Sunday, October 27, 2013

Talk on Climate Change by Mark Hertsgaard

by Bill Creasy

The University of Maryland Baltimore County hosted a lecture by Mark Hertsgaard, journalist and author of "HOT: Living through the next Fifty Years on Earth" on October 16, 2013. The book was adopted campus-wide by UMBC, which has reduced carbon footprint by 13%. Baltimore Secular Humanists listed this lecture as an event on their meetup site.

Hertsgaard gave some good news about climate change. He pointed out that cell phones have been adopted rapidly in 15 years, and solar power use is being adopted now faster than cell phones were. Germany is adopting it rapidly. Japan added more solar than the nuclear that they shut down the nuclear reactors following the Fukishima disaster. Solar power is going to poor villages in Africa, beating the transmission grid. The Dutch are most prepared nation esp. for sea level rise, and they are selling the expertise.

Solar is getting cheap quickly, and business analysts agree. A company called Sunjevity installs solar panels, but it leases the panels and consumers only sign contract to consume power. The company has no fuel costs, and company makes money on electricity. 
The silver lining of climate change: it will create jobs. The bad news is in the latest IPCC report. There is a time lag between release of gas into atmosphere and heating. Temperatures will increase for 30 years even with no additional emissions.

Most of the book is about how to live through increasing temperatures by "generation HOT," current college students and younger children, including Hertsgaard's young daughter. Society must "avoid an unmanagable amount of warming, and manage the unavoidable."

There is a target of 2 degree threshold, and countries will try to limit change to 2 C. Even with this target, there will still be sea level rise and glacier melting. The target should give 30 years to stop using carbon-based fuels. That is the challenge for the current generation.

Victories are being won: 168 coal plants are being stopped, even in the red states. Keystone XL pipeline is being resisted. Environmental groups are becoming a movement with political power only in the last 2 years. But in order to meet the 2 C target, some fossil fuels will have to be left in the ground.

What can students do? Ask what you can do, and get an education; do something, don't just worry; change your lifestyle as a start; but a change of policies is needed to make big changes, by getting politically active. He asks people to get involved, for the sake of his children. He said that on Nov. 12 at MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art) will have a protest against LNG terminal byChesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), which he called the most effective local group in the country.

Natural gas was considered to be an improvement over coal power plants because there is less carbon dioxide emission per unit energy from burning it. But natural gas has problems that are only beginning to be assessed, because leakage of gas into the atmosphere contributes to warming, and methane is about twenty times as effective for warming as carbon dioxide. So it may not have as much advantage over coal as has been thought.

The biggest myth is that adapting to climate change will make life worse or force a return to lower technology. He thinks if we do it right, life will get better.

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