SUMMARY
INTRODUCTION

ENERGY MYTHS

ENVIRONMENTAL MYTHS

OPEN QUESTIONS AND OVERLOOKED REALITIES

POLICY IMPLICATIONS
APPENDIX


 

 

 

 

OPEN QUESTIONS AND OVERLOOKED REALITIES

REALITIES AND UNCERTAINTIES OF GLOBAL WARMING

Despite contentiousness often surrounding the global-warming debate, scientific consensus is that the planet is warming, thanks to data from numerous thermometer readings and satellite records.

Given highly publicized worries about melting ice caps, increasing hurricane activity, and rising sea levels, one wonders how much the planet has warmed. When asked how much the planet warmed during the twentieth century, a plurality (28 percent) of respondents correctly answered that global average temperatures increased by about 1 degree Fahrenheit.[38]

How concerned should we be about this increase? Evidence suggests that climate and temperatures greatly fluctuated for thousands of years prior to the Industrial Age; known causes include alterations in the earth’s orbit, changes in the sun’s intensity, and volcanic eruptions. Scientists believe that changes in the earth’s orbit, which occur over periods of thousands of years, are the most significant cause of ice ages. Changes within the sun affect the intensity of the sunlight that warms the earth; and volcanoes emit carbon dioxide and aerosols into the atmosphere when they erupt.

Recent evidence has suggested that human activity contributes to climate change as well, through heat-trapping gas emissions and through pollution from aerosols and soot particles.[39] Carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, can cause warming and aerosol emissions can cause short-term cooling by blocking sunlight.[40]

 

SHOULD WE RECYCLE CARBON—OR BURY IT?

University of Nebraska professor Craig S. Marxsen calculates that “appropriately constructed land-fills could capture roughly 2 billion tons of carbon annually, right now, and virtually stop global warming cold in its tracks.”

About two-thirds of what we put in landfills is carbon based. And buried in a modern landfill, the carbon goes … nowhere. It doesn’t rot. The landfills are well compacted, and their contents stay dry. They are not composters; they are mummifiers.

By mummifying carbon, we simply complete the carbon cycle. For a society that is consuming 70 quadrillion BTU of fossil-fuel energy every year, there is only one honest way of “recycling” carbon wastes, and that is to put them back where most of the carbon we use came from, deep underground.

The notion that “there is no room” down there is absurd. If we take old carbon out of the ground, we can put new carbon back in.…

With rare exceptions, recycling is the worst possible option.… Composting food wastes and recycling newspapers are the last thing we should want to do: Both interrupt the return of carbon to the Earth.

—Peter Huber, Hard Green, pp. 114–15

 

Two points regarding global warming are often overlooked. First, accounts of climate change convey a sense of certitude that is probably unjustified. “Scientists are all but unanimous—on the inevitability of global cooling—in 1975,” Peter Huber notes. “And almost unanimous again—on the inevitability of global warming—in 1992.… Yet the cooling/warming flip is quite typical of the business.”[41] Second, the best “solutions” to global warming may not be the ones we expect. Recycling, for instance, may do far less to counter global warming than simply putting garbage in landfills (see sidebar).

Measuring the earth’s average surface temperature over the course of a century is not easy. Measurements vary depending on where and when they are taken. Gauging average temperatures for the entire planet over one year requires averaging temperatures recorded at many points. Data must be accrued from thousands of thermometers at land stations, as well as on ships, in addition to more recent—and more accurate—satellite records.

 

 

 

 

ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT: MYTHS AND FACTS

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Press Release

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Clarice Smith
Deputy Director,
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Manhattan Institute
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Copyright The Manhattan Institute 2007