THE POWER BROKER REWARDING GOOD BEHAVIOR
Fred Krupp wants to do something about the carbon dioxide that spews from tailpipes and smokestacks. But why is the president of Environmental Defense looking for solutions in tropical rain forests and Kansas cornfields? Because forests and fields pull greenhouse gases from the air. So Krupp, 52, went to Brazil to urge protection of the Amazon basin and to Kansas to promote no-till farming. Plowing fields releases CO2; if farmers plant seeds without tilling, three-quarters of a metric ton of carbon per acre could be stored every year.
What's in it for Brazilians and Kansans? Environmental Defense is lobbying Congress to approve a system that would mandate reductions in emissions and allow the sale of permits to release specified amounts of carbon. Companies having trouble cutting emissions could buy allowances from firms that have unused permits. Or they could pay farmers to store carbon and developing nations to preserve forests. The idea comes from a concept developed by Environmental Defense when Krupp helped draft the 1990 Clean Air Act. It set up a trading system to control sulfur dioxide. Krupp believes similar financial incentives could slow global warming. "Once you put a value on carbon reductions," he says, "you make winners out of innovators. You offer a pot of gold." --By Charles Alexander
THE ENERGY ENGINEER Clean Power For China
Like just about every ambitious engineering student at China's Tsinghua University in the early 1980s, Li Zheng had his heart set on the high-tech, high-profile electronics field--up until the day he bombed on an electronics exam. But his uncharacteristic classroom stumble led Li to a field that could play an even larger role in China's future: energy production. "I think the choice was a very fortunate one in the end," says Li, who studied thermal engineering and in 2000 became a full professor at Tsinghua--China's M.I.T.--at the remarkably young age of 35. "Energy is incredibly important for a growing society like China."
But energy means carbon, and China's booming economy puts it on a path to become the world's No. 1 greenhouse-gas emitter as early as 2020. Li knows that China needs clean energy as badly as the developed world needs China to clean up, which is why he joined the Tsinghua-BP Clean Energy Research and Education Center as director when it opened in July 2003. The center's most promising project is a new technology called polygeneration, by which coal is converted into a cleaner gaseous fuel that can both generate electricity and be processed into a petroleum substitute. Polygeneration could cut the carbon emissions China generates by burning its copious coal reserves and reduce its dependence on oil imports. While his team continues to refine the technology--it's still more expensive than direct coal combustion--Li is lobbying the government to construct a $600 million demonstration plant, and he's optimistic he will see it built. "China is motivated to develop this technology," Li says. And the rest of the world is hoping it does. --By Bryan Walsh/Hong Kong
THE SNOW MAN OF ASPEN KEEPING WINTER COOL