This past Sunday (4/22) was Earth Day, and rather than help some local politicians with another campaign photo op, I decided to do some research on a real environmental problem. Some call it global warming. Some call it climate change. Al Gore calls it a climate crisis. I watched Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" again this Earth Day. Gore's "Earth in Balance" had a real influence on me in college, and was one reason I was so disappointed with his tenure as Vice President and his second presidential campaign. But this is about the change in Our world's climate, Our effect on that change, and what behavior we can employ to lessen or slow this global environmental concern, and not about what's wrong with Al Gore or why he shouldn't run for President again (at least not now).
Temperatures in the US and around the globe have gone up steadily over the last few years. The the ten warmest years have occurred since 1995. Temperatures rise more at the poles than the equator causing the melting of glaciers, ice sheets, and permafrost. I heard, the once funny, dennis miller comment "Excuse me for not trusting temperature figures from the year 1906." He went on to reference something that no one ever heard of (He's so smart). I don't mean to pick on the comedian turned kool aid drinker, but, the funny thing is that's not how the data was gathered. It's gathered and calculated by taking huge core samples of arctic ice and testing the pockets of air trapped in them for gaseous content and temperature. Science is based on facts. Actual concrete data is what theories, like "global warming" and "gravity", are based on. These temperature increases are predominantly caused by heating trapping gases in Our atmosphere. These heat trapping, or global warming gases, contain carbon atoms that hold heat. Methane and Carbon Dioxide are the two such heat trapping hydrocarbons found in the Earth's atmosphere that we expel as well as release through the burning of "fossil" fuels.
Changes in temperature directly lead to changes in the winds and currents that produce the world's weather systems. Taken separately each weather event can be chalked up to "crazy" weather, but the cumulative total for all of the intense weather is much harder to to explain away? Science teaches that the warmer the water the stronger the storm. Hurricane Katrina was a category one hurricane until it stalled over the warm, and getting warmer, waters of the Gulf of Mexico. There are many examples of extraordinarily intense storms around the world in the past few years. Changes in jet streams and weather systems not only changes the volume of precipitation and speed of wind it also affects the location of rain/snowfall, bringing floods to one region and drought to others.
I understand those who feel that people are more important than animals, but the dying off of animals and habitats closer to the poles and in the oceans affect human life and left unchecked the habitats that are effected will be closer and closer to home. Ecology taught me that life lives in an intricate web with all other life. Prey and predator. Feeder and Food. Plants turn sunlight into chemical energy/food. Animals eat the plants, or other animals that eat the plants, for that energy. The decomposer eats the dead animal or plant, redepositing the nutrients into the soil a future plant will in turn use. Disrupting one part of the web has an effect on all the parts, whether direct and immediate or indirect and further down the road. Why not keep intact a network that has worked for so long and is so much larger than Us.
Why not take a preemptive strike, a preventative measure in an attempt to avert this threat to Our Existence and Way of Life. Even if Our effect on nature is relatively small, why not do everything we can to help. How many "skeptics" does it take to screw in an energy efficient light bulb? What's wrong with having electric cars with rechargeable batteries? When California mandated a certain amount of zero emission cars, the auto makers made 'em. It can be done.
And to those who might say "what about the auto workers?", I ask "how are they doing under the current policy?" Toyota for the first time ever sold more cars than GM. Did you know that Our automotive fuel efficiency standards are less stringent than China's?!?! While we're on the subject of China, many of the kool aiders spout out the "What about China?" argument when talking about Our inaction on climate change and the Kyoto Treaty. My mother's answer for them would probably go something like "If China jumped off a bridge would you do it too?" Personally, I like Laurie David and Sheryl Crow's answer after their face to face confrontation with rover at the White House Coorespondent's dinner. "Since when do we follows China's lead?"
We were once on the forefront of technology. Why slow that trend? Especially when that technology can be used to help solve a global problem, whether in the short term or long term. Pollution in the air is unhealthy. Why not reduce it? We don't have enough oil to maintain even 50% our consumption, causing obvious tensions and demands on Our foreign policy (see the "Middle East"). Why not reduce that consumption?
The changes to your everyday life don't necessarily have to be drastic to make a difference. Buying energy efficient light bulbs and appliances will help reduce Our dependence on oil, as well as your gas and electric bills. Rechargeable batteries help save the energy used to make new ones. Recycling, in general, reduces the energy used to make new products. Buying items with less packaging helps reduce the amount of petroleum needed to make all that styrofoam and plastic wrap, while reducing the waste stream. Buying locally produced goods lessens the gas used to ship. Buying organic reduces the petroleum, electricity, and energy used to make and use pesticides and herbicides. I also like to think, the smaller the farmer the smaller his machinery, and the smaller his footprint on the Land. Walking, biking, using mass transit, the stairs, and non-electric doors whenever possible helps. It just comes down to being aware of the effect your actions have.
As for the big problem of where to get our energy if not from oil, it must come in the form of a combination of several, if not all of Our current choices. France is powered by nuCLEar power, recycling the waste. There is a potential problem with the residual plutonium, though. Brazil uses ethanol, though forests have been cleared for the sugar cane used to produce it. A recent study claims certain health issues as well. Biodiesel reduces pollution and oil consumption, but has similar land use issues to Ethanol. Solar and Wind power are being used around the world. The choices are out there and once someone in power finds the balls to stand up to big oil, maybe we'll once again see the United States of America take the helm as the scientific and technological leader in the world, instead of the moving backward, away from the rest of the world.
Here are the thoughts of a few experts:
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
The National Academy of Scientists
American Meteorological Society
The World Meteorological Organization