by John Hawkins | August 20, 2007 4:00 am
One of the points worth making about Al Gore and Company’s hysterics about global warming is that they’re not even offering solution #1 to the problem that they say exists.
Put another way, even if Al Gore and Company are right and mankind is causing global warming — and to be honest, I don’t think they are — but, even if they’re right, there is no practical solution to the problem.
Even if the richer nations in the East and West were to all clamp down on their production of greenhouse gasses, they couldn’t get people to go along with cutting the numbers enough to make a difference — nor could they convince the poorer, developing nations to retard their economic growth by using much more expensive technology, on the grounds that it may or may not cause difficulties for some nations in a hundred years. When most of the people in your nation are impoverished, theoretical situations that could happen in another century aren’t going to be big concerns for you.
Here are a couple of stories that emphasize the point: First, from the Seattle Times,
“Must we quit flying to save the planet?
For the hundreds of climate-change activists who have camped out near Heathrow Airport for the past week, there is only one way to reduce the carbon footprint of aircraft: Stop flying so much.
“Aviation is a luxury we can live without,” said a protester named Merrick. Booming air travel, he said, is multiplying greenhouse gases just as the climate-change imperative starts to bite. “It has to be scaled right back,” he said.
…The statistics look ominous. Aviation contributes about 3 percent of global carbon emissions, but air travel is growing at about 5 percent a year, meaning numbers of air-passenger miles will more than triple by 2030. Boeing estimates aircraft numbers will double to more than 30,000 within about 10 years.
Added to this is the complication that aircraft do not just give off carbon dioxide but nitrous oxide, believed to have at least double the impact, and condensation trails, which also may contribute to global warming.
…The U.N. International Panel on Climate Change says perennial improvements have made planes 70 percent more efficient than they were 40 years ago. An additional 40 to 50 percent improvement can be expected in the next three decades, the panel says.
The problem, climate experts say, is that current projections indicate air travel will grow 400 percent in the same period.
“Efficiency is only set to improve at 1 or 2 percent per year at best, while the number of passenger [miles] is growing at 5 or 6 percent,” said Peter Lockley, head of policy development at the Aviation Environment Federation, a British think tank. “So emissions are going up steadily in the gap between the two.”
…In April, when Virgin Atlantic ordered 787s, the airline also announced an environmental partnership with Boeing that includes a joint biofuel project aimed at developing sustainable fuel sources.
Scientists are skeptical, though, of the potential for operating jets on biofuels. And there is the amount of land required to produce fuel in sufficient volume. Environmentalists already are concerned at the way rain forest is being destroyed to make way for palm oil, a biofuel crop.
Lockley said one study concluded that supplying the U.S. commercial fleet with a 15 percent mix of biofuel would require planting an area the size of Florida with soybeans.
Given the limited prospects for a technological solution, a growing body of opinion is arguing for efforts to manage demand for air travel. “What matters is the next 10 to 15 years, and technology can do very little in that time frame,” said Kevin Anderson, of Britain’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. “The principal issue is to reduce the rate of growth of air travel.”
Now, first of all, what do you think the chances are that we’re going to severely cut or end air travel in the next 10 to 15 years? Zero, right? Moreover, although there will likely be some technological improvements over the coming decades, what this story is saying is that they won’t be enough or come in time to make a difference. So, one way or the other, this significant source of manmade greenhouse gasses isn’t going anywhere.
Along similar lines, this story shows how, oftentimes, we’re simply relocating the source of greenhouse gasses, not getting rid of them,
“Some townspeople in this 19th-century mill village on the Connecticut River celebrated when workers began tearing down a shuttered coal-fired power plant this year. First, they dismantled the towering boiler. In June, the smokestack that belched hundreds of thousands of tons of heat-trapping gases into the air came down. Last month, workers hauled away the five-story steel skeleton, leaving just a concrete silo as a reminder of this local icon of global warming.
But the demolition is hardly a victory in the battle against manmade climate change.
Virtually every piece of the 2,600-ton plant is being shipped to Guatemala to be rebuilt, girder by girder, to power a textile mill that sells pants, shirts, and sportswear to the United States. It could last, and continue to pollute, for another 50 years.
From 4-ton trucks to 40-ton boilers, US vehicles and equipment are finding a second life in developing countries — postponing meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by inefficiently using energy or directly emitting carbon dioxide.
A 1950s-era paper-making machine from the Curtis Paper mill in Adams is operating in Egypt. A 1992 school bus from Vermont’s tiny North Hero Island is chugging along the roads of Costa Rica. A rock-crushing machine used to make talcum powder in West Windsor, Vt., has been dismantled and reassembled in Colombia.
…This international trade in retired equipment and vehicles, which a German research group in 2003 estimated at $150 billion annually, is rarely discussed as scientists call for immediate measures to avoid the worst consequences of global warming. Yet as New Englanders trade in sport utility vehicles for hybrid cars and move toward more climate-friendly technologies, the exporting of old equipment represents a significant leak in the expanding worldwide effort to plug emissions of gases that trap the sun’s heat.”
So, we replace a mill or school bus in the United States with technology that produces less greenhouse gasses and the next day it’s on sale in a global yard sale. Six months later, you’ve got two school buses or mills pumping out greenhouse gasses, one in the States and one in Egypt, Guatamala, or wherever it was sold.
How do you fix this? There is no easy fix. You can’t legally confiscate the equipment when it’s replaced and even if you could, all that would do is encourage companies not to change it out. The government can’t afford to buy it or pay to upgrade the equipment in these poorer countries. What does that mean? Again, it means this is another long-term problem.
Kyoto, carbon credit trading schemes, offsets — none of them are going to mean a hill of beans in the end. Unless these ideas would make a real difference, why pursue them?
PS: Is there any solution? Maybe geoengineering, but we don’t know enough to tamper with the climate in that method.
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