Midday; Latest Developments in the Global Warming Crisis
Mix today giving back some of yesterday's gains the advance yesterday was prompted in part by a monthly report from a group of purchasing executives that pointed to a slowdown in economic growth in February. But analysts say some traders are are fearful the market get might get some contradictory evidence later this week when the Labor Department issues its employment report for the month of February. That's estimates call for the report to show an increase of about 250000 jobs as of 11:30 Central time the Dow Industrial Average is very close to twenty three hundred twenty two. Ninety seven point thirty two that's up two and a half points. The transportation index is down seven point twenty eight and the utilities are down point eighty three. This is midday over Minnesota Public Radio a member supported service. This is chaos Jan. 13 30 Minneapolis St. Paul twenty degrees and partly sunny in the Twin Cities right now the high today should be in the mid 30s. 12 o'clock is the time. Live coverage of current issues and events on Minnesota Public Radio is made possible by the public affairs fund contributors to the funding clued the Norwest foundation on behalf of the nor' west bank in your community. The greenhouse effect or global warming is the subject of growing attention by scientists and policymakers all around the world. An increase in the temperature of the Earth's atmosphere could have a dramatic impact on virtually all human activity. Stopping or prevented the increase may require some dramatic lifestyle adjustments. Minnesota is fortunate to have in its midst one of the world's experts on this topic. Dr. Dean Abraham Hsan is professor of public affairs and director of the Global Environmental Policy Project at the Humphrey Institute.
And he has both a Ph.D. and a medical degree. Doctor welcome it's nice to have you on the air today. Thank you. You just got back from a conference I believe in India on this topic did you not.
That's right there's a series of of of international conferences now looking at the first the general picture but also what it means for local and and regional activities. The weather one week before last was in New Delhi sponsored by some of the Indian.
Energy and Environmental policy institutes. They were maybe a hundred fifty people from India Bangladesh Pakistan Southeast Asia China and the topic was the greenhouse effect a climatic change in the implications for the developing countries.
We have heard just today that the prime minister of Britain is calling for a world wide ban on the use or the production and export of these CFC chemicals which apparently attack the ozone layer which results in the warming of the earth. Do you see that as a as a tremendously significant development or just one in a series of steps that must be dealt with.
Well it's both it depends on I suppose how you look at it. The the the International Convention on the CFC sets a precedent that will be very useful in dealing with.
With other things for example the global warming issue it's really quite remarkable that countries have responded as quickly as they have to the threat of ozone depletion and this machinery that's been set up this international machinery to get the sea of Sea Convention will have to be built upon to deal with the global warming question. So from a process standpoint and from a from a president standpoint it's a it's a very significant very significant effort.
It's only one in fact it's only the first step that would have to be taken to deal with these issues. The the CFC is a chlorofluorocarbons were first implicated as a because they destroyed the ozone in the upper atmosphere in the stratosphere and that was the motivation behind the convention in the first place. And of course it still is the sea of seas also turn out to be a very powerful greenhouse gases. Let's see if Caesar got two roles One is they they contribute to global heating through their greenhouse effect and also they destroy the stratospheric ozone. And eliminating the CFC is or at least the most noxious of them will help deal with the global warming question. But it's only a small part.
Well how serious is the global warming problem. It seems that the experts are not in complete agreement on this. We hear reports that such and such may be happening but the evidence is not absolutely clear. What is the most current status of this.
Well there is a scientific consensus and has been for a number of years that the greenhouse effect is real that it's coming. Now that we're that we're that we're reaching a very critical stage and that unless something is done there will be climatic changes within the next few decades greater than the Earth has experienced for hundreds of thousands of years where there is uncertainty.
It's on detail it is. We know the general pattern of climatic change for example in a place like Minnesota.
We don't know it in sufficient detail to be able to do engineering plans for the next dam for the next hydrological project and so forth. It is that kind of detailed specificity that you would need for investments of substantial amount of capital. It is often not there. There is another controversy I should say controversy it's just a normal operation of science and that has to do with whether or not the signal has been an ambiguously seed. Climate change is that I should I should say weather changes the average temperature of the globe goes up and down from year to year. And other other parameter of rainfall differs from year to year and so forth. Well there is a natural range in which these changes have been within which these changes have been occurring over the last several hundred years several thousand years on temperature. The if you if you look at the temperature record the global average temperature say over the last several hundred years it's it hasn't changed by more than about six or seven tenths of a degree Celsius. As a somewhat more than 1 degree F has been the has been the noise in the system. Well the measured increase in global average temperature is now just about that level. That is there and there is a debate as to whether as to whether or not the average temperatures now are greater than they ever have been. I should say ever but over the last several thousand years or whether it's going to take another couple of years before that's an ambiguously scene. And that's you know it's interesting. And it's the stuff of which science is made. But it's really quite a minor point in that the the general pattern the general trends are very very well known.
Dr. Dean Abraham Cin is with us today as we talk about global warming and its consequences and what possibly can be done about it. If you have a question for him. Our phone lines are open in the twin cities the number is to 270 six thousand two to seven 6000 in the Twin Cities area elsewhere within the state of Minnesota the toll free number is 1 800 6 5 2 9 7 0 0 1 800 6 5 2 9 7 0 0. And if you're listening outside the Minneapolis-St. Paul or rather outside the state of Minnesota I should say you can call us directly at 6 1 2 2 2 7 6 thousand.
OK why is this problem occurring why is the earth heating up more quickly the chlorofluorocarbons are part of it but they're not the whole story.
No they're not the whole story. It has to do with gases that are being released into the atmosphere that train the.
Ability of the atmosphere to trap and retain heat. The earth has to stay in an energy balance with its environment which means that so much so much energy is received on the earth than the atmosphere from the sun and the earth has to re radiate that same amount of energy into space in the way it works is that this solar radiation comes in heats the atmosphere heats the surface of the earth and the earth has to really radiate heat in order to to stay in thermal equilibrium and energy. Well we're releasing a number of gases carbon dioxide being the most important one that act to trap heat in the atmosphere. That is they act to prevent the earth from radiating heat into space and by trapping it in the atmosphere the only way the Earth can accommodate to that is to increase its temperature. And that's what's happening. The major greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide methane which is natural gas or the can release natural gas is primarily methane chlorofluorocarbons particularly two of them CFC 11 and 12 which are the most common ones and nitric oxide. Now these gases arise from a front from a number of sources. The carbon dioxide is mostly coming from the burning of fossil fuels. Last year fossil fuel use on earth that is the global use released about 6 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere. The second largest term is the destruction of tropical forests. When the forests are destroyed the carbon that's contained in the tree trunks in the roots of soil carbon is released into the atmosphere. That number isn't terribly well known but it's thought to be someplace between 1 and 3 billion tons of carbon. The next largest termes is manufacture of cement and that's only a tenth of a million tons. I mean that's a very small term. They the methane is a more complicated situation. And that most of the methane comes from the decay of organic material in peat bogs in rice paddies and water logged soils in landfills and from the intestines of animals. It's called anaerobic respiration that is digestion that takes place in the absence of oxygen produces methane maybe 30 percent or so of the methane comes in association with energy production. When a coal mine is open and the coal is mined the methane that's trapped in the coal is released into the atmosphere. And there's a certain amount of leakage associated with oil production and gas production leaks in pipelines. I heard the other day I'm trying to check the number out now that about 5 percent of the natural gas leaks from the distribution and transmission system. And and methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas. So carbon dioxide scales almost directly with energy use and industrialization. Methane those scales more with the number of people is that's more population related.
Well those are a couple of big issues to deal with energy and population. We have some folks on the line with questions and I think we ought to get to them. Neighbor Hansen is with us professor of public affairs from the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota our topic the greenhouse effect. You're on the air go ahead what's your question.
The question about the polar ice caps sort of twofold. One where they're always and all the warmest periods are the earth polar ice caps and could it be conceived that we would warm the globe out so much that polar icecaps would totally disappear or what would be left of them are they.
Well the answer to your first is there have been periods when there was no or not no at least much less Arctic ice. The the general understanding is that if the there would be a warming of four degrees Celsius that is about 8 degrees Fahrenheit that the Arctic would become ice free. Is that the floating ice in the Arctic basin. Would a would essentially be gone not completely gone but for practical purposes that however wouldn't raise for example global sea level because that ice is already floating and it will change a lot of other things for example you could pretty much say goodbye to Arctic ecosystems and many plant Manimal species that that depend on it you know change weather patterns the location of the jet stream and things of that kind. The broader question though is the melting of the of the ice not the floating ice but the ice that's all on Greenland and Antarctica primarily.
The the the increase.
Of the increase in sea level associated with global warming is a very very major concern. And the present models the present evidence shows that we can expect a sea level rise of someplace between one and a half and maybe two and a half meters over the next roughly hundred years that's about five to maybe eight feet rise in sea level. That comes from melting marginal melting of ice on land ice in the mountains less snow cover in the land in the in the winter in the summer and also just plain expansion of the water when the water is in the oceans heat water expands and so the sea level comes up.
So one is it's pretty a pretty good agreement that there will be a rise sea level rise on the order of as I said 5 8 feet in the next hundred years. But there is a much more serious problem and that is that that it's it's there's concern that warming of about 4 degrees Celsius will lead to really massive destruction of the ice particularly in Antarctica which could lead to a sea level rise of 30 40 feet. That however would take place slowly probably over two or three hundred years. But the concern is that a warming of about 4 degrees might trigger that and that and once it started it would be irreversible. And the frightening thing is that at present if the science is even remotely correct and at present rates of release of these greenhouse gases we will be committed to a warming of something between three and five degrees Celsius by about the year 2030 or 2040. That is it's happening very very quickly.
Let us take another question here it's a quarter past the hour and you're on now is Dean Abramson.
Oh thank you. I'm curious to know if you were with the moisture of the sun the atmosphere also increase and what that eventually maybe lead to do something like. Well the jungle that existed. Millions You know I was in Europe years ago when the dinosaurs existed would we would we have what would we have a moister planet as well as a warmer planet.
We would have a moister planet. A warmer earth means a wetter earth in the sense that there is more evaporation and of course what goes up must come down. And when the like. This is one of the.
So-called positive feedbacks associated with with global warming that is as the Earth warms there will be more water vapor there will be more water in the form of vapor and clouds in the in the atmosphere.
And the total global precipitation will increase.
Substantial concern however is that the distribution of that precipitation will change very very markedly because of other climatic effects associated with the warming. For example the most recent evidence suggests that with a with a doubling of atmospheric CO2 which is the. Baseline it's usually used in that would occur at about twenty thirty at present and under present conditions summer soil moisture in Minnesota could be reduced by 40 or 50 percent. That is a a a moist your regime a water regime such as we experienced last summer could become the typical summer rather than the they and the anomalous summer. So where does the moisture go if not in Minnesota or does it move to. Well there reason if you just think roughly of places that are now used to grow rice what rice production are those places in general would expect more precipitation. I just saw I just saw a report actually last night that that suggests a 100 percent increase in precipitation in India and the Indian subcontinent there'd be more precipitation in the tropics and subtropics and also probably more precipitation in the far north. It is north of about 60 degrees north latitude. I would expect more precipitation but in the mid latitudes the general expectation is reduced precipitation. And of course because it's warmer there are also be increased evaporation and loss through plants and the general result of that is these large decreases in soil moisture as soil moisture goes down of course runoff goes down. And so you expect to see drying of wetlands lower lake levels substantially reduced river flows and the like particularly in mid continents.
The neighbor Hanson is with us as we continue talking about the impact of the greenhouse effect and maybe what can be done about it. Moving on to your question please.
Hi. I don't dispute what you're saying about the greenhouse effect. You know for me I'm very concerned about it but I have a question. Last summer we experienced one of the hottest summers on record and now we have just finished experiencing one of the coldest Februarys on record and I'm wondering why. You know how how do you explain within the whole greenhouse effect the fact that this step it where he has been I think what they said was the fourth coldest on record.
One of the one of the real concerns is the unpredictability of weather and climate. When you begin to change or it change the conditions in such a major way as we are. Just to back up a little bit. As I said carbon dioxide is the single most important greenhouse gas. Human activities in the last roughly hundred years have increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by nearly 30 percent. That's a major change in an important global parameter. One of the things that generally is expected is in increased frequency of what have been regarded as extreme weather events. I don't have the complete list in front of me but within the last few years we've seen the highest recorded barometric pressure is in North America the lowest recorded barometric pressure the most intense hurricane at least in in recent times.
We have the drought of last summer we're having strings of what have been regarded as excessively hot days in cities.
And this this this variability this unpredictability is is is one of the characteristics that would be expected. Some parts of the some parts of the world in general may get colder. For example much of the heat in the North Atlantic. That that is in places like Iceland and Scotland and the Pharao islands and Norway to certain extent all of the United Kingdom is carried into the region by the Gulf Stream by the ocean currents one of the things that's expected is decreased intensity of of of ocean circulation. And it could well be that you'll see cooling in some places.
OK we'll move on now to your question please for Dean ABRAHAMS And thanks for waiting you're on the air now.
Hi thank you. Dr. Abramson there were no others have been talking about the problem of global warming resource depletion in first thing. Is the ozone layer destruction for 20 years or more. Recently while reading Jeremy Rifkin book on entropy I was reminded of the extent of the several major issues that you have been discussing. And through that book came face to face with the stark realization that the problems are indeed advance. And real and the solutions would require a radical lifestyle changes. Now I realize this is a large issue but perhaps you could give us a glimpse of the kind of change that's needed and maybe kind of response to the query. Is there cause for hope in your view. Thank you.
I'll leave the cause for hope till the end of the comments. If society decides. To stabilize global temperature it is to modify its activities so that so that the amount of greenhouse heating in climate change eventually stabilizes it's going to require something like the four way a reduction of at least half in the amount of fossil fuels that are used. Probably more than half but at least at least at a 50 percent reduction globally.
And it must be kept that low and we'll have to stop deforestation and we'll have to institute large reforestation programs and we'll have to stop using these long lived industrial chemicals that have been implicated in greenhouse warming and ozone depletion such as the CFC. But there's about 20 others and we'll have to do a great deal to reduce those activities producing methane. Methane is very very troublesome and the reason is that it's not by and large it's not point sources. It's coming from a very large number of small sources. It's a very powerful greenhouse gas and as I said it scales more with population. Just to bring it to Minnesota. At least the Midwest one of they one of the bad methane producers it is beef that is it takes a tremendous amount of land to raise this to the grain to feed the beef as a factor of about 10 they're there that's lost that is over if you eat the grains of what directly. And of course beef cattle produce a fantastic amount of methane in their guts as as as they metabolize the grain. And I just say that is as it as an example as we have to really start looking at those activities that are giving rise to the greenhouse gases beef consumption has another component to the good to the global warming in that a fair amount of the tropical deforestation is being driven by the demands for cheap beef in the industrialized in the industrialized countries and and the Amazonian forests are being cut in part to provide grazed to provide grazing land for beef which in turn is shipped and eaten here in Europe and and elsewhere.
But the the thing that's the easiest to deal with probably and the single most important activity. Contributing to the global warming and climate change is the combustion of fossil fuels. And that is where the first activity will almost certainly focus there. There are bills pending now in the Congress in both the House and the Senate calling for reductions of 20 percent or more in the use of fossil fuels in this country by the year 2000. That is over the next 15 years and that's the sort of places that I think will see the most as most of us in our everyday activities will see the weather policy effect.
Well it sounds like a lot less electricity and a lot less use of the automobile. Those are not things that people are going to give up readily.
Well let's not. Don't frame it quite that way. Most of us don't care at all about energy. You know a few a few people get a kick out of putting their fingers in light bulb sockets and so forth. And of course the energy companies are interested in energy as a commodity most of us don't care at all what we care about are the services that energy provides that is we're interested in light and heat in transportation and the like. You know and and it is it's been No.1 for decades now. That for example in the US we could we could reduce our energy consumption by more than half and save money without any lifestyle changes and with the same level of services of energy services that are provided. Just take for example lighting if I look around this studio I see about eight incandescent bulbs you could provide with bulbs that you can buy right now at your local retailer or wholesaler wherever you buy bulbs here. Bulbs that provide the same quality of light the same intensity of light and use only one fifth the amount of electricity and it's cheaper to do it. That is every time you would replace what I have. I've got it I've got an energy policy course and last night. Weitz at night unfortunately. But but but last night I went through as an example in the class the light bulb the light bulb case and replacing one 75 watt bulb in typical usage with one of these bulbs in the first place would reduce carbon dioxide emissions over the life of the bulb by about a thousand pounds. And secondly it would save because of the because of the you have to buy less energy that you would save between 20 and 25 dollars for the for the person or the household or the for that. Well that has to pay for the energy pay for the electricity. So we can do a tremendous amount just by eliminating the sheer waste in the system by using energy more efficiently without any lifestyle changes without any decrease in the quality of energy services because it's a little bit to any comment you might might make about whether you are hopeful for the situation in the last part of our previous caller's question.
Well it is a.
That actual cadre of Sciences did a rather unexpected thing that's a very conservative body of people. They said Bush as he was being inaugurated at the time he was becoming the president. A summary statement on this and they characterized it as the most serious challenge of the next century. Is that the dealing with this problem is it is incredibly difficult and incredibly important. It would be easy to say that the changes required are so are so large in the policy process so slow that there is very little hope. But there is just a lot of hope so that one keeps plugging away at it instead of just you know just throw up your hands and go fishing while there are still fish.
The neighbor Hampson is with us professor of public affairs at the Humphrey Institute talking about global warming the greenhouse effect. It is about half past the hour now in the Twin Cities the telephone number is to 270 6000 elsewhere around the state of Minnesota toll free at 1 800 6 5 2 9 7 0 0. And those of you outside the state of Minnesota directly area code 6 12 2 2 7 6000. Those twin city numbers are pretty busy but if you get a if you get a signal a busy signal try again in a little bit maybe we'll get you on the air.
All right thank you for waiting you're on now is Dean Abramson. Is it a yes or.
Thank you very much. I have two questions. First I think it's fairly well accepted that in the in the past too many Seiko the concentrations of many of these gases has in fact been much higher methane CO2 and whatever. And that in some way the environment has responded to that and the concentrations have been reduced. And it was a book published about a year ago which I think dealt with this something called the guy says. I just wonder if you could respond to that more in terms of whether you think that the feedback mechanisms in the environment are such that in some way this will correct or at least limit some of your adverse effects simply on its own. And then secondly I mean related to that how confident are you of the science especially given that within certainly the last 15 years or probably even the last 10 years it wasn't. Certain whether the increase in CO2 is going to cause a global warming or global cooling.
Oh there are straightforward questions or refute them. It is me they. Well the first one is itself limiting and the answer to that is in a macro scale it may be in that in that the earth getting into a runaway greenhouse effect like Venus Venus has a greenhouse of effect of about 800 degrees Celsius or about 800 degrees Fahrenheit. Clearly incompatible with life and in the sense of as does it look like the Earth could get into that kind of a runaway. The answer is No.
But more of more practical importance there doesn't seem to be any any negative feedbacks that that would keep us from going into a temperature regime of 10 20 30 degrees Celsius warmer. That is clearly unacceptable. It is true as you point out that in geologic time the concentrations of carbon dioxide and other gases have gone up and down. Those changes have occurred over millions of years at very slow rates of change. What's happening now is that we're moving that we're changing climate and changing temperature very rapidly with respect to for example the life of an individual or the life of the tree or the investment or the life of invested capital. And when you're making changes that are that large and that rapid it is it is necessarily very. Disruptive it is you can't make a case. You simply cannot make a case that it would be self-limiting in any practical sense or that one can accommodate without major disruption. Your second point is how confidence on the science well the first papers the first analyses of the greenhouse warming associated with carbon dioxide appeared in the literature in the 1860s and the numbers were too. Too much different than they are now. To my knowledge there has never been the suggestion that increased greenhouse effect was going to lead to two cooling I simply don't know where that notion comes from. There is extremely high confidence as I indicated earlier in the program in the general characteristics of global warming. The general pattern of of of the climate change that would result where the uncertainty is its own detail. Will the soil moisture in Minnesota be reduced by 30 percent or will it be reduced by 50 percent. What will happen exactly in the Red River Basin. What extent will the deserts encroach into the high plains in the Dakotas in the in in Colorado and so forth. Will sea level rise by a metre or will it rise by 2 meters. That's the kind of uncertainty there is. It's not an uncertainty in any kind of a do it in the Siri or in the general response.
Apparently our switchboard is getting a number of calls professor from based on the comment you made earlier regarding the light bulb situation. He pointed out there are eight incandescent light bulbs burning away merrily in the studio which you said could be replaced by some that would provide equal light at about a third the cost. And people want to know more about these light bulbs you're talking about. What are they where can you get them. And so on.
Thanks I just counted there are 9 and they and there's a number of of of efficient light bulb technologies around what I'm going to refer to is are those that can replace an ordinary incandescent light bulb.
If you buy one screw it in the same fixture and and and use it. Those typically use one fifth of the energy.
That is if you've got a situation where you've got 100 watt light bulb you can replace it with a bulb that gives the same amount of light and it only uses 20 watts and the same fixture same fixture now there are some there are some there are some problems we've got in our house for example some some fairly fancy light fixtures that are very shallow and they won't quite fit but it I would guess 90 percent 90 plus percent of applications you can simply replace them. Now these are these are called compact fluorescent light bulbs. They're made by a number of manufacturers both in Europe and here and in Japan.
Philips Gee a whole bunch of companies make these things. Typically they cost between 10 and 15 dollars apiece. Ouch. That is.
Well basically this is the uber bark I mean if you you you're sent off to the grocery store and told to buy six lightbulbs and you come back with six bulbs and the cost $90 you better have an explanation. But if you do the calculation in the first place they last about 8000 hours.
The conventional bulb is rated at a thousand dollars that's the industry standard in the first place they last about eight times as long. And secondly if you do the if you if you compute the amount of what's called a life cycle cost that is the cost of the bulb plus the cost of the energy the lifecycle cost of these bulbs is less than half of a conventional light bulb. In a typical situation with electricity rates or residential rates that you have in Minneapolis and a typical usage of these bulbs that is about six or seven hours a day. It turns out that you would save about 25 dollars buying one of those bulbs instead of buying a conventional incandescent bulb that cost 50 cents. So the conventional bulbs are cheap and they cost 50 cents 70 cents something like that apiece. But they use a tremendous amount of energy. And if you add up the electricity costs plus the bulb costs these compact bulbs these efficient bulbs win hands down. It isn't even close.
And they're called Compact fluorescents. That's right. And they are fairly widely available.
Well they are I went out shopping this fall in Minneapolis and St. Paul and I found them in several places. Not as many as I would have liked. I was in San Francisco not alone go in there every hardware store every discount store that is places that have an awareness of.
Household economics and of the energy implications of these things you find them all over the place we. We also have a house in Iceland where I live a large part of the year and and they're available in virtually every outlet that sells that sells bulbs there as well.
Well Hill will be here eventually that seems to be the trend we eventually get things in the Midwest that start out elsewhere. Let's move on to the smart questions from folks as we talk with Professor Dean Abraham scene from the Humphrey Institute on the topic of global warming thank you for waiting Alan you're on the air.
Yeah two things first. It was most months ago that this program had a lecture talking about the lightbulbs in cogeneration are all fine things I don't know if you want to replace something one time that was really interesting. Second how about in the in the mid 70s or early 70s when the EPA came online they basically took a strategy that were going to allow you access. Micrograms of this polluted air that polluted per machine that you have are per plant that you have and 10 15 years later. Some economists like Milton Friedman are advocating instead of setting that limit. They're taxing the polluters or the emitters of carbon monoxide or whatever. I was wondering about what professor thinks of the efficacy of such taxes and the practicality of it and whether we will get better results.
I want to backtrack a little before I address your question. I mean we talked a little bit more than I expected about light bulbs but I'd like to talk about light bulbs if we can do this. But I want to make is that this is only one example. And it's it's such a clean example because it's familiar to everyone that there's absolutely no loss of energy services and you could reduce energy use and of course save money.
If you look at refrigerators if you look at automobiles if you look at water heaters that is virtually every energy consuming product in our society has a similar set of replacements in a similar potential for energy savings gets a little more complicated with things that last a long time because you've got to worry about discount rates and and and and things.
But but the light bulb case is only one example of literally hundreds of technologies. The other lecture you referred to was on a month or so ago it was a very loving and giving a chat talk will lecture it was it was in my view an absolutely brilliant lecture. He he. Well he laid it out in a in just a marvelous way and I don't want to interfere with programming but I wouldn't mind hearing it again in fact I wouldn't mind a tape of that lecture. Now your question about about the about the about using the market to effect these changes or not. It is it is it is a certainty that measures will be taken soon to reduce fossil fuel consumption in particular in this country and elsewhere. That cannot be accomplished really only in three ways One is just plain altruism. People will feel good about it and feel feel responsible etc. that that only gets you so far. The basic tools available or the regulation or or by or by tax policy or other things. They probably both will be used.
That is there are some things for example automobiles highly centralized markets only a few suppliers and the like. And regulations on how do we fish NC and so forth will probably be used similar things with building codes perhaps but it's also quite clear that there is going to have to be higher energy prices and that will be used as a policy tool to effect these changes. I it's dangerous of course to talk about how much it is but my guess is that we'll be seeing to 300 percent increases in energy prices within the next few years. That is it's going to take changes of that kind to affect the consumption patterns to the extent that are that are necessary. Now that shouldn't be too alarming if you go to Europe and you buy a gallon of gasoline you're going to pay 3 $4 a gallon for that gas. Some places it's only two. That is of course because of national tax policy. That's a matter of national economic policy taking into account the environmental implications and national security implications of importing the fuels and and and all of these things that is one reason that for example the German economy uses much less energy per unit gross national product as we do is because they have built in energy efficiency in the beginning. Same with Japan same with a lot of other places. But but but I would certainly expect a 2 or 300 percent increase in fossil fuel prices. Part of that will be just plain the results of scarcity as the oil and gas becomes progressively scarce. But a large part of it is going to be carbon taxes. And there's. And the carbon taxes are being discussed now virtually at all levels. I was at the World Bank before Christmas with a meeting with a group and again within the staff there trying to formulate a carbon tax proposal.
You're seeing that is that is this is being discussed now very widely both at the state national and international levels.
If the US Congress goes into contortions to deny itself a pay increase how is it ever going to double or triple the price of energy for the American consumer.
Don't ask me the I can. I'm very confident in knowing what has to be accomplished in order to stabilize global temperature. You know I can say and if you give me enough time I think I could convince virtually everyone that that's going to require reducing energy use by at least half. They. Which political buttons to push next week is not my is not my it is not by business and of course you're confronting immediately all of the vested interests associated with the present energy system plus what you have to say is really massive ignorance both at the consumer level and at the policymaking level and those are major obstacles to overcome.
It's 15 minutes before the hour as we continue talking with Professor Dean Abraham and from the University of Minnesota. The topic is global warming and we turn to you next for a question of all.
Yeah my question is When in history of mankind the percentage of the trees I think. For the media it's about so you know it's not for me to know isn't it. But isn't it a picture with you in about 2000 B.C. They say that for our fault for a start you know that's what it's like to see that they don't exist anymore. Expression Montenegro in Yugoslavia I guess which is now month. But Uncle sword that's for me to put it in basin was the forest much the same way that Amazon and that region is now if you want to say that it wasn't there to kink kitties a few times.
Well there wasn't much of an instrumental record at that time and the the the the past hundred years or so there's been a good instrumental record that is good good for monitors and the like the CO2 concentrations well beyond that that is back several thousand years come from indirect sources one of them is for example the ice cores from from from Greenland in an ad and Arctica we drill down through the ice and you pull up the core. You've got layers of optional and ice that were laid down last year year before 100 years ago a thousand years ago. And and a certain amount of of of air was trained in those samples and can be and can be pulled out and analyzed and we know now the the.
The natural systems the atmosphere can accommodate a certain amount of carbon dioxide release and basically it goes into the atmosphere and it's taken up by the oceans and is deposited in the deep oceans and in limestones and things of that kind where we say we saw an increase in atmospheric CO2 at the time of the industrial revolution. That's not to say that these deforestation measures to which you refer were were insignificant they certainly they certainly had a major impact. But it was with the advent of large use of fossil fuels that the CO2 began to increase measurably because I'm talking about the last few thousand years. The baseline is usually taken as 1860 which was the point that we really took off on fossil fuel use. And at that time the concentration was 200 about 270 parts per million.
In the atmosphere last year it passed three hundred fifty parts per million. That is the the plot the increase in fossil fuel scales directly with the use of fossil fuels that began with industrialization. Is the rate increasing as well. Rate is increasing now it. Prior to the opaque activities in the 70s the growth rate was between 4 and 5 percent per year and had been since essentially the Second World War there was a little hiatus at that point. When the price increased and the concern with supply reliability and the like after all pick the the the where the growth rates fell to about 2 percent for several years. Now they're back up around 3. That is they're coming back up to about 3 percent per year. And what we're talking about of course is making those negative large negative growth rates instead of a large positive growth returns.
Okay on to some more folks with questions thank you for when you're on the air.
You know I have a question. Trees and forests and I'm wondering what is the difference from a climatic standpoint between the tropical rain forests in Brazil or anywhere in the tropics compared to the forests in the temperate regions. And then within the temperate regions you've got the deciduous trees which are bare half the year in the Canucks coniferous trees. And beyond that I'm wondering about the there's a lot of acreage in the industrial world and I think of the Interstate Highway System and all the land all the acreage that gets taken up in the highways between for next two entrance ramps exit ramps cloverleafs and look at I 94 between Minneapolis and St. Paul there's probably room probably room for another 10000 trees. And I'm just wondering if some of that. Little you. Could you give an order for going up.
Well as an hour lecture and responding to that question it again was a very nice question. The difference between the Amazonian and the other tropical forests and of course what we're seeing in the temperate regions is there is there make it mean there's the basic principles are the same but the sheer size of these of the of the forests in the Amazon and in Central America and in Indonesia and parts of West Africa that are being destroyed are just truly extraordinary. I mean those forests are being reduced to carbon dioxide at an extraordinarily high rate. The issue was reforestation is is the amount of carbon tied up in the wood as it's not the rate of growth it's the amount of carbon sequestered in the trunks and roots and so forth. And any reforestation is a step in the right direction. I'm just I'm I'm sorry I don't know these numbers in in in. In acres but the scaling factor is that you have to reforest about two million square kilometers of land that is take plant new forests in a couple of million square kilometers in order to remove 1 billion tons of carbon per year from the atmosphere and tie it up in the trees.
If you play that out it means that to take up the carbon that's now reduced being being produced by the fossil fuels you'd have to reforest an area the size of continental United States or Europe or Brazil each of those are nine or 10 million square kilometers. So reforestation alone is simply not practical I mean the numbers just don't mix. On the other hand as you point out there are there's a lot of potential for reforestation. And it would have other desirable effects as well. It's environmentalist and a lot of other people like forests and so the reforestation option is attractive to people and there's a lot that's been done about that. Lately you'll have no trouble finding all sorts of all sorts of the descriptions and proposals and that includes such things as as as as planting trees in urban areas taking these agricultural lands that have been taken out of production and turning them into forests. And a whole and a whole bunch of other majors reforestation is a step in the right way. It's beneficial for other reasons as well but it's not by itself going to be enough.
All right. We have a question now from you go ahead please the neighbor Hampson is listening.
Yes Professor I wanted to ask a policy type question but just a follow up quickly on the previous caller Matt talking about reforestation in the tropics the whole issue of the participation of the less developed countries of the world assuming that it is as it is a truly global problem. It would require global participation. What sorts of resistance. Would you envision their being on the part of less developed the so-called less developed nations which would you know which may who may regard these types of measures as just a hindrance to their economic development so that's maybe one one item to follow up on and the other would be from a policy point of view or just this is I guess this would more address the greenhouse effect status as a public issue What progress do you see toward a policy consensus of some type among key decision makers in order to get enough momentum going to get this thing solved and then and kind of a tail on to that if you had a wishlist of your own what would be the measures that you would like to see implemented in terms of encouraging public awareness and generally communicating this issue as widely and with as much impact as you think it needs to have.
Thank you. You know we only have the clock says only seven minutes left in the program.
It is a global problem and all countries will be affected by the climate change that's inevitable which is rather substantial and have to accommodate to to to limiting climate change. That should not though be taken as an excuse for the US and the other industrialized countries not to act unilaterally and with the United States now is reducing is producing about 27 or 28 percent of all of the CO2 being released in the world as the US is got over a quarter of it.
And it should assume that burden and the implications of that of that right away plus a lot of for example the deforestation is being driven by the industrial countries it's being driven by the consumption of of wood products of paper of beef and the like so that even though some of this deforestation is driven by a local population pressures and local development concerns a lot of it is the direct result of policies of the industrialized countries. They approached by the LDC the is is is is as you've outlined it is. They are well aware that they're going to be extremely heavily impacted because of the activities of the industrial north.
They're very sensitive to that and you can imagine what the rhetoric is like and how it plays out. As far as progress goes there's been at least I wouldn't have dreamed that there would have been as much progress as they have in the last couple of years.
That is the level of awareness the political the political awareness is increasing very very rapidly. I won't go into any of the details but there have been a number of of policy meetings now that you may recall at that that one of the first accidents actions that that Secretary of State Baker took was a public call for for for action on the global warming question. Congressional what's going on in the Congress what's going on with programs like this.
It's coming very very quickly. That is the realisation that something has to be done and that there is to say that there be catastrophic consequences if it's if it's not is not and is not an overstatement. The realization of what that really means is just slowly sinking in. What does it really mean to structure our means of production so that you reduce fossil fuel use by half. And that has to be done over a pretty short time that is just a few decades. That sort of realization is sinking in more slowly but it's coming and it's coming fast. I don't I don't have time for my wish list but a few minutes ago I went through the list of the things that had to be done. To stabilize climate that is reduce fossil fuel use by half stop deforestation start reforestation and so forth and basically one constructs a wish list out of that and you have to add to it the hope that the world doesn't get into a very unstable political situation in its attempts to cope with the impacts of global warming and the real or perceived inequities that are associated with the response. The the risk of very disruptive political events happening is non consequential. I mean it is excuse me has major consequences for example or just I heard I heard Paul Erlik give a speech a couple of weeks ago and and he said that last year there was 1988 that the that the that the US consume more feed grains than it grew. Now Paul's pretty careful and I suspect that's true if he if he said it he's probably checked the number and I haven't checked the numbers but look at the implications the implications of this that the US is going to become. That is all things if things play out like it suggested that the US will become a net importer of food. I mean that's that is just part of the implications part of the consequences of changing the whole world's climate in and and all the systems that well that depend on it. Now that's going to lead to a few political and economic instability that sort of issue.
Well they're the sorts of things that are going to be really interesting to see played out in the in the years ahead that's for sure. We've got about a minute left to take one more real quick question. Let's try it. Go ahead you're on with the neighbor in for just a second or Saul just a quick question here.
I came in late but was there any any mention at all of the affected population growth.
OK we got about a minute on that that gets back to methane doesn't it. Well it gets back to a lot of things. That is the impact on the environment for example or our natural resources is a function of population.
The per capita consumption of that population and the means of to and and and the technology being used.
A The US had a per capita basis has an enormously greater impact than any.
Then well then well than any other country and and tens or hundreds of times more per capita than for example an individual born in a village in India. But but the population pressures are clearly part of what's going on here.
Part of what's driving not only this but a lot of the other stresses that we're seeing in society and in my my personal view is that there is no way that we're going to see a stable stable global populations of six seven eight nine a billion people.
That is the conventional projections. I don't think can they just plain can't happen.
This transcript is machine-generated and has not been corrected. It is likely there will be errors.
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- Dean Abrahamson, professor of Public Affairs and director of the Global Environmental Policy Project at the Humphrey Institute, answers listener questions about the latest developments in the global warming crisis, including research findings on the causes and impacts, and what, if anything, can be done about it. Dr. Abrahamson states that humans are releasing a number of gases, including carbon and methane, which are trapping heat in the atmosphere. He discusses the source of these emissions, which come primarily from the burning of fossil fuels and the burning of tropical forests. When asked about whether climate change is actually happening, Abrahamson reports that there is a scientific consensus, dating back for a number of years, that the greenhouse effect is real and that we are reaching a critical point. If nothing is done, he says, Earth will experience climatic changes within the next few decades, great than the earth has experienced for hundreds of thousands of years. This discussion took place in 1989, one year after James Hansen, who was at the time Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, became the first person to testify before Congress about anthropogenic, or human-induced, global warming.
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Interviewee: Abrahamson, Dean
Producing Organization: Minnesota Public Radio
Publisher: Minnesota Public Radio
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- Chicago: “Midday; Latest Developments in the Global Warming Crisis,” 1989-03-07, Minnesota Public Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed March 21, 2019, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_43-4947ds3w.
- MLA: “Midday; Latest Developments in the Global Warming Crisis.” 1989-03-07. Minnesota Public Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. March 21, 2019. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_43-4947ds3w>.
- APA: Midday; Latest Developments in the Global Warming Crisis. Boston, MA: Minnesota Public Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_43-4947ds3w