Clinton Science Adviser, Neal Lane, says our energy needs will encompass all types of fuels.

edqalane.jpg Courtesy of Rice University

Neal Lane is currently the Malcolm Gillis University Professor at Rice University, where he teaches physics and astronomy. Prior to his appointment, he was a part of the Clinton administration as assistant to the President for science and technology and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy from 1998 to 2001. He also served as director of the National Science Foundation from 1993 to 1998. Outside his professional duties, he is also a fellow of the American Physical Society, The American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Do you think the public is responsive to environmental issues?
I think most of the public in this country, and in many parts of the world, really is beginning to understand that it is just one Earth—that we’re all sharing it. There’s no longer any opportunity, and shouldn’t be any pretense, that any country can put up walls and seal itself off from the problems that it creates or that other countries create. We’re really going to have to figure out how to insure that our children and their children and the ones after them live peacefully and—we hope—as healthy lives as possible on this planet, because it’s the only one we’ve got. And I don’t think we’re actually going to leave it any time soon.

What do you think of the Bush Administration’s policy on the environment?
I think, and it’s pretty clear that the public thinks, that the administration has not really been very friendly towards environmental protection. That is evidenced by its continued efforts to weaken regulations that would protect the air and water and safety in the workplace, and other such matters. Of course the most publicized negative position of the administration is its reluctance to address, in any effective way really, the question of global warming—the build-up of greenhouse gases, carbon emissions, global warming and ultimately climate change. That was made explicit by pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol.

What do you think is the most promising alternate energy source?
It’s just clear we’re going to need it all—even fossil [fuels]. I mean, there’s just no way to see getting from here to what the world is most likely to need in 50 years, which might be a factor of two, three, four of the amount of energy we’re using today. We’re going to need new technologies to take advantage of solar, for example, in ways we haven’t done before that maybe involve the use of nanotechnologies that are being developed. [There’s] biomass—so, we’re going to need to get the energy out of weeds and crops and other things we grow on land or in the oceans, in ways that we really have never done before. We’re going to need it all.

What do you see the Earth looking like in 100 years?
Even if we substantially reduce putting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere over a period of a hundred years, we’re still going to see the lasting effects of what’s up there. The climate is going to change. The Earth is going to continue to warm a few degrees Fahrenheit, maybe more. The oceans are going to rise from inches to feet—we don’t know for sure. And climates are going to change. Evenings are going to be warmer. Crops are going to shift. Plant and animal life is going to shift, and if it can’t shift rapidly enough to accommodate them, we’re going to lose species.

The other thing to say is that, in another hundred years, we’re going to have very new technologies. We’ll know a lot more about the Earth and its environment, and we will have developed research technologies that can help us produce much more efficiently clean energy, and use it in a way that doesn’t dirty up the environment. There’s enormous opportunity if we get busy on renewable energies and other relevant technologies to lessen the problems that otherwise are going to occur.

What are you doing for Earth Day?
Well, I haven’t decided, but whatever I’m going to do—give a talk or march out in the street or just go outside and breath the air—which I hope is clean and fresh on that day, I’ll celebrate.

Originally published April 21, 2006


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