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Panel sizes up the future for fossil fuels and renewables.

For giddy-up and go, fossil fuels can't be beat. "Sweet perfume," energy analyst Randy Udall called them at a recent panel discussion hosted by the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

But replace them we must, or at least sequester their carbon, if we are to slow or even reverse the accumulation of atmospheric greenhouse gases that have doubled in the last 30 years.

By its nature a global story, it's also a very local story. "This state is on the edge like no place else," said Tim Wirth, a former U.S. senator from Colorado who now heads media mogul Ted Turner's U.N. Foundation.

Taking a long, long view, historian Patty Limerick pointed out how recently human civilization has benefited from fossil fuels. "We didn't inherit them from the Egyptians and the Pharaohs," she said.

Yet they have improved our lives immeasurably. She pointed out city streets before cars brimmed with manure and too-often dead animals. Only since World War II have we used fossil fuels frivolously, she said, pointing to leaf blowers and treadmills as the devices she finds most preposterous.

The answer? The Worldwatch Institute's Christopher Flavin warned against expecting that a "single technological solution delivered on a platter will answer all our problems." Nuclear energy, said Udall, will be "staggeringly expensive," although he advocates building a few to "see what they cost." Wirth expects natural gas will do the heavy lifting until at least the mid-century.

Renewables still comprise just a tiny portion of total energy, 2 percent in the case of solar in Colorado. But nationally, one-half of all new electrical generation in the last two years has come from renewable sources, pointed out Flavin. Further, feed-in tariffs have spurred more rapid change in Germany, Spain and other countries. Udall also told about the rapid transformation in Denmark provoked by the simple drive of motivated local communities.

Making more efficient use of existing resources, fossil fuels or renewable, offers the greatest gains. Both Republicans and Democrats, said Udall, have begun to realize that efficiency will be the key to prosperity. "Resource efficiency is the gold mine we'll have to go to again and again and again."

Nobody expects rapid change. Limerick said unrealistic expectations will only lead to bitterness and disillusionment. Tisha Conoly Schuller, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, emphasized the need for dialogue: "Infinite patience brings immediate results." And Udall cited the need for local action. "Change in America does not come from the top. It never, ever has."
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Title Annotation:ENERGY
Comment:Panel sizes up the future for fossil fuels and renewables.(ENERGY)
Author:Best, Allen
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2010
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