Saturday, July 28, 2007

Will Greener Planes Bring Meaner Conditions Around Airports?

Generally reducing greenhouse gas emissions is associated with providing other environmental benefits but in a Washington Post article the director of research and technology at Rolls-Royce, Richard J. Parker, says that focusing on reducing carbon dioxide emissions by engineers might result in new engines that are noisier or produce more of the environmentally troublesome nitrogen oxides than present engines. In the words of Parker:

"Will people living near airports win out, or will the planet as a whole win out?"

Not a great choice. Of course, there is always the option of flying less but this also has negative consequences, particularly for people in less developed areas who depend on hoards of tourists booking their hotels to survive economically. It seems that choices have to be made and everyone can’t win.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Al Gore: a Help or Hindrance?

It is almost taken for granted that Al Gore has made an immeasurable contribution to the cause of fighting global warming, nearly single-handedly it sometimes seems moving the issue from the green edges of society into the mainstream. Yet, on Earth Meanders blog Glen Barry strongly criticizes Gore’s strategy when he says:

I am concerned with the direction Al Gore, as the self-appointed climate movement leader, is taking -- emphasizing celebrity and inadequate small personal responses, to the detriment of grassroots inspired major cultural change necessary to save the Earth.

Perhaps a bigger problem of Gore leading the charge is that he is a polarizing figure. Millions of conservatives don’t like him, Bill, or Hillary. Although he says this should not be a partisan issue it is hard to see how it can not be if he is the one out in front. There must be many people who won’t listen to his recommendations simply because he is Al Gore.

Despite all the problems with the second half of the Clinton-Gore ticket being seen at the leader in the fight to stop global warming and all the celebrities he has enlisted in the cause it still must be acknowledged that he is capable of reaching people in the mainstream with his message that grassroots environmentalists have no way of reaching. These are probably people who tend to closely follow the world of celebrities in television, film, music, sports, etc but do not pay much attention to “serious” political issues. Gore has somehow bridged the gap. But I guess it is Barry’s point that in doing so there is a trade off in that the suggested changes can not be too radical, even it that is what it takes to deal with the problem which Barry and many others have concluded.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Southern Utilities Cling to Coal Burning

We know historically that the South has been extremely slow to change and in fact has been so slow that it has been forced to change when it came to slavery and segregation. It appears that this pattern of resisting change is continuing when it comes to switching from coal burning to renewable energy sources. According to an article from the Associated Press, whereas nearly half of the states now have adopted mandates requiring electric utilities to produce a specific percentage of electricity from renewables, Texas is the only state in the South with such a mandate. Moreover, half of the votes in the Senate to defeat federal legislation to require 15% of electricity to come from renewables were cast by senators from southern states.

A good appreciation of the coal-burning situation in the South can be gained by watching the film Kilowatt Ours. The film shows how burning coal in the South has resulted in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park often being filled with haze instead of usually offering crystal clear views of distant mountains as in the past and how the need for coal in the South, which uses more coal than the national average for generating electricity, leads to the disgraceful practice of mountaintop mining in West Virginia.

The AP article says that the US Environmental Protection Agency ranks three southern utilities—Southern Co., Duke Energy, and the Tennessee Valley Authority—among the top four greenhouse gas emitting utilities in the US. The number one emitter, Southern Co., doesn’t even appear to admit that emissions of carbon dioxide are related to global warming based on statements such as the following by senior executive Chris Hobson who was quoted in the article as saying:

"If we are irrational about it and we cripple our economy or cripple our industry and we realize carbon dioxide wasn't the source of the problem, then we'll be real regretful."

Maybe someone at Southern Co. should read the latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. If they did they would learn that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted from human sources are the source of the problem. Scientists will never say they are 100% sure of a conclusion but this statement was about as close as they will ever get. The Old South may be mostly gone but the New South needs to transform into the Green South.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

More Energy Efficient Light Bulbs but not TVs

The gains in energy efficiency being made by replacing the familiar incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents that use much less electricity are probably being wiped out and then some by replacement of cathode ray TVs with large screen plasma or LCD TVs which use far more electricity. Add in all the new gizmos with rechargeable batteries and it is hard to see how we can carry out Al Gore’s pledge item 3 “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” without leaving ourselves in the dark. Since it is very expensive to trap CO2 and the technology for storing it safely is not yet proven and may never be the pledge may really mean no new coal plants period. All the more reason to stress energy efficiency.

The British seem to be more worried about this problem than we are here in the US. A recent article in the Guardian on report by the Energy Saving Trust (EST) said the following:

The proliferation of home entertainment equipment such as flat screen TVs, digital radios and laptops in homes means that by 2020 this type of technology will account for 45% of domestic electricity use.

The running cost of today's plasma and LCD screen TVs can be as much as three times that of traditional cathode ray tube sets. The largest domestic plasma TV on the market - with a massive 103 in screen - has a power rating of 1.5kw, which means watching it uses as much energy as leaving 25 light bulbs on.

This means 14 power stations will be required just to power equipment used for communication and entertainment, the EST said in its report the Ampere Strikes Back.

Al Gore has done a great job in educating the public about the threat of global warming but he has yet to make the same impact with regard to educating us about energy efficiency. Should he tell us to stop buying all these large screen TVs? So far I don’t think he has. Where is the US version of the Ampere Strikes Back? All we seem to have in America is millions of people buying giant TVs to watch the Empire Strikes Back, etc. At the rate we are going what we are going to have is the climate striking back.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Carbon Dioxide Emissions Per Capita Problem

If there is any issue that appears to be an insurmountable obstacle to reducing greenhouse gas emissions globally it appears to be the issue surrounding per capita emissions of carbon dioxide. Spokesmen for China, which has recently been crowned as the number one greenhouse gas polluter in the world, displacing the long-time reigning champion the United States of America, are quick to point out that on a per capita basis their emissions are far below those of the US, which is correct since each of us in America on average is responsible for more than four times the amount of emissions than those who live in China.

If global emissions of carbon dioxide are now about 30 billion tons a year, then on average the 6.5 billion inhabitants of our planet are responsible for about 4.5 tons each. With the average American responsible for emitting about 20 tons annually we are way above the average. The climate scientists say that to have a decent chance of avoiding the most serious consequences of global warming we have to reduce our emissions globally by about 80% by 2050. So the 30 billion tons a year would have to fall to roughly 6 billion tons a year. It is predicted that there will be 9 billion people on Earth by 2050 so on average they would have to be responsible for emitting only about 0.7 tons of carbon dioxide a year. Hopefully the math here is wrong (it probably is) because that seems like a very difficult goal to achieve, particularly in face the demands for equality in emissions per capita between the developed countries and developing countries.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Live Earth in Retrospect

It is hard to know what to make of the Live Earth concerts on Saturday. It seemed like an odd mixture of environmental activism, hedonism, and consumerism. Can this type of strange brew really lead to radical change? How ironic was it that the webcast of the concerts was sponsored by General Motors, the same company that has been leading the fight against higher fuel efficiency standards for cars over more than a decade. Before you could watch the concerts online you had to see a Chevy commercial. At least the webcast wasn’t sponsored by ExxonMobil, the leading financial backers of misinformation about global warming. But is GM really that far behind in being one of the global warming bad boys? Then there is the issue of pop and rock stars who unfairly or not could be considered as icons for consumerism. Private jets, yachts, numerous homes, etc. When it comes to making carbon footprints many of them are Godzillas. Add to that their international tours and they are responsible for pumping out a heck of a lot of carbon.

There didn’t seem to any songs that compared to the 60s classics such as Blowin’ in the Wind, The Times They Are a-Changin’, I Ain’t Marching Anymore, etc. I agree with Al Gore that music can reach people in ways that are unique but the music at the concerts came up short with regard to delivering any message.

It was hard to understand why there was no concert in India. The big three who are not going along in trying cut greenhouse gas emissions are the US, China, and India. All three will have undertake all out efforts to cut emissions if there is any hope of limiting global warming before climate change reaches catastrophic proportions based on what the leading climatologists are saying.

Of course Live Earth is only one small part of the overall efforts to address climate change. Most of what is happening does not make headlines. Perhaps the real hope for change lies in the less glitzy stuff that is going on.