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24 May 2016 /

Cambridge professor says much of the effort to combat global warming is actually making it worse

As part of an open discussion on the critical issue of energy, sustainability and climate change,MRS Energy & Sustainability--A Review Journal (MRS E&S) has published a paper in which Cambridge engineering professor M.J. Kelly argues that it is time to review the current efforts to reduce carbon emissions, some of which “represent total madness.” This paper is one of a series of articles in MRS E&S that, with varying opinions, address this controversial topic. 
 
In his peer-reviewed article, Lessons from technology development for energy and sustainability, Kelly considers the lessons from global decarbonization projects, and concludes that all combined actions to reduce carbon emissions so far will not achieve a serious reduction. In some cases, these efforts will actually make matters worse. 
 
Central to his thesis, which is supported by examples, is that rapid decarbonization will simply not be possible without a significant reduction in standards of living. The growing call to decarbonize the global economy by 80% by 2050 could only foreseeably happen alongside large parts of the population plunging into poverty, destitution or starvation, as low-carbon energy sources do not produce enough energy to sustain society. According to Kelly, “It is clear to me that every further step along the current pathway of deploying first-generation renewable energy is locking in immature and uneconomic systems at net loss to the world standard of living.”
 
As Kelly notes, it has been 40 years since the modern renewable energy developments began, and yet the fraction of world energy supplied by renewables (wind, solar and cultivated biomass sources combined) has hardly increased. The BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2015 reports 3% for wind, solar and cultivated biomass sources combined, for 2014.
 
Kelly’s argument is that weaning off fossil fuels will take much longer than postulated by some experts.  He suggests that a more viable option is to employ another generation of fossil fuels--during which economic conditions of humankind can be improved and alternate solutions can be explored and developed. As the global population is set to rise from 7 billion to 9 billion in 2050, an altogether more sophisticated debate is needed on appropriate actions that considers the full range of threats to humanity, and carefully weighs the upsides and downsides both of taking action--and refraining from it. 
 
MRS E&S, a journal of the Materials Research Society and Cambridge University Press, encourages contributions that provide viewpoints and perspectives on the all-important issue of how humankind can work towards, and build, a sustainable future. 
 
For a counter viewpoint to this article, see Energy and sustainability, from the point of view of environmental physics, by Micha Tomkiewicz.  
 
Additional related articles of interest include:
 
Energy availability and energy sources as determinants of societal development in a long-term perspective by Marina Fischer-Kowalski and Anke Schaffartzik
 
Concerning the global-scale introduction of renewable energies: Technical and economic challenges by David Faiman

Transforming the global energy system is required to avoid the sixth mass extinction by Anthony D. Barnosky

To comment on any of these articles, or to continue the debate on the magnitudes and approaches to the world's crisis in energy and the environment, visit the Cambridge Journals Blog.

Ends



Notes to Editors

For more information, please contact Joon Won Moon at jmoon@cambridge.org or at +1-212-337-5941.

About MRS Energy & Sustainability--A Review Journal
MRS Energy & Sustainability--A Review Journal
 publishes reviews on key topics in materials research and development as they relate to energy and sustainability. Topics to be reviewed are new R&D of both established and new areas; interdisciplinary systems integration; and objective application of economic, sociological, and governmental models, enabling research and technological developments. The reviews will be set in an integrated context of scientific, technological and sociological complexities relating to environment and sustainability.

The intended readership is a broad spectrum of scientists, academics, policy makers and industry professionals, all interested in the interdisciplinary nature of the science, technology and policy aspects of energy and sustainability. It is published by the Materials Research Society and Cambridge University Press.
 
For further information, go to journals.cambridge.org/mre.
 
About the Materials Research Society 
The Materials Research Society (MRS) is an international organization of almost 16,000 materials researchers from academia, industry and government, and a recognized leader in promoting the advancement of interdisciplinary materials research to improve the quality of life. MRS members are engaged and enthusiastic professionals hailing from physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics and engineering-the full spectrum of materials research. Headquartered in Warrendale, Pennsylvania (USA), MRS membership now spans over 90 countries, with approximately 48% of members residing outside the United States. In addition to its communications and publications portfolio, MRS organizes high-quality scientific meetings, attracting over 13,000 attendees annually and facilitating interactions among a wide range of experts from the cutting edge of the global materials community. MRS is also a recognized leader in education outreach and advocacy for scientific research. 
 
For further information, go to: www.mrs.org.
 
About Cambridge University Press
Cambridge University Press is the publishing business of the University of Cambridge. Dedicated to excellence, its purpose is to further the University’s objective of advancing knowledge, education, learning, and research. Its extensive peer-reviewed publishing lists comprise 45,000 titles covering academic research, professional development, more than 350 research journals, school-level education, English language teaching and bible publishing. Playing a leading role in today's international market place, Cambridge University Press has more than 50 offices around the globe, and it distributes its products to nearly every country in the world.
 
For more information, go to www.cambridge.org.

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