By Dr. Raul A. Deju (2019)
Material in this series of articles is based on the book “Planet in Conflict: Balancing Energy Needs, Economic Growth, and Environmental Quality” by Dr. Raul A. Deju and Dr. Tapan Munroe, available in Amazon and major booksellers.
There is mounting scientific evidence that the earth’s climate is changing, and as a result the global temperature has risen by about one degree Fahrenheit in the past century. Nonetheless, we should mention that the earth’s climate has been changing through the entire history of our planet, some times more dramatically than it is now. Furthermore, the changing nature of climate is part of the price of living on Earth. Scientists estimate that there is a possibility that within the 21st century, average temperatures on earth could increase a few degrees largely as a result of a thickening layer of pollutants, mostly carbon dioxide that traps heat like a blanket in the atmosphere and makes the earth warmer. The largest sources of these gases are automobiles, industrial plants such as cement producers, and power plants that burn fossil fuels, now mostly from Asia and Africa.
Some more radical voices have asserted that global warming resulting from carbon gases going into the lower atmosphere is one of the most serious long-term threats to our environment, our health, our economies, and our national security and that we are indeed doomed. Some scientists have calculated doomsday scenarios that include rapidly rising sea levels, intense heat waves, severe droughts and floods, spread of diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, and extinction of many species. In parallel we have scientists that deny such occurrences or predict that changes will not significantly affect the Earth. So what do we believe? First, let’s not panic and use technology to our advantage. For instance, there is a technology called Direct Air Capture. You probably have not heard about it but it is real and it works. This process is economical and getting cheaper and it mimics giant forests by taking carbon out of the atmosphere using an industrial scale photosynthesis process. You don’t hear about this but by 2050 the industry involving industrial scale carbon capture is expected to be an annual $4 Trillion market. Coupling capturing Carbon Dioxide with some better use of fuels in our society can get you cleaner air worldwide. In fact the US emissions today are at pre 1985 levels. Be hopeful, be proactive.
First, we have to understand the resilience of our earth. About 75,000 years ago a mega-volcano now known as “Toba” exploded in the island of Sumatra (Indonesia) next to the Indian Ocean. The amount of material spewed from this volcano was enormous and represents the biggest mega-volcano in the most recent 100,000 years of the history of our planet. The amount of material spewed in essentially an instant (in geologic time) was much more than the carbon pollutants the entire world puts out over many years today. Further, the volcano spewed also vast quantities of sulfur dioxide that made its way to the stratosphere.
Yes, many animal and plant species became extinct after Toba, a truly catastrophic event, but the earth and its living contingent although severely decimated survived and in a few years the planet itself was back to essentially a normal growth pattern although with a much decimated plant and animal contingent. Also, it should be noted that no global warming took place; instead the earth experienced an awful winter that lasted several years resulting from a lack of sunlight being able to cross the various layers of the atmosphere. Yes, the earth and humanity itself can be quite resilient. However, this resilience is certainly no excuse to indiscriminately pollute our planet. In fact as residents of Planet Earth it is our duty and those of all governments of the Earth to avoid destroying our planet’s atmosphere and biosphere.
Indeed, we should be good stewards of our planet, after all it is our home and we know how to minimize pollution into the atmosphere. Nations of the world need to act in unison as the earth’s atmosphere does not recognize national boundaries. This was the purpose of the Paris Accord, although some may say such a document was flawed.
Regardless, we know how to start fixing the problem — it is well within our reach. We have the technology. All we need is a resolve and the leadership to fix it. Solutions in each country will differ and in the balance of this article we will focus on what we should do in America. While governments have the responsibility to lead, individuals and the private sector are not being stopped from addressing the problem of putting gases into the atmosphere. In fact doing so represents a terrific business opportunity.
Programs to reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere require much more than wearing homespun cotton and sandals, and eating tofu and yogurt. They involve conservation (in the factory, in the office, at home, and on the highway), modernization of power plants and factories (greater energy efficiency and emission control), building cleaner automobiles (hybrid gas-electric engines), having less dependence on fossil fuels especially without pollution control devices (coal, petroleum, natural gas) and more dependence on renewable energy (solar, wind and fuel cells). All of these can gradually lead to improvements year after year and will improve the quality of our air. The answer is not to panic and to note that in fact much progress has been made in the past decade in the United States to control atmospheric emissions.
Some simple measures illustrate the enormous payoff of conservation:
- If we all unplug our TVs when they are turned off, something relatively painless, we would save 8.45 billion kilowatt hours of electricity annually in the United States alone. This is more than two times the electricity produced annually by the Hoover Dam.
- Producing aluminum requires vast amount of power. Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to light a 100-watt light bulb for 3 ½ hours.
- If SUVs could be built to reach the same fuel economy standards as ordinary cars have today, definitely not an impossible task, our country would save easily 1 million barrels/day of oil. These savings are greater than what the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge could produce at its maximum anticipated production rate, and equivalent to two times the daily oil production in California!
- We have to cut down 65 million trees to produce 500 pieces of junk mail sent to every household each year. The internet could help you save all those trees. Can we tax junk mail to create a fund to plant more trees!
- In the United States, normally underinflated automobile tires reduce fuel efficiency and cause us to waste millions of gallons of gasoline every year.
- Recycling two gallons of used motor oil means generating enough electricity to prepare nearly 48 meals in a microwave oven.
We have made major progress in energy efficiency of our refrigerators, washers, and lighting systems via incentive programs such as the utility-sponsored SERP program (Super-Efficient Refrigerator Program) and the CEE program (Consortium for Energy Efficiency) supported by appliance manufacturers and adopted by the U.S. Department of Energy. Similar initiatives in other areas of our economy can also generate equally significant results at minimal expense.
The power of conservation is enormous, and we need to continue to strengthen our civic sense to practice conservation individually at home, at work, and on the road. Simple things such as turning off lights when we leave a room or using more efficient light bulbs do make a big difference if everyone does it. Making conservation part of our everyday ethic would make a significant difference in alleviating the danger of polluting the atmosphere and possibly affecting our global climate. Conservation is the answer to not adversely affecting the climate of our globe. Panic is not the answer as all it usually accomplishes is to create paralysis and charlatanism.
Strategies that reduce carbon inflow into the atmosphere will go a long way toward reducing the danger of global warming. While power plants are a significant contributor to this inflow of carbon, autos and trucks are also a large source of carbon into our lower atmosphere and so are cement plants and even cow flatulence. Here are a few major pollution-reduction strategies that require minimal adjustment to our lifestyle and allow us to sustain our long-term romance with the internal combustion engine:
- Improve the fuel economy of new cars and trucks powered by gasoline engine technology. The auto industry has the technology right now to raise fuel efficiency to an average of more than 40 plus miles per gallon. Do we really need 300-hp cars for shopping and commuting to work?
- Widespread use of hybrid gas-electric engines can cut carbon emissions into the atmosphere very significantly. This is a “no-brainer.” It is encouraging to see that a number of major automobile manufacturers have introduced hybrid SUVs. Fully electric cars are also becoming more prevalent as technology improves their range and performance and brings down their base costs.
- We have the technology and capacity to put hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicles on the road in a matter of a few years by using tax incentives, supporting cooperative programs between manufacturers, and also between government and manufacturers and through innovative approaches. It is entirely possible to put tens of thousands of such vehicles on the road in a matter of a few years provided we invest in infrastructure to support these vehicles. This is a realistic and attractive longer-term option — a matter of 10 to 20 years.
- The notion of “smart growth” is an important strategy and has been a matter of bitter debate over the years. The value of living near our place of work and everyday amenities, including shopping and recreation, is unquestionably important in terms of quality of life and pollution reduction.
We are absolutely amazed at the lack of widespread acceptance in the United States of the notion of a “more livable community with less driving.” An additional factor that is part of encouraging the development of such communities is choice of transportation — public and private.
Finally, the US as a world leader in new technology development (including energy-efficiency technology) can turn the global effort to reduce carbon emissions to the atmosphere into a business opportunity. We can be both responsible adults cleaning up pollution that we contributed to while evolving the technology to clean our mess as well as the mess of other nations.
While not something to alarm all of us, good stewardship of the earth is a matter of intergenerational equity — we should do it not only for our children and ourselves but also for generations to come. I am a believer that humanity’s footprint can have positive or negative consequences. Whether one is a believer or doubter of climate change, thinking in terms of stewardship of the environment rather than just as consumers and producers would make a lasting difference to the survival of our planet.
Twenty two years ago, the President’s Council on Sustainable Development wrote in their Progress Report on a Sustainable America that: “in order to meet the needs of the present while ensuring that future generations have the same opportunities we have, the United States must change by moving from conflict to collaboration and adopting stewardship and individual responsibility as tenets by which to live.” That statement is equally true today.
Reviewers’ Comments regarding “Planet in Conflict by Raul Deju and Tapan Munroe:
“Deju and Munroe have thoughtfully created a masterwork of insight about the state of the world and the opportunities and challenges we share as a planet. This is a must-read book for the 21st century”
-Mark C. Thompson, New York Times Best Selling Author