“Can We Cool the Planet?” Right Now, on Nova

The average temperature of our atmosphere is now 1oC warmer than it was in 1880. Scientists are now concerned that we are approaching what they hypothesize to be a tipping point where the atmosphere becomes 1.5oC warmer than it was in 1880. At our current rate of fossil fuel use, this would likely start before the end of the 21st century.

As I reported on my page, Climate Change, Health, and Micro-industrialization, if we stopped burning fossil fuels tomorrow, the world would continue to warm, though at a slower rate. That’s because there’s so much CO2 in the atmosphere (over 400 PPM) that the greenhouse effect will continue to warm things up. Furthermore, annual wildfires of greater intensity, and the loss of reflective ice and snow in the Polar Regions also contribute to temperature rise. Our only option, in addition to stopping the burning of fossil fuels, is to remove it from the atmosphere, something we cannot yet do on a large scale. Nova presented all the initiatives and their associated problems for doing this, aired on October 28, 2020.

That we are clearly going to burn fossil fuels for some time, and that carbon capture currently cannot be done on a large scale suggests that our biosphere is going to get dangerously hotter. The global situation is such that we are facing a slow-motion version of getting hit by a giant asteroid or a nuclear war. All life will be affected to varying degrees. Unfortunately, we are not very good at addressing things that seem to be “far into the future.” I guess if I had the choice, I would go for the asteroid. We could really rally a plan for that.

“Decoding the Weather Machine” Right now, on Nova

Dunkirk, NY natural gas/coal fired power plant

Located at the eastern end of Lake Erie, the Dunkirk power plant, built in 1950, now burns natural gas, though coal can still be used as a backup fuel. As you can see, the stacks no longer emit that dense smoke plume as in years past.  Coal only produces about 1/2% of New York State’s power.  In 1950, coal power generated nearly 46 percent of electricity in the country, making it the largest power source at the time, according to the Energy Information Administration. However, by 2017 natural gas had overtaken coal , generating about 34 percent of electricity compared to coal’s 30 percent.

Still, natural gas emits some particulates, along with carbon dioxide. While natural gas is a step forward, greenhouse gases will continue to raise global temperatures, most pronounced at the poles and in the seas, at an alarming rate. The computer models all show that the planet’s flora and fauna will be drastically affected by the end of the century. Many coastal cities will be partly under water, agricultural land will be displaced, and summer heat will become dangerously high.

Nova recently aired a two-hour special on climate change, showing each step of how scientists from a range of disciplines have demonstrated how the level of carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases such as methane and water vapor) have caused global temperature change over the past 800,000 years.  Scientists have also documented the fossil fuel signature of modern carbon dioxide molecules, showing how they differ from those carbon dioxide molecules produced before the industrial revolution. This is the “smoking gun” proving not only that the global temperature is the hottest in 800,000 years, but that the warming climate is caused by human activity.

The documentary concludes with the political and economic realities, and the policy strategies  needed to address this global threat. Addressing climate change is a formidable challenge not only because of politics and economics, but also because we not only have to stop emitting carbon dioxide, we have to go carbon negative to stop the steady increase of global temperatures.

This not only means producing nearly all of our power from renewable energy, it also means using far less power—leading us into what I call neo-industrialization.  More on this in a future post.

Will we do it?

Even if you disagree with the findings of climate scientists, this Nova special is well worth watching. It is always useful to be familiar with one’s opponents’ arguments and evidence to know what one is refuting.