Lots of climate news coming across the wires lately. As well there should be for the most pressing issue of this or any other age. Here’s a look at some key indicators…
Researchers have found that the so-called “black carbon” (that’s soot to you and me) created by burning biomass fuels like wood and dung has far more of an impact on the climate than previously thought. In fact, its heat-trapping effect may be as much as 60% of carbon dioxide’s. That seems like bad news because humanity burns a lot of wood and forests and dung, especially in the third world. But don’t be fooled. Unlike CO2, which generally stays in the atmosphere for 100 years after it’s been emitted, soot particles only hang around a few weeks. So any effort to stop the release of soot, which is relatively easy to do, will bear immediate and possibly even dramatic fruit where the climate is concerned and could buy us some critical time to get to a zero-carbon world.
In other news, the Progressive Automotive X Prize competition is underway. This international competition will give $10 million to the first car offered for sale to the public that gets 100 mpg. Entrants so far include the Tesla electric sports car, which its makers say gets the equivalent of 135 mpg. And a car from FuelVapor Technologies that literally runs on fumes to the tune of 92 mpg. Notably absent from the competition are the major U.S. automakers. Someone’s going to have to explain to me why these guys are so pathologically reluctant to get into the sustainability game. What part of $4-a-gallon-gas don’t they get? Is it the part where everybody buys a Prius? Because really… you’d have thought they’d have noticed by now. I know $10 million is less than they spend on paper clips when engineering a new car, but that’s hardly the point. They’re like a T-Rex insisting that the giant flaming hunk of space debris tearing through the atmosphere is just a trick of the late afternoon light. I’m not bothered by their imminent self-induced extinction. I just don’t want them taking down the climate as they fall. C’mon guys… get with the program already.
Finally, we’ve all heard about going carbon-neutral, that delightful state of perfect equilibrium that exists when the things we do produce no net carbon emissions. But what about going carbon negative? It’s an idea now being bandied about as the next phase of humanity’s operation. What if we could go beyond producing no carbon in our daily activities to actually removing some of what’s already there? Instead of making things worse or simply having no effect, we’d actually make them better. It’s possible. One idea, for example, would use the waste heat produced by a solar electrical generating station to remove five lbs. of carbon from the air per kilowatt hour of power produced. This is exactly the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that’ll get us where we need to go. Just imagine: the more power you use the cleaner Earth gets. How’s that for spinning a dominant paradigm on its head and drop kicking it into the nearest waste bin?