Thu, 18 Jan 2007

Global Climate Change

For any of you who haven't seen Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth", go rent the DVD or put it on your Netflix queue. It's a great movie that will blow your mind, I highly recommend it, if only to (wait for the shameless plug) revel in the artful beauty of Gore's presentation built by Duarte Design on Apple's Keynote presentation software.

Despite some idiots with their heads in the sand, experts generally concur that Gore's movie, with the exception of a few minor quibbles, is largely spot on in its assessment of the facts.

Here's a quick summary: The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has been growing steadily since the 1960s (Keeling Curve) and this is strongly correlated to the precipitous rise in the global Temperature Record.

Problem is that I think the activism angle of the movie is a little off-base.

Consider the grassroots activism they recommend in their PDF, "Ten Things You Can Do To Help Stop Global Warming". It's good stuff, and for reasons outside of global warming, I endorse all ten "things".

Here are a few of my favorites:
  • Replace your inefficient incandescent bulbs with compact flourescents which are not only cheaper to use (they last a lot longer than filament based bulbs) but put out more lumens per watt, so you can get equivalent light output at much lower energy consumption.
  • They recommend driving less, and walking/biking more, which, if it doesn't save the planet, saves inches on your waistline, and keeps a few more dollars in your wallet, and may even help the "global war on terror" by reducing our dependence on foreign oil, by however much.
  • They suggest you check your tires, which is a really good idea anyway. An under-inflated tire makes more contact with the road and increases friction and heat on tires, and can result in blowouts. In addition, you may have an adverse effect on the handling, noise and treadwear of your tire by running on the sidewall. Plus, it's a good time to check for foreign objects lodged in your tires and to check the amount of tread you have left.
The whole list is worth reviewing, but among these and other sage pieces of advice (like getting an insulator blanket for your hot water heater, or putting your outside lights on an automatic timer to conserve energy, avoiding sharp bursts of acceleration and deceleration while driving, and having dinner with your family at the dinner table instead of in front of the energy and conversation whore of a TV) are simply smart not just in reducing CO2 emissions, but being a more efficient energy consumer, a better driver, and a healthier, happier and socialized human being.

But are any, or all of these activities going to have a meaningful impact on the Keeling Curve, and thus on the 2007 or 2017 or 2027 or 2057 Temperature Record? I'm sorry to say I don't think they are.

The problem is that just like you can't convince a starving person to "put down that trans-fat laden big-mac", Western industrialized nations aren't going to seem genuine when they tell half of the world's population "hey, you know what, these things here, these cars... they're instruments of the devil... what you need to do is stick to what you had before". You see, there's another curve the Keeling Curve mimics, and that's the Global World Product, or basically the economic growth we've seen on the planet.

I'm not saying that you can't have economic growth without CO2 emissions... I'm just saying we won't have economic growth without CO2 emissions. This is because the path of least resistance doesn't just apply to electricity, it applies to the foods people eat, it applies to the modes of transportation they use, and the culture they adopt. The American lifestyle, in comparison to the struggles of most 3rd world citizens is "the easy life" and nobody with a strong sense of self-interest is likely to forego it for the sake of environmentalist tendencies.

OK, so you and me and let's say a shocking 80% of the US adult population embraces these "10 things". How is that going to not only offset the billions of new drivers, TV watchers, and french fry eating, starbucks drinking customers in India and China, not to mention the rest of the world? Indeed, how is that going to actually roll back CO2 generation, per capita, globally, to levels in the 1980s, the 1960s, not to mention the 1940s?!

I don't mean to get all post-apocalyptic, but I think the question is simply a matter of how long we can put off the inevitable. Humankind is facing a Green Plague which I suspect will occur in the next 100 year or so as extreme weather, rising sea levels, famines, ecological and geographic upheaval destroys the tenuous logistical tendrils that often barely support today's urban centers (as we saw in New Orleans).

A large part of the answer, in my opinion, is replacing the internal combustion engine, at least in the form that burns non-renewable petroleum, with something that can be fueled by a carbon-neutral power supply, but that's another blog entry altogether.

Name/Blog: rus
Title: go solar
Comment/Excerpt: on slashdot today: "As costs decline and the search accelerates for clean alternatives to expensive and dirty fossil fuels, some analysts predict solar is poised for a significant expansion in the next five to 10 years." it's a good read. cheers. --rus.


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