Scientific Community Pushing Government to Take ActionWed, 02/19/2014 - 15:56
Scientists have been working to define the impact of climate change but tend to stumble when it comes to communicating their findings to the public at large. According to Dr. Mario Molina, President of the Mario Molina Center for Strategic Studies in Energy and the Environment, scientific findings on climate change have been obscured by misleading efforts from PR campaigns sponsored by the fossil fuel industry. “The fact is that the media brought attention to both sides of the debate and that is not always justified, particularly when one side is not providing evidence supported by scientific consensus. They succeeded in misinforming society saying that scientific findings are not entirely certain, particularly when talking about possible risk projections,” says Molina. However, the effects of climate change are becoming evident and this has changed people’s attitudes.
“Economists cannot weigh up the costs of climate change and its social and economic effects alone; they need scientists to make projections in order to choose suitable alternatives,” says Molina. In order to properly address the problem, a multidisciplinary approach should be taken, gathering economic, social, political, and scientific expertise. The scientific community is encouraging governments and policy-makers to adopt measures that make sense with or without climate change. “Efforts should focus on improving energy efficiency and rethinking energy subsidies by trying to remove them, or at least to slowly phase them out, because there a lot of significant resources are now being misused,” explains Molina. He gives the example of low fuel prices benefit a small portion of the population, particularly segments with higher income. This case provides an example of subsidies given to the people and industries that need them the least
Mexico depends to a very large extent on oil revenues for its economic progress, but the government has acknowledged that this needs to change. “It is not wise for a country to depend on a single natural asset, particularly a non-renewable resource. We know that we will run out of fossil fuels and we have a situation in which the country is very vulnerable to climate change,” says Molina. Mexico is left vulnerable because of its dependence on oil, he states, while adding that a developing country like Mexico can continue using fossil fuels, as long as it is undertaking a plan to change this situation. He adds that it would make sense for Mexico to be part of a North American energy strategy, in which Mexico, the US and Canada form a joint goal of not importing fossil fuels. For that to happen, energy use has to become more efficient and demand has to decrease. “There are some simple minds that think that decreasing fossil fuels would leave society unable to address poverty. But it is actually the other way around, as climate change will impact poor people more directly,” explains Molina.
Molina also encourages incentives for hybrids to be used in the transportation sector, on the condition that they cost less for using less fuel. While this could result in higher fuel prices, it would mean less taxation on hybrids. The same applies for the construction industry where existent regulations and norms are necessary to ensure proper isolation systems on new buildings. The Mario Molina Center is already working with the private sector to develop isolation technology for social interest housing. This is due to proper isolation being a good investment because of its fast returns, particularly when energy or electricity are not subsidized. Similar obstacles impair a number of industries, says Molina. Even though the wind energy industry does not need subsidies, the many barriers that hinder this sector and ensure its collaboration with CFE and SENER are in the process of being taken down. Wind farms tend to be located far from the grid although the aftermath of the Energy Reform should begin resolving this, as well as the similar situation of natural gas which lacks infrastructure. “Solving infrastructure issues related to energy should be seen as a single challenge, since there is an undisputable need for appropriate infrastructure across various energy sources,” says Molina.
While the government knows it would make sense for Mexico to undergo a transition from fossil fuels to natural gas and then to renewable energy sources, Molina points out such a process would depend on technological upgrades. This would be helped if PEMEX developed its future priorities, not by only centering itself around oil extraction but by exploiting other fossil fuel reserves as well. This is something Mexico lacks which has to do with economic interests, Molina believes, although the government is moving ahead with tapping up Mexico’s shale gas reserves. He adds that the current and subsequent administrations should promote the use of raw petroleum for industrial development and not just as a power source. Despite certain links between them, Molina says an adequate renewable energy strategy needs to consider each energy source separately. The case of biofuels, for example, has caused some controversy. Initially, there was a lot of optimism surrounding this source but it backfired due to poor implementation. “It is important to ensure that these initiatives do not have negative effects on food prices or agriculture,” he warns. Proper planning, measurements, updated technology, and taking risk factors into account can still shed positive results, particularly with second generation biofuels.
It may seem that the Mario Molina Center is taking on an impossible task, seeking answers to such a broad range of Mexico’s energy and environmental challenges. “Our goal is to impact public policy, but in a way that facilitates implementation. This is not limited to academic studies; we aim to have specific projects recommending public policy changes, working towards a federal energy strategy while taking into account the individual potential of each region,” states Molina, who personally champions the potential of hydro, geothermal, and wind energy. This leads the Center for Strategic Studies in Energy and the Environment to be confident in providing precise recommendations for each sector.