(44) Global Warming

Global Warming (video)

Climate Change

Global Warming: News, Facts, Causes & Effects



So Crazy It Just Might Work

A number of innovative approaches to solving the problems of global warming have been kicked around. What they may lack in immediate practicality is made up for by their creativity. Since it is difficult to anticipate the interactions that may be set into motion by changing a basic natural process, it might make sense to think carefully about any unintended consequences. Here are few of these ideas:

1. Using phytoplankton as a carbon sink. The oceans of the world absorb a huge amount of carbon dioxide, including a significant part of that contributed by humans. Phytoplankton, a microscopic aquatic plant found in the oceans, consumes carbon dioxide during photosynthesis.

Some scientists are exploring the possibility of enhancing the growth of these plants by using nutrients such as iron. In an experiment performed off the coast of New Zealand, researchers released 8 tons of metal in an area 5 miles (8 km) across to enhance the growth of plankton. The result was a six fold increase in the amount of plankton and a measurable local decrease of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This process would have to be continued on a recurring basis. To be effective over the long term, the carbon dioxide that is removed from the atmosphere would have to be kept in the oceanic ecosystem permanently either in the phytoplankton or in organisms higher in the aquatic food chain. Since feeding plankton might benefit commercial fisheries, some commercial interest in this plan has begun to develop. However, any loss of carbon dioxide back to the atmosphere would undo the benefits of this concept. Recent tests (Science Daily, April 10, 2003; ScienceDaily.com) using radioactive isotope tracers show that the carbon absorbed by the plankton remained near the surface rather than descending permanently to the ocean depths. Some scientists believe that a similar process may have occurred naturally. Iron-bearing compounds may have been transported to the oceans in the past, where they contributed to promoting cold periods in the earth’s past. Many scientists are very cautious about apparent solutions whose overall long-term impacts on the world’s ecosystems are not fully known.

2. Atmospheric reflection. Particles in the air have an overall cooling effect on climate. Current thinking is analogous to opening up a (figurative) umbrella in the atmosphere. Such an approach would be most effective if particles were injected into the strosphere as a kind of “synthetic volcano.”

Several innovative (if not immediately practical ideas) include increasing the aerosol component of air pollution, seeding clouds, and placing large, lightweight (and obviously, for now, prohibitively expensive) reflective structures in orbit above the earth.

3. Weather control. Russian and American scientists have attempted to control the weather in the past, for example, by seeding clouds with chemicals to produce rain when and where it was needed. A new method under development involves replicating the urban heat island effect, where cities are slightly hotter than the countryside because they are darker and absorb more heat. Modifying local land reflectivity conceivably could create almost twice as much rain 20-40 miles downwind from cities compared with upwind.

4. Enhanced algae growth. Carbon dioxide captured from flue gases could be used to accelerate the growth of algae. The algae then could be a source of biomass fuels such as ethanol, biodiesel, or methane. A pilot project is underway in Hawaii.

5. Biomass fuels in power plants. Advocates of a solution to global warming have not enthusiastically embraced biomass fuels. Much of the problem lies in the fact that, like any fuel that contains carbon in its chemical formula, ethanol (corn or cellulose) and the vegetable oils that make up biodiesel produce carbon dioxide when burned. James Hansen proposed using biofuels in a power plant configured with carbon capture and storage capabilities. During their growth the biofuels would remove carbon dioxide from the air. When they are burned the carbon dioxide would be captured and stored rather than released. Used in this manner, biofuels would produce needed energy and at the same time draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it.


On July 7, 2007, Al Gore and others, to raise awareness about global warming, organized a series of telecasts that were seen by millions of people. The program was called Live Earth 2007. Steps toward reducing global warming were presented in terms of the following pledge that viewers were asked to support:

• To demand that my country join an international treaty within the next 2 years that cuts global warming pollution by 90 percent in developed countries and by more than half worldwide in time for the next generation to inherit a healthy earth;

• To take personal action to help solve the climate crisis by reducing my own CO2 pollution as much as I can and offsetting the rest to become “carbon neutral”;

• To fight for a moratorium on the construction of any new generating facility that burns coal without the capacity to safely trap and store the CO2;

• To work for a dramatic increase in the energy efficiency of my home, workplace, school, place of worship, and means of transportation;

• To fight for laws and policies that expand the use of renewable energy sources and reduce dependence on oil and coal;

• To plant new trees and to join with others in preserving and protecting forests; and

• To buy from businesses and support leaders who share my commitment to solving the climate crisis and building a sustainable, just, and prosperous world for the twenty-first century.

What You Can Do-Individual Actions

1. Purchase and operate a fuel efficient car.

• Drive a car that gets at least 32 mpg.

• Upgrade to a hybrid that gets 60 mpg.

• Drive a plug-in hybrid to get close to 100 mpg as soon as they become available.

2. Improve driving efficiency.

• Carpool when possible.

• Reduce commute distance as much as possible.

• Maintain your car with proper tire inflation and a tuned engine.

• Avoid unnecessary trips. Call, when you can, instead of driving.

• Reduce idling. (In Japan, many drivers turn off their engines while waiting at traffic lights.) Reducing 10 minutes of idling each day can save 550 pounds of carbon dioxide per year.)

• Avoid traffic whenever possible. Traffic is inherently inefficient.

3. Choose clean electricity.

• Support efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by your electrical power company. If your electrical power company gives you the choice of various energy plans, choose a plan that produces the lowest amount of greenhouse gases. This may include absorbing the cost of carbon credits that support clean electricity at other sites.

• Support any efforts on the part of local coal-fi red electrical power plants to capture and contain carbon dioxide emissions. Support may be in the form of higher bills and allowing sequestration facilities in “your backyard.”

• Support local initiatives to promote nonpolluting energy on local buildings such as schools and offices. (Again, support may mean helping to pay.)

• Install a rooftop photovoltaic system, a solar hot-water heater, or a passive solar component in your home.

4. Reduce your consumption of energy.

• Turn your thermostat up in summer and down in winter. This can be done manually or by using a programmable thermostat and can reduce energy consumption while you sleep or are out. Use of a ceiling fan makes it easier to be comfortable with a higher temperature setting in the summer and sweaters in the winter.

• Make sure that your house is buttoned up in terms of being properly insulated and weather-stripped. Keep windows and doors closed when you are using energy to heat or cool your home.

• Use energy-efficient Energy Star appliances. A good place to start is with the refrigerator, which often is the single largest user of electrical energy in homes.

• Use the most efficient light bulbs with the lowest required wattage. Replace incandescent lights with compact fluorescent lights. Turns lights off when they are not needed.

• Put your computer in an energy-saving mode when you are not using it, especially one that shuts down the monitor when it is not in active use.

• Watch out for the phantom wasted standby power described earlier in this chapter. Unplug battery chargers (which use electrical power when plugged in even if nothing is connected to them) and use switchable power strips to power down televisions and other electronic devices.

• Set hot-water heater to 120ºF (35ºC) or below. Take shorter showers with flow-restricted shower heads to minimize hot-water use. Make sure that the hot-water heater and pipes leading from it are insulated.

• When doing laundry, use cold water instead of warm and warm water instead of hot whenever possible.

• Reduce and recycle home waste. Use minimal and recyclable packaging. Use canvas totes instead of paper or plastic grocery bags. The average home in the United States uses an estimated 1500 bags, which consume both trees and petroleum.

Throughout these papers we have tried to maintain a global perspective because, after all, it is the entire Earth-the planet-that is undergoing changes. Looking down on the earth from space is probably the most powerful way to gain this perspective.

The earth’s population is growing, and the earth’s demand for energy is growing at three times the population growth rate. The challenge is to find a better way to provide this energy.

Key Ideas

• Greenhouse gas emissions either can continue to increase, can be held steady at a particular level, or can be reduced to a lower level.

• Some consequences of the presence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere may be unavoidable.

• Adaptation to climate change may require providing alternate sources of water and improving flood-control provisions such as levees.

• The two main opportunities for reducing greenhouse gases are (1) reducing the amount of coal used to generate electricity and (2) reducing the amount of petroleum burned in the transportation system.

• Emissions from coal burning can be reduced by reducing electricity demand through conservation practices.

• Emissions from coal can be reduced in the short term by using more efficient IGCC power plants.

• Emissions from coal can be captured and stored in depleted oil fields, coal mines, or the oceans.

• Nonpolluting alternatives to coal-fi red electricity generation include hydroelectric, wind, solar, and nuclear power.

• Although the sources of biomass fuels such as ethanol, cellulosic ethanol, and biodiesel remove carbon dioxide from the air as they grow, that carbon dioxide is released to the atmosphere when the fuel is burned. Under some, but not all, applications, the overall emissions from biomass fuels may be less when considering the overall life cycle of the fuel.

• Diesel engines are more efficient and produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional spark-ignited internal combustion engines.

• Emissions from cars can be reduced by more efficient designs, including gas–electric hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and hydrogen combustion or hydrogen fuel cell engines. The carbon dioxide reductions will be significant only if the source of electricity used emits a minimal amount of carbon dioxide.

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