An Energy Revolution for the Greenhouse Century
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Martin Hoffert An Energy Revolution for the Greenhouse Century W hen there is no vision, the people perish. —Proverbs 29:18 You see things: and you say, “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say, “W hy not?” —George Bernard Shaw, Back to Methuselah (1921) We choose to go to the m oon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because th at goal will serve to organize and m easure the best of our energies and skills, because the challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to w in .... —John F. Kennedy, Rice University, 1962 THE REALITY OF GLOBAL WARMING FROM THE BUILDUP OF FOSSIL FUEL CARBON dioxide in the atmosphere is no longer in doubt. Arctic sea ice, tundra, and alpine glaciers are melting, tropical diseases like West Nilevirus and malaria are penetrating higher latitudes, and sea surface temperatures have risen to the point where Katrina-like hurricanes are not only more probable, but actually occur. Also taking place are the extinction of plants and animals adapted to cooler regimes but unable to migrate poleward fast enough to keep pace with a warming climate. Polar bears, already far north, may have nowhere to go. Ominously, the melting of Greenland and Antarctic icecaps social research Vol 73 : No 3 : Fall 2006 981 is accelerating, threatening worldwide major sea level rise and coastal inun­ dation (Hansen, 2006; Gore, 2006; Kolbert, 2006; Flannery, 2006). These are well-documented facts, not alarm ist predictions by desperate environm entalists in search of funding (Crichton, 2003) or some colossal hoax on the American people (Inhofe, 2003). Atmospheric warming from water vapor, C02 and other greenhouse gases is a basic principle of atmospheric science. It is responsible for maintaining earth as a habitable zone for life, and for making Venus, w ith its pure C02 atmo­ sphere 100 times thicker than earth’s, hot as metaphorical Hell. Cooling can result from suspended aerosol particles also produced by burning fossil fuels, but aerosols rem ain in the atmosphere a m uch shorter time than C02 and their cooling effect, so far, has mainly served to mask the full impact of warm ing from C02 emissions. (Some propose “geoengi­ neering” climate by intentionally injecting aerosols to cool regions most threatened by global warming, such as the Arctic; see for example Teller, Wood, and Hyde, 2002). Heat temporarily stored in oceans can also delay or mask committed greenhouse warming, as can variations in the output of the sun and volcanic eruptions. But volcanoes, the sun, and the oceans cause surface tem perature to rise and fall in a narrow range. In retro­ spect, it was inevitable that the explosive growth (on a geological time scale) of hum an C02 emissions, driven by population growth, industrial­ ization and, most of all, by fossil fuel energy use, made it inevitable that human-induced warming would overwhelm climate change from all the other factors at some point. And we are at that point. That fossil fuel atmospheric carbon dioxide would warm the planet was predicted over a century ago (Arrhenius, 1896). Roughly half the C02 input by hum ans remains in the atmosphere. The rest mostly dissolves in the ocean, creating excess acidity that marine organisms may not be able to tolerate, which is another problem. By the third quarter of the tw entieth century, C02 buildup in the atmosphere was evident, although greenhouse warming did not emerge from background “noise” until the late 1980s. Hans Suess and Roger Revelle recognized early on that trans­ ferring hundreds of billions of tons of carbon in fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) formed over hundreds of millions of years and locked up in earth’s crust to the atmosphere as C02 in a few hundred years was “grand 982 social research T h e C lim a te /E n e rgy W a rs II: Two ads that ran in the New York Tim es, Oct. 27, 2005 Fig. 1 geophysical experiment” on a scale unseen in human history (Revelle and Suess, 1957). Revelle was...