Planet Earth Weekly

Climate Change and Renewable Energy: Saving Our Planet for Future Generations


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From Global Warming to Extreme Weather

From global warming to extreme weather

From global warming to extreme weather (Photo credit: HikingArtist.com)

By Lin Smith

December 21, 2013—-Scientists won’t say any one event causes extreme weather because weather is a product of many different factors, but they do agree with the study of probability, that extreme weather is impacted by global warming and the build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere.The fact is, scientists do know, through decades of monitoring, that if there was no global warming, global temperatures would not be rising. Computers produced these results years ago, when computers first started gathering data. Data shows what the world weather would be like if it was impacted only by natural causes, with no greenhouse gas emissions, using many different models and programs. These models have measured the atmospheric temperature increase of .9 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970, caused by carbon dioxide from fossil fuels acting like the glass of a greenhouse, holding the warm air close to the earth and not letting it escape.

Scientists using these models, have also measured the rising temperature of the oceans, which have warmed by .18 degrees Fahrenheit to a depth of 2,300 feet in the past century. This is the level at which most ocean life dwells. As global temperatures increase so do ocean surface temperatures, oceans occupying 71% of the earth’s surface. Warmer temperatures lead to greater evaporation. Water vapor drives rainstorms–and this is a variable in extreme weather.

The data collected supports the fact that burning fossil fuels creates all the conveniences which have ” made life easier” since the Industrial Revolution, but, in the long run, will make life more “inconvenient” for our children and grandchildren. Scientists predict a greater frequency of droughts, floods, heat waves, sudden drops in temperature, tornadoes, hurricanes, and severe storms. Larry West states in his article, Does Climate Change Cause Extreme Weather?, “You can’t say with certainty that any single weather event is a direct effect of global warming, but you can link climate change to extreme weather trends.”

Mario J. Molina, 1995 Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry, recieved his award for establishing that CFC’s, the chemical in aerosol spray cans, were destroying the ozone layer of earth’s atmosphere. The result was the “Montreal Protocol” which entered into existence in 1989. The “Montreal Protocol” states “…certain substances can significantly deplete and, otherwise, modify the ozone layer in a manner that is likely to result in adverse effects on human health and the environment…..(this protocol) is determined to protect the ozone layer by taking precautionary measures to control total emissions of substances that deplete the ozone…” This agreement was signed by 197 states and the European Union, making it the single most successful international agreement in United Nations history.

Insert the two words ‘fossil fuels’ for CFC’s, sign a new agreement and you have the Kyoto Protocol, implemented in 2005 by the United Nations, with much political fall-out. Developing nations, such as China, (yes, it is considered a developing nation), would not be required to limit their emissions, so in 2005 the United States pulled out. The remaining 37 countries, left backing the agreement, have met their target CO2 reduction, cutting their greenhouse gases by 16%. These cuts have had little impact on the atmosphere, but these countries should serve as models for the nations that didn’t sign the Protocol, backed out of the Protocol, or didn’t produce a better solution. Worldwide emission have continued to surged by 50% since 1990, because of the earth’s worst fossil fuel offenders, China, United States, and India.

Why was the Montreal Protocol a success and the Kyoto Protocol a failure? Molina believes it was because the Montreal Protocol involved only a small set of substances and it was easy to get all nations on the same page. The economies of developed countries today, have been built around fossil fuels, making economic risks higher, especially without alternatives to maintain our economies at the present levels. He states, “It’s important that people are doing more than hearing about it. People will not change unless they feel it… experience it, by the impact of food prices, and extreme weather, such as floods, tornados, hurricanes, and rising temperatures. Unless they actually see the direction global warming is taking us.” Molina suggests a course of action that would include “phasing out” substances that cause global warming and providing less expensive alternative energy.

At this point in time, there seems to be greater global impact by grassroots groups, putting pressure on universities, cities, and countries to divest in fossil fuels. If individuals and corporations have to “feel” the impact for change to happen, then this movement may provide the force necessary for the economies to reverse direction, along with waking up to the forces of nature.

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The Green Climate Fund

Scientific studies on climate helped establish...

The Green Climate Fund would help counteract temperature increases by funding climate friendly programs in underdeveloped nations(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Lin Smith

Origination of the Green Climate Fund
November 30, 2013–The idea for the Green Climate Fund originated at the 2010 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Cancun, Mexico. According to the drafted document, which can be viewed at gcfund.net, its purpose is, “to make a significant contribution to the global efforts to limit global warming, by providing support to developing countries to help limit or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and to adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate with low-emission projects and climate-resilient development.” The Fund was to limit the emissions that would take place with the Industrial Revolution that would soon evolve in undeveloped nations, by working and funding a cleaner Industrial Revolution for those nations using renewable energy instead of fossil fuels, preventing a further rise in global temperatures. In last week’s article on planetearth5.com, “The Demographic Transition”, by John Hidore, it was stated, “A country’s stages of the Industrial Revolution and population growth have merged from one to the next, but do not take place at the same time. Many less developed countries have not yet changed to an industry based economy, still being an agricultural society.” The Green Climate Fund was to provide grants and lend funds to the developing countries, working closely with the countries that would be most impacted by global warming, by channeling funds where needed and closely monitoring them for efficiency and effectiveness.This project has been in the development stage for several years, having a projected date of action starting in 2020.

The Warsaw Climate Talks
In the past two weeks, 9,000 people gathered in Warsaw for the Green Climate Fund Summit conference, including representatives from 195 countries, plus world environmental groups. This conference was to map and plan the action of the Green Climate Fund. Manfred Konukiewitz, of the the Green Climate fund board, stated, “Climate finance is a critical part of the international effort to combat climate change and address the impact of ever more serious climate change. The Fund is stepping up its work to deliver effective results in developing countries and ensure that the impact of funding for adaptation is maximized.”

The conference in Warsaw succeeded in creating frustration among several organizations, resulting in a walk out of these groups. Greenpeace walked out stating, “Expectations were that the developed countries were going to put money on the table, but what happened was a farce! It was the opposite of what we expected.” The environmental groups showed dismay with the lack of leadership, as Poland performed a political shuffle of their environmental ministers during the conference plus hosting a coal industry summit during the Green Climate Fund talks. This led to the belief by many that Poland was not serious about combating global warming. The environmental groups stated, “We are walking out to send a strong message due to total inaction at the talks, due to lack of ambition and finance, at a time when we need the most action.” They believe that rich countries are not pledging enough money in proportion with the climate damage they have caused. So question is, where will the money come from? Some believe, at least in part, that it should be raised with a carbon tax on the trillions of dollars in fossil fuel subsidies, which allow the price of these commodities to remain relatively low.

The bickering continued with the developed nations not wanting to take responsibility for further weather catastrophies, as underdeveloped nations thought they should. Connie Hedegaard, EU Climate Commissioner stated, “We cannot have a system where there will be automatic compensation whenever severe weather events are happening one place or the other around the planet. You will understand why that is not feasible!” Ban Ki Moon, The UN Secretary General told the Financial Times, “While national delegates bicker, human activity is leading to rising global temperatures, as stated by a new climate report released September 2013. It is much more than a wake up call. It is an emergency alarm bell. We have to take urgent action.” The conference ended with giving developed countries until 2015 to establish their “contribution” plans (meaning no commitment!) to curb greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, with nothing being finalized until the next conference in Paris in 2015.

Solutions To the Global Warming Crises
If we can’t seem to organize soon enough on a large, global scale, (much environmental damage will be done by 2020, the target date of action for Green Climate Fund) then everyone on every level needs to step up to the plate–and quickly! Individuals, communities, states and nations need to be contributing to saving our planet at a personal, state and national level. Todd Gitlin, in his article “How to Stop Apocalyptic Climate Change,” states, “The institutions of our ruling world have a powerful stake in the mad momentum of climate change, the energy system that’s producing it and the political stasis that sustains and guarantees it. They are so powerful they seem unbreakable. Don’t count on them to avert the coming crisis. They can’t because, in some sense, they are the crises!”

A final thought–would it be possible for the developed nations to cut their defense programs in half and contribute that money towards defending our planet?


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The Demographic Transition

The Population Growth Cycle

With global warming rapidly taking place, can we feed the world’s growing population? (Photo credit: mattlemmon)

By John J. Hidore

While the population is growing in most countries, it is in these less developed countries that the greatest growth on the planet is taking place.With the effects of global warming, feeding the earth’s population will be a future challenge!

November 22, 2013–In the year 2013 the global population is growing at about a quarter million each day. This is a recent trend as through most of human history the population grew very slowly. Humans began as hunters and gatherers and evolved through farmers and herders to the consumer culture of the 21st century. Through this process, life style population growth rates changed following a widely accepted model known as the demographic transition. The model of this shift shows a change from high birth and death rates to low birth and death rates. The model of the demographic transition is based upon events in Europe and involves several stages.

Hunters and Gatherers
In the first stage, humans were hunters and gatherers–until fairly recently on the earth’s timeline. Their food supply was subject to the whims of weather and other elements. Birth rates and death rates were high and varied widely. The annual rate of growth was close to zero. However, as new tools were created that increased the food supply, the population grew slowly, but at an increasing rate. About 10,000 years ago humans changed from being hunters and gatherers to farmers and herders. Once the agricultural revolution got underway, the rate of technological development began to increase steadily. Agriculture gave people control over their food supply, as did the domestication of animals. The increasing technology greatly increased the food supply and consequently the growth rate. Around 1650 the human population reached the 500 million mark.

The Industrial Revolution And Population Growth
The second stage of the demographic transition began with the onset of the industrial revolution. The Industrial Revolution began in what is now Britain, in the period from 1783 to 1812. The industrial revolution resulted in significantly lengthening the average life span, increasing the rate of population growth. The impact of the industrial revolution on the global population was phenomenal! It had taken hundreds of thousands of years for the population to reach 500 million. It took less than 200 years to add the next 500 million.

During this second stage, death rates fell rapidly due to better food and advances in medicine and public health. In much of Western Europe, the death rate dropped sharply, but the birth rate stayed high. This greatly increased the rate of growth from approximately 0.1 percent per year in 1750 to about 1.4 percent by the third quarter of the 1800’s. The growth rate in these countries exploded and the rate of population growth increased rapidly, greatly increasing the earth’s total population. The growth rate in European countries and their colonies was far greater than in the rest of the world at this time.

Increasing Life Span
The third stage of growth occurred when the birth rate dropped, while the death rate continued to decline, but slower than before. By the last quarter of the 1800’s, the birth rate in Europe began to decline, thus slowing the growth rate. The exact reasons for the drop in the birth rate is not known. In this third stage, the birth and death rates were low, with the birth rate only slightly higher than the death rate. Once again, the difference between the birth and death rate was small, both at much lower levels than in the first stage. The drop in death rates resulted in the average human life-span increasing from about 30 to more than 70 years. Each country went through the demographic transition at a different time and rate. By 1930 the industrialized countries of Europe had passed through the transition and reached the final stage of low growth rates. Those countries which have joined the industrial nations since 1930 have also gone through the demographic transition. Since 1900, growth rates in the industrialized countries have averaged between 0.25 and l.0 percent. The stages merge from one to the next,  but do not take place everywhere at the same time.
Population Growth Rate of Undeveloped Countries
Most of the nearly 200 nations existing today have not reached the third phase. Many less developed countries have not changed to an industry based economy. These countries are largely still agricultural. They have remained in the second stage, which is one of high birth rates and declining death rates. Where basic health improvement measures have been put in place, the death rate has dropped substantially. The large gap means a high growth rate. The global average growth rate in 2011 was some 1.2%. The CIA Fact book estimates the growth rate in Zimbabwe at 4.38% and that of Libya at 4.85%. This is in comparison to the United Kingdom at 0.55% and the United States at 0.9% While the population is growing in most countries, it is in these less developed countries that the greatest growth on the planet is taking place.

The highest growth rates are occurring in nations that are already in danger of becoming failed states. In many of these nations the ruling elite have little desire to support family planning, making the economic and social problems worse. Birth rates could drop substantially and rapidly, stabilizing the global population at 0%, but this seems highly unlikely in the near future. With the effects of global warming, feeding the earth’s population will be a future challenge!

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Global Warming

Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and m...

Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and mean global temperature during the past 1000 years. Carbon dioxide levels (blue line, left-hand axis) are given in parts per million (volume), temperatures (red line, right-hand axis) in degrees centigrade. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Lin Smith

August 17, 2013–The science of 350: Scientists say that 350 parts per million  of CO2 in the atmosphere is the safe limit for humanity. We are above the safe zone at our current 400ppm, and unless we rapidly return to below 350 ppm this century, we risk reaching irreversible impacts such as the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and major methane releases from increased permafrost melt.

Ppm or parts per million  is a way of measuring the concentration of different gases. It means the ratio of the number of carbon dioxide molecules to all of the molecules in the atmosphere. Until  200 years ago our atmosphere contained about 275 parts per million of carbon dioxide, which gave human beings the environment necessary to maintain life. It provided us with just enough warmth on Earth–not too hot, not too cold!

Beginning in the 18th century, people began to burn coal, gas, and oil to produce energy and goods. This was the Industrial Revolution of Britain, Europe, and the U.S. During this time period, CO2 began to rise in our atmosphere. The production of goods transitioned from hand made to machine made. The transition also included changing from wood and other biofuels to coal.

A biofuel means a fuel derived directly from living matter, such as wood or corn. The CO2 released from wood and other biofuels has minimal impact on greenhouse gases. When we burn wood and other biofuels, the energy the biofuels take from the sun for photosynthesis, (remember your science classes?) is released back into the atmosphere. It takes and gives back about the same amount, thus, in the past,  maintaining the 275 ppm of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere-just enough for us to exist in comfort.

When we burn fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, we put more CO2 in the atmosphere. The earth then warms and that warmth is absorbed by the CO2, which does not allow it to escape into space. When CO2 is too high, climate change occurs, as it is doing today.

Many  activities we do every day, like turning the lights on, cooking food, or heating and cooling our homes,  rely on these fossil fuel energy sources that emit carbon dioxide, trapping gasses in the atmosphere. We’re taking millions of years worth of carbon, stored beneath the earth as fossil fuels, and releasing it into the atmosphere.

The planet now has about 400 parts per million of CO2-and the number is rising every year. That is more than this planet has seen in its  history! Scientists say the highest safe level of CO2 is 350 parts per million. This is the safety zone for planet earth!

James Hansen, of NASA, says if we wish to preserve a planet similar to that we are inhabiting, we need to reduce the CO2 from 400ppm to at most 350ppm. We need to stop taking carbon (coal) out of the ground and putting it in the air. We need to start using solar and wind and other sources of renewable energy. If we do, then the earth’s soils and forests will slowly cycle some of the extra carbon out of the atmosphere and eventually CO2 concentrations will return to a safe level. By doing this we could go back to the 350 by 2050. But the longer we remain in the danger zone-above 350-the more likely  we will see disastrous and irreversible climate impacts!
What we as individuals can do to cut down on fossil fuels:
1. Recycle your waste. Many household wastes, including most plastics, are made from fossil fuels. Most packaging materials use fossil fuels for their production and disposal. Try to reduce your overall consumption of things you don’t really need, and recycle everything!
2. Drive less,  walk, cycle or take public transportation, or drive a hybrid vehicle (I know this isn’t an economic choice at this time for many people.)
3. Cut your household power consumption, turn off lights when not in use. Most of the electricity in your house is likely to come from coal-fired power stations, not renewables. Insulate your home, use a ceiling fan instead of air conditioning, hang your cloths instead of tumble dry. I know–who has clothes lines anymore?? BUT they can be inexpensively installed in the back yard–just like the old days! Just put ’em back!
4. Install a solar panel. Expensive to install but will save you money in the long run.