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This blog is expressly directed to readers who do not have strong training or backgrounds in science, with the intent of helping them grasp the underpinnings of this important issue. I'm going to present an ongoing series of posts that will develop various aspects of the science of global warming, its causes and possible methods for minimizing its advance and overcoming at least partially its detrimental effects.

Each post will begin with a capsule summary. It will then proceed with captioned sections to amplify and justify the statements and conclusions of the summary. I'll present images and tables where helpful to develop a point, since "a picture is worth a thousand words".

Friday, October 15, 2010

Present Federal Expenditures for Greenhouse Gas Reduction Are Inadequate

Summary: Global warming based on greenhouse gas emissions arising from burning fossil fuels threatens critically to alter living conditions on our planet.  In the previous posting, the findings of climate scientists were presented, showing that a massive effort, of the size devoted to the moon landing program initiated by President Kennedy, in order to place the U. S. on the path to a carbon-free energy economy.  In Tom Friedman’s column for Oct. 13, 2010  he details that the U. S. is currently embarking on a small number of projects budgeted in the $20 million dollar range.  It is clear that, given the urgency of dealing with global warming, a far greater effort by the government and private enterprise is called for.

Introduction:  In earlier postings we have discussed the current status of global warming due to greenhouse gas accumulation.  Davis and coworkers (discussed here) have shown that even if installation of all new energy facilities worldwide that rely on fossil fuels were to abruptly stop right now, the continued emissions from existing facilities and items would continue feeding new greenhouse gas (mainly carbon dioxide, CO2)  into the atmosphere, and continue to lead to further global temperature rise.  In contrast to this limited hypothesis, Hoffert, in his commentary on the Davis article (presented here) , emphasizes the very dire situation that we will actually face in the future because of the accelerating addition of new CO2-emitting facilities.  Recent predictions of future global warming from the United Kingdom and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggest that average global temperatures could rise 4 deg C (7 deg F) or more from today by the end of the century.  Such a drastic change in climate would lead to serious unfavorable effects on human populations around the world.

Mini-Manhattan Projects.  In Tom Friedman’s most recent op-ed column of Oct. 13, 2010, he describes programs set up by U. S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and others in President Obama’s administration responsible for energy policy.  They identified eight areas to pursue:
1.      smart grid,
2.      solar electricity,
3.      carbon capture and storage,
4.      extreme materials,
5.      batteries and energy storage,
6.      energy efficient buildings,
7.      nuclear energy, and
8.      fuels from sunlight,
and termed these “mini-Manhattan projects”.  (The Manhattan project was the intensive and massive secret program to develop the atomic bomb during World War II.)  Although each was intended for low level funding for five years, according to Mr. Friedman, only items 6-8 have received appropriated funds, “less than $22 million”, for only one year.  They are located at academic or research institutions around the U. S.  (At the end of the Bush administration, the Department of Energy promulgated the report “Strategies for the Commercialization and Deployment of Greenhouse Gas Intensity-Reducing Technologies and Practices”.  It provides a detailed technical and economic analysis of strategies to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.)

Mr. Friedman recounts that in describing this program to Kishore Mahbubani, the dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, Mr. Mahbubani was sure that “billions” of dollars, not millions, was the funding for this program.  Mr. Friedman had to emphasize "millions" to get the point home!  Singapore, an independent city-state, is reported to be well advanced in setting up a biomedical science center on a par to attract the best scientists in the world. 

Inadequate U. S. Funding for Energy R&D. There are several areas of concern about the present extent of federal commitment to reducing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.  The U. S. Congress has not been able to pass legislation addressing global warming.  Although certain other regions of the world have put in place “cap-and-trade”, or emissions trading, policies to achieve this objective, the U. S. Congress has not acceded to this system since it was first proposed after the Kyoto Protocol of 1997.

Also on Oct. 13, 2010, the New York Times reported that a nascent commercial effort to produce solar panels in the U. S. has been undercut by a subsidized solar cell industry in China.

As an example of an infrastructure project intended to alleviate greenhouse gas emissions from private automobiles, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California is planning high speed rail lines in his state.  Unfortunately, in recognition of the fact that U. S. engineering capability is deemed inadequate for the task, he is considering to work with China for planning and construction of this project.

According to the New York Times energy blog, a large wind farm to be built in West Texas is to use parts manufactured in China.  The turbine engineering originates in Germany, and a gear box is designed by General Electric.  The project includes loan guarantees from the U. S. federal government.  The blog also refers to concerns expressed by Energy Secretary Steven Chu that the U. S. may be falling behind to China in developing alternative energy technology.

Conclusion:  For a variety of reasons, some which were discussed in a previous posting, there is significant skepticism or resistance in the U. S. to launching a major undertaking to supplant CO2-producing energy production with alternative or sustainable energy sources.  Some examples of this inadequacy were reviewed here.  Yet, the most recent assessment of global warming clearly shows that serious dangers will ensue if emission  of atmospheric CO2 is not eliminated.  The U. S. government should move to a sustained and intensified effort to develop and install technologies, and to promote commercial enterprises, that ultimately will eliminate CO2 emissions.

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