Monday, June 26, 2006

Energy Crisis: Part II

The announcement by the Supreme Court today that it would hear arguments in a case concerning carbon dioxide regulation is both important for the environment and will be muddled in political bickering. I won't go into much detail of the law in question, as that is readily available elsewhere. I will say though, that what is essentially a case concerning scientific fact has been hijacked for many years by the automobile, oil, and gas industries. Even in today's online announcement in the New York Times of the case, the article states that some or many scientists regard carbon dioxide as a pollutant and a cause of global warming. This is no small point I make here: every scientist surveyed in a recent science journal regards carbon dioxide as a pollutant and leading factor in global warming. Over nine-hundred scientists were surveyed and the score was 900+ against CO2, 0 for. With each wishy-washy news paper article and television report the public loses sight of the fact that carbon dioxide's effects on the environment are not in dispute in the scientific community.

Interestingly enough I was speaking about this issue at the breakfast table with a friend of mine today and she told me about a public education campaign video she was shown in middle school. In the video, scientists described the benefits increased carbon dioxide would provide the planet Earth. They cited that carbon dioxide is converted by plants, using sunlight, into energy and carbohydrates and this will increase with increase carbon dioxide output resulting in a greener Earth. On this greener Earth we will be more able to feed everyone.

These studies found this to be the case but were fundamentally flawed. The plants used in the experiment were provided with as much water, nutrients, and sunlight as they needed to use all the carbon dioxide pumped into their growth chambers and what the scientists got was what is now called the "carbon dioxide fertilizer effect." This is the effect that given an unlimited amount of resources and an increase in carbon dioxide a plant will grow bigger, faster, and greener. However, in our world, where life plays a zero-sum game, plants cannot cope with added carbon dioxide, or it goes unutilized, and no carbon dioxide fertilizer effect is observed. Instead it is trapped in our atmosphere resulting in the greenhouse effect and global climate change. This has been observed for decades.

In addition to the carbon dioxide fertilizer effect, opponents of regulating carbon dioxide will show pie charts of how much of our atmosphere is made up of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide makes up a relatively small percentage of our atmosphere, yes, but due to certain properties of its molecular structure, it acts in a big way which is totally out of proportion with its concentration. In is important to compare carbon dioxide levels now to what they were in the past, not to the other gases in the atmosphere, in order to get an accurate understanding of the current crisis we are living with.

I hope, for my sake and yours, that the Supreme Court rules in favor of EPA regulations of auto and power plant emissions. I do not wish this because of a hatred for those industries, but because I see the problem at hand and I see that we have the power and know-how to solve it. This is not a case of lacking the necessary technology, far from it. We have the technology to curb our carbon emissions now, and research into further cutting our carbon emissions will benefit industry, employees from low-wage workers up to skilled labor and the management, and the health of not only the natural world but of every man, woman and child living in it.


At 2:29 AM, June 27, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Tom, do you have a link to this article? I'd love to read it.

I see we share much the same purpose! I'm an undergrad bio student as well. I'll add you to the Blogroll. Stop by sometime, I'm sure we'll have a lot to discuss.


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