Friday, October 07, 2011

Leadership needed to battle climate change

I had another OpEd in the Morgan Hill Times today. I reviewed a book, Clean Energy Nation, by my congressman, Jerry McNerney. At least one congress critter gets it. I reproduce it here with permission of the Morgan Hill Times.

It was my intention to use this column to review "Clean Energy Nation," the recently published book by Congressman Jerry McNerney and local writer Marty Cheek. While I will mostly write about that, I can not help but mention another book: "The Fate of Greenland," by Philip Conkling ... [et al.]. It provides an essential element that is missing from "Clean Energy Nation."

I am an active blogger who has paid a lot of attention to the problems of climate change and the relationship to our national energy policy as well as the effect of both on water resources. If you have a similar background, there is little that you will learn from reading "Clean Energy Nation." Most of the book takes you through things that you already know: fossil fuels are a finite resource that have a limited future; the continued use of fossil fuels is not sustainable for an extended period of time, future supplies of coal, oil and natural gas will be increasingly difficult and expensive to obtain.

If you happen to be a confirmed climate change denier, you probably will not be convinced by what anything that McNerney and Cheek have written. As long as there are those like meteorologist Joe Bastardi (late of Accuweather) who are willing to publish nonsense as fact, we will continue to have such problems.

Still, thanks to their knowledge and research, there are things that I did learn. "Clean Energy Nation" is a well documented book with an extensive bibliography and end notes to identify the sources for their statements. For example, relating to the feasibility of replacing current fossil fuel driven electric generation with nuclear, we are given the fact that this is probably less sustainable that continued use of fossil fuels.

"The rich uranium ores required to achieve this reduction are, however, so limited that if the entire present world electricity demand were to be provided by nuclear power, these ores would be exhausted within nine years. Use of the remaining poorer ores in nuclear reaction would produce more CO2 emissions than burning fossil fuels directly."

McNerney and Cheek are unique in viewing these problems through the lens of political history. This is appropriate in that the problems we have now are much more political than technological. They managed to cover almost all areas of concern beyond the obvious ones of electricity generation and transportation: public health, agriculture, education, national security. Each is summarized so that it is easy to understand where the impacts come from without slogging through too much detail.

What I missed in "Clean Energy Nation," but found in "The Fate of Greenland," is the recognition that there is an aspect of our current situation that should give a sense of urgency, should create a political will for action now, rather than stumbling along hoping for a technological miracle that is not likely to happen.

In a book filled with wonderful photography of Greenland now, underscoring the rate at which it is currently changing, the contributors to "Fate of Greenland" lay out the scientific data which warns us that the climate may change very quickly, at times in less than a decade. Such tipping point events as they chronicle are part of the language of global warming, but not with the astonishing level of facts that are laid out here.

This sense of urgency has both an ecological and an economic basis. While most of our attention is give to the ecological, generating a Reganesque rolling of the eyes as they mutter "there they go again" the economic issue is not so obvious. I wish they had clearly stated this one fact: For every year that the world delays addressing climate change, transforming to a clean-energy union of nations, it will cost our economies an additional $500 billion. That is a burden we are loading on to our grandchildren.

In this election cycle, it appears that the denial of climate change, or at least a plan to limit any action to combat it, is a prerequisite for selection as a candidate in the Republican Party. It will take strong political leadership to change America. " ... if we are to create a better tomorrow for ourselves and for future generations of American, we need to use effective communication and share an inspiring vision in our quest to become a clean-energy nation."

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