When Al Gore first started talking about Global Warming and Climate Change, it led to much speculation and debate. In 2011, the debate seems to be over. Most scientists agree that Climate Change is real and a real problem.
As Steven Chu was quoted in Time Magazine in 2009:
"What the U.S. and China do over the next decade," declared Energy Secretary Steven Chu, the Nobel Prize - winning physicist who is leading President Obama's push for a clean-energy economy, "will determine the fate of the world."
The article goes on to say:
Although it may take decades to understand the full impacts of glacier melting and sea-level rise, the increase in climate-related catastrophes is already a fact. The frequency of natural disasters has increased by 42 percent since the 1980s, and the percentage of those that are climate-related has risen from 50 to 82 percent. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimates that in 2008, clime-related calamities drove 20 million people from their homes - more than four times the number displaced by violent conflict.
Forced migration and displacement prompted by climate change is therefore poised to become the international community's defining - and potentially overwhelming-humanitarian challenge in the coming decades.
So what's the solution?
Global warming is caused by the release of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. Approximately half of all greenhouse gases are produced by the burning of fossil fuels to create electricity. The Solar Roadway™ on a global scale eliminates this need entirely (see our Numbers page).
Transportation accounts for another 25% of greenhouse gases. Electric vehicles (EVs) will be able to recharge anywhere Solar Road Panels are installed (parking lots, rest stops, etc.). Engineers are even currently investigating charging EVs while they are traveling on the Solar Roadways. Elimination of internal combustion engines will take out another 25 percent of greenhouse gases.
We have learned that present levels of carbon dioxide – nearing 400 parts per million (ppm) in the earth’s atmosphere – are higher than they have been at any time in the past 650,000 years and could easily surpass 500 ppm by the year 2050 without radical intervention.
Wildfires in such regions as Indonesia, the U.S. and even inland Alaska have been increasing as timberlands and forest floors grow more parched. The blazes create a feedback loop of their own, pouring more carbon into the atmosphere and reducing the number of trees, which inhale CO2 and release oxygen.
Rising average temperature puts more heat energy and water vapor into the atmosphere, fueling heavier rainfall, more powerful hurricanes, and more frequent heat waves, while increasing the risk of drought and wildfires. From heat waves to storms to floods to fires to massive glacial melts, the global climate seems to be crashing around us. Disasters have always been with us and surely always will be. But when they hit this hard and come this fast – when the emergency becomes commonplace – something has gone grievously wrong. That something is global warming.
Another predicted consequence of global warming is heavier downpours, leading to more floods. We've seen more of those in the U.S. and other countries in recent years. The immediate hazard is drowning, but the larger issue is water quality. To take just one example, more that 700 U.S. cities – most of them older communities in the Northeast, Northwest and Great lakes area – have sewer systems that regularly overflow into water supplies during heavy rainstorms, mixing dirty and clean water and sometimes requiring mandatory boiling to make contaminated tap water safe.
Polar ice is so reflective that 90% of the sunlight that strikes it simply bounces back into space, taking much of its energy with it. Ocean water does just the opposite, absorbing 90% of the energy it receives. The more energy it retains, the warmer it gets, with the result that each mile of ice that melts vanishes faster than the mile that preceded it.
A similar feedback loop is melting permafrost, usually defined as land that has been continuously frozen for two years or more. There’s a lot of earthly real estate that qualifies, and much of it has been frozen much longer than two years – since the end of the last ice age, or at least 8,000 years ago. Sealed inside that cryonic time capsule are layers of partially decayed organic matter, rich in carbon. In high-altitude regions of Alaska, Canada and Siberia, the soil is warming and decomposing, releasing gases that will turn into methane and CO2. That, in turn, could lead to more warming and permafrost thaw, says research scientist David Lawrence of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado. And how much carbon is socked away in Arctic soils? Lawrence puts the figure at 200 gigatons to 800 gigatons. The total human carbon output is only 7 gigatons a year.
Studies show that some areas of permafrost have already started emitting carbon dioxide and methane as the rich organic matter they contain thaws and starts to decompose. Researchers worry that once the thawing gets going, the permafrost could dump its carbon into the atmosphere relatively quickly, amplifying the effect of human emissions to cause dramatic and unstoppable climate change.
Joplin tornado 2011
More than people realize, dealing with climate change means addressing the problems posed by emissions from coal-fired power plants. Unless humanity takes prompt action to strictly limit the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere when consuming coal to make electricity, we have little chance of gaining control over global warming.
A global armada of coal plants has helped push carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to levels 36 percent higher than pre-industrial times. Yet coal’s low cost and abundance make it the world’s choice for meeting growing electricity demand. Coal provides half the electricity in the United States. Worldwide coal plants are responsible for 20 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.
India’s greenhouse-gas emissions could rise 70% by 2025. The increase in China’s emissions from 2000 to 2030 will nearly equal the increase from the entire industrialized world. China’s total electricity demand will rise an estimated 2,600 gigawatts by 2050, which is the equivalent of adding four 300-megawatt power plants every week for the next 45 years.
Coal-fired power plants account for more than two thirds of sulfur dioxide and about one fifth of nitrogen oxide emissions in the U.S. Sulfur dioxide reacts in the atmosphere to form sulfate particles, which in addition to causing acid rain, contribute to fine particulate pollution, a contaminant linked to thousands of premature deaths from lung disease nationwide. Nitrogen oxides combine with hydrocarbons to form smog-causing ground-level ozone. Coal-burning plants also emit approximately 48 metric tons of mercury a year in American. This highly toxic element persists in the ecosystem. After transforming into methyl mercury, it accumulates in the tissues of fishes. Ingested mercury is particularly detrimental to fetuses and young infants expose during periods of rapid brain growth, causing developmental and neurological damage.
Oil accounted for 43 percent of global carbon emissions from fossil fuels in 2002, while coal accounted for 37 percent; natural gas made up the remainder. More than half the oil was used for transportation. Transportation, too, must be decarbonized.
Well-meaning scientists, engineers, economists and politicians have proposed various steps that could slightly reduce fossil-fuel use and missions. These steps are not enough. A much bolder and more effective plan is needed.
In the category of greatest unfulfilled potential, solar-electric power is a technology without rival. Solar energy’s potential is off the chart. The energy in sunlight striking the earth for 40 minutes is equivalent to global energy consumption for a year.
Summary: We're running out of time very quickly. There is no easy fix. There is an old African proverb: "If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." Using this proverb, Al Gore pointed out that, "We need to go far, quickly." He was speaking at a 2008 TED conference.
The Solar Roadways™ can be implemented as our roads need repairing (no point in replacing good roads immediately - just wait until they wear out) in the U.S., but it is going to require the cooperation of our government: in particular, the DOE, EPA, DOT, and Homeland Security. It will require legislation and bills that can pass through Congress, the Senate, and the White House. It will take a great amount of cooperation between our political parties.
Time Magazine Special Report: Global Warming April 3, 2006
National Geographic – Changing Climate June 22, 2008
Scientific American – A Climate Repair Manual September 2006
Scientific American – A Solar Grand Plan December 16, 2007
Time Magazine- Can Steven Chu Win the Fight Over Global Warming, August 23, 2009
Scientific American - Casualties of Climate Change, January 2011
"We're in a giant car heading toward a brick wall and everyone's arguing over where they're going to sit." ~ David SuzukiPlease join our fan site on Facebook. It's the best way to keep up with our current news.
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