Solving Global Warming and the Energy Crisis by Kyler Hood

posted by Dr. James G. Hood
Friday, May 28, 2010

The world today faces two crises: both global warming and an energy crisis. The population is growing and the global community must admit responsibility for its role in global warming. There are many ways to address this problem: carbon sequestration, sea-salt-reflectivity boats, plankton manipulation, atmospheric shields, and renewable energy sources. The best way to deal with the dual problem of global warming and the energy crisis is to focus on diversified development of cost-effective renewable technologies for the long term benefit of the global community.

The global population is growing; as a result, there is a growing demand for energy. Hargreaves and Zaccaria (2007) report: “In the next 30 years, the world’s population is expected to grow by 2 billion” (201). This growth in population necessitates more energy resources. Among these countries with growing populations (i.e. developing countries), “Hydropower has formed the basis for the major development with large benefits to the poor” (201). Hydropower is the cheapest to develop, but “Developing countries have developed only about 15%” of their hydropower capacity. Obviously, steps will need to be taken to develop hydropower and other energy-producing technologies as developing countries can afford them.

With the demand for energy mounting, many countries also realize the importance for clean energy to avoid global warming, but they need to enact a plan for clean energy as soon as possible. Ian McEwan reports:

 Thousands of sophisticated thermometers in oceans and on land masses [show that] the mean temperature [of earth] has continued to rise.  In 2007 the shrinking of summer ice in the Artic exceeded the gloomiest predictions (W1).

The global community therefore seems to have reached a consensus that global warming is a reality, and common sense reinforces this point. Humans release unprecedented amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and the result is an unprecedented rapid change in global temperature (i.e. global warming). Most countries recognize that global warming is occurring, but efforts to curb global warming are often ranked behind economic interests. This is a particularly challenging problem because it represents a dilemma of collective action, no single country can solve this problem by itself, and no single country can be held accountable. Furthermore, investing in measures that may have a limited and possibly unrecognizable change on the environment seems like a waste of money for many countries, and for politicians operating in a democratic system taking such a green stance is tenuous at best. Enacting a clean energy plan on a global scale is necessary because otherwise the build up of greenhouse gases will spiral out of control. Ian McEwan reports: “climate scientists report that we have less than eight years to start making a significant impact on CO2…Thereafter…as feedback curves strengthen, the emissions curve will rise too much for us to restrain it” (McEwan).

            Enacting a global clean energy policy will be difficult especially in light of the poor state of the economic downturn in the United States and its corresponding effects on the global economy. Steve Slavin explains a major contributing factor to the global economic downturn—the economic plight of the United States:

very few noticed that the U.S. is going bankrupt…A partial list [of problems] would include crime, drugs, poverty, a failing education system, a crumbling infrastructure, soaring health care costs, lagging productivity, a huge national debt, a large trade deficit, an anemic rate of economic growth (Slavin).

The currency for international trade is the U.S. dollar, so inevitably a downturn in the United States has a detrimental impact on the global economy. Thomas Palley (2003) explains the negative impacts on economies around the world:

One cost comes from imported inflation resulting from the fact that most commodities are priced in dollars…A second cost is related to debt service for developing countries…A rise in the value of the dollar makes it more difficult for countries to service this debt…the third and most important cost… [is] A double-dip recession can be expected to significantly reduce US imports, and these losses stand to far outweigh the sales gains as a result of the overvalued dollar (156).

Countries, especially the United States, will need to take measures in order to curb the effects of this global economic downturn.

                        As if the question of how to maintain clean and affordable development is not complicated enough, the problem is further exacerbated by the fact that most development today is occurring today in lesser developed nations. Hargreaves and Zaccaria (2007) report:

five billion people live in developing countries. A total of 37% of the population lives in low income countries…About 16% of the world’s population is undernourished. In 35 countries, more than half of the population lives on less than $2.00 a day (201).

As a result of these dire circumstances, developing countries want development in the cheapest and most expedient way possible. Quick and cheap development releases enormous amounts of carbon dioxide into the environment (e.g. burning coal), and developing countries argue that development is their right since present-day industrialist countries exploited the environment in order to develop.

            As a result of the energy crisis, the need for clean and cheap energy, and the corresponding complications for clean energy in the developing world, policy makers must develop energy resources according to three criteria. First, countries must develop energy that leaves little or no carbon footprint on the environment. Improving carbon efficiency in existing technologies will be a start, but a drastic increase in renewable energy sources will be required. Second, governments must organize the most cost effective means for development in the energy sector. Critics such as Bjorn Lomborg argue that putting alleviating global warming must not be a top priority. Indeed, money spent on global warming could be spent on other problems such as world hunger and immunizations. Paying the cost of global warming would be more cost-effective than trying to prevent it according to Lomborg. Lomborg’s argument, however, seems short-sighted because it is locked in an economic frame of mind. The environmental consequences of global warming will be devastating, especially in light of what biologists refer to as keystone species. A keystone species is one that has multiple and complex ecological interactions with other species. A slight raise in temperature could cause a keystone species to go extinct, which, according to Lomborg’s analysis is a slight drop in biodiversity (only 1 species), but in reality the loss of this keystone species could significantly alter its particular ecosystem, even going so far as to cause other species to go extinct. These ecological changes could also affect economic matters, so global warming would be much more costly than Lomborg suggests. The reality, therefore, is that global warming will create ecological consequences that are complex and unforeseeable. These problems will in turn affect economics and the overall livelihood and well-being of the human race. Therefore, eliminating global warming should be among the immediate concerns of governments everywhere. Third, countries must agree collectively what measures will be taken to deal with the threat of global warming and enact them. No single country can deal with these problems alone. The follow-up meetings to the Kyoto Protocol which will take place in Copenhagen, Denmark will be essential for the enactment of a sound global energy policy.

            In light of these considerations, a thorough analysis of possible energy sources is necessary beginning with carbon sequestration which is also known as carbon capture and storage (CCS). According to CCS, utility factories will separate carbon dioxide in the energy producing process, transport it, and store it underground in an old oil well or some rock formation that will keep the carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. An article in The Economist reports: “the oldest project Sleipner, off the coast of Norway has been up and running for 13 years without leaks.” Utility companies are still reluctant to invest in the technology because the cost of separating, transporting, and storing carbon dioxide is huge compared with the possible profit margins. Companies are slowly starting small scale CCS factories, but the number of factories still is not large enough to instill confidence in investors. However, their reluctance is probably for the better. The Economist points out the most pressing problem for CCS: “A leakage rate of just 1% a year, Greenpeace points out, would lead to 63% of the carbon dioxide stored in any given reservoir being released within 100 years.” No one can guarantee that a CCS storage site will not leak, so environmental protection may not even be assured. Therefore, CCS is neither cost effective nor guaranteed to help the environment. The global community should not adopt CCS collectively because it is only a short-sighted solution (assuming leakage or terrorist attacks never occur) to global warming.

            There has also been a flurry of geo-engineering innovations to address global warming including saltwater cooling, plankton regulation, and space shields, which I will address jointly because they raise similar concerns. Salter is an engineer at the University of Edinburgh who suggests that we develop remotely controlled sea ships that spray saltwater into the clouds above oceans throughout the world. This would increase reflectivity and cool earth, despite high levels of carbon dioxide. Another idea is from Planktos, a geoenginneering company that “plans to deposit 100 tonnes of iron particles off the coast of the Galapagos” (Mileham, 29). They argue that a plankton bloom will result which will take in carbon dioxide and fall to the bottom of the ocean as plankton die. Roger Angel suggests “a space-based sun shield for earth. It would consist of 16 trillion free-flying circular refractors…propelled into space by a coil gun. The refractors would blur and refract incoming light to reduce its warming effect” (Mileham, 29). These examples are problematic because of the extreme costs that they would incur, and because the benefits are only theoretical, not guaranteed. Only the Planktos example reduces carbon in the atmosphere, so the others would seem to only thwart a problem that will need to be addressed later anyway. Even if the Planktos example does reduce carbon in the atmosphere, it will have drastic and unforeseen consequences on the environment (as would the other examples). Furthermore, the global political context must be considered. Each of these ideas is vulnerable to terrorist attack since they focus all hope for global survival on certain projects that are more easily targeted. Therefore, none of these measures offer a viable solution to global warming, especially since they offer no corresponding benefits for the global energy crisis. Therefore, the global community should ignore these measures as viable solutions to the global warming dilemma.

Examining the average costs of developing renewable energy sources is important for exposing financial challenges that will need to be addressed in comparison to the potential output capacity for renewable energy sources and their corresponding environmental impacts. Hargreaves and Zaccaria (2007) explain the costs of the various sources of renewable energy: “Costs of producing electricity (including external costs) in the order from lowest to highest are: wind, hydropower, natural gas, biomass, nuclear, coal, and photovoltaic” (201). For this discussion, I will focus on wind, hydropower, natural gas, nuclear, and coal because biomass and photovoltaic are relatively new and interconnected technologies. Natural gas and coal are energies that release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere; therefore, the focus for these technologies will be to limit their use as much as possible and increase efficiency. All categories (excluding natural gas and coal) of renewable energy should be expanded as much as possible since “Current use of renewable energy is less than 1% of the potential” (Hargreaves and Zaccaria, 201). Wind and hydropower should be the specific technologies to focus on for developing countries since “Developing countries have developed only about 15% [of hydropower potential]…wind and hydropower are the most economically desirable potential sources of renewable energy” (Hargreaves and Zaccaria, 201). Nuclear power does not create greenhouse gases, but it does pose major health hazards, and it creates toxic waste that must be stored somewhere. Sharpe (2008) explains that nuclear plants have exploited certain groups in the past (e.g. Navajo Indians), so nuclear energy must reform its practices in order to treat all parties involved fairly. The surface area of the earth is vast, so nuclear waste storage seems like an acceptable dilemma until no trace (i.e. no environmental damage) technologies can be further developed.

Some of these so called no-trace technologies include biomass, photovoltaic (harnessing solar energy), and nanotechnologies. These technologies are on the high end of cost margins, but these technologies can have extremely little or no environmental costs with the possibility of reducing greenhouse gas emissions while still providing energy. Biomass technologies use biological materials to produce energy through processes that create byproducts other than carbon dioxide or they can limit carbon dioxide outputs significantly. Ian McEwan points out that “Daniel Nocera at MIT has imitated photosynthesis to crack water efficiently into hydrogen and oxygen; at night these gases are re-combined in fuel cells to drive a turbine.” These photosynthetic technologies can actually reduce levels of carbon dioxide in the environment. Other versions of this idea use artificial photosynthesis to create bio-fuels. Solar cells convert solar energy into electricity, but they are notoriously inefficient and expensive. Nanotechnologies offer the solution to the problem for solar cells, and many other renewable energy sources. The New Straits Times Press explains the wide array of energy applications for nanotechnology: “Nanotechnology can offer solutions through more efficient lighting, use of commercial fuel cells, better hydrogen storage, improved solar cells, and even helping to develop more efficient power generation and distribution” (39). The promise of these new technologies is astounding, but they do come at a cost. Governments will need to find ways to set aside money for investment in these technologies because they will provide for the long term benefit of the world both environmentally and in terms of energy.

In light of this analysis of the different sources available to the global community, the best option for countries facing the energy crisis and global warming will be to diversify as much as possible renewable energy sources. No single source of energy will supply enough energy for a country’s energy needs, and certain technologies will cause more environmental damage and be more costly than others. Diversifying energy sectors will make countries less susceptible to failed technological ventures, terrorist attacks, and environmental catastrophe. Diversified investment will, however, focus on sectors with the little or no environmental impact including wind, hydroelectric, some biological applications (i.e. those without greenhouse gas emissions), solar, and nanotechnologies. These technologies hold the most promise for sustainable development into the future.

The most effective approach to global warming and the energy crisis is diversified development in renewable energy sources. Countries will need to come together in Copenhagen and agree on a policy for swift and effective measures to combat these crises. Diversified development in renewable technologies will create an economic system that is sustainable. However, the global economic downturn will make these changes difficult, especially since many of them will require investment, a sacrifice for long term gains. The main challenge will therefore be to remember the long term benefits of renewable energy development and encourage other nations, especially those in developing nations to make the transition as quickly as possible.

 

Works Cited 

“Briefing America and climate change Sins of emission.” The Economist 14 Mar. 2009: 26+. 

“Briefing Carbon Capture and storage Trouble in store.” The Economist 7 Mar. 2009: 74. 

“The future is here.” New Straits Times (Malaysia) Berhad 27 Jan. 2009: 39. LexisNexis. Foley Library, Spokane. 3 Apr. 2009 http://www.lexisnexis.com

Glicksman, Leon R. “The Energy Crisis–The Need for More Balanced Solutions.” HVAC&R Research 13 (2007): 521-23. 

Hargreaves, George H., and Daniele Zaccaria. “Better Management of Renewable Resources Can Avert a World Crisis.” Journal of Irrigation and Drainage Engineering (2007): 201-05. 

McEwan, Ian, and Bjorn Lomborg. “A New Dawn.” The Wall Street Journal 8 Nov. 2008: W1. 

Mileham, Rebecca. “Biting the Bullet.” Engineering & Technology Aug. 2007: 28-31. 

Palley, Thomas I. “The Overvalued Dollar and the US Slump.” Institute for International Economics (2003): 145-63. Peterson Institute for International Economics. 5 Apr. 2009. http://www.petersoninstitute.org/publications/chapters_preview/360/7iie3519.pdf

Sharpe, Virginia A. “”Clean” Nuclear Energy? Global Warming, Public Health, and Justice.” The Hastings Center Report 38 (2008): 16-20. 

Slavin, Steve. “Terminal decline of a nation- U.S. economic problems.” USA Today Mar. 1994. Society for the Advancement of Education. 10 Apr. 2009 <http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1272/is_n2586_v122/ai_14995070/>.



2 Responses to “Solving Global Warming and the Energy Crisis by Kyler Hood”

  1. Overunity Magnetic Motor says:

    Nice post, this is exactly the information I was looking for. Are you going to be covering this topic in greater detail soon? Hope so! Thanks

  2. khood4208 says:

    I hope to as more information becomes available, but I’d also like to encourage dialogue on this website, so if readers find renewable energy sources that they feel offer viable alternatives then I’d like to hear them because this is quite a difficult problem that we’re trying to tackle.

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