The most fervent believers and skeptics of imminent and severe global warming danger demonstrated last week that common-ground energy policies exist that can unite warmists and skeptics, progressives and conservatives. As one of four speakers at an energy and climate forum last Monday in Tampa hosted by my organization, the Spark of Freedom Foundation, I had an opportunity to witness this for myself.
The four speakers represented a wide spectrum of thought regarding climate change and the desirability of action to address it. The first speaker, Kerry Emanuel, is an MIT atmospheric scientist who is one of the most prominent scientists advocating immediate action to address global warming. The second speaker, Daniel Peterson, is director of the Center for Property Rights at Florida’s premier free-market think tank, the James Madison Institute. The third speaker, Ted Nordhaus, is executive director of the Breakthrough Institute, which believes in the importance of addressing global warming and other environmental challenges through effective solutions. As the fourth speaker, I have a long record of challenging the notion that humans are creating a global warming crisis.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Kerry Emanuel.
Neither side was able to win over the other on the question of whether humans are causing imminent and severe climate danger. Nevertheless, the speakers found common ground on energy policy that meets warmists’ desire for dramatic carbon dioxide reductions and conservatives’ desire for affordable, reliable energy.
Emanuel and Nordhaus both observed that nuclear power and natural gas are options that must be on the table in efforts to address global warming. Nordhaus pointed out that even if we developed all realistic opportunities for wind and solar power, those two energy sources could power no more than 30 percent of our electricity. Accordingly, when the environmental far left shuts down nuclear power plants, opposes next generation nuclear power plants, and blocks the production and utilization of natural gas, they are merely eliminating valuable weapons to address greenhouse gas emissions. An effective and forward-looking climate policy requires all low-carbon energy options on the table, Emanuel and Nordhaus proposed.
Peterson advocated for a national energy portfolio which would be diversified and based on free-market economics. He added that energy resources must also be secure, abundant, and affordable. Although he expressed some disappointment at the declining fortunes of coal power, he acknowledged that electricity prices have not suffered because natural gas has filled most of the market share lost by coal power.
I pointed out in my presentation that natural gas power is less expensive than coal power and will likely remain that way for the foreseeable future. I also noted that inflation-adjusted electricity prices have declined during the past decade as natural gas surpassed coal as our most prevalent source of electricity. A continuing transformation from coal power to natural gas power will likely benefit the economy as well as air quality and carbon dioxide emissions.
The four panelists also agreed that next-generation nuclear power offers promise as a safe, affordable energy source if we can eliminate political and bureaucratic obstacles to its development. This will provide another tool to ensure energy affordability as well as low-carbon electricity.
In an interactive panel discussion closing out the forum, the four panelists expressed more agreement than disagreement on various issues, regardless of their disparate views on the threat of climate change. Through greater utilization of abundant and affordable nuclear power, hydro power, and natural gas – all energy sources that conservatives have long championed – people concerned about climate change can realize dramatic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Emanuel, who has written about the need for more nuclear power as a tool to address climate change, noted that to the extent he has had discussions with fellow climate scientists about the topic, they are generally supportive of such a strategy.
The climate science debate has been one of the most divisive political topics of the past three decades. Last week’s energy and climate forum, however, demonstrated that it doesn’t have to be so divisive. Common-ground energy solutions exist that meet the most important priorities of all sides in the debate. We can dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, keep energy affordable and reliable, and move on to other important societal issues.
Video of the energy and climate forum can be viewed here.
[This article first appeared at Forbes.com.]