Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Global Warming Wednesday: This just in

A couple weeks ago I set up a schedule of topics I wanted to cover in my weekly Wednesday post. It took me into April. But this week, there has been a wealth of articles that I want to share. This sudden embarrassment of riches is, in large part, due to a special issue of Newsweek that had an environmental theme. But I’ve also noticed that it’s becoming more commonplace to see several articles a week in the course of my usual online skimming. Many of the articles elicit my doom-and-gloom response (this is all so fucked up, we’ll never be able to reverse the damage), but I’m happy to see that there are more reports of improved technologies, companies that are working to make a difference, and suggestions for (mostly) straightforward changes that the general public can adopt.

Before giving you a rundown of the articles, a little on how the environment has come to be so important for me:

Most of my public-school years occurred in the 80s. Reaganomics, the “me generation” and the rise of yuppies. Even at a young age, I felt that there was something wrong with this view of life. This was aided by my father’s politics (very Marxist) and further encouraged by my extended family (quite the mix: a good number of Quakers on one side, some hippie leanings on the other, and many educators on both). I had also developed quite an affinity for animals, preferring their company over most people.

Through my constant reading and classes through our local Natural History Museum, I was always picking up new information about the animal world. At some point, during a lesson on the food chain perhaps, I began to see how easily humans could upset the natural balance. By chopping down forests. By over-hunting a particular species. By polluting. And although I couldn’t quite articulate it at that time, I understood that, as the “intelligent” species, it was our responsibility to pay attention to the damage we were doing—and to quit it already.

As more time passed, I started to hear about the larger impact of our actions, to understand that all of these environmental problems were not isolated, to see how everything is interconnected. Of course, as this was the 80s, I found most of my classmates unsupportive and unconcerned. Concerns about global warming were widely dismissed. Even if it were recognized as a potential problem, many people would say, “Why should I have to give up present comforts for something that won’t even happen in my lifetime?” (The petty part of me wants to laugh at them. “Haha, it is happening in your lifetime!” And then the doom-and-gloom sets in. “Oh shit, if it’s already happening, what chance do we have to reverse things now?”)

But the point of all of this is that I’m encouraged to see so much press being given to the environment now. And more people seem to be noticing. So here’s what we’ve got:

On the heels of my post from last week on compact fluorescent lights, a California assemblyman is suggesting a ban on incandescent light bulbs by 2012 as a means to forcing people to move to CFLs. Given that Wal-Mart is on board with CFLs (hoping to sell 100 million bulbs this year!) and that one of California’s utilities is already subsidizing a chunk of the cost of CFLs, it does seem possible for this to work.

CFLs also come up in a Newsweek article that looks at how recent efforts are aimed at increasing efficiency over the “old cliche that conserving energy is a form of abstinence.” The article looks at seven areas where improved efficiency has the potential to make a big difference:
  • Insulation (New types are coming out that do an amazing job of moderating temperatures.)
  • CFLs (Did you know Philips is phasing out the production of incandescent lights?)
  • New heating and cooling technology (Geothermal and closed systems require very little energy.)
  • Rethinking factories (When constructed with conservation in mind, there can be impressive savings in energy usage, not to mention decreased pollution!)
  • Driving (Improvements in mileage and sulfur-free diesel stretch our fuel stores further with fewer pollutants.)
  • Home appliances (“If consumers chose those models that would save them the most money over the life of the appliance, they'd cut global residential power consumption (and their utility bills) by 43 percent.”)
  • Easier payments (There are now retrofit companies that are willing to take a portion of your savings instead of requiring large up-front payments.)

This article also addresses how to get more people to act on these suggestions. Government subsidies is one way, though it does appear that disseminating information has the ability to bring about change.

Three other articles look at more specific instances of people who are trying to make a difference. 10 major corporations have allied to work on reducing carbon emissions and are asking the US Congress to pass legislation that would require this. On a smaller scale, Yale University has set a goal of reducing their greenhouse-gas emissions to 10% their 1990 levels, a decrease of 43% over 2005 levels. And then a house renovation that made extensive use of green materials will be featured soon on “This Old House.” This one resonates on a personal level for me. The featured couple was redoing a 1926 bungalow; our house in the States was a 1920s bungalow, and had we stayed in it for the second child, we would have undertaken a similar project.

Of course, not all news is good. While President Bush did mention the environment in his State of the Union speech, there is no sudden turnabout in the Oval Office. A recent survey has shown that 46% of federal scientists have been pressured to tone down or remove references to “global warming” and the like. Mostly from the White House. Similarly, although his speech mentioned the environment, it focused primarily on reducing US reliance on foreign oil, not truly on the environment. And even though the White House says that their plan will reduce carbon emissions, there are those who say it would, in fact, make things worse.

Plenty of work left to do...

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