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Who's in the Video
Shirley Ann Jackson is the President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. A theoretical physicist, she has been described by Time magazine as "perhaps the ultimate role model for women in science."[…]

We may not know how bad global warming will get, but the possible outcomes are so dire that we need to take mitigating steps.

Question: What are the chances that climate change is not as rnbad as we think it is?

Shirley Ann Jackson:  Well, you know I was a regulator inrn the nuclear arena and, you know, nuclear science and technology, rnnuclear energy is an area that people tend to feel as strongly about as rnsome social issues.  So much so that maybe it is one. 

When rnyou’re in that arena and you know it is an important technology, and it rnhas a role in this energy future we’re talking about, but it is a very rnsensitive technology that has to be handled well in design, in rnconstruction and especially in operation and it has a very sophisticatedrn regulatory infrastructure that it really needs to accompany it.  But rnthe real message is: when you’re thinking about the use of nuclear rnpower, then risk has two components.  It’s probability of something rnuntoward happening and its consequence. And there are certain arenas rnwhere the consequences is so high, that even if one things the rnprobability is small, then one has to take mitigating steps.  And so rnthat’s what I would say in answer to your question about climate change rnbecause whether we think the probability is a high that it is already rnupon us or will be within a short time, when we think consequence, then rnit says that maybe we mitigate.  And whether we think that climate rnchanges are due to some fundamental long periodicity, natural evolution rnthat depends on other things, if there is any exacerbating affect that rnwe have on top of that and we think we can lessen that exacerbating rnaffect, or if you think we really drive what we see; in either of those rncases, because of consequence, we should do something about it. 

Butrn even if we don’t believe it at all, just as you mentioned, the questionrn of two billion people that really don’t even have access to real rnenergy, where people are still living in poverty—and everybody wants to rnrise and developing countries wish to rise—then just the global rncompetition for what, in the end, is always a limited resource says we rnought to be smarter about how we use it... you know, what effect it rnhas.  And so that’s what always links these two things; energy security rnand climate change.  And so what you really do in the one impacts, and rncan impact in a positive way, what happens in the other.  So if you rnbelieve in climate change and therefore, we should go to alternative rnrenewable energy sources, or you believe in energy "independence," and Irn never talk about that, I always say "energy security," then maybe you rngo to renewables as well.  And so that‘s where I think we all need to rntry to come together a little bit more.

How rneffective do you think sequestration and carbon capture can be?

Shirleyrn Ann Jackson:  I do think they can be effective.  It is not easy, rnbut there are known compounds that can capture CO2 from flue gas and rnthere are techniques for pumping CO2 into, you know, storage rnreservoirs.  But there still are studies that need to be done and rnunderstood in terms of how much of an engineered reservoir do we need?— rn that is what is the role of engineered systems as opposed to natural rnreservoirs. And if we think we want to use natural reservoirs, then we rnhave to understand things like porosity, escape paths, how long can the rncarbon or the CO2 be sequestered and are there other things that we can rnuse that involve natural vegetation or things that bio mimic natural rnvegetation that can actually bind the CO2, or even turn it into more rnelemental forms of carbon?

So the answer is yes.  I think it is arn solvable problem.  Is it a challenge?  Absolutely.  But, you know, the rnDepartment of Energy already is starting to do a number of projects and rndemonstration projects and interestingly enough, a number of energy rncompanies as well are starting to look at these things and to begin to rndo things to sequester carbon.  And the irony is the kind of rninfrastructure that we use to extract gas and to get oil is the same rninfrastructure that we could use to sequester carbon dioxide.
rnRecorded on May 12, 2010
rnInterviewed by David Hirschman