Up to: Progress and its Sustainability
On this point it is necessary to be blunt. The strongest advocates of reducing CO2 think we use too much energy quite apart from questions of supply and possible side-effects. Therefore, they look for reasons to solve the global warming problem by reducing civilization. Not all think that way, but such ideas are providing a lot of the force behind the campaign, e.g. as proposed in former Vice-President Gore's book, Earth in Balance and his recent movie An inconvenient truth.
The Kyoto agreement involves the developed countries undertaking to reduce their CO2 emissions to 1990 levels by 2010. (I think I remember it correctly.) The backward countries do not agree to do anything, and China and others will increase their emissions enormously. Fortunately, the US Senate has not ratified the agreement.Here's a somewhat revealing quotation from early in the "energy crisis".
``We can and should seize upon the energy crisis as a good excuse and great opportunity for making some very fundamental changes that we should be making anyhow for other reasons.'' - Russell Train, Science 184 p. 1050, 7 June 1974.
Train was EPA Administrator at the time, and after that became head of the World Wildlife Fund.
Nevertheless, it still may turn out that CO2 emissions are giving rise to substantial global warming and that is harmful. I think nothing very costly will be done unless and until actual harm is experienced. In that case, what can be done?
Solar energy in various forms would also work, but it seems to be very costly in spite of the best efforts of its advocates.
Some people seem to believe that using hydrogen gets more energy. It only provides a way of using nuclear or solar energy. Apart from its possible use to reduce global warming, hydrogen it likely to be the solution for personal transportation when petroleum runs short.
What will surely work is to cut down forests, not burn the wood and replant the forests with fast growing trees. When these trees reach a size at which their growth slows, they would be cut again. Back in the carboniferous era, trees fell into swamps which evidently provided a reducing environment. The oxygen and hydrogen in the wood were re-emitted into the atmosphere, and the carbon became coal. This process will work for us too (to reduce CO2 (it takes too long to make coal) if it proves necessary. Canada and Siberia have large forest areas not being used for other purposes.
Perhaps Brazil might be persuaded that the trees being cut down in the Amazon to make more farmland should not be burned. Persuading them of that is likely to be easier than persuading them to forgo the farmland.
An article Resurgent Forests Can Be Greenhouse Gas Sponges from Science of 1997 July 18 discusses the effect of new forest growth on removing CO2. It doesn't discuss harvesting the forest repeatedly.
Research is needed
Some have criticized my including the above proposal to repeatedly harvest
forests on the grounds that it is not worked
out in detail. It would be a major research project to work out any
such proposal in enough detail
to determine how much it would cost, how much CO2 would be
and what other good and bad effects might occur. For example, one
would have to
study under what conditions the wood harvested would
just oxidize again. This might depend on soil and latitude. How
fast the trees would grow depends on latitude and might be enhanced
by fertilization. I suspect the studies would cost many millions
of dollars and take many years. The problem may be of sufficient
magnitude to justify this.
Here's an article Climate Controls by Gregory Benford, a physicist at UC Irvine and science fiction writer. He describes many possibilities for mitigating global warming. His article is more comprehensive than this one.
Up to: Sustainability FAQ
Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. I sometimes make changes suggested in them. - John McCarthyThe number of hits on this page since 1995 December 21.