Friday, July 07, 2006

Carbon Emissions and Global Warming

For the most part, carbon emissions are due to the burning of fossil fuels. Since carbon emissions are responsible for the undesirable effects of global warming, and since the situation continues to get worse over time, it is inevitable that the government of the United States will take measures aimed at reducing carbon emissions. The automobile industry already has a mandate to produce more efficient vehicles, but that effort alone will not be enough. Only about 20 percent of carbon dioxide emissions come from cars and light trucks in the United States. About 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States are the result of burning fossil fuels for the purpose of electricity generation.

Fortunately, there are many things that consumers can do to minimize electricity usage. Switching from incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent types is a relatively inexpensive option. Home improvements, such as the replacement of old windows and the addition of insulation are very helpful, as is the replacement of appliances with energy-efficient ones. Producing your own electricity via solar photovoltaic installations, hydroelectric systems, or windmills is another way to limit or eliminate the use of electricity from fossil-fueled power plants.

When legislators understand that they can wait no longer to take action aimed at reducing carbon emissions, it is likely that they will start by eliminating subsidies for fossil fuels and perhaps increasing taxes related to their use. After all, this is what has been happening with the tobacco industry. At the present time, taxes make up about 70 to 80 percent of the cost of a pack of cigarettes. This action was supposed to result in a voluntary reduction in the use of tobacco-products, but in reality has had only a modest effect. Still, taxes on tobacco-related products continue to rise. If the government attempts to encourage voluntary cutbacks of electricity usage in the same way it has attempted to discourage the use of tobacco products, the outcome may be a dismal failure. If the dumping of carbon into the atmosphere is to be reduced in a timely manner, it will be the result of a commitment by ordinary people.

Many people are already implementing alternative energy systems. Hopefully, the rest of us won’t wait until it’s too late. Scientists believe that at some point, unless we take serious steps to reverse the trend, we will reach a tripping point from which there will be no return. Still, it appears that most people choose to ignore these warnings. Perhaps this is due in part to overblown predictions of doom such as the Year 2000 (Y2K) problem.

The fact that our country has an abundance of cheap coal might also convince some people that we don’t have to change our lifestyle. While oil is getting increasingly expensive, coal may prove to be a viable substitute. Modern mining methods, such as Mountaintop Removal, greatly improve the efficiency of coal production. Unfortunately, large sectors of mountains are being turned into wastelands. But that’s another story. Burning coal contributes to global warming even more than the use of petroleum-based products does, and legislators are likely to heavily tax the use of coal. However, that’s not really a bad thing. Even though we have an abundance of coal, it’s better to preserve some of it for future generations than to use all we can for today’s population. Using renewable sources of energy not only helps to mitigate the effects of global warming, it will cost the consumer less in the long run, and help to preserve natural resources.


Follow up: Here's an interesting article related to this post.

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