And Professor Michael McElroy, who was given a lifetime achievement award at the Irish Echo’s 80th anniversary celebrations in December, said a mammoth program to build 5,000 wind turbines off Ireland’s west coast would create employment during the economic downturn while servicing Ireland’s domestic electricity needs.
An advisor to President Obama, Professor McElroy, who left Belfast in 1961, made his comments while in Ireland to address academic, business and government leaders in meetings in Belfast and Dublin.
He told his audience that mankind has been involved in a “grand global experiment” since the industrial revolution by “dumping” carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
“A carbon-based economy is unsustainable,” he told a meeting of the Royal Irish Academy.
And while Europe had taken the lead in combating climate change over recent years, the Harvard professor predicted that the U.S. was set to reclaim a lead role in the battle against global warming.
“The US will rejoin the world under this new administration,” he said.
A strong advocate of alternative energy from wind, Professor McElroy said Ireland was potentially a wonderful place for wind power.
“In Denmark, 80 percent of domestic energy is generated from wind power and they are now a world leader in the building and exporting turbines. There’s no reason why Ireland couldn’t be in a similar position in ten years time, especially given the experience of Bombardier in building jet engines which are essentially the same as wind turbines.
“Ireland’s wind resource is similar to the energy resources of Saudi Arabia and if connected to the European grid, there is no reason why Ireland couldn’t supply Europe from its turbines. That of course would also counter the danger of a country like Russia simply turning off the gas supply to the west.”
McElroy said that while the economic case for turning from carbon-based energy to alternative energies like wind power was compelling, there was also a strong ethical argument.
“A small section of the planet’s population got rich by exploiting natural resources at the same time as another section starved. And the situation will only get worse. We have a moral responsibility to tackle the issue of global warming. If we don’t, we will all suffer,” he said.