Global Warming, Chapter Seven

August 13, 2007 at 5:51 am (Climatology, College Related, Global Warming, Politics)

Chapter Seven:
Are There Solutions to the Effects of Global Warming?

It is not too late to take action. The Kyoto protocol was a policy change that would have been a starting point for humans to begin to reverse the effects of the Industrial Revolution. Unfortunately, the US, one of the most polluting nations of the world, did not sign the treaty. The Bush administration parroted the same excuses the oil companies have been declaring for years: it is too expensive to regulate emissions; there is not enough evidence; the evidence is exaggerated; citizens would be the ones paying for this through their taxes. The skeptics want the world to close their eyes to the reality of the situation. Meanwhile, the problem grows.

There are solutions to greenhouse emissions. The technology is available; however, it does cost money to make the transition to cleaner air. The oil industry might be the greatest impacted by a shift in technology. The internal combustion engine is a large factor in greenhouse emission because it burns gasoline that deposits pollution into the air. If automobiles were no longer dependent on gasoline, the prices would drop dramatically and oil companies would fail.

These oil companies want people to think that it is the average citizen that would be affected the most. Their strategy is clear: if they can convince voters that regulating emmisions are more expensive to the economy than global warming, the voters will put politicians in power that will refrain from changing emissions standards, thereby keeping oil companies safe to continue polluting the atmosphere. The oil companies want people to think that lower emissions standards would lower the average citizen’s standard of living. However, the techonology is in place in other countries whose economies are doing very well.

There are many technologies already available. One solution to the internal combustion engine is the use of hydrogen fuel cells. Instead of releasing poison into the atmosphere, as gas-powered vehicles do, the hydrogen powered car works with twice the efficiency and emits only water vapor (Brown 161). The technology is expensive because it is new, but it is improving all the time. During the 1990s prototypes were developed that could drive up to 280 miles on one fueling.

Another way to help prevent global warming would be for the government to start investing more in renewable energy resources and stop paying for power companies to create more coal-burning facilities. Renewable energy resources can provide for a large percentage of the current demand if steps are taken to improve and use these methods.

The falling costs of wind power bring hope. Wind power is generated by huge windmills whose turbines turn in the wind and generate electric power through an alternator. It is estimated that the cost is $.04 per kilowatt hour, about two cents less than conventional methods (Berger 83-84). One drawback to wind power is that wind has to be present to turn the turbines. Even generally windy regions have days where the wind isn’t blowing. Extra energy stores would be required for such times.

The argument against windpower is that it won’t produce enough to support large grids. Although this is true, using wind to supplement our production of energy would greatly reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Every little bit counts in the fight against global warming.

Solar power is another technology that is catching on. Although they may not have the capacity to completely replace other sources, they can provide, for example, “49–80 percent of an ordinary household’s hot water demands, depending on the climate” according to John Berger (87). This would greatly reduce our total dependence on fossil fuels and prevent a large amount of greenhouse gases from polluting the atmosphere. Like windpower, solar energy can’t be distributed throughout large power grids to support the needs of many homes, but on a small scale, solar panels work. Many households, tired of rising energy prices, have installed solar panels on their roofs. This does not solve the problem of global warming, but still makes an impact.

Geothermal energy may also reduce global warming. By tapping into the earth’s natural heat energy below the surface, humans can reduce emissions and save money on their energy bills. The U.S. government could learn a lesson from Iceland, whose majority of heat power comes from geothermal sources.

Iceland and Norway are two countries that have shown that power can be harnessed through renewable sources. Nearly 100 percent of their electricity is from renewable resources such as hydropower (Berger 82). Hydropower is a method of capturing the energy generated by the flow of rivers through the use of turbines. The only negative side effect is that blocking rivers through dams to harness this energy source decreases sediment distribution upstream and prevents salmon from reaching their birthing grounds to spawn. If the US invested more money in geothermal resources and hydropower, people would save money and save our atmosphere. These technologies are already available, it is only a matter of convincing government to invest in them.

Another fuel source that could reduce our dependence on fossil fuels is biomass or biofuels such as ethanol. Biomass is natural organic materials, such as residue from sugar and paper production or livestock manure that is burned to create energy (Berger 88-89). Although cleaner than fossil fuels, biomass does still emit carbon into the air. Biomass alone cannot be the only solution to global warming, but it can make a difference.

The only biofuel being manufactured in the US is ethanol, a fuel made from processing corn. Addriel Bettelheim writes that one plant in Illinois is creating 4.5 billion gallons of ethanol each year (sec 1). This fuel can be used for automobiles and other vehicles. Biodiesel is already being used largely in Europe as an alternative to the gas-powered vehicle.

Nuclear power is not listed as a renewable resource because the elements needed to create power are non–renewable and because the waste produced by such a method is radioactive. Disposing of the waste costs money and is very dangerous. The plants are extremely hard to maintain, build and decommission due to the danger involved (Berger 82).

Skeptics and oil companies want people to think that using these technologies will hurt the economy and they will not be sufficent on their own to support the power demands in the US. Alone, none of these technologies is a sufficient answer to global warming. However, combined, there is more than enough of these renewable resources to break the dependence on non-renewable fossil fuels.

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