Not seeing an overly recent thread about this, and I just got the June Wired which has a (rather inflammatory at its outset) cover article about global warming. Just a plain orange cover which says "Attention Environmentalists: Keep your SUV. Forget organics. Go nuclear. Screw the spotted owl." It approaches the climate issue from a "carbon cutting" perspective, everything else be damned, but it brings up some good points. I thought I'd summarize the gist of it, as it doesn't appear to be online yet.
It opens with the simple statement "the war on greenhouse gases is too important to be left to the environmentalists." - I find personal amusement with this statement as it reminds me of the oft-repeated statement "the generation of random numbers is too important to be left to chance," but I think there's a core truth to this statement - environmentalism, at this point, is a largely fractured movement with a variety of focuses. Some are to preserving streams and other waterways. Others focus on individual animals, their habitats, and what have you. And then of course, there's the issue of global climate change and carbon dioxide reduction. The article argues that while each of the various parts of the movement hold valid points, the problem is that without facing the greenhouse gas emissions problem first (potentially to the detriment of other movements), the necessary steps will not be accomplished, and thus, as the immediate problem it needs to be taken out of the hands of environmentalists and steps need to start being accomplished now.
The environmentalist movement has never been short on noble goals. Preserving wild spaces, cleaning up the oceans, protecting watersheds, neutralizing acid rain, saving endangered species - all laudable. But today, one ecological problem outweighs all others: global warming. Restoring the Everglades, protecting the Headwaters redwoods, or saving the Illinois mud turtle won't matter if climate change plunges the planet into chaos. It's high time for greens to unite around the urgent need to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Just one problem. Winning the war on global warming require slaughtering some of environmentalism's sacred cows. We can afford to ignore neither the carbon-free electricity supplied by nuclear energy nor the transformational potential of genetic engineering. We need to take advantage of energy efficiencies offered by urban density. We must accept that the world's fastest growing economies won't forgo a higher standard of living in the name of climate science -- and that, on the way up, countries like India and China might actually help devise the solutions the planet so desperately needs. Some will reject this approach as dangerously single-minded: The environment is threatened on many fronts, and all of them need attention. So argues Alex Steffen on page 165. That may be true, but global warming threatens to overwhelm the progress made on other issues. The planet is already heating up, and the point of no return may only be decades away. So combating greenhouse gases must be our top priority, even if it means embracing the unthinkable.
I'll avoid quoting any more of the article, and run down the points it brings up.
â€¢Live in cities - beyond the obvious issues of commute to live in suburbia and the waste of resources in general, it points out things like lawn mowers ejecting 11 cars' worth of emissions an hour, and points out that a Manhattan citizen has a 30 percent smaller footprint than the average American. Additionally, from a carbon perspective, the method of mass transportation that emits the least carbon is the counterweight elevator (although I don't know if it takes into account the added cost from a carbon perspective of building the vertical buildings). In short, grow up, not out.
â€¢Air Conditioning is okay. The long and short of it is thus: It takes less energy to cool by 1 degree than to heat by 1 degree, and it's easier to get from 110 degrees to 70 than it is to get from 0 degrees to 70. We obviously can't all get up and move to different climates, and people can afford to put the notch a couple degrees higher and learn to live with it, but heating releases 8x as much carbon as cooling does - (injecting personal thoughts here) rather than focusing on A/C, we need to focus more on updating insulation in older, less efficient buildings. I can only imagine there's been significant progress along those lines, and it would not surprise me if one of the simplest ways to cut on power use is to properly insulate old buildings.
â€¢Organic farms aren't all they're cracked up to be. While it makes sense from a personal health stance, non-organic farms can produce the same amount of product with less animals, and less carbon emissions per animal. If you want to be truly carbon-sensitive with eating habits, go vegetarian, although even there, organic may not outweigh non-organic (it doesn't have any hard numbers in this perspective). Most important, in my opinion, is the footnote - buy local, not items sent in refrigerated trucks from far away. Does anyone know whether there's a simple way to be able to tell how far away products come from, though? Local markets that only serve local foods and what have you? Additionally, it doesn't take into account any other environmental impacts, but we already covered that.
â€¢Treat forests like farms. In short, rotting trees (and ones lost to forest fires) are releasing all the CO2 which they absorb through their lifetime, and trees decline in the CO2 absorbed past 55 years, so we would be better served cutting all the old trees and planting new ones. Cites a study by the Canadian government from last year that found that many years, Canadian forests actually gave off more CO2 than they absorbed due to decomposing woods. I have to admit that this one I'm not too fond of, although (to a degree) I see where they're coming from. I'm fond of the wilderness, and I hate to start thinking of destroying that in the name of reducing carbon.
â€¢China is good, not bad. This is less a matter of things we can do and more a matter of attempting to fix a potential misconception. They're the top manufacturer of alternative energy from solar cells to lithium ion batteries and heading into wind energy. The head of the Global Wind Energy Council is quoted as saying that China will be capable of generating 10 gigawatts by 2010, roughly half of what the whole world's capacity was in 2007.
â€¢Genetic Engineering is good. In short, we use genetic engineering to reduce the carbon output from certain farm crops, and to increase the energy output of biofuels. Cites an example of a California company which has genes for nitrogen-efficient rice which (the company assumes) will save 50 million tons of CO2 a year.
â€¢Give up on carbon trading. Basically calls it a stupid idea from a number of perspective, and points out that all of the clean development mechanisms from Kyoto, designed to keep 175 million tons of CO2 out of the air by 2012, will delay the rise of carbon emissions by 6.5 days.
â€¢Nuclear power. Won't find much argument on this one here. Points out that 37% of all US CO2 emissions are from coal, that electric power makes 26% of all greenhouse emissions, 9% of the United States, etc.
â€¢Used cars > Hybrids. They kinda reach on this one, using very extreme scenarios. I'll agree on the sentiment of "reuse, don't buy new" in general, not just cars.
â€¢Bend over and kiss your ass goodbye. "The Electrical Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, CA calculates that even if the US, Europe, and Japan turned off every power plant and mothballed every car today, atmospheric CO2 will still climb from the current 380 parts per million to a perilous 450 ppm by 2070 thanks to contributions from China and India. Do nothing and we'll get there by 2040." Basically, while we need to start improving so that things don't get unthinkably worse, we also need to start preparing to adapt to the inevitable.
The comment mentioned in the first quote which addresses the problems with focusing on carbon exclusively focuses on the "treat forests like farms" and on the nuclear power issues, doesn't really touch on the others.
But anyway, how bad do you folks think it will get, and do you have any suggestions that individuals can take during their normal days in order to help reduce emissions?