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Growing Pains - Transitioning to a Sustainable Energy Economy

11/01/2006 6:00 PM Museum
John Heywood, SM '62, PhD '65, Sun Jae Professor of Mechanical Engineering; Stephen Ansolabehere, Professor, Department of Political Science, MIT and Professor of Government, Harvard University

Description: Both small, private and large, public actions are essential if we're to have any hope of addressing global warming and achieving a sustainable energy future. John Heywood lays out three options for making some immediate inroads: conservation, which he says has somehow become a -bad word;" improving mainstream technology; and finding new ways to produce and use energy. First, the public must put aside delusions that new technologies -will save us." Hydrogen fuel cells and plug-in hybrids -are not there in terms of practicality." So, says Heywood, we -must get on the broader path that says the energy you and I use in the individual, small-scale sense must be far less per task." Why heat a 2000- square-foot home when -the square footage I occupy is two?" wonders Heywood. Improve the fuel consumption of the current internal combustion engine, and press auto manufacturers for small cars that can get 200 miles per gallon. Run the numbers on your home's energy costs, encourages Heywood, and tell your neighbors to switch off their lights. We're -humans with appetites," and we need market-based incentives to change. We need help from regulatory and fiscal policies as well to shape up. -It's me and you, what we do, what we buy, how we use it _ all these things _ that will start us down the path," says Heywood. One giant obstacle to our self-reform, says Stephen Ansolabehere, is the fact that -energy is abundant and cheap." The U.S., like China and India, sits on a huge pile of coal that could very well power our lives for the next 300 to 3,000 years _ if global warming doesn't first destroy the world's economies. We've been lulled into complacency, and so carbon emissions per person in the U.S. continue to rise, with China and India on the same trajectory. Right now, the menu of alternative energy sources like solar panels and hybrid cars don't appeal to Americans because they cost more than the usual fare. The key is to -make coal on the same scale of price with other technologies," says Ansolabehere, -to make other technologies competitive." So, asks Ansolabehere, -How do we get the U.S. under control, and then engage China and India?" His simple answer: -Taxes change behavior." Europe and Japan successfully demonstrate this approach. They acknowledge the costs coal imposes on society by taxing pollution, and have a much lower rate of emissions per capita than the U.S. One small, promising sign, he says, is that American consumers seem slightly more open to a carbon tax (a fee paid by companies, and then passed on to consumers) today than they were three years ago. The cap and trade system offers a gentler push on companies to lower carbon emissions, but citizens must forcefully lobby their political representatives to support this alternative. Without these larger efforts, it will be extremely difficult to reduce our collective carbon emissions as we cling to comfortable lifestyles.

About the Speaker(s): John Heywood has authored or co-authored 171 publications in journals and conference proceedings, in such areas as automotive technology; energy and transportation, air pollution and combustion.

He started at MIT in 1968 and became director of the Sloan Automotive Laboratory in 1972. He was co-director of the Leaders for Manufacturing Program from 1991-1993. He was appointed co-director of the Ford-MIT Alliance in 2003. He received a B.A. from Cambridge University and a Ph.D. from MIT. He is a member of the National Academy of engineering and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Stephen Ansolabehere studies elections, democracy, and the mass media. He is coauthor (with Shanto Iyengar) of The Media Game (Macmillan, 1993) and of Going Negative: How Political Advertising Alienates and Polarizes the American Electorate (The Free Press, 1996). Ansolabehere is also a member of the Cal Tech/MIT Voting Project. which was established in 2000 to prevent a recurrence of the problems that threatened the 2000 US Presidential election.

Ansolabehere received a B.S. in Economics and B.A. in Political Science from the University of Minnesota and a Ph.D. in Political Science from Harvard University.

Host(s): Office of the Provost, MIT Museum

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

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