HOT AND COLD ON CO2 I enjoyed reading William Moomaw’s article (“The Three Percent Solution,” Winter 2008) because it puts climate change into perspective and strips away the daunting prospects of achieving the seemingly huge reductions in carbon dioxide that will be needed.
Although the discussion of ways to improve building energy performance mentions “ultra-tight” windows and doors, it omits a key element of building performance: air sealing. Most common insulation materials, such as cellulose and fiberglass, do not stop heat loss if air leaks through gaps in the construction materials or through electrical boxes and recessed light fixtures. In a well-insulated home, up to 30 percent of the heating and cooling energy requirements can be a result of such air leakage.
In the United States, Habitat for Humanity is very aware of the benefits of
air sealing and, at least in Massachusetts, incorporates air sealing in its
design and construction methods.
I was greatly disappointed with “The Three Percent Solution.” The entire premise, “keeping climate change at bay,” is ludicrous, not to mention the fact that no opposing view was presented. There has always been climate change going on with Planet Earth. Unless I was taught some grave misinformation as a child, the central portion of what was to become the United States was once covered by glaciers; it’s not anymore. That’s a lot of climate change, without any humans to blame. I have read recent articles bemoaning the loss of glaciers in Greenland, but what’s rarely mentioned is what they have found beneath the receding ice—evidence of farms and vineyards. How do you suppose those Greenlanders of old fixed their global-warming problem and got the glaciers back?
My point is that there is a huge amount of evidence to refute the pseudoscience of human-caused global warming, and much misinformation in the case for climate change as it is presented. I’m all for having a clean planet. I don’t litter (in fact I pick up trash in public places). I drive an efficient car. But it is unlikely that humans, even 7 billion of them, have any influence on the cycle of climate change.
The most ridiculous part of the story is the suggestion that with a modest three percent cut per year in energy consumption and emissions, we can reduce both by 50 percent in 23 years, and 80 percent in 53 years, painlessly. It’s presented in a very reasonable way, but just a little scratch reveals the nonsense beneath.
Take, for example, a family who is told they must cut their budget by three percent per year, every year, for 50 years. The first couple of years would be easy, but pretty soon some hard choices would have to be made. Even without the expected growth of that family over 50 years—children, grandchildren, etc.—it’s clear that such modest cuts for the family each year would eventually lead to starvation. Similarly, such “modest” cuts in energy consumption in this country in the face of a rising population would very soon lead to draconian measures and a horrible standard of living for all, except the esteemed leaders and intellectuals, who would be dictating these sacrifices for our own good, and “for the children.”
Professor William Moomaw responds: Dr. Dobbs asserts that concerns about climate change are based on “pseudoscience,” and that there is a great deal of evidence to refute the argument that human activities are warming the planet. Let me point out that the science of climate and climate change is more than 180 years old, and is based on literally thousands of articles published over that time. The 120,000-year cycles of ice ages and interglacial warming periods are determined by the earth’s orbital mechanics, amplified by associated carbon dioxide and methane releases and absorption by oceans, forests, and soils. Superimposed on these long cycles, which are well documented, are shorter-term lesser, erratic fluctuations in temperature that are caused by a variety of natural phenomena. However, the rise in temperature of the past half century is strongly associated with the release of carbon dioxide, methane, and other heat-trapping gases by human activities. An excellent history of this scientific journey is provided in The Discovery of Global Warming, by Spencer Weart (www.aip.org/history/climate).
Several years ago, a meta-analysis of peer-reviewed science articles on climate change identified more than 900 articles, all of which agreed that carbon dioxide and other gases added by human activity were responsible for recent increases in temperature. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences has repeatedly supported the evidence that humans are responsible for current climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provides a comprehensive discussion of thousands of recent research articles at www.ipcc.ch. If there is credible scientific evidence that contradicts all of this careful work, I would certainly like to know about it.
As for the Three Percent Solution, Dr. Dobbs correctly notes that the first reductions may be easy, and the later ones may be harder. That is why I characterized the analysis on the basis of smaller reductions over time. What I failed to convey in my article is that many options are available that allow reductions of 50 percent to 100 percent today. The zero-emission house that my wife and I completed in 2007 reduced our residential emissions by literally 100 percent. The shift to efficient lights reduces energy and emissions by 75 to 80 percent per fixture in less than one minute. Replacing a pre-1993 inefficient refrigerator with a modern Energy Star model reduces emissions 4 percent per year over the life of the refrigerator, and replacing an average fuel-efficient vehicle with the most efficient mass-produced model reduces emissions 5 percent per year over the life of the vehicle.
I believe we are nowhere near the end of our technological innovative capacity, and over the next 50 years will create more technologies that make later reductions in energy use and emissions easier. Unlike the family cutting its budget and eventually starving, cutting heat-trapping emissions through technological improvement retains our energy services, but does so with progressively lower emissions.
Just as I observed at the end of my article, we made changes this rapidly in shifting from horses and buggies to cars and from gas lamps to electric ones a century ago. In the process, we made life better for everyone. Now, having driven that system to exorbitantly priced fossil fuels, economic and national insecurity, and potentially destructive climate change, we need to create a second industrial revolution to a society that does not depend on economically and environmentally disruptive fossil fuels, but instead provides a secure future for us all.
I much enjoyed the energy-conserving features suggested for new
home construction (“This New House,” Winter 2008), though many are impossible to incorporate into old housing stock. The matter of new, efficient light bulb use is easy, but what is not stated is that these contain mercury. Therefore, their disposal is not a routine “throwaway” because
of the toxic (shall I say poison?) threat to the environment. Proper disposal
requires the expenditure of a tremendous amount of energy, though that is obviously
hidden from the consumer.
Professor Moomaw responds: The issue of mercury in compact fluorescent lamps has been addressed in two ways. First, the amount has been reduced to 5 milligrams or less per lamp. Disposal by households is not considered an environmental or health problem for the levels released, but several states and one retailer (Ikea) have initiated special return programs. The second factor is that more mercury is emitted from coal-burning power plants to power inefficient incandescent lamps than the small amount of mercury released from CFLs when they are disposed of properly. This website has a nice discussion of what happens even if a bulb breaks and releases all its mercury: www.treehugger.com/files/2007/05/ask_treehugger_14.php.
It’s possible that some of the innovations in “This New House” would need a do-over under the new Massachusetts building code.
New code requirements for high wind loads—no less than 90 mph—address the problem of “carefully sized eaves.” There might not be any. And the 12-inch-thick, heavily insulated walls might now need so many studs that it would be simpler to replace them with concrete block and trade in this huge temperature-differential design—and twice as much insulation as required—for simple thermal lag, as in earth berm (cave) designs.
Because many New England roofs fail before their time, the success of solar panels placed anywhere but ground level is a gamble. Regardless, under the new building code, solar panel “sails” now require “a continuous load path from rafter to foundation,” so it now may be necessary to place attachments near interior walls, compromising the floor layout.
Radiant-heated, hypocaust (literally meaning “heat from below”) floors have
been the dream since the time of the Romans, but difficult to achieve. The
tough New England climate complicates any hot-water-above-frost- level design,
although 1800s-era central heating in any Boston upper-decker gave the best
approximation, with its fanless gravity design in which rising, heated air
became more dense, and fell down to the basement to be reheated.
RESPONSIBLE OFFSETS In “Should You Buy Carbon Offsets?” (Winter 2008), Anja Kollmuss urges readers to avoid offsets that originated as renewable energy credits because they might not be tested for additionality (a test to determine if the project was driven by the voluntary carbon market). Kollmuss suggests that renewable energy projects in the United States might not be additional because federal tax credits make them financially viable. While tax credits do provide important incentives for new construction, it is often the intended sale of either renewable energy certificates or offsets that drives the creation of these projects.
The Center for Resource Solutions, where I work as a program analyst, is a nonprofit organization that has established Green-e Climate, a certification program for offsets sold in the voluntary market, to enable consumers to have confidence that their purchases are making a real difference in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We do not buy or sell offsets, or develop projects, but through our certification program, we require sellers to follow transparent guidelines for consumer protection.
Both Green-e Climate and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Leaders
Program agree that certain renewable energy projects in the United States are
additional. Kollmuss is correct in her assertion that consumers should ensure
that offsets come from a reliable provider and pass stringent third-party verification.
However, this does not at all necessitate that they write off renewable energy
generation as a valuable means to combat climate change.
A NEED TO VENT
It’s interesting to know that Tufts has gotten so much recognition for energy conservation (“Green and Greener,” Winter 2008). This seems to be a different Tufts from the one where I work. Here in Robinson Hall, it’s
routine to see the windows open in the middle of winter to compensate for the
overactive and uncontrollable steam heating system. Sometimes I even see air
conditioners on in winter.
FELBER’S #1 FAN
Your article by and about Adam Felber [A89] (“My Decade in Radioland,” Winter
2008) was wondrous. Of course, I am a tad biased. I am, among other things,
the crazily proud Mama of your Tufts boy, Adam.