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The Tipping Point
Author: BobR    Date: 06/08/2012 12:53:45

There are many issues that divide Republicans and Democrats (or Liberals and Conservatives), but one of the more contentious areas is the growing problem of global warming. Despite overwhelming evidence and the vast majority of climate scientists agreement, the conservatives just don't seem to want to conserve nature (despite Nixon creating the EPA). They think there's some environmental "agenda" beyond actually trying to protect the planet. In reality, they don't want to have to change, especially if it means losing money for their supporters (ie: oil companies). It is their adherance to the status quo and marketing to their constituents that has stymied progress on reducing man's impact.

Meanwhile, the planet continues to spiral down. The journal "Nature" released a study that says we could be staring down the barrel of the point of no return in just a few decades:
The paper by 22 top researchers said a “tipping point” by which the biosphere goes into swift and irreversible change, with potentially cataclysmic impacts for humans, could occur as early as this century.

The warning contrasts with a mainstream view among scientists that environmental collapse would be gradual and take centuries.

The factors in today’s equation include a world population that is set to rise from seven billion to around 9.3 billion by mid-century and global warming that will outstrip the UN target of two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

The team determined that once 50-90 percent of small-scale ecosystems become altered, the entire eco-web tips over into a new state, characterised especially by species extinctions.

Once the shift happens, it cannot be reversed.

much more at the link - I highly recommend a read...

The causes are myriad, and there is no one answer. It's cars, energy production, agriculture and other land use. There is no one magic bullet. Obviously, reducing car emissions is one way to help. After the self-indulgent SUV/Hummer era, car companies have been marketing hybrids and electric cars. Hybrids do well, but part of the problem is pricing. The Honda Fit gets 118 MPG, but it costs $12K more than the all-gas version. Based on gas/electric prices, it would take 10 years to "break even". Government tax credits can/could help with that, but most consumers are wary of that kind of price tag premium. As gas prices drop, the break-even extends even further out.

The European Union is looking to slash auto carbon emissions by 33% by the year 2020. That's really the proper approach: focus on the desired outcome rather than mandate MPG. Let the carmakers figure out how to achieve the result. Obviously, improving MPG is one way, but it could also result in making the price of gas-powered cars closer in parity to electrics and hybrids.

The problem with electrics in America is that we are a large country with lots of wide-open space. Anyone that buys a car will be taking into consideration how far they will want to be able to drive it. With typical recharge time in the 3 hrs+ range, they are not really usable for road trips. I wrote a blog over 4 years ago about a promising technology of using capacitors instead of batteries to power them. Capacitors can charge quickly, and discharge as needed for power, but their storage capacity per size required has always made them unusable for cars. A company on the west coast named "eestor" has promised to have figured out how to do it, but have not yet produced product-ready units. After a couple years of silence and rumors about their demise, they recently issued a press release that they are almost there. Canadian company Zenn Motors has an almost exclusive contract with them to use in cars, though, so we'll just have to see where it goes.

Regardless of progress in electricity, there will always be the "drill here, drill now" crowd, and nothing is likely to dissuade them. Just like the gold rush, the "black gold" rush that hit North Dakota in recent years is making a few people rich, a lot of people unhappy, and ruining the environment there very quickly:
Hydraulic fracturing - the controversial process behind the spread of natural gas drilling - is enabling oil companies to reach previously inaccessible reserves in North Dakota, triggering a turnaround not only in the state’s fortunes, but also in domestic energy production. North Dakota now ranks second behind only Texas in oil output nationwide.

The downside is waste - lots of it. Companies produce millions of gallons of salty, chemical-infused wastewater, known as brine, as part of drilling and fracking each well. Drillers are supposed to inject this material thousands of feet underground into disposal wells, but some of it isn’t making it that far.

According to data obtained by ProPublica, oil companies in North Dakota reported more than 1,000 accidental releases of oil, drilling wastewater or other fluids in 2011, about as many as in the previous two years combined. Many more illicit releases went unreported, state regulators acknowledge, when companies dumped truckloads of toxic fluid along the road or drained waste pits illegally.

As long as there's money to be made in oil, there will be companies and individuals willing to trash our backyard. It's analogous to the Wall Street problem with derivatives, where they knowingly trashed the economy for personal gain. The only way to break free of our 20th century energy technologies is to use the power of government to push energy companies in the right direction. This will require pushing Republicans to embrace the approach, which is likely to be more difficult than pushing the energy companies themselves.

Push we must, though, because we are seriously running out of time.

46 comments (Latest Comment: 06/09/2012 03:54:09 by Will in Chicago)
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