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1. Ensure reliable energy supplies in an increasingly carbon-constrained world

The geoscience community provides the knowledge, experience and ingenuity to meet society's demands for natural resources, environmental quality and resilience from hazards. Here we outline the critical energy and climate change needs of the nation and the world at the outset of the twenty first century and provide policy guidance to grow the economy while sustaining the Earth system.

What Is The Need?
What Are The Policy Recommendations?
Additional Resources

What Is The Need?

Energy is essential for economic growth, national security, international relations, sustainable communities, food security, and the overall quality of life. Energy resources must be cost-effective, reliable, efficient, and flexible. Fossil fuels have filled this role for decades and will continue to be part of our energy portfolio for many more decades (Figure 1A). Looking to the future, effective research and development of alternate energy resources should be balanced with continued research and development of cleaner and more efficient fossil fuels and newer carbon-based fuels. A key challenge is to sustain fossil fuel energy resources and increase other energy resources on commercial scales while dealing with climate change, pollution, water availability, and land use priorities.

Figure 1A: The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts total primary energy consumption in the U.S. will grow by 10 percent over 25 years (2010 to 2035). The fossil fuel share of energy consumption falls from 83 percent of total U.S. demand in 2010 to 77 percent in 2035. Figure is from the Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook 2012 Early Release. Units shown are quadrillion British thermal units (Btu).

The global climate is changing (Figure 1B) and these changes have significant effects on the environment. World leaders have agreed that unified global action is necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible to ameliorate the effects of climate change. Adaptation is fundamental to ensuring quality of life and economic growth. Mitigation and adaptation have costs – economic, social, and cultural - but provide opportunities. Geoscientists are needed to collect and interpret observations and models in order to develop an effective mitigation and adaptation strategy. Together geoscientists, policymakers, and the public can ensure the wisest use of natural resources now and in the future. Mitigation and adaptation involve a global effort and require strategic planning related to national security and international interests.

Figure 1B: Global surface temperature change from 1880 to 2009 in degrees Celsius. The black curve shows annual average temperatures, the red curve shows a 5-year running average, and the green bars indicate the estimated uncertainty in the data during different periods of the record. From NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (2010; based on Hansen et al., 2006, updated through 2009 at

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What Are The Policy Recommendations?

Given the need for secure and reliable energy supplies in an increasingly carbon-constrained world, the geoscience community suggests that the following actions are needed to inform national policy directions.

  • Provide the President with continual and objective expertise on all natural resources, through strong and integrated leadership among the Secretary of Energy, the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of Defense, and other leaders.
  • Increase expertise in natural resources and environmental impacts among the staff and committees for Congress, the President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Science and Technology Council, and the Council of Environmental Quality. Ensure that development of energy resources is considered in terms of impacts on water, soil, mineral and ecological resources.
  • Increase investment in a more comprehensive energy R&D portfolio that includes all energy resources, their life cycles, and their environmental footprints. Too often support for R&D focuses on one resource for a short time. Strategic and steady long-term support is needed to achieve breakthroughs.
  • Promote responsible exploration, production, and consumption of energy resources, including efficiency and conservation measures, through science and engineering advances.
  • Update and strengthen the goals of the U.S. Global Change Research Act of 1990 in light of current knowledge in particular, the act should include research on regional and local effects related to climate change.
  • Complete a global climate change assessment for Congress and the Administration on a regular basis.
  • Ensure that investment in climate change R&D across all agencies is sufficient to meet national and international needs and improve coordination of these efforts.
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    Additional Resources

    Links to references, supplementary, and/or updated information.

    Full Report (PDF)

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    With a burgeoning human population, rising demand for natural resources and a changing climate, it is critical to more fully integrate Earth observations and Earth system understanding into actions for a sustainable world.

    Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Geoscience Policy.

    Posted on October 17, 2012; Last Updated on October 17, 2012

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