Wednesday, May 27, 2009

US Secretary of Energy Advocates Geoengineering Scheme

Last month President Obama’s chief scientific advisor John Holdren stirred things up by saying geoengineering schemes should not be taken "off the table" as a means of fighting global warming. Now Obama’s Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has advocated one such scheme in a speech in London. His statement is unlikely to kick up much political dust however because this was not some scheme that could be attacked as scientific madness but simply painting roofs white and making roads the color of concrete. White roofs and light-colored roads reflect sunlight back into space and thereby prevent heating. According to The Independent Chu said that “…if you look at all the buildings and make all the roofs white, and if you make the pavement a more concrete-type of color than a black-type of color, and you do this uniformly... It's the equivalent of reducing the carbon emissions due to all the cars in the world by 11 years.... It's actually geoengineering." Wonder whether we will hear that word soon from Congress.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Gadget Happy Consumers Threaten Greenhouse Gas Targets

It looks like we may be Twittering and I-Phoning our way out of a chance to limit global warming. The addiction to being connected and entertained via electronic devices on a 24/7 basis has been increasing the consumption of energy around the world just as the need to reduce energy consumption has become critical to the goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. An article in The Guardian says that a study by the International Energy Agency forecasts that the total energy consumed by information, communication, and consumer technologies will triple in only two decades. By the end of this year it is expected that there will be 1,000,000,000 personal computers in the world. As computers continue to advance with more powerful processors, greater memory capacity, etc. they require more energy. There are nearly 2,000,000,000 televisions in the world and the new large plasma-screen TVs are particularly energy hungry. Wind turbines and solar panels will not be able to replace fossil fuels if energy demand keeps rising. The conclusion seems inescapable that the digital lifestyle is on a collision course with nature. The Director of the International Energy Agency, Nobuo Tanaka, is quoted as saying “Despite anticipated improvements in the efficiency of electronic devices, these savings are likely to be overshadowed by the rising demand for technology.” In other words, if we want to have a habitable planet maybe we should consider going back to reading books, listening to the radio, and talking on a corded phone. Okay, that may sound somewhat boring but it beats extinction any day of the week.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Computer Simulation Study Shoots Down Cosmic Ray Explanation for the Cause of Global Warming

There is more than enough evidence that human sources are the main cause of global warming to conclude that strong action is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but one alternative explanation for the warming that has not been completely ruled out is known as the “cosmic ray hypothesis.” According to this explanation solar activity has an effect on cosmic rays which reduces cloudiness, thereby resulting in more sunlight reaching the surface of the earth which leads to increased warming. Science Daily reports that Peter Adams and Jeff Pierce, scientists from Carnegie Mellon University and Dalhousie University (Halifax, Canada), respectively, developed a computer model to test this hypothesis and reported in Geophysical Research Letters that there were not enough changes in the concentrations of particles affecting clouds to make any difference in the climate. Adams told Science Daily that he expects the results of the computer simulation to be challenged but thinks the results will withstand any questioning. The history of science is full of controversial explanations eventually proving to be correct but it appears this will not be the case for the cosmic ray hypothesis.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Plans for New UN Climate Agreement Lack Ambitious Targets for Reducing Emissions

If anyone expects that the Kyoto Protocol will be replaced by a new UN climate agreement that finally addresses what climate scientists say needs to be done to avoid a climate catastrophe it looks like they will be sorely disappointed. Reuters has analyzed plans submitted by developed nations for a new pact and the targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions are not much stronger than the tepid ones of the Kyoto Protocol. Reuters concluded that the cuts called for range from 9 to 16 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. The Kyoto Protocol calls for a 5 percent reduction in emissions from developed countries by 2012. What do the climate scientists say is needed? According to the 2007 report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emissions reductions of 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels are needed by 2020. The cuts may even need to be steeper based on emissions data obtained after the report was released. For all the pronouncements we have heard from leaders of the developed countries that global warming needs to be finally addressed based on scientific knowledge none of them apparently are willing to do it. Perhaps at the final hour the leaders of the developed countries will face the facts and finally do what is needed but right now it seems far more likely that they will postpone taking the necessary steps even though postponement may almost guarantee future disaster.