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1. Energy and Climate Change

How do we secure stable 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 and adaptable communities and the overall quality of life. The energy 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 1). 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 1: The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts total primary energy consumption in the U.S. will grow by 0.7 percent per year and 55 percent of the increase will come from greater consumption of fossil fuels, while 45 percent will come from other energy resources. Figure is from the Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook 2008 and shows primary energy use in units of quadrillion British thermal units from 2006 to 2030.

The global climate is changing and this change will have negative effects on the environment (Figure 2). World leaders have agreed that unified global action is necessary to reduce carbon dioxide emissions as soon as possible to ameliorate the effects of climate change. Adaptation is also fundamental to ensuring quality of life and economic growth. Mitigation and adaptation will have costs – economic, social and cultural - but will also provide opportunities. Geoscientists are needed to collect and interpret observations and models in order to develop an effective mitigation and adaptation agenda.  Together geoscientists, policymakers and the public can ensure the wisest use of natural resources now and in the future. Mitigation and adaptation will involve a global effort and will require strategic planning related to national security and international interests.

Figure 2: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notes that climate change effects temperature, sea level and precipitation on a local to global scale and such changes to key Earth system metrics will have impacts on human health, agriculture, forests, water resources, coastal areas and ecosystems. These effects and impacts could also increase the severity of hazardous weather events such as drought, heat waves, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and snow storms. Figure is from the EPA and was published in “Understanding and Responding to Climate Change: Highlights of the National Academies Reports, 2008.

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What Are The Policy Recommendations?

Given the need for secure and stable energy supplies in an increasingly carbon-constrained world, the geoscience community suggests the following national policy directions.

  • Provide the President with continual and objective expertise on all natural resources, through strong and integrated leadership between the Secretary of Energy, the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Commerce 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 are considered in terms of impacts on water, soil, mineral and ecological resources.
  • Recognize that fossil fuels are the bridge to a more diverse and sustainable energy portfolio and as the transition to other energy sources occurs federal support for fossil fuel production and investment in fossil fuel research and development (R&D) must grow substantially to ensure full utilization of these vital resources.
  • Increase investment in a more comprehensive energy R&D portfolio that includes all potential energy resources, their life cycles and their environmental footprints. Too often R&D support focuses on one resource for a short time while others are ignored. Strategic and steady long-term support is needed for solutions.
  • Update and strengthen the goals of the U.S. Global Change Research Act of 1990 in light of current realities – 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 investment for climate change R&D across all agencies is sufficient to meet national and international needs and improve coordination of these efforts.
  • Support land and space-based observations and monitoring networks, mapping and analysis across agencies.
    • Support the recommendations of the Decadal Study on Earth Observations from Space to develop the next generation of “tools” for climate change R&D and monitoring
    • Support computer modeling, computational infrastructure and data archiving related to climate change R&D.
  • Support ratification of the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention to enhance global cooperation related to the oceans, seafloor and Polar Regions.
  • Proceed with the U.S. Ocean Action Plan of 2004 to ensure that the resources and health of the Great Lakes and oceans are sustained.
  • Ensure that ocean policies are integrated with the rest of the nation’s energy and climate change initiatives.
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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 Government Affairs Program.

Posted on July 7, 2009; Last Updated on September 22, 2009

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