My Dad Weighs In On The Climate Change Debate

After reading the posts I did from Brainstorm about carbon neutrality, ethanol, and my email discussion with Steve on climate change and the excellent debate that went on in the comments, my Dad sent me an essay he wrote on the topic of carbon dioxide some time ago. I told him he should get a blog and share his thoughts with the world. He said he wasn’t up for that, but volunteered that I was free to post it. So here it is.

My dad is 78 years old this month. He’s an engineer, a scientist, an educator, and a career US Army officer. He’s a smart guy. And he is profoundly pessimistic about our ability to change our ways. Here is the end of his essay in case you don’t want to click on the link and read the whole thing.

It is my opinion that the people on this earth definitely should cut
back on the amount of CO2 they produce. Doing so, however, will require
making some very hard choices, and persuading people that they will
have to cut back sharply on a lot of things that they have been doing,
enjoy doing, and believe they have a right to go on doing. That won’t
be easy, and I don’t think that many of the people clamoring for
controls have thought much about the amount of control that would be
necessary and how much people’s lives would be affected.

The
problem is a political one as much as it is a scientific one. For me,
it falls into the too-hard box. That means, I know what needs to be
done, but despair of finding a way to accomplish it.

I replied to the email my Dad sent me asking if buying carbon credits would help. My Dad said:

I think "carbon credits" can work, but only in a limited way.  The only practical way I know of to reduce carbon dioxide is to stop making so much of it.  One can do a certain amont of that by increasing efficiency of energy producing processes that use combustion of carbon fuels (which is almost all of them).  You could buy credits from somebody who did that.  But there could not be any way of making that work on a global basis.  The potential for reduction in emissions by increasing efficiency is (I believe) far less than the increase because of increased demand for energy.  Some (many) would have  to be willing to cut down on carbon emissions by using less energy.  And I don’t think very many, if any at all, are willing to do that.

Maybe you could buy credits from a power company that reduced CO2 emissions by switching to nuclear power.  Going nuclear in a major way would help a lot in reducing the CO2 problem. But it would greatly increase the nuclear waste problem.

Gloom.

Your friend Steve is right when he says the environment is going to change whether we like it or not.  The undesirable changes caused by CO2 emissions could be slowed if everybody made huge wrenching changes in the amount of energy they use.  Won’t happen.

Incidentally, "carbon reduction" is, I guess, shorthand for carbon dioxide reduction.  Carbon is the basis for all human and animal life.  Vegetable too, I think.  We don’t want to reduce that.

So that’s my Dad’s view on this issue. I hope he’s wrong with his pessimism but he’s been around for a lot longer than I have and a good bit wiser.