10/1/2012 12:58:00 PM Publisher's Column
We should be leaders in clean energy research
Back in the 1950s there was speculation about a coming ice age based on historical and continental temperature data. That was before Jacques Cousteau and William Beebe had introduced the general public to Earth's oceans and Nasa had begun photographing Earth from space. When scientists began exploring the oceans in the 1960s, it quickly became apparent that while the continental masses had been cooling the oceans were experiencing warming. By the late 1960s and with satellite telemetry, worries about an impending ice age were replaced by the first concerns that there was growing evidence of human impact on the Earth's climate cycles.
Mariners have known for centuries that the area of polar ice expands in the winter and recedes in the summer. When scientists began making detailed studies of ocean water temperatures and recording changes in polar ice cover they found that warm currents are eroding the underside of the polar ice even when cold is freezing the top. While seasonal fluctuations continue, the winter recovery is reduced each year. As a result, the amount of polar ice is significantly less today than it was even ten years ago.
There are maps available online of the changing polar ice caps. Today, anyone can go to: http://www.redorbit. com/news/science/1112697789/arctic-ice-melt-record-092012/ or http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/ and see for themselves how the polar ice cap has changed.
As a result of global warming, heat circulation patterns in both water and air have changed enough that no one knows what climate changes are coming, but it is pretty clear that the changes will be dramatic. Warm water and air from the Pacific have been warming the northern polar region and pushing cold winter water and air masses south. Last year it gave us a rather mild winter while doing just the opposite for Europe and Asia. It has given us a very long growing season this year with inadequate moisture.
Climate scientists tell us the main cause of global warming is the increase in greenhouse gases, atmospheric gases such as carbon dioxide and methane that trap heat from the sun. There are still a very small number of diehard scientists who will argue that human beings are not the only cause of increased greenhouse gases. Whether they are right or not is irrelevant as it is pretty clear that global warming is taking place. It may be true that there are also natural cycles that contribute to the problem, but there is nothing we can do change those natural cycles. We can change the share that human beings contribute.
Global warming presents a challenge to the human race that also offers an economic opportunity on a scale large enough to solve all of our economic problems, if we will stop arguing about it and start seriously working to do something about it.
We know getting energy from oil, coal an even natural gas releases methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. If we invest seriously in clean energy technology to replace them, we can slow and eventually stop global warming while building new economic engines to drive our economy.
Wind technology is already making clean energy available to millions of homes. Unfortunately, as in most areas of clean energy research, we are not providing the leadership we should be providing. There are many other areas of clean energy research where we should also be leading instead of following:
hybrid vehicles using combinations of internal combustion, electricity and hydraulics;
energy efficient lighting, motors, etc.;
fusion nuclear generation;
We should be a leader in the effort to control global warming through clean energy while there is still an opportunity for such leadership, if for no other reason than it is the most significant economic opportunity on Earth.