Monday, November 17, 2008


That's all I paid to fill up my car with a little more than 14 gallons of gasoline this evening. I didn't think I'd ever see gasoline that cheap again. As nice as it is to not spend more than $50 on a fill-up, I'm unconvinced this is a good development. Will cheap gas mean a return to our formerly profligate ways, much as low gas prices in the 80's did after the gas crunch in the 70's?

Last Thursday the Union of Concerned Scientists visited Purdue's campus to discuss global warming. The two women who spoke to us were very excited about the results of the recent election (as was most of the room), and were excited about the upheaval in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce as Rep. Henry Waxman seeks to take over the Committee from Rep. John Dingle. Exciting stuff, for those in the know. I am not in the know in general, so the brief view was refreshing.

The UCS wants the US (and really the rest of the industrialized and industrializing world) to make swift and deep cuts in carbon emissions in order to avoid the negative consequences of global warming. "Swift and deep" is the phrase I heard over and over in the discussion. They're right--if we don't stop emitting the massive amounts of carbon dioxide we currently put out, we'll face some rather difficult consequences, from more extreme weather (droughts, floods, more intense storms) to shifting species distributions, to the loss of coastal areas and glaciers. I have no doubt that humans will adapt to these consequences; that said, the faster these changes happen, the more painful the adaptation will be. By unhappy chance, the consequences of global warming will likely be concentrated in the poorer regions of the world--the same regions that have contributed the least to the problem. Many of these regions (particularly sub-Saharan Africa) are already notoriously unstable. Increased environmental stress won't help that instability, and I fear, will cause that instability to spread.

Anyway, if you talk to just about any geoscientist they'll suggest nuclear power would be a good way to reduce CO2 emissions. Talk to UCS and they'll tell you...I don't know. For all the talk of politics and having a chance to really do something I didn't come away with a very good sense of what exactly the UCS wants to cut. Certainly transportation--that's an easy one--but beyond that I didn't get a good sense of what technologies they think will replace our current carbon-emitting ones. Biofuels sound good on paper, but in the end they probably cause more CO2 emissions than gasoline. Conservation--which is a great start--isn't going to be enough without serious structural changes in the way we produce energy in this country. Nuclear energy really is about the best solution currently available, but because of fears of nuclear proliferation it's just too scary to be feasible. I wish that the UCS--the supposedly scientific, environmental lobbying group--were truly objective in their evaluation of the technological options available. I also wish they'd put a bit more of their own lifestyles on the line.

I'm quite superficial sometimes, I know, but I just couldn't help noticing that the woman who spoke to us was well-dressed in new, reasonably expensive, trendy clothing, likely produced overseas and shipped to the US. I'll admit, there really aren't too many other options for clothing, and in a line of work where one works with government I'm sure physical appearance is important; that said, I wish some of these environmentalists would at least look like they're sacrificing once in a while.

Someone had an impressive sense of timing. The the Chicago Climate Action Plan was sent out to the PCCRC email list as we were discussing the impacts of climate change on the Midwest, and the fact that Chicago had already done a bunch of climate projections for the region in order to create the document and craft a plan for mitigation.

1 comment:

  1. I totally understand wanting the people preaching to look the part. I had such a hard time looking at the realitites of the energy crisis in California (when they were having the rolling blackouts) because I had to listen to the media spout off quotes from Barbara Strisand about how to conserve energy - and yet she kept her (several) mansions around the country at a constant 60 degrees - whether she was there at the time or not! It's hard to consentrate on what people say when they seem to embody the opposite.