Bleak outlook for Earth

Things aren’t looking good for this planet.  The well-respected group of scientists known as the Royal Society is concerned about the combination of excessive consumption and population growth, and is suggesting increased birth control and global redistribution of wealth to combat that.  Two things that are politically untouchable in this country at least.  This is the problem I see…scientists look at the path we’re on and have recommendations for how to fix it, but the political and social reality is not guided by science, it is guided by other influences.  Scientists, in general, just don’t seem to get this…they keep talking about what should be done to solve the world’s problems, without recognizing what can be done.  We don’t need talk about ideal solutions, we need talk about practical, realistic solutions.  Changes that you can possibly expect might be implemented.  You can read more about the Royal Society’s position on these issues in Scientific American.  And no, I don’t have the answer…I’m just really pessimistic about global governments’ abilities to enact change, and get frustrated when the best answer I hear from scientists is to let global governments solve these problems.  It’s not going to happen, we need new ideas.

In separate, but related, news, the executive director of the International Energy Agency is warning governments around the world that, globally, fossil fuel consumption is increasing and we need to shift our focus to renewable energy sources.  On our current path, we’re looking at a global temperature increase of 6C by the end of the century, triple the international ‘goal’ of 2C (though I’d argue that the goal should be zero!).  We’re just nowhere near where we need to be, and there’s no real drive for change.

Bleak news, but then, it’s not really news…it’s just more of the same.  We recognize the problem but instead of taking responsibility for our actions, we’ll pass this off to the next generation and make them deal with it.  This is our legacy, but I hold out hope that we can find technological solutions to these social problems before it’s too late.

Electric vehicles, and global warming

Sure, electric cars don’t burn gas, but their electricity has to come from somewhere and in many parts of the country, that means coal.  Surprisingly though, even accounting for that, an electric car still produces less global warming emissions than a gasoline powered car getting 27mpg, according to a new study.  Of course, 100% coal-sourced electricity is a truly worst case scenario, as natural gas, nuclear, and renewable sources also come into play.  Taking that into account, it turns out that about 45% of Americans live in places where the electric car emissions are equivalent to a 50mpg automobile!  37% have the equivalent of a 41-50mpg car, and 18% have a 31-40mpg equivalent.

The bottom line is, yes, electric cars still result in air pollution and global warming gas emissions, but they’re still far better than almost any car on the road today (the one exception I can think of being VW’s fantastic TDI diesel engine).  More importantly, as more renewable energy is plugged in to the grid, electric cars will continue to improve, and quickly outpace even VW’s best diesel efforts.

Read more at SmartPlanet or the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Warmest March Ever

According to climate data from NOAA, our country just experienced its warmest March ever.  The average temperature was 8.6F above the average for the last century.  Precipitation was slightly above average nationwide, though concentrated in the northwest and the southern plains, with much of the rest of the country experiencing drier than average conditions and helping to contribute to ~37% of this country being in drought conditions.  Alaska, not included in these results, experienced its 10th coolest winter on record (~5F below average).

What does this mean?  Global warming is real, people.  I don’t have complete confidence in any of the models that attempt to predict how weather patterns will change, I feel it’s still too complex a system for us to analyze, but there’s no escaping the FACT that our global climate IS changing due to global warming.  In spite of that, we continue to not make serious efforts to reduce our CO2 emissions.  There are those who continue to deny the link between CO2 and global warming, and I don’t see that ever changing, unfortunately.  We’ll continue to march down this path and ruin this beautiful planet for future generations.  They’ll adapt and survive, but will live in a much different world than what we enjoy.

What can we as individuals do?  Educate those around you.  Speak up.  Reduce your own CO2 emissions and lead by example.

(via Treehugger)

Depressing data on the future of climate change

According to this article in the New York Times, the future does not bode well for our planet.  By 2050, the global economy is expected to be about four times its current size, and fossil fuels will be supplying around 85% of energy at that time.  Not only does that mean increased air pollution (and the health effects caused by that, such as millions of deaths per year due to air pollution), but an increase in global average temperatures of 3-6C, well above the 2C limit internationally agreed upon.  With increasing population will also come increasing demand for water, something that is already in scarce supply in much of the world.  As climate patterns change due to global warming, we can expect those water supplies to be further strained as historical norms make way for the new (look at Texas’ drought as one example).

So, what can we do?  Let’s face it, not much.  In the US, we have a major political party that’s still in denial, so we could start there perhaps.  Realistically though, Bill Gates got it right in this TED talk where he says that what we need is a ZERO CO2 energy economy.  We’re so far away from that, that if we don’t take action and get serious about this soon, it’s going to be a really rough transition to adapt to a dramatically warmer Earth.  It’s a good talk, watch it:

This Planet is Worth Fighting For

Take some time today to watch the video added below.  It’s a great reminder of how beautiful and wonderful this planet is, and how our actions are ruining it.  We have no right to deprive future generations of the magnificence of this world; we have a moral and social obligation to do everything we can to live in balance with the world around us.  If we destroy the planet, we will destroy our society as well; our current path is not sustainable and change will happen whether we want it or not.  Let’s lead that change and shape our future, rather than let it be shaped for us.

What to expect from our changing climate

The scientific consensus is clear – humans are responsible for global warming.  The political consensus is likewise clear – we’re not going to do what it takes to avoid significant climate change.  So, we must face the reality of this world we’re creating.  What can we expect?  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has a report summarizing what our children will have to deal with as they grow up.  Things such as stronger storms, hotter and longer heat waves, higher temperatures, and more precipitation.

It’s a shame that we can see this happening around us and see where our current path will lead, yet lack the willpower to alter this course.  It will be up to the scientists and engineers to help our society adapt to this changing climate.

 

Melting permafrost

The very name ‘permafrost’ implies permanently frozen, but thanks to global warming, that’s changing…the permafrost is melting.  Why should you care?  Because frozen within is a very, very large amount of greenhouse gasses (methane AND CO2).  Scientists estimate that the gasses released from permafrost will eventually be about 15% of that produced by our human activities.  So, not exactly mind-blowing, but when you consider that we’re already failing to reduce emissions to the levels necessary to avert catastrophic global warming, this will make it just that much harder for us to do so.

Face it.  We, as a species, lack the will power, resolve, and courage to change our habits and avert the global warming that most scientists believe will happen.  It’s the sad truth that I’ve become resigned to, unless we can find a source of energy that is so cheap as to make fossil fuels outrageously expensive by comparison.  Greed and fear are some of the most basic human motivators; fear of a warming climate is insufficient, so we must appeal to peoples’ greed and provide a clean, renewable, zero emission energy source that is incredibly cheap.  Solar and wind are interesting, but both require large capital expense up front so don’t meet the ‘cheap’ criteria (payback needs to be in a matter of months, not years!).