Top Energy Scientists Call for $30 Bi Annual Investment in Clean Energy

December 3, 2007 |

Yesterday a group of more than three dozen leading energy scientists, including three Nobel Prize winners, called on Congress and presidential candidates to invest $30 billion each year in clean energy.

The New York Times' Andy Revkin notes,

There is wide agreement among scientists that inadequate funds are going to basic research in such fields as capturing carbon dioxide from smokestacks or the atmosphere, advancing photovoltaic cells and other solar power systems, finding ways to store large amounts of electricity from intermittent sources like wind or the sun, and making nuclear power more secure.

Last year, Revkin wrote a long piece after interviewing more than four dozen energy experts who all agreed major new investments in clean energy were needed to deal with global warming.

Now, this leading group of scientists are pointedly saying that regulations, like the Kyoto protocol, won't be enough:

A wide range of policies aimed at increasing conservation, efficiency, and reducing emissions is vital, but carbon prices and regulations alone will not create new, clean and affordable energy systems soon enough or at the scale needed.

Click here to download PDF version of the letter (which includes a graph).

Dear Member of Congress,

We the undersigned urge you to accelerate our transition to a clean energy economy with the ambition of an Apollo or Manhattan program, by dramatically increasing America's investment in innovative new energy technologies and systems.

A wide range of policies aimed at increasing conservation, efficiency, and reducing emissions is vital, but carbon prices and regulations alone will not create new, clean and affordable energy systems soon enough or at the scale needed.

With the ambition of an Apollo or Manhattan program, we can develop new affordable clean energy systems in time to be deployed at the scale needed to diminish climate and other environmental risk.

However, the necessary investment in energy research and development has not yet materialized.

America should be ramping up to invest a minimum of $30 billion per year to develop, demonstrate, and stimulate the commercialization of a range of technologies and approaches that can provide affordable carbon-neutral energy and use that energy more wisely. This is less than half of what America already invests in military research and development.

The United States is in a unique position to take the lead in this research and development effort, but we must work with others. The world, including China, India and other developing nations, needs affordable clean technologies now to avoid the lock-in of massive carbon emissions from conventional coal plants.

Energy sources available today cannot provide enough power to drive economic growth without damaging our climate system. We cannot predict with confidence which energy technologies will win in a future marketplace. For this reason, we need a diverse and strategically selected portfolio of investments. Potential solutions need to be explored and tested with hardware. Because the taxpayer dollar should be invested wisely, a relatively open process should be established that will select and support research and development projects based on technical merits.

Public investment in clean energy will more than pay for itself, just as did the U.S. government investment in computer science and aerospace during the 1950s and '60s. Much of our economic growth since World War II resulted from technological developments that were accelerated and incubated by public investment - the Internet being only one example. Particularly critical are technologies that can be commercialized in five to twenty-five years -- too long for venture capital, too short for basic research. Private firms are not making -- and cannot be expected to make - the necessary level of long-term investments in energy and energy infrastructure research and development.

The major problems confronting the nation and world require clean, secure, and affordable energy.

Sustained public investment now in a diverse portfolio of energy technologies will reduce climate risk, increase energy security, revitalize education, enhance our competitiveness, and strengthen the American economy.


Martin Hoffert‏
Department of Physics, New York University

Ken Caldeira
Carnegie Institution / Stanford University

John Katzenberger
Aspen Global Change Institute

David Archer
Department of Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago

Maurice Averner
Ames Research Center, NASA

Scott Barrett
School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University

Gregory Benford
Department of Physics, University of California, Irvine

Baruch Blumberg (Nobel laureate)
Fox Chase Cancer Center / University of Pennsylvania

Paul Crutzen (Nobel laureate)
University of California (San Diego) / Max Planck Institute for Chemistry

William Fulkerson
Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment, University of Tennessee

Christopher Green
Department of Economics, McGill University

Susan Hassol
Climate Communication

Eric Hoffert
Versatility Inc.

Thomas Homer-Dixon
Trudeau Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Toronto

Feng Hsu
Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA

Mark Jacobson
Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University

David Keith
Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy, University of Calgary

Geoffrey Landis
Glenn Research Center, NASA

Jane C. S. Long
hydrogeologist and geotechnical engineer

Michael MacCracken
Climate Institute, Washington, DC

John C. Mankins
Sunsat Energy Council / Managed Energy Technologies

Michael E. Mann
Earth System Science Center, Pennsylvania State University

Gregg Marland
International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

Mark Nelson
Institute of Ecotechnics, Santa Fe, NM

Darel Preble
Space Solar Power Institute, Georgia Institute of Technology

Gregory H. Rau
Institute of Marine Sciences, University of California, Santa Cruz

Steve Rayner
Said Business School, Oxford, UK

Kim Stanley Robinson
Author, "Forty Signs of Rain"

Gregory Dennis Sachs
Alternative Power Program, US Merchant Marine Academy

Thomas Schelling (Nobel laureate)
Department of Economics, University of Maryland

Michael Schlesinger
Atmospheric Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Steven E. Schwartz
Brookhaven National Laboratory, Department of Energy

John Turner
National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Department of Energy

Tyler Volk
Department of Biology, New York University

Tom M. L. Wigley
National Center for Atmospheric Research

Steven C. Wofsy
School of Engineering and Applied Science / Department of Earth and Planetary Science, Harvard University

Lowell Wood
Hoover Institution / Stanford University


Nice thoughts has been added. needs no addition
Shelly Smith

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By foreclosure auctions on 2009 07 08

Coal Supporter

Coal fire power is truly the only real generator of electricity in this country. Everyone talks about cleaning up the environment, but those same people love to use the electricity produced from coal. If we stop coal fire power then the lights will go out and all the people that are fighting coal power will complain that when they went to turn on there light

By jamy on 2009 06 27

Look, I've been saying this for some time now. Waxman & Markey are so hell bent on getting an agreement, any agreement, that the legislation will prove to be a disaster. I believe that to get agreement and passage in Congress, the emissions bill will actually produce a net increase in C02. And this EPA report backs up my claim. This bill is so bad now it must be stopped before it is actually enacted. We need a strong emissions reduction, not this watered down mush!

By Ken on 2009 06 22

The bank bailout is seen as a raft of bad credit personal loans from the government to troubled financial institutions. There is a growing number of people that believe that a condition of the bad credit personal loans from President Obama to the troubled companies should be that the large banks that have absorbed toxic assets accept a period of nationalization. Nationalized banking has been tried before in the U.S., but it never lasts and it usually doesn't work too well. Freedom of choice is what America is all about. One would just worry that if it were to happen, banks would dominate all aspects of credit, and then there would be no choice where to get cash advance if we needed them. To read more check out this articles at

By Jamarion P on 2009 03 02

Hi White Crow,

Nobody is claiming that Nitrogen fertilizer is the perfect technology, the solution to all the world's problems. However, you cannot deny that it has helped to provide benefits (the elimination of large-scale famine in many parts of the world) that are very substantial, and, most would agree, greater than the negative side effects (which you point out). The solution is to move forward, i.e., progress, rather than to move backward to the pre-nitrogen-fertilizer days. Progress means finding new technologies that provide the same or better benefits as nitrogen fertilizers while simultaneously minimizing or eliminating the minimizing the negative side effects. One new technology that holds promise in this area is Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). See and

This kind of progression is inherent in all technological development. Technologies are adopted if they provide significant benefits, but all technologies have some negative side effects. Further technological development aims to increase the benefits and minimize the negative side-effects. Consider, for example, aircraft technology. This technology provides significant benefits. But it also has some negative side effects, like air crashes. It would be foolish to discard aircraft technology simply because there are some air crashes. The benefits are clearly greater than the problems. Of course efforts must be made to improve aircraft safety.

By Sid Shome on 2009 02 19

Dr. Pielke,

In ordinary times, I would agree with your fundamental thesis that, "Climate policy successes will depend on successful processes of democratic governance necessarily involving public participation and support." And that, "Scientific authoritarianism, weak or strong, has no role in climate politics." As goes the tired but true cliche, however, these are not ordinary times. Democratic governance involving public participation and support takes time, and we just don't have enough. As Dr. Hanson says, our politicians "are elected to guide, to protect the public and its best interests." To do so in this case, at this time, requires that politicians put aside public participation and support and instead focus on the science, and the science tells us that we are headed down the wrong policy path. It is the responsibility of government, whether we as citizens are ready or not, to grab our arm and force us down the path that leads to stability, sustainability, and collective well-being.

By Michael on 2009 02 18

Dream on - no mention that the need for chemicals is compounded by now using animal waste for fertilizer - hence for all the high-tech, disposal of farm sewage is completely ignored in the equation. The natural cycle is to restore soil integrity via natural nitrogen, NOT throwing more and more ammonium nitrate around. That is the Faustian bargain made to increase "efficiency" but it is being done at great cost to the natural cycle of the animals and the soil.
So, before you bend yourself over backward to kiss the ass of the industrial technology, the problem isn't going to be solved with long term continued pollution and destruction; it is going to be solved by restoring the integrity of the natural farming cycle and those farmers who are in touch with the natural world.

By White Crow on 2009 02 18

I partially agree with JH... Certainly higher degrees do not guarantee wealth (although the type of degree matters as well as the level, e.g., a BS in petroleum engineering earns more than an M.Ed), however higher skills are needed in today's economy than in previous decades. For example, project managers now use Monte Carlo techniques for risk management and schedule development. The higher sophistication in our economy requires higher level mathematic and communication skills.

By R Margolis on 2009 01 28

"The new economy skews rewards heavily toward folks who have the most hi-end cognitive and emotional skills and credentials (i.e. educational degrees)."

Is that why the top hedge fund manager in NY made more in one year than all the 43,000 NY teachers made in 3 years combined? I think it is a myth that credentialing is a major source of inequality, since teachers, for sure, mostly have graduate degrees. This line is a typical American blame the victim dig: if you just went to school more, you'd make more money. The problem is that merit has less and less to do with quality of life.

A related statement above--that rich people work more because the opportunity cost of not working is more for them--also perpetrates another myth: those who are rich work hard, and the presumed corollary that if you work hard you will be rich. Neither are true. Nobody works harder than poverty wage workers. Nobody.

By JH on 2009 01 27

After winning the Election of course we are curious about President Obama

By Lisa P on 2008 11 21

Well, I think the public thinks that there are tons of problems with our current energy system, they just aren't climate related. For example:
-There is concern over rising energy prices
-There is concern over the volatility of the oil market and its effects on gas prices
-There is concern over the wealth transfer that takes place when we buy oil from petro-dictators and supporters of terrorism.

All this points to the fact that Americans really do support an "all of the above" solution. The electorate wants more drilling, more money towards clean energy, more of anything that might work. The problem is that greens and Dems are trying to frame energy issues and policy around climate when that is not the source of most voters' worry about energy. Clean energy advocates would be endlessly more effective in driving down the price of clean energy if they spoke to voters' economic and national security concerns instead of trying to foist on to them global warming awareness.

By Adam Zemel on 2008 09 18

Could it also be that the public simply doesn't accept there is a problem? My reading of the history of other energy source transitions is that folks are typically dragged kicking and screaming from the old to the new (e.g., England was almost out of trees when coal became dominant for the Industrial Revolution, petroleum was abetted by the increasing scarcity of whales for lamp oil, etc.). It would be nice to think that the public will not wait until the bitter end this time...

By R Margolis on 2008 09 13

I think you just crossed the line from respectful engagement with ideas to disrespectful personal judgments. And, while this makes me feel like you won't actually be reading to comprehend this response, I will do my best to reply.

"We obviously don't have to count on everyone being only virtuous, but if we can explain to a large part of the population the *actual* workings of their minds, they will surely act differently"
This statement is a fallacy. The environmental movement has been operating under the assumption that more awareness (about humans, about "nature," about non-human life) will necessarily dictate that people change their behaviors in a positive and productive way. This is only true to an extent--when I become aware that flame burns, I do keep my hand away from the fire. However that awareness is linked to immediate physical well-being. Awareness (esp. about the things you think people need more awareness of--the human mind) does not always dictate a "positive" behavior change, largely because what is "positive" in this case is much more subjective then whether or not it is good to put your hand in a fire. If awareness necessarily dictate the right course of action, we would all, as we grew up and became more aware, become more and more similar. This is clearly not the case. Take, for example, Stoicism and Epicureanism. Both of these philosophies came about at around the same time and place, but they defined existence differently and placed widely different emphases on different parts of life.

Even more important than this, I think you are being incredibly narrow in your thinking if you believe that changing overconsumption patterns in upperclass America is going to solve the energy/climate crisis. There are a few million Americans who do need to consume less, but overall, the vast majority of people on this planet need more access to more energy and the things that accompany it--increased health, increased mobility, increased education opportunities.

I agree with your point that close attention to psychology(amongst many other things) will help advance progressive solutions to the problems humanity faces. However, we at Breakthrough recognize that no set of data will ever necessarily dictate a particular course of action. Science is a means of understanding, not motivating.

p.s. I'd be happy to send you our reading list here at BTGen, which may help elucidate my points.

By Adam Zemel on 2008 07 25

Lindsay, with all due respect, I don't think you know what you're talking about.

We obviously don't have to count on everyone being only virtuous, but if we can explain to a large part of the population the *actual* workings of their minds, they will surely act differently, and quite likely in ways that will help us move towards sustainability faster. They'll put their work hours into more worthwhile efforts, and will choose to do more worthwhile things with the money they earn.

Right now, I think Breakthrough has very strong and well thought out positions on energy and framing of policies, but not so much on human nature and a desired state of affairs.

I want to give you all some advice from my heart:
Go back to the drawing table NOW. Please send this through to Nordhaus and Shellenberger. I guess they are at least more well-read than you.

Don't forget that the subtitle of the Breakthrough book reads "from the Feath of Environmentalism to the *Politics of Possiblity*", emphasis mine.

P.S. I'd be happy to consult with you, free of charge. Otherwise, my bookmarks may be of help to you.

By Meryn Stol on 2008 07 24


I think it's nostalgic and naive to imagine that greed and short-sightedness are modern phenomena, and that there was some bygone age when benevolence, wisdom, and harmony reigned. There have always been greedy people, and I believe there always will be; I don't want my strategy for solving global problems to rest on the eradication of these afflictions.

I agree that it's important to take a psychological approach to these problems, but I also think that positive psychology can focus on happiness at the expense of fulfillment. Humans are capable of joy, despair, elation, frustration, and these full range of emotions create a full life.

By lindsay meisel on 2008 07 24


I agree with all that you're saying. It's just that most of the time, a nuanced position like you take does not show up in the essays here. And this time, Lindsay mentioned the opposite, while not explaining Breakthroughs - quite moderate - position.

I've read the Breakthrough book, so I know you understand the complexity of the human mind. Certainly with regard to why our lifestyles and consumption habits come from in the first place, you could provide far more attention to this. It's relevant. For example, if people would understand that they don't get that happy from more stuff, they would far more easily forgo consumption in turn for increased energy investments.

But maybe the fact that you're in the core a political think tank explains your attention to "core needs and values", which I think will generally come down to accepting what the average American says is important. Why not provide real leadership, and show them how happy they can be with a collective effort to make our economy sustainable and solve social injustice at the same time?

The need for "framing issues in ways that people care about" (I hope I got that right) is one truth you understand very well, but it's not the only way to go about things.

By Meryn Stol on 2008 07 24

In regards to your call to "look at the psychological side of things," I call your attention to our "Fear and Politics" series on the blog. As it says on the Breakthrough About page: "We believe that any effective politics must speak to core needs and values, not issues and interests, and we thus situate ourselves at the intersection of politics, policy, philosophy, and the social sciences." These sentences explicitly state that we at BTI do seek to understand and think about social and ecological problems and crises in an expansive light.

With this in mind, I disagree with your statement, "the real issues are human greed, short-sightedness and overconsumption" for a variety of reasons.

One of these reasons is that humans are NOT fundamentally rational beings of cold reason. If this were true, then perhaps the solution would just be to explain to people, and that once they see the reasoning, they will be swayed. Humans are both rational and irrational, motivated by a variety of needs and desires, some consciously recognized, some subconsciously pursued. The environmental movement's tactics have long been to aggressively educate the public about the issues, the assumption being that this will help garner support for tackling environmental issues. As this Gallup poll shows, this is not the case.

This brings me to the second reason. Overconsumption, greed, and shortsightedness do not come to be cultural norms in a vacuum. Things like economic anxiety, a heightened sense of mortality, and fear politics all drive us towards behaviors and impulses that are isolationist, selfish, and hostile to that which is foreign. But there are two sides to every coin. If we take great care, we can create a society that appeals to human altruism and compassion.

And so, in regards to your last paragraph, and your fear that Breakthrough "accepts our current way of living without question - treats this as a given - and only looks for technological fixes to support this lifestyle," I would say, "fear no more." This is not the belief or intention of BTI, BTG or anyone in the office. At the Breakthrough Generation Blog, and on this blog, the BTG Fellows have written extensively about the social and cultural changes we are working for, in addition to the social and cultural shifts we are hoping to trigger as we work towards a clean energy America.

By Adam Zemel on 2008 07 23

"Environmentalists of the deep ecology school fear that a tech-heavy approach to climate change glosses over the real issues (human greed and overconsumption)"

Well, I'm not an environmentalist of the deep ecology school, I don't even really know if I could be considered an environmentalist, but I do think the real issues are human greed, short-sightedness and overconsumption, and what kind other widespread psychological pathologies you could think of.

If we were a little "ecological" conscious (e.g. sustainability is not optional), and if we all understood a little more about our psychology - especially what is gonna make us happy and what isn't: surprise, it's not more stuff - than we would solve our energy problem, which is merely a symptom of these times, far more easily.

You're right that there's not a good reason to idolize nature, but this should not be used as a kind of funny way to move along the issues of these "deep ecologists" you mentioned at the start. For this essay to be complete, you should have addressed these concerns. I think that if you would have done that, you would surely have painted a more nuanced picture of the situation.

I think you could really learn from reading up on positive psychology: Lyubomirsky, Gilbert, Seligman, Csiksczentmihalyi, etc. You will see that most humans don't know much about what is gonna make them happy. That has nothing to do with an ideology, it's science.

Sometimes I'm scared that "Breakthrough" accepts our current way of living without question - treats this as a given - and only looks for technological fixes to support this lifestyle. I believe that we have more than enough scientific understanding of the world to conclude that we could better look at the psychological side of things to. It will make us better off.

By Meryn Stol on 2008 07 23

Jacob Bronowski often described how humanity's more significant adaptation was that of using technology to reshape the environment rather than simply adapting to it as other life forms have done [he even compared the harnessing of the ox to that of using nuclear fission...].

Certainly we must apply technology with care, but technology is as inate to the human condition as trees are to a rain forest. grin

By R Margolis on 2008 07 23

From what I read, China is rapidly trying to grow all their energy sources. Solar, nuclear, LNG, the works.

By R Margolis on 2008 04 29


I listened to your meeting at the Commonwealth Club and you pointed out how beneficial the impact was of the defense department spending on micro-processors and even the Internet.

I agree with this assessment and could see the benefits of applying this approach to the green movement. However, the big driver for this investment was the threat of the Soviet Union against the freedoms enjoyed by US citizens.

I feel like the imminent threat is missing in your proposal, while the risks associated with global warming are large, people don't feel the threat is as imminent as Americans did with the Soviet threat. While Al Gore has certainly scared Americans about Global Warming, most don't seem to be scared into action.

Ideally your suggested public spending on innovation approach could be advocated based on positive principals (lets be great innovators), however, I find that in reality people respond better to fear, especially when positioned competitively. Take Kennedy's agenda around getting onto the Moon ... part fear of the Russians becoming technologically more advanced (un-stated being ... whereby they can take over the US) and you have a clear 'enemy'.


By Marco Lugon on 2007 12 14