How Does Hallowe'en Contribute to Climate Change?

“On Hallowe’en, the parents sent their kids out looking like me.”
Rodney Dangerfield

Guess what: a great many things we do in life contribute to global warming and climate change. Often something is a situation where until it’s pointed out to us, we have no idea that we’re contributing to the problem.

Case in point: Hallowe’en candies. Palm oil is the world’s top cooking oil because it’s cheap, versatile, and free of trans-fats. You’ll find it everywhere: food, makeup, biofuels, candles, and cleaning agents.

And yes, in Hallowe’en candies. Last year our planet produced 50 million tonnes of palm oil. For the purposes of comparison, we produced less than three million tonnes of olive oil.

So why is this bad for our planet? Continue reading

Nuclear Power: We Shouldn't Discount It Just Yet

“Nuclear power will help provide the electricity that our growing economy needs without increasing emissions. This is truly an environmentally responsible source of energy.”
Michael Burgess

As a physician principled in science, I was horrified when this past week the states of New York and New Jersey made the decision to forcibly quarantine every physician and nurse returning from west Africa for 21 days in case they may have contracted Ebola. I’m horrified because that was a decision based solely on fear instead of science. Until a fever develops people who have contracted Ebola aren’t contagious in any way. These health care specialists are trained and know how to monitor themselves and report to appropriate authorities if and when a fever develops. But pandering to fear, those scientific principles have been ignored.

In some ways I think nuclear energy is similar. I’ve posted on this topic before. Although I’m not convinced nuclear energy via fission is something we want to use forever, it is the one source of energy we can use today that provides all of our base energy needs, allowing us to better cope with the intermittency of solar and wind and yet largely get off our addiction to fossil fuels. It is definitely something that can be part of the solution. Yet people are afraid of nuclear energy even though many more people die from the use of fossil fuels than from nuclear energy.

So what if we could build a nuclear reactor that costs half as much as conventional reactors, consumes the nuclear waste so many people are afraid of, and is impossible to melt down? Watch this brief video and see what you think.

U.N. Climate Change Report to be Finalized This Week

“The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation.”
Bertrand Russell

This week, a draft report from the United Nations will be finalized, one stating that climate change may have “serious, pervasive and irreversible” impacts on both society and nature, but that the governments around the world still have some precious time to avoid the worst possible outcomes that will happen if we continue on with business as usual.

Representatives from more than one hundred governments as well as climate scientists are meeting in Copenhagen this week to review and edit the report, scheduled to be published on November 2, 2014. It will serve as a working guide for the U.N. to try to broker a deal among the nations of the world to help adequately combat climate change at the Paris climate summit to be held late next year.

Although such efforts have previously met with disappointing results and lack of real action, perhaps this will finally be the beginning of something fruitful. Late last week, European Union leaders announced that they have agreed to reduce emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2030 primarily by moving away from fossil fuels and toward renewables. They’re encouraging other nations, particularly China and the U.S. as the two largest emitters, to follow suit. Continue reading

What Are the Reasons for Reduced Emissions in the U.S.?

“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.”
Galileo Galilei

What’s the main reason for the decline in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions seen in recent years? Well, it depends on who you listen to. According to an analysis published a year and a half ago by Yale Climate Connections there are numerous factors, but their final conclusion was that natural gas played the biggest part in the reduction, more than either improved efficiency or renewables.

But a much more recent analysis by Greenpeace Energydesk published earlier this week states that it’s wind power and not shale gas that is the largest single explanation for the fall in U.S. emissions. They also found that mproved efficiency also contributed substantially to the reduction.

In the six years between 2007 and 2013, the U.S. experienced the largest decline in the use of coal ever. In fact it was the largest decline in coal use for any nation ever. Renewables, improved energy efficiency and shale gas from fracking are the main reasons why. The Energydesk analysis, however, found that because renewables have zero emissions, their growth had a more significant impact than did shale gas. Continue reading

We've Just Had the Hottest Twelve Months Ever

“Global warming isn’t a prediction. It is happening.”
James Hansen

Supporting James Hansen’s claim, earlier this week the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that our planet has just completed its warmest consecutive 12-month period we’ve ever recorded. According to their announcement:

The past 12 months—October 2013–September 2014—was the warmest 12-month period among all months since records began in 1880, at 0.69°C (1.24°F) above the 20th century average. This breaks the previous record of +0.68°C (+1.22°F) set for the periods September 1998–August 1998, August 2009–July 2010; and September 2013–August 2014.

These last twelve months don’t comprise one calendar year, but does that matter? Not to me it doesn’t since beginning the count in January is arbitrary, but in case it matters to you don’t worry: the NOAA says that 2014 is on track to be our hottest calendar year ever as well. The NOAA also pointed out that globally our oceans have hit another record high. In fact it’s the third time this year that our oceans’ temperatures have broken records.

Continue reading