Greenhouse Gasses and Global Warming

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This is clearly another global, long-term bet that we are making on our Grandchildren’s future.  The stakes can not be over emphasized. It is one of the most critical and far reaching issues we face, thus we’d better get it right.  It is also something we cannot change quickly so we need to start now.

In my previous three blogs, a series on energy, I implied a concern with greenhouse gasses, and therefore global warming.  This piece address that issue directly.  The most dramatic demonstration of global warming to me was my trip to Alaska in 2010 that included a visit to Glacier Bay. From Wikipedia, “Glacier Bay has experienced at least 4 glacial periods. The last, the Little Ice age, began about 4,000 years ago. The glaciers that still exist in the park today are remnants of that glacial period.”  These glaciers have advanced in relatively recent (geologically) time, per the National Park Service website:  “Near the end of the Little Ice Age, about several hundred years ago, advancing glaciers forced the Tlingit people to abandon their villages and move to Hoonah, across Icy Strait from Glacier Bay.”  However, since Europeans have visited the site in the late 1700’s, the glaciers have retreated over 60 miles, a dramatic change.

As a scientist, this tells me that there are natural, geologic and geographic forces that cause ice ages and warming trends.  These are beyond, or in addition to, man-made causes, i.e. burning carbon-based fuel.  I even remember as a young boy reading an article forecasting that the next ice age could be imminent, and that we should consider building a “heat fence” of nuclear reactors, much like the DEW Line.  That said, I also have to have faith in my fellow scientists, the climatologists, whose consensus is that man-made greenhouse gasses, especially CO2, are raising the surface temperature of the earth, and it will only get worse unless we reduce our emissions.  As discussed in the Energy Series, Part 1, energy = standard of living, so it is unrealistic to expect radical cutbacks soon, but how much and how fast should we, the whole world, be reducing emissions?  More immediately how much and how fast should we Americans be cutting our emissions and setting an example, i.e. walking the talk, not just talking the talk in the press?

What should we do? On one hand we have the most concerned, doomsday folks who would have the government mandate something like reducing CO2 emissions by 10% per year for the next 10 years.  At the other end of the spectrum we have people, primarily business, who say let market forces and/or Cap and Trade gradually reduce emissions because the problem is not imminent.  Per my natural tendency, I believe a middle of the road approach is reasonable.  We cannot slam on the “emissions breaks” without handing our Grandchildren a damaged economy.  However we have to start taking significant action now, or we will hand them a climate that is at least as bad for their standard of living.  I propose two types of taxes.   End users would pay a small tax, say 1%, on electrical energy generated by burning fuel and on gasoline.  This tax is fair because we all have a stake in the climate and it would be on those who are contributing to the emissions.  Secondly I recommend a 5% tax on the profits of power companies who generate electricity by burning fuel, and on companies who create carbon based fuels, i.e. coal mines, refineries, and bio-fuel producers.  I would include bio-fuel because carbon dioxide in the air is all the same.

I don’t support Cap and Trade for two reasons. First, it would be a smoke and mirrors opportunity (pun intended) that would profit the liars and cheaters without any real reduction in emissions.  Secondly, if a company or individual can reduce emissions, they should just do it.  Selling the “emissions savings” doesn’t create a net reduction.  If a company reconfigures and reduces emissions, then sells those “savings” to another company so they can expand, we have 0 savings.  If an individual wants to double the size of their mansion, and then offset the increase in energy needs by buying an acre of Brazilian rainforest, again we have no net emissions savings. A tax on carbon emissions will cause people and businesses to recognize the effects of their choices, and maybe make better decisions.  Further the taxes can be used to fund energy research – a “Twofer”.

If you would like to read more detailed discussions on greenhouse gas emissions and the need for reductions, may I suggest you check out:  Note: kidz

I will close by repeating myself.  We are betting our Grandchildren’s future, no matter which way or how we bet.  The do-nothing option is a bet just as much as erecting a windmill or campaigning to shut down coal-fired generating plants.  This is a critical bet for our Grandchildren’s future.

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