More than 20,000 people are expected to attend BIO 2007, the world's largest biotech conference.
Stephen Heuser, a reporter for the Globe, covers biotechnology, medical devices, and the life-science industry.
Christopher Rowland , Globe reporter, covers the healthcare economy, including doctors and hospitals, insurance, and research.
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Thursday, September 28, 2006
The end is near
And if the total reinvention of journalism weren't challenge enough, there's also this little matter of the world ending.
Well, not the entire world, but Boston, New York and many others of the planet's nicer bits look likely to be washed away by rising sea levels unless we get global warming under control Right Now.
A panel of distinguished scientists laid out the problem with hair-raising gusto. First, in 50 years the planet's going to need twice the energy it now uses. Think of every coal and nuclear power plant, every oil well, every hydroelectric dam. In half a century, we must build them all over again, as well as maintaining what we've got.
But if we do, the burning of coal and oil will dump so much carbon into the air that the planet's environment will be ravaged for the next, oh, 3,000 years or so. That's how long it takes for carbon dioxide gas, once emitted, to go away.
Despite his title as founder of the Center for Energy & Climate Solutions, panelist Joseph Romm didn't seem to have much of a solution. Fixing the problem, he said, will cost a trillion dollars a year worldwide--at least. The heck with all other scientific research for years to come, said Romm, who warned that, for instance, we'd probably have to eliminate the entire budget for space exploration. "The only thing that matters is reducing carbon," Romm said.
Colleague Nathan Lewis, a professor at CalTech, said it's actually far worse than Romm suggests. "There's not enough geothermal energy to make a dent," he said.
Wind power might pick up 10 percent of the slack. There's not enough uranium on earth to fuel thousands of new nuke plants. And solar power works only when the sun shines. "If we don't throw everything we have at energy efficiency now...we haven't a chance," said Lewis. But added that even if we use the most efficient technologies possible, it still won't reduce carbon emissions enough to avoid disaster.
The panelists weren't exactly despairing. Perhaps they should have been. After all, they agreed that China and India must get on the clean air bandwagon if their crusade is to have a prayer of success. And it's hard to see that happening, for the same reason it's unlikely in the US. Demanding that affluent Americans spend hundreds or thousands a year more for clean energy is a political non-starter. Imagine how it'll go over among a couple billion desperately poor Indians and Chinese.
In short, I think I'll take swimming lessons.