching space solar power cells that could collect energy from the sun and beam it back to Earth.

None of these are cost effective, he says. But there’s no alternative, which is why Congress needs more members who are scientists than lawyers and the White House needs someone more committed to energy answers than present or past occupants have been.

Private industry can play a significant role in solving the energy crisis, Hoffert added, and it should. But far more of modern technology has been driven by government spending than private development, so the key is in a smarter Congress and a strongly communicated energy message to the next president.

“People need to get politically active,” Hoffert said. “We need a mass movement and the policies to support it.”

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