Archive for July, 2006

Cool Off the Planet

Wednesday, July 19th, 2006

“The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.”
Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Writing last month’s article depressed me. The article predicted run-away global warming within this century.
This series on global warming is long overdue. The vast subject is crucial because climate change will affect our progeny so severely. The ultimate cause of global warming is our outsized population and extravagant use of fossil fuels.
The first article defined positive feedback loops—which have very negative effects. The second was about the problem itself, and this one offers suggestions to slow greenhouse gas emissions—the problem’s cause.
Certain common gases in the atmosphere (especially carbon dioxide and methane) hold in the sun’s heat. Global warming is caused by unprecedented rises in the concentrations of these gases.
This article is easier to write because of a book that contains much more information than I could put in 750 words. You Can Prevent Global Warming (and Save Money): 51 Easy Ways is brief and to the point. Not all 51 ways will apply to every reader, of course, but this $11 investment will pay for itself many times over. The authors claim one can save over $2000 the first year by just following the easy tips!
You can buy a copy from Maria’s Bookshop, 960 Main, Durango. The Durango, Bayfield and Ignacio public libraries also have copies.
Unfortunately, the book has two shortcomings. I’ll criticize them at this article’s end.
The book starts with my favorite way to save electricity (and thus decrease CO2 emissions). Compact fluorescent bulbs use only a quarter of the energy of the more common incandescent bulbs, and last many times longer. That also saves money, of course. Since CO2 is released when most electricity is generated, CFs prevent huge quantities of the greenhouse gas CO2 from being added to the atmosphere. These bulbs are smaller and cheaper than just three years ago when the book was written. There is almost no reason not to use them to replace the old-fashioned energy hogs.
It also soundly trounces my pet peeve—oversized, inefficient vehicles needed to bolster an undersized ego, rather than required for utility. To accentuate the positive, however, this book includes the advantages of high-mileage vehicles, public transportation, biking (including information about electric bikes) and walking.
In addition to the 51 tips, the book includes basic information about greenhouse gases and global climate change. There are also Internet references for those who want more information.
The two shortcomings of You Can Prevent Global Warming are major. The book includes 51 ways to decrease emissions of CO2 and methane. However, it does not compare the end result (even if you followed all the tips) with the goal—actually stopping global warming. It does state that the aim of the Kyoto Accord would be reached if just a third of all people in the USA followed the 51 tips.
The other obvious failing of this book is that it never looks at the effects of human numbers. We could live our accustomed profligate lives with much less effect on the environment, and little risk of changing the climate, if the population of the USA were just 100 million rather than 300 million. Choosing to have a small family, or no children at all, is still the most important step we can take to slow climate change.
If you haven’t seen “An Inconvenient Truth”, you must. It is an amazingly persuasive and accurate film, seeking to convince unbelieving U.S. citizens that global warming is a titanic problem. Stay to the end, because the closing lists some of the steps that an individual can take to slow greenhouse emissions. It also refers you to its website www.climatecrisis.net.
We are in for a hell of a future if global warming is as bad as scientists forecast. The planet will be hotter, drier and less productive. For every degree Celsius the temperature increases, grain output on the planet will decrease 10%, leading to massive famines. Moreover, the fossil fuels that have been our virtual slaves for the past two centuries will become scarce. Their byproducts (carbon dioxide, mercury and others) will linger for centuries, thus changing the world that we leave our grandchildren.
Watch Al Gore’s movie and read You Can Prevent Global Warming to learn actions you can take to minimize the problem—and save money. Next month’s article will focus on ways some communities are already using to combat global warming.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2006

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States.