SiGBA Times Feature Article: IT'S ABOUT SURVIVAL
By Carlo F. Luri, General Manager - Bently Biofuels Company
If you are reading this and are already convinced that we must act now to stop putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to prevent a global catastrophe there is no need to read any further. For the readers who are still not sure, the following is for you.
Hundreds of millions of years ago, before the evolution of the human race, the concentrations of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere were much higher than they are today. Because carbon dioxide absorbs energy from sunlight much more effectively than air, the earth was a much warmer place. Under these conditions, aquatic plants such as algae flourished and grew abundantly in the shallow oceans. When these plants died they sank to the bottom of the oceans and were covered by sediments. Over eons of time, the heat and pressure of geologic forces transformed this buried biomass into coal, oil, and natural gas; the fossil fuels that we depend upon today.
In essence, the most primitive single cell plants transformed the ecosystem of the planet by taking carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere and oceans and burying it under the earth. Over millions of years the carbon dioxide concentrations in our atmosphere declined allowing the earth's atmosphere to cool. The temperate conditions created an environment where larger mammals and humans were able to evolve.
There is no doubt that the human race has had a significant impact on the planet. In the short (by geologic time) period that man has inhabited the earth we have been able to adapt to living in extreme climates from the hottest deserts to the coldest regions of Antarctica
. One of the things that have made this adaptation possible is our use of fossil fuels. Coal, oil, natural gas, and their derivatives have been a critical factor in the development of modern society. Fossil fuels are used in everything from fuel for cars, heating oil, electrical generation, plastics, textiles, fertilizers, pesticides, and pharmaceuticals. Just like algae transformed their ecosystem by sequestering carbon dioxide, man has done the opposite by extracting carbon from underground and releasing it back into the atmosphere through the process of burning fossil fuels.
The process by which carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere and causes atmospheric warming is called the greenhouse gas effect. Scientists have been able to create models which correlate carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere with average global temperatures. Because the most recent rise in carbon dioxide corresponds to the last 100 plus years of human use of fossil fuels there is also a high degree of confidence that the increase of carbon in the atmosphere is anthropogenic (human-made). However, the rise of atmospheric temperatures may not be the only consequence of carbon emissions. Another potentially catastrophic consequence may be the chemical transformation and warming of the oceans.
The world s oceans serve as a vast reservoir for carbon. More than 90% of the world's total carbon dioxide resides in seawater. The oceans and the air in the atmosphere are in balance whereby the oceans absorb more than half of the carbon dioxide put into the air. On the face of it, this would appear to be nature s solution to the problem of global warming and that anthropogenic carbon dioxide might pose no danger to our climate.
However, dissolving carbon dioxide into the oceans is not without consequence. When carbon dioxide dissolves in water it partially converts to carbonic acid and releases heat in the process. The dangers of seawater acidification have long been recognized as a hazard to sea-life especially corals and other small creatures that rely on calcium carbonate to build shells. These creatures are at the bottom of an ocean food chain which is already suffering from human pressures such as pollution and overfishing. Rising ocean temperatures will likely cause more adverse impacts on aquatic ecosystems. Even slight increases in water temperatures can radically reduce krill populations which provide food for whales and other marine creatures.
Contrary to the story put out by the popular media there is no scientific debate about global warming. The changes are significant and can be attributed to our actions. While there is some debate about how quickly we will see the impacts and the magnitude of these impacts, the consequences are real. Consider for example these likely scenarios if we don't take action:
- Rising sea levels leading to the displacement of hundreds of millions of people who live near sea level.
- The collapse of marine fisheries that millions of people depend upon for food.
- Severe drought and flooding as the weather gets more extreme leading to crop failures and famine as well as the displacement of people in the affected areas.
In the end it is not about saving the planet . The planet has been around for several billion years and will likely be around for several billion more. Humans are relatively recent inhabitants that have been able to evolve on the earth because the conditions were just right . Our survival as a species is what we are really fighting for. Just like algae were able to transform the climate of the earth millions of years ago we are currently doing the same by taking ancient carbon stores and releasing them back in to our oceans and atmosphere. We need to consider whether to allow our actions to change the climate so that it is no longer a suitable place for us to live.
It is clear that we must work to wean ourselves from our fossil fuel addiction by developing and embracing alternatives to petroleum energy. Non-carbon emitting alternatives such as biofuels, nuclear, wind, and solar energy are promising components of a clean and independent energy future.
Background on Author:
Mr. Luri has been General Manager of Bently Biofuels Company since the company s founding in November 2005. He manages all aspects of the company s biofuel production, wholesale, and retail operations. Prior to joining Bently he held various sales and management positions in the chemical and environmental industries. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from Cornell University, an MBA from the University of Nevada, Reno, and has taken graduate classes in environmental science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Mr. Luri lives in Gardnerville, Nevada with his wife and two children.