There's no doubt about it: over the past 30 years, a lot has been written about climate change. As a result, laws have been created, movements started, protests initiated — all with the idea of saving our planet from the detritus of commerce and prosperity.
I bring this up because in November, the 17th United Nations (U.N.) Framework Convention on Climate Change will bring together leaders from around the world in Durban, South Africa to discuss curing global warming, a.k.a. climate change. Attendees share information on greenhouse gas emissions, talk about national policies and best practices, and even create strategies for addressing emissions issues. They've been doing this since 1994.
Back then it wasn’t about "climate change" per se — it was about global warming (read Matt Michel’s Rant on the topic from the May 2008 issue of the magazine, at http://bit.ly/MM_GlobalCooling).
To celebrate this U.N. annual gathering, the Wall Street Journal published an interesting opinion piece in the October 6th edition. It's titled, "Five Truths About Climate Change," and it was written by Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute — a New York City-based think tank.
Bryce's editorial highlights what I'll call the elephants in the room that need to be at least considered at the U.N. meeting (you can read the complete article at http://on.wsj.com/5Truths). Here are his "truths" and my spin on them:
The need for carbon taxation/limitation: Remember this? I wrote an editorial about it in the July 2008 issue (http://bit.ly/weil_footprints) calling for a careful look at what was being proposed. Three years later, according to Bryce's commentary, it's kaput. Interestingly, he points out that during the heyday of this concept, for which Al Gore actually won a Nobel Peace Prize, global carbon dioxide emission rose by 28.5%!
Energy demand continues to increase: No surprise there, especially with China, India, and other countries that are moving up from economic third-world status. They have ravenous appetites for energy to feed their economies and provide comfort to their people. As the world population grows, the demand for energy grows right along with it.
CO2 is an international emmissions issue. Here's a corollary to the previous Bryce truth: U.S. output of CO2 in the past decade, according to Bryce, dropped by 1.7% while China’s increased by 123% (he also points out that during the same decade Africa, Asia, and the Middle East have seen huge increases in CO2 emmissions as well). It's not just our problem.
The science and technology of turning energy into useful power is improving. Think about efficiency changes that have been made to equipment, appliances, lighting, and cars over the last 30 years — in the HVAC world alone, 92+% efficient furnaces are the norm!
Will this get even better? Bryce believes it can (though I'm a firm believer that the laws of thermodynamics are somewhat immutable).
New science: fact or fiction? Bryce is talking about a group of scientists in Switzerland, working at the CERN laboratories, who think that neutrinos might actually travel faster than the speed of light and could possible be a new energy source.
Maybe — but whether this science can actually move the needle on useful power production in time to feed growing consumption demands (and do so in an emmissions free format) is still highly questionable in my mind.
I harken back to this Steve Miles quote from his Contracting Business.com Contractor of the Year keynote several years ago: "As a person in the air conditioning business, I'm all in favor of global warming, but I don't know if we're causing it." (See this and other climate change quotes here: http://bit.ly/climate_crusaders).
To those attending the climate change convention, I say good luck. Being efficient and reducing emissions is important. But will it really impact climate change on earth?