Urgency of Climate Change, New Research Emerges at MIT Forum

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John P. Holdren ’65 (left), director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, delivered a presentation as part of Monday’s forum on clean energy. The forum, sponsored by the MIT Energy Initiative, was chaired by Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Malden, right) and featured President Obama’s assistant for energy and climate change and former EPA administrator, Carol M. Browner (not pictured).
Noah Spies—The Tech

A sense of urgency pervaded Monday’s clean energy forum, which was sponsored by the MIT Energy Initiative and featured a who’s who of energy and climate change policy. The forum was moderated by Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who is co-authoring legislation designed to tackle technologically and politically difficult global warming and clean energy issues.

The forum featured a presentation by John Holdren ’65, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Holdren noted that the rate of global warming continues to outpace predictions, including those made within a 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

As a student at MIT in the 1960s, Holdren was inspired by the race to put a human on the moon. However, he said that the U.S. and the world face a far greater task in reducing human greenhouse gas emissions to levels that would avoid catastrophic climate changes.

In his presentation, Holdren outlined a number of cost-effective measures that could reduce carbon-dioxide emissions.

Markey noted that his bill would support the realization of many of these measures by spurring energy-efficient retrofits of existing buildings and increasing efficiency in energy utilities.

Markey also emphasized the role research would play in further achieving these goals and highlighted the MIT spinoff company A123 Systems, which aims to dramatically improve the efficiency of existing batteries.

The forum also featured Daniel Yergin, Chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, as well as Prof. Ernest Moniz, Director of the MIT Energy Initiative.

Wrapping up the event was the keynote by Carol Browner, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Clinton and assistant to President Obama on energy and climate change. Browner hearkened back to previous environmental crises, pointing out that after Congress passed regulations governing pollutants, industry was usually able to adapt to the regulations quickly despite the expected costs.

Browner, Holdren, and Markey often seemed frustrated with the lack of progress during the Bush administration on regulating greenhouse gases.

As EPA administrator in the 1990s, Browner prepared a legal argument supporting a role for the EPA in regulating carbon-dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act. These documents were discarded by the most recent Bush administration, and it took the 2007 Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. EPA to establish the EPA’s obligation to regulate these emissions.

Browner said, however, that she would much rather see carbon-dioxide regulation come from the legislative branch and supports Markey’s efforts toward this goal.