Initiative integrates science, technology, policy expertise

Sept. 10, 2004 10:23 a.m.

The challenge is daunting: How can humanity slash the worldwide emission of greenhouse gasses and curb global warming? Since it began four years ago, Princeton's Carbon Mitigation Initiative has tackled the problem head-on, pursuing a wide range of approaches from basic science to engineering to policy analysis.

The initiative, which started with $20 million in funding from BP and the Ford Motor Co., has attracted more than $20 million in additional federal research support and brings together 60 faculty and staff scientists and student researchers. The program, part of the larger Princeton Environmental Institute, is making its mark as a successful effort to integrate a deep understanding of scientific issues with technological and policy expertise.

"This is a huge challenge to civilization, which cannot be addressed by looking only at the consequences of inaction and understanding what we are doing to ourselves," said Robert Socolow, who co-directs the initiative with Stephen Pacala. "We need to find what we can do about it. We need to know both what is the urgency and what are the options."

Those questions traditionally have been addressed by separate "sub-worlds" of researchers, Socolow added, "and we are pulling them together." The unifying concern of the research is the element carbon, one of the main ingredients of fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide, which traps heat in the atmosphere, a process called the greenhouse effect.

A prime example of the program's integration is a paper recently published in Science magazine in which Pacala and Socolow outline 15 areas of existing technology that could be used immediately to begin stabilizing the global emissions of carbon dioxide.

Read the full story in the Weekly Bulletin.

Contact: Eric Quinones (609) 258-3601