Thursday, February 02, 2006
Climate Change: A Call to Action
Ok, so you are sick of hearing about climate change. Well you, and the planet, will be getting only sicker. To feel better about climate – you must act! As Americans – who use 25% of the worlds energy with only 5% of its population - it is our duty to act. We believe that the best way for the world to solve the climate crisis is through energy efficiency, renewable energy and reforestation.
The average single family home in Wisconsin consumes about 10,000 kilowatts hours (kWh) of electricity. About 75% of Wisconsin’s electric power is from coal fired power plants, about 20% is from nuclear power plants and about 5% is from natural gas, hydroelectric plants and other sources. Our average home will require Wisconsin power plants to burn four tons of coal per year, evaporate over 4000 gallons of water each year and emit over 12 tons of carbon dioxide every year. The average single family home in Wisconsin consumes about 100,000 cubic of natural gas per year for heating needs. That gas firing releases another six tons of carbon dioxide each year.
Almost 50 acres of Wisconsin forest are required to absorb the carbon emitted to heat, cool and power the average Wisconsin single family homes. And that does not include the commercial, agricultural and industrial fossil energy usage needed to satisfy your needs for material goods and services, your workplace and travel.
A hopeful carbon dioxide reduction plan limits the increase in global temperatures by 3.6 oF. (This corresponds to a doubling of carbon dioxide levels compared to pre-industrial levels.) A 3.6 oF increase will result in the extinction of 25% the plant and animal species, increasing global sea levels and flooding millions of homes, rivers becoming too warm for trout, reduced farm production, etc. Less aggressive reductions of greenhouse gases result in increasingly catastrophic scenarios.
To limit global temperature increase to 3.6 oF the world must drastically reduce it use of fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal). Starting today, all new and renovated homes and buildings must reduce their fossil energy use by 50%. That reduction in fossil fuel emissions must be phased in so that by 2030 all new buildings and homes use no fossil fuels. Reducing fossil energy emissions from new buildings by 100% in 2030 sounds almost insane. Scientists, however, are now aware that the cost of not acting is not acceptable.
A few years ago most scientists believed that the Greenland ice sheet would get larger during the early stages of global warming. Unfortunately the recent data shows that overall temperature rise has won out, and the ice is shrinking significantly. See the map of Greenland showing the shrinkage of the ice melt cap (the red areas) between 1992 and 2002. Oceanographers are concerned that the cold winter Europe is experiencing is caused by the fresh water melting off the Greenland ice cap and shutting down the Gulf Stream – thereby cooling Europe.
It is easier to run away and hide from some of these issues. Where do you stand? We need the strength and courage to face up to the danger. The Federal Government has failed us on this issue. We need to start acting without them.
There are three safe strategies to reduce fossil energy use: 1) Massive implementation of energy efficiency – meaning doing tasks (like lighting and heating) with less energy. 2) Massive use of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, wave, tidal, geothermal, biomass, and biogas. 3) Massive reforestation.
You and I must begin leading the way to the energy efficient and renewable future. First by becoming energy "conservers." Conservers use energy wisely, use energy efficient technologies (from lights to cars) and begin using renewable energy sources at our homes and businesses. Second we must work to stop deforestation and dramatically increase reforestation.
Reforestation is not something that we can each work on directly. We can start taking small actions. Consider letting part of your yard go natural. This will save gasoline and, in a very small way, allow more biomass to grow. If you own large areas of land consider managing them to absorb more greenhouse gasses. Also ensure that the goods you purchase are not directly or indirectly causing deforestation.
Consider investing the stock of companies that provide energy efficiency and renewable energy products and services. The better financed these companies are the larger their impact on the US economy and politics. Wall Street seems to have discovered that energy efficiency and renewable energy are good investments. If you look at the performance of these companies you will find that many of them have increased in value by 100% in the last year.
If US citizens can not take energy efficiency and renewable energy actions than no one can. Your investment in renewable energy will better ensure that the world and our children have a safe future. Global climate change is occurring. We must respond now. If not now, then when?
Mark Daugherty is a co-author of this post.