The problems associated with global warming are increasingly in the news. The
importance of the problem is not fully recognized by most people because the impact on
daily life is slow to materialize. This year perhaps this has changed the problem has
become increasingly obvious. Shifting weather patterns, significant differences in rain
fall, temperature extremes and all manner of weather anomalies are now in the forefront of
most people's minds. These problems will be with us for the remainder of our lives and,
most likely, the lives of our grandchildren.
The effects of these changes can not be ignored. The idea of creating changes to stop
the trend, and reverse it, is the subject of increasing world-wide discussion. These
discussions center around the industrialization of the third world a prospect which is
increasing the problem substantially and increased industrialization in the develop-ed
nations. The environment is debated in the center of national and international politics
and what was once thought of as only a problem for liberals is now being recognized as a
problem for everyone.
Each time development decisions are made there are trade- offs in the environment. The
debate is over the impact of industrial and automobile emissions which many believe is the
root cause of the problem of global warming. In addition the deforestation of the planet
is limiting the natural system's ability to absorb these man-made emissions. Indus-try,
with a vested interest in the status quo, would like to say that this is a normal warming
trend and not their responsibility. They assert that the problem is not their issue and
they are unwilling to make significant changes. Moreover, these same industrial giants are
moving their production to third world countries where there are few controls over
environmental impacts. For the multinational organizations this lack of governmental
control in the third world provides an economic advantage which avoids their
responsibility for the costs to the physical environment. Greed exceeds rational long-term
In recent meetings in Brussels the issue of global warming was addressed by
Parliamentarians from around the world. Sitting in on the discussions was of great
interest to me in that a number of issues were raised in the debate. One of the issues
raised by the Russian delegation dealt with the idea that some of the problem, if not the
greater part of the problem, might be caused by natural processes rather than man-made
technologies. When the arguments were made they generated perhaps the most heated
discussions in the sessions. These arguments did not prevail however as most participants
believe that man was responsible for the problem. The presentations showing increases in
greenhouse gases and their correlations to decreases in the ozone layer were also shown.
Perhaps the Russians had a valid point. After all, one volcanic eruption puts a good deal
more into the atmosphere than any country could ever put there in the same space of time.
It is clear that there are a number of natural contributors to this problem which have
been increasing their discharges in recent decades. In one news report in the last year it
was pointed out that in the same region of the Earth where El Niņo appears, there are
about 600 active underwater volcanoes. These natural heat sources may be having a greater
effect on ocean temperatures than otherwise thought and might go far in explaining what we
are now seeing.
Correlations of rocket launches, nuclear testing, tidal height changes, increases in
electromagnetic pollution, introduction of new technologies and chemicals and innumerable
other parallel changes could also be charted in trying to assign cause and effect
relationships to the problem of climate change. What is most probably the case is that
these current changes are a combination of man-made and natural phenomena. The hashing and
rehashing of the problem is where much of the last ten years has been spent. Little, if
anything, significant has begun to reverse the trend and rebalance or correct the problem.
Arguing about the problem's cause is perhaps wasting very important time.
The standard approaches of slowing growth in order to reverse the trend is always the
first suggestion made by policy makers and environmental activists. The arguments against
slowing growth come from industry and the third world which is trying to develop economies
which are self sustaining to improve conditions for their populations. The third world
depends on the development and availability of low cost energy in order to expand its
economies. The trade-off for them is one of short term survival or long term degradation
of the environment. The answer is always toward immediate survival. Should the
industrialized countries engage in restricting this human right the right to live
A great deal can be accomplished in energy use patterns by a different approach.
Development can not be stopped and should be recognized as an outgrowth of our humanity.
Likewise, growth must be conducive to our long term survival. So what are the answers?
When the idea that perhaps new technology will save us is raised the
"nay-sayers" suggest that we can not depend on technology to solve the problem
and that we must move in other directions. While technology may not offer us the way out
of the problem it is clear that it is our only short term hope. If we fail to develop
technology to start to deal with the problem of climate change we will not be successful
in solving the problem. Technology is not the only answer any more than conservation
measures. The possibility of evolving energy systems which eliminate the problem is highly
probable in the coming five to twenty years. A technology which replaces fossil fuels as
the economically most efficient system is possible and could be developed. Technological
solutions can be created if we focus some resources in this direction. Moreover,
technology can begin to deal with some of the immediate consequences of global warming.
What was seen in Brussels was the standard approaches to the problem: reduce
consumption, conserve forests and substitute fuel supplies. The problem is that this is
not happening fast enough. Even if we could stop virtually all growth, as some of the most
radical would propose, this is not going to solve the problem nor is it politically
realistic. Slower growth is not going to happen at all unless the right incentives are
created which balance basic immediate human needs against long term environmental
thinking. The problems of environmental degradation can not be resolved without addressing
economic development. Polarized debate has been fruitless and will only result in
increasing the complexity of reaching solutions.
During the energy crisis of the early 1970's there were incredible initiatives
established for solving the problem of energy dependence. Creativity was stimulated by
providing innovative organizations with both incentives and resources for creating
solutions to the problems associated with energy independence. The issue of energy
independ-ence was a major issue for the United States at that time while for much of the
rest of the world it had always been a problem. Energy costs for the United States and
other countries became the greatest drain on national wealth as cash was exchanged for
oil. Today, the problem continues to grow as significant portions of every nation's wealth
is traded for oil. The energy crisis never ended in the 1970's, it only shifted to a slow
and insidious economic crisis in the sense of resource distribution. Once oil supplies
were freed up and gas was flowing again at the pumps the impact of the events were for
the most part forgotten.
Now the downstream effects of the problem of twenty-five more years of oil dependence
has created another crisis. A climate change crisis which can not be resolved with just a
few more dollars a barrel. The crisis of climate change is already disrupting all economic
systems, food production and contributing to an accelerating cycle of decay of natural
systems once thought of as stable.
The arctic environments always show impacts early. These areas can be thought of as the
"canary in coal mine" sounding the alarm of silence when death approaches. The
alarm is sounding again in the Northern regions. This year in Alaska we are experiencing
unprecedented warming. The blame is being placed again on El Niņo, ozone depletion and
industrialization. In Alaska the water temperature in the ocean has risen 10-15 degrees
Fahrenheit. Never, in as long as records have been kept, has this great a change been
felt. It is not a subtle change. It is so profound it is effecting the entire system and
it is still early in the cycle. The impact of this kind of change can not be quickly
dismissed all terrestrial systems are inseparably linked to one another.
In an article in the New York Times a year or so ago there was discussion about the
possibility of an Antarctic meltdown causing sea levels to rise by as much as several
hundred feet. This idea was discussed and quickly dismissed in the same way as early
reports of the climate change trends when first raised a decade ago. In Brussels the
estimate for the rise in ocean heights was more on the order of two or three feet in the
next fifty years. Who's right? Even a few months ago the idea of ocean temperatures in the
Arctic rising by 10-15 degrees would have been dismissed as crazy. Yet, this is exactly
what is happening right now. Will this effect other systems? Will this impact the rest of
Look at the situation emerging right now. It does not matter if you live in Europe, the
United States or the third world, we are all in the same predicament and we must act now.
We should act without fear and by carefully consid-ering our options. We are proposing
some ideas which many may think too radical for implementation. However, these are put
forward to stimulate thought. These are some of the things which could be immediately
- The World Bank, international groups, private organizations, national governments and
others should provide economic resources for immediately advancing alternative energy
technologies. The same organizations should also provide funding for projects which can
mitigate the current trends which are the result of climate change or are contributing to
- A special fund should be established to protect "whistle- blowers" who have
knowledge of industry or government -withheld technologies which could add to solutions or
increase the possibility of developing alternatives to current energy production systems.
It should be made a crime against humanity to withhold knowledge which could provide low
- National governments should establish special funds for the acquisition of energy
innovation technologies if they are not produced by patent holders within five years of
their discovery. Such acquisitions would be placed in the public domain with any
developers using the technology paying the owners of the patents perhaps a 1-3% royalty
until the patents expire. This would compensate investors while ensuring maximum benefits
to society. There has been much talk about suppressed energy technologies and this might
help eliminate the problem by forcing knowledge into production. Greed can not be allowed
to dominate the energy industry.
- Technology demonstration projects should be funded for the third world and
industrialized countries. These projects should be clustered around resolving the problem
of both the causes and effects of global warming.
- Technologies should be advanced which more efficiently use the energy systems we now
have. Insulation technology, superconductivity, and other conservation technologies should
- The funding sources which provide the resources for the exploration of these new
technologies should not be "give-away" programs. They should to the greatest
extent possible be programs that are based on sound management and with economic
incentives for the investors. Perhaps tax conces-sions could be made available for the
investors in innovative technology, provided that the returns were reinvested into the
technology or a percentage dedicated to damage repair programs such as reforestation or
rain forest preservation.
This essay is not intended to be exhaustive or conclusive. It is intended to increase
debate and make suggestions which could be considered. Restating the problem is not the
answer attacking the problem with solutions is the only answer.