The ongoing Gulf oil crisis is the focus of international attention. Not too long ago, it was the deadly explosion in the West Virginia coal mine.
This week, news came of two gas pipeline explosions in Texas that have left three dead, and drilling accidents in the Marcellus Shale formation — a source of natural gas in Pennsylvania and West Virginia — where explosions have caused multiple injuries.
Carnegie Mellon's Ed Rubin sees these accidents as "a loud wake-up call about the risks of our current energy system" and says people need to connect the dots.
“We’re just beginning to see the devastating aftermath of the oil spill, and it’s truly heartbreaking,” said Rubin, who was on the National Academy panel that released a report recently calling for actions to limit climate change, including the need to reduce our dependency on oil.
“We need to see, for instance, the line that connects the gas-guzzling trucks that people love to drive to the oil-drenched pelicans dying in the Gulf," he said. "It’s not just BP that’s responsible. It’s really all of us.”
Rubin says the oil spill disaster is just the tip of the iceberg. "It's been clear for a long time that our heavy reliance on fossil fuels for energy is raising the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to potentially dangerous levels," he said.
The National Academies just released two reports documenting those dangers and calling for immediate action to curtail U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, gas and oil. According to Rubin, the most immediate need is for the government to set limits, or a stiff tax, on CO2 emissions.
“First, we need a serious national effort to use energy more efficiently. The less energy it takes to deliver the goods and services we desire, the less damage we do to the environment,” he explained. “It’s just common sense. And the good news is that a lot can be done using technologies we already have today.”
The longer-term challenge, he says, is managing and enabling the transition to a sustainable energy future.
"Because of the size and complexity of our energy system, this will not be easy or quick. But we've got to begin now," he said. "This is the key focus of much of our current work at Carnegie Mellon. We have the skills needed to make a difference, and our vision is to be a leader in the national and global efforts going forward."