I plan to use this site to post news, commentary, and analysis of current environment and development issues. Of course, I reserve the right to rant about politics now and then.
After reading this interview, the statement that struck me the most was one that Dr. Daniel Schrag from Harvard University said. He stated that ”we are sending the Earth back to a state it hasn't been in for more than 30 million years, and no human being can know exactly what is going to happen.” This uncertainty is quite alarming. It is hard to know the extent of the actual harm that is in store for the global community in the future. I decided to go on to the website (www.ed.org) that Dr. Michael Oppenheimer recommended to calculate my own carbon footprint. After inputting my information, the computer told me that I emit 34.9 metric tons of carbon and that I could release about the same amount of carbon pollution by cutting and burning all the trees in a section of the Amazon rainforest the size of 4.2 football fields. I am completely surprised. I emit almost four times the average American!!! My emission levels are much higher than I would normally expect because I have taken more international and domestic flights this year than I usually do. Regardless, this exercise has made me much more aware of my own personal impact and I am going to take measures such as installing energy saving light bulbs. However, as the interview said, not much change is going to take place until “the U.S. begins to exert global leadership.” This means that our political representatives need to stop representing special interests and wealthy corporation’s profits (as talked about in the blog post bellow). Instead, they need to step up to the plate, do what is right, and make significant changes by implementing the technology that we have available even though there will be a cost associated with it.
Oppenheimer made a noteworthy point when discussing the likely irreversible effects of climate change, and the preparedness of mankind for these changes. He used the example of Hurricane Katrina in the US to highlight how certain areas around the world are unappreciative of the way climate change will impact their area, and how a lack of preparation only exacerbates the problem. I think its true that the global impact is not being met with a global preemptive response. Clearly the US hasnt reached a point where it has proactive policies to lessen the changes occuring, but what types of policies or systems have been developed and implemented to deal with actual disasters associated with climate change (like another Katrina)?
http://www.usatoday.com/weather/research/2009-07-15-gates-hurricanes_N.htmThere's one thing that some folks came up with to directly address climate change impacts. Before Katrina, this project would have seemed rather far-fetched and unnecessary. As Schrag and Oppenheimer both point out, technological development and policy implementation to combat the effects and causes of global warming aren't occurring because we have not reached a point of necessity. As Schrag says, catastrophes like Katrina or sudden glacial melts have their benefits because they take climate change (a very long process) and punctuate its effects in a short period. When people try to argue that anti climate change measures should not be implemented because of scientific uncertainty, sudden changes like these exemplify the differences Schrag points about between scientific uncertainty and uncertainty about policy.
I enjoyed this particular piece, as it didn't have a consistent "doomsday" tone that seems to be rather prevalent throughout many of the articles in the public sphere.The most important piece of the discussion was Dr. Oppenheimer's response to the moderators question: "What can be done with existing energy technology to minimize global warming, and what advanced technological energy options might be worth consideration?"Dr. O responded in a very pragmatic manner. According to a couple of his colleagues, emissions could more or less be held constant if certain current technologies are fully utilized. Key techs for him were wind, nuclear, energy efficiency, and carbon capture. Dr. O also advocated investing in current research to help with future efficiency solutions.One characteristic of his position that I though was very interesting, was the blaring lack of government involvement in the maintenance of current carbon levels. While I do not believe that, on the federal level, some federally directed scientific research is a good thing - many, if not most of the aforementioned technologies have been brought to a level of commercial efficiency by private investment in R&D. It is my strong belief that private investment will continue to lead to vast improvements in energy consumption programs, and the the most important role role for the government to play is to provide a favorable investment climate for these industries to continue their work.I
I thought Dr. O's and Dr. Schrag's references to the irreversible nature of certain climate changes was interesting - they directly touched upon the threshold effects we discussed in class yesterday. One thing I noticed was that this piece called for less extreme measures in terms of reducing carbon emissions than did the Daniel Schrag video we watched in class. In that video he stated that we need to make drastic changes in the next few years that even becoming a zero carbon producing country would not make much of a difference if the world did not follow. In this piece, Dr. O talks about how individual's can use more efficient light bulbs, buy more efficient cars, purchase energy star appliances, etc. It seems that Dr. O and Dr. S might have slightly different approaches to dealing with climate change and Dr. O might be a little more pragmatic.
Climate change skeptic Bjorn Lomborg argues that focusing our resources on halting climate change is economically inefficient and has little effect. He claims our funds could be better spent on other crises and disasters, such as access to clean drinking water and the spread of diseases. His argument falls short of acknowledging the fact that a warming climate will only exacerbate these problems. We can spend our resources trying to eliminate famines and water scarcity, yet if we continue on our current course without addressing climate change, these problems will grow more wide-spread. Climate change has been associated with the spread of tropical diseases, more intense drought cycles, desertification, and shifting agricultural zones, just to name a few. Solutions to these problems will be ineffective without first addressing global climate change. By cutting back on our use of fossil fuels we will also reduce future instances of the natural disasters and crises linked to climate change.
I liked the point that this piece made to stop thinking purely like scientists and to look at realistic opportunities for the future. Political feasibility was mentioned when it came to biofuels, investments into future technologies were noted as important pieces to enable any changes, and the possibility that these changes may not be able to be stopped was also brought up. I am often bothered by those who choose to write papers or speak from their own little world, once in which realism does not exist. Schrag seems to be the more realistic person here, although Openheimer also makes good points. Both are very intelligent people, as are most scientists, but it takes someone truly special to be able to take science as well as economics and bring it into practice so that society as a whole may benefit from research.
The burning of fossil fuels has significantly increased the carbon in the atmosphere, dramatically speeding up the natural cycle of heating and cooling of the Earth, and instigating global climate change. I think one of the most important parts of this article, as well as what we focused on in class, is that both adaptation to climate change and mitigation of climate change is necessary. We are never sure where a threshold point lies, and do not want to continue emitting carbon to test the limits of such a point. As Dr. Schrag stated, “adaptation is required because we cannot avoid climate change.” Although both adaptation and mitigation are costly policies, instituting mitigation policies, such as carbon capture and storage, reduction of deforestation, and increased use of alternative energy, should decrease the cost of adaptation as carbon emissions remain stable or decline. All efforts should be made to adopt mitigation policies, which Dr. Schrag says should cost “less than 1 percent of world GDP” and should “protect against the possibility of catastrophic change.” Instituting these mitigation policies will prove to be the greatest challenge, as comprehensive policy must originate through government which is influenced by political pressures, rather than scientific fact, as seen in the post below.
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