Today is the Blog Action Day on Climate Change. As you hop around the blogs today you are likely to see many with Blog Action Day in the title. The idea is that today more than 7,000 bloggers world wide will all take the time to post a blog entry about climate change. It is designed to do a couple of things; first off, it brings the message of climate change and its effects to the mind of people again. Second it gives a huge array of thoughts and suggestions on actions to the blog reading section of society.
I am not usually focused on this issue. I spend most of my time working on torture accountability and other policy issues, but this is an issue that affects every single organism on the planet. Over the last four billion years the Earth has had a wide variety of climatic conditions. There is good evidence that in a period from 750 million years ago to 635 million years ago there were several episodes where the planet was completely covered by ice. Each of these episodes lasted several million years before CO2 from plate tectonics built up enough to warm the planet and push the glaciers back.
Since that time the temperature difference between times of higher heat and low is remarkably small. It took only a change of four or five degrees in average temperature for the Ice Ages to happen. The reverse is true as well, a change of four or five degrees upwards can make the planet just as challenging to live on as the Ice Ages were.
There are two major differences between all the previous instances of warming or cooling of the planet and today’s warming. First off, this current warming trend has been created by the actions of a single species and not changes in the Earth or the Sun. The second is we, the species responsible are actually aware of the changes as they are occurring and have understanding to do something about the change, if we are willing to do so.
I do not have to tell those of you reading this that the culprit in global climate change is CO2. Carbon dioxide traps reflected ultraviolet radiation and keeps it from radiating out into space. This brings the amount of heat in the atmosphere to higher levels, warming the oceans and consequently the planet as a whole. One of the major sources of this excess carbon is from the generation of electrical power.
In what is called the developed world the uses of electricity have grown exponentially in the last fifty years. In the 1950’s lighting was the primary use of electric power. Today we all of us have a plethora of stationary and portable electronic appliances which we use on a regular basis. The size of our houses has grown incredibly, requiring more and more power to light and heat these bigger homes. All of this has lead to an every increasing need for more electricity. This has contributed to the rise in atmospheric carbon and the warming of the planet. Thomas Edison famously said “We will make electricity so cheap, only the rich will burn candles”, this is truer than he could have ever guessed.
We are facing a true challenge to our species. To reduce the highest level of heating we will face it will require that individuals as well as Governments take all the actions they can. As an individual there are things you can easily do to reduce your electricity use. I will give you a short list:
1) Replace all your home light bulbs with compact florescent bulbs. A CFB uses 75% less electricity for the same amount of lighting. They also last about 10 times the amount of time as an incandescent bulb.
2) Unplug electronics which are not running. This surprised the hell out of me when I found out, but many of the electronics we have in our houses (computers, DVD players, game consoles) draw electricity even when they are turned off! The only way to get around this is to unplug them when not in use. In fact it is best to unplug all non active appliances (Mixers, coffee makers, toaster ovens, etc) when not in use. If you appliance has a light on it, then it draws power even when it is not in operation.
3) Change your thermostat to a programmable one. This is easy and fast to do, even if you are all thumbs with home improvement like me. For under $30 dollars you can get a programmable thermostat which will allow you to control the temperature automatically for different times of the day. Once you have it installed, set it to bring allow the temperature to fall to 55 degrees at night and when people are not home, during the winter. When folks are home, set it for 68 degrees, that might seem a little cool, but here at my, we have done it the last three winters and it is just fine.
4) Set your computer to Hibernate when you have not used it for 30 minutes. This will take it to a nearly powered down state, but it will come back quickly when you are ready to use it. When you are done for the day or night, power it down and unplug it.
So that is what you can do as an individual to help stem the tide of global warming. Now what can governments do? Well I has a soft spot for a particular type of solar power it is called Concentrated Solar Power. Unlike photovoltaic generated power, CSP uses current steam power generation.
Here is how it works; you build a highly reflective half pipe. It will snake back and forth with the long parts facing along a North/South axis. Run a titanium pipe through the focus of this mirror pipe. Run either highly salty water through the pipe. When the water reaches the end of the pipe it will be superheated steam. This goes through a normal steam power electrical generator and creates electricity. The water can both be condensed and reused, or if you need fresh water the vapor which is pure water can be separated from the salt and used.
The advantages of this system is it tracks the power usage curve, as usage grows during the day, the Sun gets higher in the sky and makes generation more effective. The night time power needs can be met in two ways, either through the use of natural gas or by heating a sodium solution and putting it into an underground heat sink. This works by putting molten sodium into an underground storage container (a big rock room basically). When you want to generate power, day or night, you run some of the sodium through a heat exchanger and use the steam created to generate power. The start up time is longer for sodium, but once it is going it keeps going.
The advantage of this system of solar power is once you have the plant up and running there are no carbon emissions of any kind. The water or sodium are in a closed system and do not need to be renewed. All you need is a day where the sun is between 0% and 70% obscured. All of the parts of this system are off the shelf; no development is needed, other than sighting the plant somewhere with lots of sun shine. This is ideal in places like Colorado where there are 300 days of sunshine a year.
By encouraging local and State governments to invest in this technology we can have our electricity and our planet too. This type of plant is about 5% more efficient than photovoltaic cells. That may change as further materials development happens, but until then, this is a better bang for the buck.
In the end we will have to think about this seriously more than just one day a year on the blogs, but just as the problem did not come about all at once it will not be solved all at once. The important thing is that we do our part, individually and collectively to keep the planets climate from changing to something which makes the very existence of human society incalculably harder.
The floor is yours.
“Originally posted at Squarestate.net“