Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fossil Fuels Are Slowly Destroying Our Planet, Study Shows

These days, there is a lot of talk about trying to lower CO2 emissions to reduce the rate and harmful effects of climate change. A study done by Martin Hoffert analyzes the consequences of these emissions. The goal is to keep the average global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. To achieve this goal, the burning of fossil fuels would have to decrease substantially. When we burn fossil fuels, large amounts of CO2 are produced, and released into the Earth’s atmosphere. These gases then act as the glass in a greenhouse. They trap all of the heat from the Sun in the Earth’s atmosphere, which begins to increase the global temperature. As of now, efforts to minimize CO2 emissions have not been recognizable, and emission levels are rising faster than ever. The only true solution to fix this problem is to say goodbye to the burning of fossil fuels all together.

If we were to stop the building of additional CO2 producing devices, and only continue to use our existing devices, in 50 years, we would still be 0.7 degrees above the accepted threshold. So basically, science needs to find a way to stop the burning of fossil fuels, and produce green energy that will power the world “carbon-neutrally”. Scientists are predicting decades of hard work before this will become a reality. Carbon emissions and the carbon-to-energy ratio have been declining over the years; first, from coal to oil, then from oil to natural gas, each producing less and less CO2. The problem now is that oil and natural gas are at peak production. This is increasing the ratio and carbon emissions. This could be prevented altogether if we did not rely on fossil fuels for energy.

Even with continuous improvements in energy intensity (lowering CO2 emissions per unit of energy), if we were to maintain economic growth, and keep the CO2 levels below 450 ppm, it will require 30 terawatts of carbon-neutral energy by 2050. It has been proven to be difficult for even 1 terawatt of carbon-neutral energy to be produced. In fact a Nobel Prize was awarded to Laureate Richard Smalley for doing so. He referred to it as “the terawatt challenge”. Scientists now are researching ways to achieve a larger market for solar and wind energy, and find ways to store the energy until it is needed. Some countries such as Denmark are well on their way to achieving this. Many parts of Denmark use power that is dependent on resource availability (intermittent). It forces water through turbines to collect energy. The problem is, this approach is not feasible for many countries. It is very expensive and requires a lot of research and testing.

We need to stop continuing in the direction of fossil fuels and begin to use more and more renewable resources for energy, before it is too late. We are slowly killing our planet, and it needs to stop. It is going to require a very large amount of money to fund the research and testing for finding new ways to use renewable resources for energy, but it will be well worth it in the long run. One way that could help the funding in a large way would be to add Carbon Taxes. Carbon Taxes are a surcharge on the content of carbon content in oil, natural gas, and coal that help discourage the use of fossil fuels and lower CO2 emissions. This money could be used to help fund research.

It is not going to be an easy task to break the population of using fossil fuels, but it needs to happen. You can help by getting your old cars and trucks off the streets. Old cars produce an extremely large amount of CO2 emissions, and they are not doing our planet any favours. Finding carbon-neutral resources has become a very urgent issue that needs to be addressed. The first goal for scientists is to develop technologies that can meet the terawatt challenge, and then build from there. If we keep living the way we are, we are going to have a huge problem on our hands.
Cassandra Wiesner -- 0722271
Hoffert, M. 2010. Farewell to fossil fuels. Science Magazine, 329 (5997): page-1292-1294. Available At:

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