08 September 2010

What Can I Do About It?

8 September 2010

Climate change is a contentious issue currently, generating heated rhetoric, tremendous media expenditures, and much disinformation.

Dr. James Hansen, the scientist who is the leading U.S. expert on climate issues is focusing on cutting our coal use as the most effective thing we can do about global warming. Coal combustion is a significant contributor to climate change, and comprises 50% of electricity generation (in the USA.) We can easily affect this by reducing electricity consumption (turn off the lights, unplug appliances).

About 25-35% of climate change gases are caused by deforestation, the greatest portion in the southern hemisphere. Agriculture, commercial logging, and homesteading are some of the major factors driving this conversion, and each of them has a host of contributing elements, many of which point back to consumption in the more “developed” economies. Deforestation will remain a complex, intractable issue, but the individual that wanted to minimize her contribution to that process could consider: not consuming fast food made from livestock raised in the southern hemisphere, not driving (biofuel use of palm oil), and avoiding other uses of palm oil.

Soda consumption is a little considered, but significant cause of climate change on several levels: aluminum production uses prodigious quantity of electricity and releases large amounts of other greenhouse gases. Recycling one aluminum can save enough energy to run a 100-watt bulb for 20 hours, a computer for 3 hours, or a TV for 2 hours (EPA, 2008). The climate change impact of the contents of soda would be another fascinating discussion.

Motivated by ideological agendas, it's easy to vilify the scientists who are trying to explain this very complex issue (climate change), especially if they make a mistake or are seen exhibiting human weaknesses.

Though the science now seems certain that warming is occurring, and that it is in part human-caused, no one can predict the exact effects or timeline of climate change, so there will inevitably be misestimations. We know that when all of that ice melts, sea levels will flood coastal areas. This will drive mass relocation of populations, putting a tremendous strain on the “higher ground” areas. Weather patterns have already started to change, which will affect agricultural production. Probably these changes will not happen overnight like in a science fiction movie, but there have been drastic overnight changes in the past, so they could. Bottom line: the risk is too great for inaction, and the individual can make a significant difference on the issue.

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