Industry Ignoring Their Own Scientists

According to a New York Times article on April 24, 2009, by Andrew C. Revkin, the Global Climate Coalition—a group that represents industries tied to fossil fuels—has been involved in aggressive lobbying against the idea that the emissions of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere have led to global warming.

In the 1990s, the group released public statements designed to confuse and add doubt to the issue in order to sway public opinion and lessen the impact on what research scientists were warning concerning global warming. Because the media attempted to give equal time to differing opinions, the Global Climate Coalition was able to gain ground. It was financed by large oil, coal, and the auto industry—those who had a vested interest in lessening the publics' attention on the negative effects of global warming.

Many environmentalists believe that these industries have understood the connection of their business activities to the rise in greenhouse gases and global warming all along, but that these industries treated the issue similarly to how tobacco companies treated the lung cancer issue years ago by insisting that "the science linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer was uncertain." In a similar way, the Global Climate Coalition has been able to cast enough doubt on the issue that a public outcry has been averted.

According to George Monbiot, a British environmental activist, "They didn't have to win the argument to succeed, only to cause as much confusion as possible."

In 2002, the coalition formally disbanded. Members, such as the American Petroleum Institute still individually lobby against global warming; but others, such as ExxonMobil, now recognize the human component of global warming and no longer financially support groups that challenge the science. It was discovered in a report prepared by the Global Climate Coalition in 1996 that greenhouse gas emissions-induced climate change was occurring and being affected by human

(continues on page 146)


Even if the man-made greenhouse effect is brought under control, the Earth will still warm up, thanks to a completely different source of heat that humans create, according to Tufts University astrophysicist Eric J. Chaisson.

Chaisson predicts that over the next 250 years the Earth's population will start generating so much of its own heat—mainly from wasted energy use—that it will warm the Earth even without a rise in greenhouse gases. His advice is that the only way to avoid this is to rethink the way we use energy.

Chaisson chose to focus on waste heat that has not been studied in terms of global warming. He states that everything that uses or generates energy—such as cars, snow blowers, computers, lightbulbs, toasters, TVs, stereos, blow-dryers, iPods, and digital picture frames—squanders energy as wasted heat. He emphasizes that the larger and more energy-hungry the human population becomes, the more waste heat collects in the atmosphere.

According to Dennis Bushnell, the chief scientist at NASA's Langley Research Center, who supports Chaisson's ideas, said, "What this means for humans is that this is the ultimate limit to growth. As we produce more kilowatts, we have to produce more waste heat."

Chaisson's suggestion as a solution to the problem is not necessarily a cutback in energy use, but to change the way humans look at energy consumption. He believes that the population needs to shift toward power sources that do not add new heat to the Earth's system.

Chaisson contends that the waste heat problem is not all attributed to dirty fossil fuels such as coal, but also to some clean power sources such as nuclear and geothermal energy. Therefore, the only way to avoid adding extra unwanted heat is to use energy sources that already reach the Earth's surface. In other words, all of the energy used should originate only from sunlight and the wind and the waves that it powers.

Critics of Chaisson's theory say it is a scenario so far into the future that it is difficult to predict the extent to which it will play out. They also warn that attention should not be drawn away from present-day global warming at this point. Chaisson's idea, however, has captured the atten tion of many scientists worldwide. They see it as an opportunity to avoid a crisis before future generations have to face it. In a bigger sense, it also sets up a broader framework for decisions—one that looks at the environment from a long-term perspective.

Chaisson credits the basis for a lot of his ideas to his mentor and friend, the late astronomer Carl Sagan. He links his ideas to a fundamental law of science—energy cannot be perfectly harnessed, but tends to dissipate, usually in the form of heat. This concept, also called entropy, is dealt with in the second law of thermodynamics.

While the wasted heat today is not a huge problem, in the future it will be. The more energy humans use to fuel society and feed populations, the more waste heat will be emitted. As more countries industrialize and populations grow, the heat eventually will become a significant problem. Chaisson believes that even if all greenhouse gas pollution was capped, in 300 years the Earth will still be 5°F (3°C) warmer.

Mark Flanner, a research scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, agrees with Chaisson's theory. Although he believes it is not a major problem right now, he supports the idea that waste heat will play a much larger role over the long term. He said, "If we continue the current growth rate in nonrenewable energy use, the heat flux will be of equal magnitude to the greenhouse effect 200 years from now."

Yangyang Liu, an atmospheric scientist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, who was also intrigued by Chaisson's theory, but thinks it may overestimate waste heat's contribution to long-term global warming, said, "We just don't know if there is a point at which energy use will level off. The efficiency to convert energy to work will also probably improve over time."

John Merrill, an atmospheric physicist at the University of Rhode Island's School of Oceanography, said, "I can't show that the estimates are wrong, but I can say that there are many hurdles caused by climate change and other environmental and social challenges that we need to address a lot sooner than this set."



Chaisson concedes that in looking 300 years into the future, his critique is outside current debates over climate change. But he warns that taking a long-term view is vital to human survival—even if the coming environmental catastrophe is something that neither we, nor our children, are likely to see.

(continued from page 143)

behavior and activities. The committee approved the final document, but only after the section acknowledging anthropogenic global warming was removed. According to the minutes of the meeting, "This idea was accepted and that portion of the paper will be dropped."

When questioned, William O'Keefe, the chairman of the Global Climate Coalition and a senior official of the American Petroleum Institute, said he was not aware that part of the final report had been deleted.

Benjamin D. Santer, a climate scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, whose work for the IPCC was challenged by the Global Climate Coalition said, "I'm amazed and astonished that the Global Climate Coalition had in their possession scientific information that substantiated our cautious findings and then chose to suppress that information."

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Guide to Alternative Fuels

Guide to Alternative Fuels

Your Alternative Fuel Solution for Saving Money, Reducing Oil Dependency, and Helping the Planet. Ethanol is an alternative to gasoline. The use of ethanol has been demonstrated to reduce greenhouse emissions slightly as compared to gasoline. Through this ebook, you are going to learn what you will need to know why choosing an alternative fuel may benefit you and your future.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment