Climate 'Urgency' Declaration Comes With Ideas for Change

There is a "fierce urgency needed for a couple of decades" if dangerous global warming is to be controlled, U.S. Energy Secretary and Nobel laureate Steven Chu said Monday at the international climate talks, and he poured out what seemed a cornucopia of ideas and innovative technologies to accomplish that goal.

They ranged from more conventional projects, such as a new promise by the United States and other wealthy countries to spend $350 million over five years to help poorer countries develop non-polluting energy, to the more daring such as a newly invigorated ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy) that would encourage out-of-the-box thinking so advanced that, as he put it, we need to "be ready for some failures."

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ARPA-E, he emphasized, is modeled on the Defense Department's famous DARPA program that was responsible for many space-age military marvels that were so advanced in their time, such as the Blackbird spy plane, they often remain top secret for years.

One of the new energy marvels in development he described is an enormous liquid battery -- like a swimming pool -- that for complex reasons of chemistry and molecular physics can hold unheard of charges "of tens of megawatts" for very little cost and, storing energy during off hours, could "power a whole building -- even whole communities."

Noting that special research funds were only able to grant a small fraction of the fascinating applications submitted, Chu said "there's a lot of pent-up innovation out there" among inventors he said were eager to help humanity wrestle with global warming.

Chu spoke in Copenhagen's vast Bella Center convention complex in a room jammed with delegates, NGO members and world press, all linked by teleconference to Beijing, London and Dublin from which he also fielded questions.

In the front row sat Harvard's climatologist John Holdren, President Obama's chief science advisor, and eminent marine scientist Jane Lubchenco, who heads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Climate Change Talks Include Technologies for Change

Their presence together emphasized the fact, gaining only slowly in public awareness, that global warming of the atmosphere is only half of the climate change crisis: "Just one of two evil twins," as Lubchenco puts it.

The other is the increasing acidification of the oceans due to the fact that invisible CO2 emissions not only trap infrared heat in the atmosphere but are also absorbed in the oceans where they combine with H2O to form carbonic acid.

Scientists report the oceans 30 percent more acidic than 200 years ago when humanity started burning large amounts of coal, and say the new acidity has been found to cripple sea life in many ways.

In conversation with ABC News after Chu's talk, Lubchenco reflected on the fact recognized among marine scientists that reversing ocean acidification is an even bigger and longer-range problem than lowering CO2 concentrations in the air.

"It would probably take centuries," she said, for a drop in atmospheric CO2 to be reflected in a lowering of ocean acidity.

"The way to deal with the problem is to lower CO2 emissions, and stop the increase in ocean acidification as soon as we can," she said, but noted that "it seems we're stuck with this acidification we've got for some time."

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