Apr
12
2005

We're working on a small exhibit about global climate change. And we want to know what issues people feel strongly about. Let us know what you're thinking, or post your own questions for people to respond to.

Is global warming really a problem?

Does the fact that scientists don't agree about how much humans are contributing to global warming make you skeptical of their predictions and recommendations?

Do you think that the U.S. should have signed on to the Kyoto Protocol, which aims to reduce the air pollution that scientists think is causing global warming?

Will the Kyoto Accords make any difference?

The Kyoto Protocol is estimated to cost the countries which signed it $600 billion over the next ten years. Is the cost worth the benefit?

Can we reduce greenhouse gases through technology, without changing anything about our lifestyles?

Could we just adapt to global warming, without doing anything to try to slow or stop it?

Some sources say that up to two-thirds of all greenhouse gas emissions are linked to cars and households. Knowing that:

Do you do anything special to reduce the amount of energy you use and waste you generate?

Would you be willing to pay more for electricity from low-carbon sources (like wind power or biomass energy) if it meant a reduction in greenhouse gases?

Would you consider buying a hybrid or fuel-cell car? Why or why not?

Do you use public transportation, walk, ride a bike, or carpool? Why or why not?

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Bart's picture
Bart says:

Wow, that is quite a mouthful of questions.
A) I own a hybrid and plan to buy another in the next year.
B)I love wind energy and I DO pay more or it through the electric company. One of the criticisms was that the huge turbines kill birds. I have not heard much on this recently.
c) did you cover the story about skin ash and organic debris being a much larger part of polution and greenhouse effect then previously expected?
Lastly, is there any truth to the statement that one big volcanic erruption puts out more CFCs than the history of mankind?

posted on Mon, 04/18/2005 - 2:36pm
Andy's picture
Andy says:

In regard to your last question Bart, exact measurements or even estimates of volcanic outputs (and many times this is true of human emissions as well) are very difficult...generally, scientists agree that volcanoes can produce significant amounts of aerosol sulfuric acids, at some times in history surpassing what human contributions are today...most scientists estimate that volcanoes also emit considerable carbon dioxide but that man made sources are probably triple the average yearly total of volcanic activity...volcanoes at plate tectonic borders can give off huge amounts of dust which affect weather and climate for years, volcanoes like those on Hawaii don't emit this dust and differ in the chemistry of gaseous emissions.

posted on Wed, 04/27/2005 - 4:25pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

The following is an opinion piece that ran in The New York Times:

March 25, 2005

Coal in a Nice Shade of Green

By Thomas Homer-Dixon and S. Julio Friedmann

When it comes to energy, we are trapped between a rock and several hard places. The world's soaring demand for oil is pushing against the limits of production, lifting the price of crude nearly 90 percent in the last 18 months. Congress's vote in favor of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge won't make much difference because the amount of oil there, at best, is tiny relative to global or even American needs. And relief isn't likely to come anytime soon from drilling elsewhere: oil companies spent $8 billion on exploration in 2003, but discovered only $4 billion of commercially useful oil.

Sadly, most alternative to conventional oil can't give is the immense amount of energy we need without damaging our environment, jeopardizing our national security or bankrupting us. The obvious alternatives are other fossil fuels: natural gas and oil products derived from tar sands, oil shale and even coal. But natural gas supplies are tightening, at least in North America.

And, of course, all fossil fuels have a major disadvantage: burning them releases carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that may contribute to climate change. This drawback is especially acute for tar sands, oil shale and coal, which, joule for joule, release far more carbon dioxide than either conventional oil or natural gas.

As for energy sources not based on carbon, it would be enormously hard to meet a major percentage of America's energy needs at a reasonable cost, at least in the near term. Take nuclear power--a source that produces no greenhouse emissions. Even assuming we can find a place to dispose of nuclear waste and deal with the security risks, to meet the expected growth in total American energy demand over the next 50 years would require building 1,200 new nuclear power plants in addition to the current 104--or one plant every two weeks until 2050.

Solar power? To satisfy its current electricity demand using today's technology, the United States would need 10 billion square meters of photovoltaic panels; this would cost $5 trillion, or nearly half the country's annual gross domestic product.

How about hydrogen? To replace just America's surface transportation with cars and trucks running on fuel cells powered by hydrogen, America would have to produce 230,000 tons of the gas--or enough to fill 13,000 Hindenburg dirigibles--every day. This could be generated by electrolyzing water, but to do so America would have to nearly double its electricity output, and generating this extra power with carbon-free renewable energy would mean covering an area the size of Massachusetts with solar panels or of New York State with windmills.

Of course, technology is always improving, and down the road some or all of these technologies may become more feasible. But for the near term, there is no silver bullet. The scale and complexity of American energy consumption are such that the country needs to look at many different solutions simultaneously. On the demand side, this means huge investments in conservation and energy efficiency--two areas that policy makers and consumers have sadly neglected.

On the supply side, the important thing is to come up with so-called bridge technologies that can power our cities, factories and cars with fewer emissions than traditional fossil fuels while we move to clean energy like solar, wind and safe nuclear power. A prime example of a bridge technology--one that exists right now--is gasification.

Here's how it works: in a type of power plant called an integrated gasification combined-cycle facility, we change any fossil fuel, including coal, into a superhot gas that is rich in hydrogen--and in the process strip out pollutants like sulfur and mercury. As in a traditional combustion power plant, the heat generates large amounts of electricity; but in this case, the gas byproducts can be pure streams of hydrogen and carbon dioxide.

This matters for several reasons. The hydrogen produced could be used as a transportation fuel. Equally important, the harmful carbon dioxide waste is in a form that can be pumped deep underground and stored, theoretically for millions of years, in old oil and gas fields or saline aquifers. This process is called geologic storage, or carbon sequestration, and recent field demonstrations in Canada and Norway have shown it can work and work safely.

The marriage of gasified coal plants and geologic storage could allow us to build power plants that produce vast amounts of energy with virtually no carbon dioxide emissions in the air. The Department of Energy is pursuing plans to build such a zero-emission power plant and is encouraging energy companies to come up with proposals of their own. The United States, Britain and Germany are also collaborating to build such plants in China and India as part of an effort by the Group of 8. Moreover, the plants are very flexible: although coal is the most obvious fuel source, they could burn almost any organic material, including waste cornhusks and woodchips.

This is an emerging technology, so inevitably there are hurdles. For example, we need a crash program of research to find out which geological formations best lock up the carbon dioxide for the longest time, followed by global geological surveys to locate these formations and determine their capacity. Also, coal mining is dangerous and strip-mining, of course, devastates the environment; if we are to mine a lot more coal in the future we will want more environmentally friendly methods.

On balance, though, this combination of technologies is probably among the best ways to provide the energy needed by modern societies--including populous, energy-hungry and coal-rich societies like China and India--without wrecking the global climate.

Fossil fuels, especially petroleum, powered the industrialization of today's rich countries and they still drive the world economy. But within the lifetimes of our grandchildren, the age of petroleum will wane. The combination of gasified coal plants and geologic storage can be our bridge to the clean energy--derived from renewable resources like solar and wind power and perhaps nuclear fusion--of the 22nd century and beyond.

Thomas Homer-Dixon is director of the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Toronto. S. Julio Friedmann directs the carbon sequestration project at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California.

posted on Mon, 05/02/2005 - 1:54pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Here's more on coal gasification as a "bridge technology" from today's New Scientist. It provides information on the carbon sequestration projects in Canada and Norway.

posted on Mon, 05/02/2005 - 2:01pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Excelsior Energy is planning to build an integrated gasification combined-cycle power plant near Hoyt Lakes, MN, on the site of a former taconite mine.

The plans have been somewhat controversial, as this article and and this one prove, but are moving forward.

posted on Tue, 05/03/2005 - 3:38pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

A Yale University research survey shows that Americans overwhelmingly believe that the US is too dependent on foreign oil.

According to the poll, 93% of Americans want government to develop new energy technologies (including wind and solar power, as well as hydrogen cars) and require the auto industry to make cars and trucks that get better gas mileage.

Gus Speth, dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, says:

"This poll underscores the fact that Americans want not only energy independence but also to find ways to break the linkage between energy use and environmental harm, from local air pollution to global warming."

The poll also showed broad support for improving air and water quality, and growing discomfort with "environmentalists."

What do you think? Are we too dependent on foreign oil? How can we take care of our energy needs while still taking care of the environment?

posted on Mon, 06/13/2005 - 2:04pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

A new study in Global Ecology and Biogeography documents the first real test of the outcome of models used to predict how species' geographic ranges will change in response to changing climate. The results? Not much better than flipping a coin.

To test the models, researchers in Oxford University's Biodiversity Research Group imagined it was the 1970s and they were trying to predict the geographic ranges of British birds in 1991. In this way, they were able to compare the predictions of the models with the actual events.

Surprisingly, the ability of any single model to accurately predict the 1991 distribution was very poor. The results of models applied to particular species were spectacularly variable. For 90% of species the models could not agree whether their grographic range would expand or contract. In the small minority of cases (10%) where all the models agreed about the direction of change, they only had a 50% chance of getting that direction right.

The Oxford researchers say that the accuracy of the predictions improves (to about 75%) when they use several models together to create a "consensus prediction."

Clearly, environmentalists and scientists who want to impact environmental policy making need to find further ways of improving prediction technology.

Dr. Ladle, one of the Oxford researchers, says:

"If we don't improve our forecasting soon then not only will the climate skeptics find it easy to criticize climate change research, but we will be left making decisions about the future of the planet based on guesswork."

posted on Mon, 06/13/2005 - 4:44pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I believe that global warming is occuring because many crazy things have happened during these past couple of years. Like the tsnami, hurricanes, and tornados in places where they don't even belong. I believe us humans due to our economy, our needs, and whatever else, we are the one's that cause mother nature to do this. I believe one day the continents will start taring apart and maybe parts of the United States will start drifting of into it's own little islands too. Anything is possible. It is us human beings that have caused this.....

posted on Sat, 12/10/2005 - 9:30pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Global warming has nothing to do with tsunamis, earthquakes or continents tearing apart. It has to do with climate and weather.

Some researchers who study hurricanes claim that the high number we've seen this year is not related to global warming, but part of a regular cycle that stretches back for decades.

And while there is little doubt that the globe is warming, there is considerable debate over what is causing this.

posted on Sun, 12/11/2005 - 6:55pm
Wendy F's picture
Wendy F says:

The United States will not sign the Kyoto Protocol because the economic welfare of its nation is of utmost importance. They are the number one polluter (as a nation) in the entire world. This makes it very difficult for other nations to sign this agreement which will cost everyone's economy while not costing the United States.

The next question is "What about developing Nations and the Kyoto Protocol". China is an emerging powerhouse economically. Should they commit to the Kyoto Protocol?

As far as scientists "thinking" about what is causing Global Warming... there is no doubt in the minds of scientists that humans have played a major role in the warming of this planet. Earth's atmospheric temperatures have risen drastically over the past 100 years... much much faster than "normally" should. They question scientists have is how much is global warming attributed to by humans and how much is natural warming.

So, not the Americans are saying scientists cannot prove conclusively - 100% - that global warming is caused by human actions. So, they take this fact and run with it. They use this as their argument against the Kyoto Protocol.

"Only after the last tree has been cut down, only after the last river has been poisoned, only after the last fish has been caught, only then will you find out that money cannot be eaten." - Cree Prophesy

As far as the cost of the Kyoto Protocol... the costs in 20, 40, 80 years down the road will be astronomical. How can we put a price on the welfare of future generations????

Depending on your world view.... I believe that there is no way we can reduce greenhouse gases through technology, without changing anything about our lifestyles. Technology got is into this mess... how can we solve it completely with technology?

Most humans in developed nations will be able to adapt to Global Warming, however, 90% of the rest of the human population, and every other specie on this planet will not! "The main reason we should fear the Sixth Extinction is that we ourselves stand a good chance of becoming one of it's victims" - Niles Eldridge.

posted on Wed, 01/04/2006 - 11:29am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Well, at least one scientist doubts that "humans have played a major role in the warming of this planet." Dr. Pilmer is a geologist, and as such tends to take a very long view of things.

posted on Thu, 01/05/2006 - 4:00pm
Dobbs's picture
Dobbs says:

This is verry interesting I can't wait to come back!

posted on Fri, 06/01/2007 - 11:05am
brittney's picture
brittney says:

this was cool.And alsome.

posted on Fri, 06/01/2007 - 11:07am

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