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Stabilizing the global 'greenhouse' may not be so hard

Today's tools could cap emissions that contribute to global warming, study finds.

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Humanity has the hardware in hand to halt the rise in heat-trapping greenhouse gases it pumps into the atmosphere and forestall the worst effects of global warming projected for the end of this century.

The goal could be achieved within the next 50 years by more widespread use of a portfolio of at least 15 approaches - from energy efficiency, solar energy, and wind power to nuclear energy and the preservation or enhancement of "natural" sinks for carbon dioxide such as rain forests, or the conservation tillage techniques on farms worldwide, say two Princeton University researchers in a study published Friday.

The list of technologies has been around for years, the researchers acknowledge. But past studies, such as one conducted by five US national laboratories four years ago, tended to focus on whether these approaches could be used to reach the emissions goals and deadlines in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol without trashing the economy, as some critics of the pact have warned.

Holding out for more research, Bush administration officials have argued that "we need a solution comparable to the discovery of electricity before we can get on with the carbon problem," says Robert Socolow, an engineering professor at Princeton University and codirector of the school's Carbon Mitigation Initiative. "But there isn't a [Michael] Faraday in every generation. If you don't get started, you'll waive an opportunity" to use what's available.

The study, published in Friday's edition of the journal Science, is short on policy recommendations.

"How do you get these [technologies] into the system?" asks Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and Strategies for the Global Environment in Arlington, Va. The problem, she says, is more one of politics and cost than whether key technologies currently exist at industrial scales.


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