A Free-Market Energy Blog

Science Magazine: Remembering a Rare Energy Realism Essay (Best Article Award?)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- March 8, 2009

Today, there is much more political science than science in the editorial content of the flagship publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. AAAS has become just another special-interest, at the trough of special government favor. So why not, for example, tilt toward exaggeration on big-money research issues like the prospective impact of the human influence on climate?

Recent evidence of the political nature of the scientific community was produced when Al Gore received a standing ovation at the conclusion of his presentation at the annual convention of AAAS in Chicago. Yet Gore has gone far beyond mainstream science to sound the climate alarm, and scientists know it. They just like his politics, because it allows them to act as rent-seekers rather than truth-seekers. Roger Pielke Jr. has blogged on this unfortunate particular episode.

It is also hard for the energy realists to break into the pages of Science, either in the articles or letters section—a subject for another day. But now and then, energy realism breaks through. And in the name of such realism, I want to honor this article as one of the best ever in Science (yes, it is seven years old):

Martin Hoffert et al., “Advanced Technology Paths to Global Climate Stability: Energy for a Greenhouse Planet,” Science, November 1, 2002, available here.

Provided below are some quotations from this essay that remain relevant to today’s debate over energy sustainability and climate-change public policy.

CO2 is a combustion product vital to how civilization is powered; it cannot be regulated away (p. 981).

Paradoxically, Kyoto is too weak and too strong: Too strong because its initial cuts are perceived as an economic burden by some (the United States withdrew for this stated reason); too weak because much greater emission reductions will be needed and we lack the technology to make them (p. 981).

Renewables are intermittent dispersed sources unsuited to baseload without transmission, storage, and power conditioning. Wind power is often available only from remote or offshore locations. Meeting local demand with [photovoltaic] arrays today requires pumped-storage or battery-electric backup systems of comparable or greater capacity (p. 984).

“Energy is critical to global prosperity and equity (p. 986).

All renewables suffer from low area power densities (p. 984).

Sound scholarship passes the test of time. This essay certainly qualifies.


  1. Roger Pielke, Jr.  

    Remarkably this excellent paper was not cited by the 2007 IPCC in relevant mitigation chapters (3 and 13, I have not searched the rest) . . .


  2. Andrew  

    Wow. That’s pretty incredible from the magazine of the American Association for the Advancement of Pork!


  3. mlynch  

    Can’t say I’m very familiar with the publication policy at Science, but you never know when something slips by. Especially when the editors are relying on outside reviewers, they can publish something they wouldn’t ordinarily do.


  4. The G-8 Countries Climate Agreement: A Lot for A Little — MasterResource  

    […] decades to effectively substitute for fossil-fuel-driven development, just as a seminal Science article several years ago explained and warned […]


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