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e_moon60

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Climate Change IV: So What Options? [Oct. 28th, 2009|09:26 am]
e_moon60
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Leveling, if not reducing, CO2 and other greenhouse emissions should be a major goal.   The quickest and most massive way to lower them is to stop cutting down tropical forests.   CO2 emission is an immediate result of cutting down a rainforest tree: the soil is full of active decomposers who get to work on the tree's now-dead root system.  Decomposers, like us, use carbon-containing molecules as fuel--they use oxygen to burn the carbon and release CO2.   At the same time, the tree that was formerly fixing carbon is not doing it anymore.  Even before the carbon emissions that go with moving the tree to a sawmill, cutting it up, making things from it, shipping the wood, there's already that initial burst of CO2, and it's huge, at the rate tropical forests are going under.

Tree planting is important, but with the movement of pests into areas previously free of them (e.g. the pine bark and spruce bark beetle infestations in Canada) means that foresters and other arborists will have to consider carefully what they can plant that will fix the most carbon in the new conditions.  (Restoration ecologists have already considered how restoration ecology must change in the face of this changing climate.)   This will also require those who previously depended on wood for various uses to find other materials for those uses.

Taking steps to protect fresh-water resources is another essential step.  Here, the goal should be to ensure that rainfall isn't wasted, that aquifers aren't exhausted (which can lead to subsidence and to contamination of the remaining fresh water with nonpotable water, most commonly salt or sulfur-contaminated.)   In warmer climes, surface water storage of the current type will not be sustainable over the long haul (published data on evaporative loss forty years ago on some stations on the  Texas Mexico border exceeded 100 inches/year--in an area with average annual rainfall in the low 20 inches.)   Conversion of unsustainable agricultural lands in semi-desert areas to sustainable native vegetation should be considered;  get healthy short-grass going before things get worse, and it might be possible to retain some non-irrigated food production via low-intensity grazing.   Support of agricultural lands in ways that make them more sustainable (and thus often requiring less water for crops.) 

Switching from high-carbon energy sources to lower-carbon ones would also help. 

Population stability will be necessary some time in the future--we can't provide equitable living standards for the entire world population now, and should reduce population to the point where that is possible.   We waste human resources now to a scandalous degree--worse than wasting petroleum or coal--because we cannot provide the living standards necessary for everyone to achieve their potential.

These are only a few general suggestions--there are many more, and specifics for each individual in any situation (urban/rural/suburban/wealthy/poor, etc.) but though it would've been a heckuva lot easier to make changes 30-40 years ago...and 20 years ago...and even 10 years ago...we are where we are. 





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Comments:
[User Picture]From: green_knight
2009-10-28 07:37 pm (UTC)
What strikes me is that a lot of people seem to be afraid of losing their conveniences. And to some degree, that will probably have to happen - current levels of waste just aren't sustainable. Private swimming pools aren't compatible with water shortages.

But for most people, a combination of technology and habits will lead to great improvements - and you will not, or hardly, notice. I've just bought a lightbulb that uses 70% of the energy for 100% of the light. (And yes, it's the _right_ light.) Battery chargers instead of throwaway batteries, fuel-efficient cars and energy-efficient appliances: no change in lifestyle, a lot of change in footprint.
Many of the habits that will save energy, and reduce energy demand are trivial. Office buildings do not need to be lit up when nobody is working, chargers do not need to be plugged in and drawing electricity when they don't charge anything. Changing your driving style to use less energy etc etc - yes, it might take you a few minutes now and again, but it won't decrease your quality of life.

And even the sacrifices people need to made can be organised and tackled differently. Where I live, you don't have to individually drive to a supermarket - the supermarket will drive to ten or twenty people at a time. There's a lot of room for innovation yet.

Innovation is good for the economy. If people are forced to find new ways to tackle old problems, and how to save resources, that's a good thing. Because someone will, and if you think you can continue to keep going at your current level, you'll be overtaken by the people who have the ingenuity but no resources to waste. It's better to innovate *before* your knowledge and technology are completely obsolete.
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[User Picture]From: entp2007
2009-10-29 12:57 am (UTC)
Sadly, more people would rather pay attention to Balloon Boy than thinking about ways to make the world sustainable for them and their children. This false global cooling meme is gaining traction and it shouldn't. Ten of the hottest years on record were the last 10. When someone experiences one cool day out of a hundred they say "Well, so much for global warming."

I've also read reducing our meat consumption dramatically would also help reduce carbon outputs. Some of that deforestation is to make new grasslands for livestock. And the problem from carbon dioxide isn't just warming the atmosphere it's the acidification of the ocean which reduces shellfish populations and harms coral reefs.

I agree we should be tackling those problems today, but it could easily be another 10 years before it happens.
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From: (Anonymous)
2009-10-30 02:17 pm (UTC)
Recently attended an oil industry luncheon where the reality of the world's dependence on carbon based energy was discussed. Currently 95% of the world's energy comes from Carbon sources (oil & natural gas, but mostly coal), with only 5% coming from renewable (hydro, wind & solar) as well as nuclear. Even with advances in technology and world wide desire to embrace these non-carbon sources, and exponential growth in supply, estimates are that by 2030, only 20% would come from non-carbon sources. That's still going to be an 80% dependence on carbon for energy. However, the real problem is energy storage and transportation. Carbon based fuels are fantastic means of storing energy and easily transporting it. The amount of energy per unit mass is huge. This is why we use them. If we had a reliable and efficient means of storing energy with a high rate of efficiency and recovery, we could better utilize many of our non-carbon sources. There's talk of buying power at off peak times to run compressors to pump air into depleted natural gas reservoirs and then using the compressed air to run generators at peek times. Efficient? I don't think so, but it may help. Also talk of storing CO2 in the same depleted reservoirs. We need better solutions. Also, if we had a way of capturing waste energy for use at another time (i.e. capturing waste heat from air conditioning to heat domestic hot water) we would not need to use nearly as much. The economics of it all are complex, but one thing is certain. If we are to reduce our CO2 emissions, we need to pay more for carbon based energy to account for carbon recovery and storage so that the TRUE cost of the fuel is paid by consumers. That would greatly help level the playing field for non-carbon sources. Andy Harbin
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From: (Anonymous)
2009-10-30 02:20 pm (UTC)
Recently attended an oil industry luncheon where the reality of the world's dependence on carbon based energy was discussed. Currently 95% of the world's energy comes from Carbon sources (oil & natural gas, but mostly coal), with only 5% coming from renewable (hydro, wind & solar) as well as nuclear. Even with advances in technology and world wide desire to embrace these non-carbon sources, and exponential growth in supply, estimates are that by 2030, only 20% would come from non-carbon sources. That's still going to be an 80% dependence on carbon for energy. However, the real problem is energy storage and transportation. Carbon based fuels are fantastic means of storing energy and easily transporting it. The amount of energy per unit mass is huge. This is why we use them. If we had a reliable and efficient means of storing energy with a high rate of efficiency and recovery, we could better utilize many of our non-carbon sources. There's talk of buying power at off peak times to run compressors to pump air into depleted natural gas reservoirs and then using the compressed air to run generators at peek times. Efficient? I don't think so, but it may help. Also talk of storing CO2 in the same depleted reservoirs. We need better solutions. Also, if we had a way of capturing waste energy for use at another time (i.e. capturing waste heat from air conditioning to heat domestic hot water) we would not need to use nearly as much. The economics of it all are complex, but one thing is certain. If we are to reduce our CO2 emissions, we need to pay more for carbon based energy to account for carbon recovery and storage so that the TRUE cost of the fuel is paid by consumers. That would greatly help level the playing field for non-carbon sources. Andy Harbin
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-10-30 03:30 pm (UTC)
Of course you heard at an oil industry luncheon what the oil industry's stance is...what else would you expect? A highly successful industry at publicizing its successes and protecting its interests. Grew up in it. Know its thinking inside out.

Hence the misleading statistics.

An online source comparing the energy sources by country (for some industrialized countries--doesn't list all) lists only three (fossil fuels, nuclear, hydroelectric) and even in the US, 30% of the nation's energy comes from other than fossil fuels. Not 5%, as the oil bidness would have you believe. THIRTY percent. Almost 20% from nuclear, over 9% from hydroelectric. Hydroelectric power supplies 60% of Canada's power. 92% of Brazil's, 43% of Sweden's, 93.5% of Iceland's.

http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O142-energysourcesbynation.html

Germany produces over 30% of its power from non-carbon sources, a mix of nuclear, hydroelectric, wind and solar. (Wind and solar together account for about 7% of its energy, a rapidly growing component since Germany chose to push hard for renewables a few years ago.)

Do we need better ways to store power from solar and wind at peak production for times of peak use? Sure. Can we find ways? Sure. But in parts of the world where people do not expect to have whatever power they want available whenever they want, usage can be matched to peak production, too.

Suffice to say that I wouldn't take the oil industry's word for Gospel, certainly not at a self-celebratory luncheon.









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From: (Anonymous)
2009-10-30 04:39 pm (UTC)
Agree that industry bias is at play (why I mentioned the source). Talk was actually given by Scott Tinker, Ph.D:
http://www.beg.utexas.edu/staffinfo/tinker01.htm
I've also found reference to a letter he wrote to Obama claiming 87% Carbon source globally, though I was pretty sure he said 95% in the talk. I may be wrong as I'm going from memory. Regardless of what the real number is (and there's lies, damn lies, and statistics), it's currently not enough and rapidly needs to improve.
I think we're on the same page on that point. How fast we can, and the economic pain to do so is where most people disagree.

Germany created an environment where companies and individual producters could charge a premium rate for clean power and could enter into long term contracts that were profitalbe so that clean power could be produced. Farmers added wind and solar to their fields for extra cash. Solar panels were constructed along highways to take advanage of unused space. In gereral, the practice has worked and greatly increased their clean energy proportion. Major Kudos to them.

Germany is a great expample of forward thinking on this, but German's tend to take a long view on things anyway. If you ever get the oportunity to see and contrast how they build roads or houses there compared to North America, you would see how they build things to build them once, and they are built to last. When they do something, they do it right. Father-in-law was German, and tended to perfection to the point of frustration. Hard to argue with, as he was usually quite right. Point here is it will take, as you suggest, a cultural shift on energy usage in North America to really make a difference. Germany and the rest of Europe I think have less of a shift to make than we do. It's not going to be easy, but I agree with you that we need to make it.

Andy
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From: (Anonymous)
2009-10-30 07:57 pm (UTC)
Many of UT's profs come to them via the petrochemical industry--it's a place for PhDs who've spent years in the field to take it easy before they actually retire.

Sari
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[User Picture]From: ajl_r
2009-10-30 09:28 pm (UTC)
The palm oil industry is massive and growing - and clearance of indigenous forest to put in more plantations of it is causing terrible harm. Interesting article, below, on the start of efforts to change the situation.

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/the-palm-oil-scandal-boots-and-waitrose-named-and-shamed-1810503.html
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