by Ian Sample, science correspondent
August 4, 2006 | The Guardian
- Research drive 'must rival the Apollo moon project'
- Royal Society president warns of climate disaster
An urgent project on the scale of the Apollo moon landings is needed to boost research into green energy sources and save the planet from environmental disaster, according to Britain's top scientist.
Writing in the US journal Science today, Sir Martin Rees, president of Britain's most prestigious scientific institute, the Royal Society, expresses dismay at G8 leaders' "worrisome lack of determination" to accelerate development of new energy sources, given the expected 50% rise in the world's energy needs - and carbon dioxide emissions - in the next 25 years.
He warns that without an international, focused programme to develop alternatives to fossil fuels it will be impossible to keep greenhouse gas emissions low enough to prevent catastrophic climate change.
Calling for a programme with the single-minded commitment of the US Apollo programme, Professor Rees suggests an exploration of alternative energy sources with at least 10 times the $1.5bn a year funding that goes into researching nuclear fusion, a cleaner and safer alternative to conventional nuclear power.
"The Apollo project, like the Manhattan project, is an example where a goal was given a high priority and showed things can be done much more rapidly than would have happened in the normal course of events. The scale of funds needed is small in proportion to the scale of the problem and the trillions of dollars now being spent on energy," he said.
A carbon tax on companies generating the most greenhouse gas could be used to fund the project. "Private companies themselves won't provide an adequate research effort even for technologies that may turn out to be the most important ones, because they're still furthest from market," Prof Rees said.
According to the International Energy Agency, 80% of the world's energy needs will be met by fossil fuels by 2030. Nuclear, hydroelectric, biomass and waste power will provide only 17%, with other renewables such as solar and wind accounting for less than 2%.
But David Baker, a British scientist who joined Nasa's Apollo programme in the 1960s, said rather than copying the Apollo programme, oil and other energy companies should be forced to participate.
"We know what is happening to the climate and we need a concerted sharing of the problem throughout the whole of industry. Why should it be borne wholly by government when there are these companies making huge profits out of all of us?" he said.