By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association
While many Americans still deny global warming, or at least listen acceptingly to those who do, Europeans believe it exists and are taking action to counter it.
According to Jurgen Lefevere, European Commissioner negotiator at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, “Climate change is now seen as an opportunity to deal with the economic downturn in Europe.”
The consensus in Germany is that renewable energy sources must be drastically increased. Germans expect 50 percent of their electricity will come from renewables in 50 years.
Sweden is an even better example, already producing more than 44 percent of their energy from renewable sources. While the use of biofuels increased, their economy grew 2.8 percent annually. Their success started in 1991, when a carbon tax was introduced. The tax is credited with moving the society into efficient climate-friendly energy solutions. Unfortunately, the U.S. press ignores Sweden’s success story.
In his presentation at the recent Bioenergy Conference, Par Holmgren, Ph.D., TV meteorologist and author, discussed global warming, its causes and impacts, and possible ways to deal with it.
NOAA data reveals the top 10 warm years during the period between 1880 and the present were all since 2000. Both modeled and observed climate change most closely aligned with greenhouse gases. He showed a photograph of himself standing on a ship in the Arctic at 82 degrees north, the farthest ever reached by any ship or captain. In 2011 and 2007, the Arctic, which he considers the most vulnerable, had the least summer sea ice ever.
For millions of years, the Earth had between 180 and 280 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; it now has 390. The planetary boundary is considered to be 350. Earth’s biosphere can accept less than 10 billion tons annually; currently, 33 billion tons are emitted each year.
Engaging the audience, Holmgren asked what percent of global warming was attributable to carbon dioxide. Responses ranged from 80 percent to 100 percent. He countered that the number is 160 percent to 200 percent: warming would be 60 percent to 100 percent higher than it is now if dark particles, such as those emitted by dirty coal, oil and natural gas, were not countering carbon dioxide’s effect. Global dimming may also partially mask it. Greenhouse gases are long lived; dark particles have short lives.
Holmgren believes people in northern lands have a much better chance to adapt to warming than those in China, South America and Africa, where the warmer climate with plenty of food led to large populations. In those regions, it can be disastrous.
Most future scenarios regarding global warming show people doing nothing. As soon as we do something, the risks are decreased. Holmgren posed three important questions regarding consequences, adaptation and mitigation. His three important answers are saving energy (we can save 60 percent of the energy we use with no change in lifestyle); using new technologies (the Earth receives as much solar energy in one day as the entire human population uses in a year); and changing behavior (such as using less energy in food production and vacations). He feels that within 60 years, solar energy will be the major energy source. Bioenergy is transitional only.
His summary statement to the audience was: “Knowledge is important! You are doing something very important right now!”
Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Oct. 26-Nov. 1, 2011, issue