A Personal Reflection
It stands to reason, when one takes the time to study the literature and think about the numbers in the Carbon Cycle
and from the ice cores evidence, that man has had a dramatic impact upon the rate of global warming. First, the stunning
rise in carbon concentrations in the atmosphere since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, coupled with the fact
that for every 100 tons of carbon emissions reaching the atmosphere every year more than eleven result from man's
activity. It is a no-brainer: the conclusion must be that we have to stop the CO2, from getting up there. The
relationship between the level of concentrationsThe amount of a component in a given area or volume. and the
degree of warming seems unassailable.
First, we can generate less CO2, and not impair the ability of vegetation to absorb it by cutting down
the forests and digging up the bogs. Some degree of carbon dioxideCommon gas found in the atmosphere. Has the ability to selectively absorb radiation in the longwave band. This absorption causes the greenhouse effect. The concentration of this gas has been steadily increasing in the atmosphere over the last three centuries due to the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and land-use change. Some scientists believe higher concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases will result in an enhancement of the greenhouse effect and global warming. The chemical formula for carbon dioxide is CO2. in the atmosphere is necessary to enable us to live on and enjoy the planet. Some measures must be adopted
that stop excess amounts of greenhouse gasses from accumulating in the atmosphere.
From the literature, there seems precious little time to do anything about it. Moreover, there does not appear to be
time to develop new technology to a level where significant inroads can be made.
We must also remember that for hundreds of thousands of years, before the Industrial Revolution the system was
essentially in balance. So what could be done?
With no time to lose, we really have to start where we are, and not dream that some technological innovation will do
it all for us. Where we can begin is to embark urgently to improve energy efficiencies in homes, commercial buildings
and all new construction. Designs for heavy industries ought to major on energy economies. Following the example of
California from 1976 to 2005 when electricity consumption stayed constant, while the rest of the nation increased by 60%,
seems a good model.
The energy lost from US power generation exceeds that used by Japan for all purposes. That does not seem to be a good
model. Sequestration schemes to capture carbon dioxide from major industrial operations and store it underground in
place of letting it escape into the atmosphere should be pursued with vigor.
Light vehicle designs, as they are due to expand dramatically in number, need to major on fuel economy (say, 60 mpg)
and reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. Transportation is the market sector most contributing excess GHG emissions.
Electricity is here to stay. The most inefficient generation (just 30% efficient), and that which generates most CO2,
is to use coal in the traditional style. It is also toxicPoisonous, a substance that reacts with specific cellular components to kill cells. to
everyone's health, because of methylmercuryThe form of mercury taken up into tissues, for example fish tissue, making it harmful to eat
emissions. The problem is that so many coal fired plants are slated to be built to meet anticipated demand — 800
in the US, and 1000s in China and India and around the world. The latest coal gasification technologies would help
efficiency, and, to capture the emissions and put them underground would be even better. The real problems are that
nations want to play catch up and there is a lack of political will and a world forum to address the issue.
It may be politically unwise for some nations to take natural gas from the biggest supplier Russia, but surely
something could be done to get the cleaner fuel into the hands of others who could use it without the attendant emission
risks, and reduce the number of coal fired power plants to be built.
cogenerationA power generation process that increases efficiency by harnessing the heat that would otherwise be wasted in the fuel combustion process, and using it to generate electricity, warm buildings, or for other purposes. of power and heat offers better
efficiencies than doing each separately, especially for heavy industrial plants and complexes.
Biofuels require extensive crop lands which would worsen emissions by reducing forested areas still further instead
of the tree replanting that is needed. Ethanols should be avoided where transportation GHG emissions largely negate any
net benefit. Alternative sources of renewable energy such as wind and solar, could make an impact to reduce the adverse
effects of using coal.
Nuclear power generation remains an altogether cleaner method. It does, however, suffer risk of some nations misusing
the technology for threat purposes. Perhaps the altruism attending saving the planet in face of unrestrained global
warming may offer better image to the world at large, and allow authoritative inspections to verify that nations do keep
Something just has to be done to reduce the emissions from passenger vehicles and light trucks. Especially as their
numbers seem to explode every year in different parts of the world. It seems to be a question of engine cost/efficiency,
and political will in face of the gasoline industry. Even more intractable problems encumber air, sea and long distance
trucking because of the need to carry fuel along for the ride.
Perhaps we have to reconsider the role of the internal combustion engine. Electric/gasoline hybrids are showing some
improvement but not yet achieving in real terms the 60 mpg we need to see to make an impact upon emissions. Plug-in
electric/gasoline hybrid traction for our local runs or regular commutes may make more sense than using our gas guzzlers
and leaving them idle for best part of the day. But here, an attitude of mind has to change and the awareness of the
emissions problem is not yet there to encourage the change to take place.
With a nationwide bus to school policy there seems to be a target market to eliminate carbon emissions from those
vehicles. They don't last for ever, maybe now is the time to make a change over a period while we have time. It
would be an eye-catcher to assist the needed wake-up call.
A problem with alternative fuels to burn is that the gasoline distribution network has to change and some incentive
to do that has to be offered to make it attractive to private enterprise. Also, some considerable expenditure to develop,
for example, cellulosic ethanol supplies from wastes and crop trees requires some innovative application of time and
The writer is not overly impressed with the prospect for hydrogen fuel cellsAn electrochemical device with no moving parts that converts the chemical energy of a fuel, such as hydrogen, and an oxidant, such as oxygen, directly into electricity. in vehicles. Ninety eight percent of hydrogen currently, and for decades ahead, has to be extracted from fossil fuelCarbon based remains of organic matter that has been geologically transformed into coal, oil and natural gas. Combustion of these substances releases large amounts of energy. Currently, humans are using fossil fuels to supply much of their energy needs. hydrocarbons — natural gas, oil and coal — releasing massive amounts of carbon dioxideCommon gas found in the atmosphere. Has the ability to selectively absorb radiation in the longwave band. This absorption causes the greenhouse effect. The concentration of this gas has been steadily increasing in the atmosphere over the last three centuries due to the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and land-use change. Some scientists believe higher concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases will result in an enhancement of the greenhouse effect and global warming. The chemical formula for carbon dioxide is CO2. in the process (so reported a National Academy of Sciences study group in 2004). It may be something for the
oil industry, as it ponders what to do when oil reserves diminish, but it does not seem to answer any global warming
issue any time soon.
Changing Land Uses
Fire is the major source of carbon emissions in deforestation. Sometimes it is man induced to clear forests for more
remunerative crops to be grown.
Logging for building materials and fuel suffers from the fact that devastating whole tracts is quick indeed, compared
to the time taken for replanting to regenerate the devastated areas, and allow natural processes of absorbing greenhouse
gases at twice the rate of their respiration to be resumed. To refer to tropical rain forests as the lungs of the planet
The relentless processes of industrialization and urbanizationExpansion of cities into rural regions because of population growth. In most cases, population growth is primarily due to the movement of rural based people to urban areas. This is especially true in Less Developed Countries.
across the whole world changes the face of the planet. Increasing apparent wealth and fostering competition for scarce
resources, are both prime reasons for suicidal abandonment of land resources instead of husbanding them.
A Question of Time
At the heart of what we face today, is the effect of man's significant addition to a naturally accelerating
process of warming. Like putting one's foot on the accelerator when already going down a steep hill instead of
braking, if the foot is not taken off the accelerator fast enough and applied hard to the brake, disaster surely will
The analogy with pressure on the accelerator is the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere, measured in parts per
At a carbon concentration level of 380 ppm, the level estimated for the year 2005, we are probably still accelerating
sufficiently slowly to take our foot off the accelerator and apply the brake to avoid disaster.
If we keep our foot down until we reach 425 ppm, the level estimated for the year 2025, we have delayed sufficiently
to create reasonable doubt that we can even apply the brake in time. It would be folly to dither until the concentration
reaches 500 ppm, the level anticipated for the year 2050, because by then a crash is all but certain. Even if frantic
efforts had been made earlier to apply the brake and we failed to find it quick enough to apply it with sufficient
effect. Perhaps someone else was holding the accelerator pedal down for us.
If we are still trying to throw out an anchor in 2075, levels could have risen to more than 600 ppm, remember, that
by then the whole world would necessarily have to be be of the same mind. What chance is there of that in today's climate?
You may well ask. Heart attitudes have to change.