Andy Revkin talks to Nate Lewis about the scale of the challenge we face in addressing climate change. Lewis (whom I took Chem 1 from at Caltech) was one of the first people to communicate the scale of the problem effectively to me, in his Powering the Planet talk. He’s of the opinion that there are big technical gaps to be filled if we’re going to address the issue seriously — we need to learn how to do things we’ve never done before, in a technical sense. But one of his underlying assumptions is that we will 1. have continuing economic growth globally, and 2. that this will necessarily mean an increase in energy use (even as we continue to decrease our energy intensity). I think this need not be the case. High quality lives are available at vastly lower energy usages than we see in the US, or even Japan and Western Europe. They’re different, sure, but that doesn’t mean they’re inferior. Compact, walkable/bikeable/livable cities. Drastically reduced flying and driving, zero energy buildings, petroleum free agriculture, heirloom designed durable goods instead of cheap plastic disposable crap. These things are huge, and make the remaining energy generation challenge much more manageable. Yes, we still need to figure out long term storage and reliable renewable portfolio management, but it’s not the same herculean task that Lewis puts forward: of running our society as we do today, but on some other energy source. Which simply will not work.