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Climate Change: Activists and Architects

Global Warming is a buzzword you’ve likely heard before, and may even have an opinion on, but what do we really know about it? Where did it come from, and what does it mean?

According to Global Citizen, the underlying cause of global warming – “the greenhouse effect” – was published in 1965 by “scientists on the US President’s Advisory Committee”, during Lyndon B Johnson’s presidential term, however “it wasn’t until 1975 that the term “global warming” was coined by geoscientist Wallace Broecker – and it took years before the issue reached mainstream understanding” (https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/important-moments-climate-history-in-photos/). For the full report, which covers pollution of air, water, and soil, check it out here: https://www.eenews.net/assets/2019/01/11/document_cw_01.pdf, however if you’re more interested in the information regarding carbon dioxide specifically, see here instead: http://www.climatefiles.com/climate-change-evidence/presidents-report-atmospher-carbon-dioxide/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CRestoring%20the%20Quality%20of%20Our,role%20in%20addressing%20the%20future. In this report, scientists outline how fossil fuel extraction has led to an increase in Carbon Dioxide in the lower and upper sections of the atmosphere, beyond what nature can naturally filter out with rain and trees, and since, according to the report, “carbon dioxide is nearly transparent to visible light, but it is a strong absorber and back radiator of infrared radiation…an increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide could act, much like the glass in a greenhouse, to raise the temperature of the lower air” (page 118, “Restoring the Quality of Our Environment” Report). Hence, the initial foundation for the discovery of “Global Warming” was born. In 1975, in a paper called “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?” Wallace Broecker mapped out the effects humans were having by emitting more and more CO2, and while some of his initial findings were off, “Right on cue in 1976, temperatures started ascending, and have continued since then pretty much along the trajectory Broecker laid out” (https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2019/02/19/wallace-broecker-early-prophet-of-climate-change/).

Even though Broecker is thought of as the first to publish the phrase “global warming,” he is certainly not the first person concerned with the problem of pollution. In 1962 Rachel Carson published the “Silent Spring” in which she outlined the toxic pollution in our air and water due to pesticides, just as several environmental concerns had begun to take center stage as oil spills threatened marine life and rivers that fed city drinking water plants caught fire. Thus, in early 1970, President Richard Nixon “sent to Congress a plan to consolidate many environmental responsibilities of the federal government under one agency, a new Environmental Protection Agency” and the EPA was born (https://www.epa.gov/history/origins-epa).

While these findings are only about 50 years old, it’s important to keep in mind that thanks to innovation, research, activism, and technology, new information about is constantly coming to light. If you’re curious to learn more, stay tuned.

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The Solution: Paris Climate Accords – Why Should I Care About Paris?

If you’ve been following along with our blog this week, you know that: 1) energy usage isn’t just increasing in the U.S. – it’s increasing all over the world; 2) energy production is meeting energy consumption in a few countries, but severely lacking in many other countries outside of the U.S. and China (which will lead to blackouts), and 3) that Carbon Dioxide – a harmful greenhouse gas associated with climate change – is not produced when using renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, or hydro-electric energy.

If this is true, what’s the solution? This is where things get really interesting! For many years, climate scientists and activists have been the only ones sounding the alarm on climate change, however thanks in large parts to their efforts (and to the increase in the price of non-renwable resources like oil and gas), world leaders are finally starting to listen. In December 2015, 196 countries signed the Paris Climate Accords! This was monumental because no other agreement of it’s kind had included such a wide array of countries all advocating for the same cause: the reduction in climate change. To learn more about what this agreement entails, check out the following link: https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement; or for a more detailed look, check out the full text of the Paris Climate Accord here: https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/english_paris_agreement.pdf. With this agreement, each country designated their own goals for CO2 reduction – which means if you’re thinking about increasing the energy efficiency of your home, you’re not alone! Almost every country in the world is doing the same thing, and hopefully if we work together, we can see notable changes before it’s too late.

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Energy Production Around the World

One thing we did not specifically call out in yesterday’s blog, that I’d like to call attention to now is on the CO2 production page, here – https://yearbook.enerdata.net/co2-fuel-combustion/CO2-emissions-data-from-fuel-combustion.html – take a look at the CO2 production contributors by source titled, “Breakdown by energy 2019”. Notice anything interesting? On this chart, you will find that the CO2 production comes directly from Oil, Coal, and Gas – even though there are other energy contributors in these countries, namely Wind, Solar, and Hydro. This is because while there may be some negligible CO2 costs with regard to transportation of goods or the initial installation, these sources do not contribute to the production of CO2 in the air! 

If this is obvious, then congratulations – you’re ahead of the game – since this is part of why they’re called “renewable sources”. If you read the paragraphs below this chart, you’ll get a better picture as to which countries specifically are increasing/reducing their carbon footprint and how. The short story is that by harnessing sun power, wind power, and water power to create electricity, they are reducing their consumption of CO2-producing energy sources (oil, coal, and gas)which is why renewable energy is so very important to the reduction of CO2 in our atmosphere.

Now that we have this basic understanding of renewable and non-renewable sources of energy, let’s take a look at some of the energy production numbers around the world.

Global energy production: see here – https://yearbook.enerdata.net/total-energy/world-energy-production.html, and for a more detailed look, here – https://www.iea.org/reports/world-energy-balances-overview.

What do you notice about energy supply and energy demand (or energy consumption, as discussed in yesterday’s blog)? Post your comments about global energy production trends below!

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Energy Usage Around the World

Back to the Basics: let’s take a look at energy usage trends. The way in which we choose to use energy in our homes and in our lives is not fact or fiction, or personal opinion, or necessity – it’s cultural.

I’ve always considered myself an energy advocate, but it wasn’t until I visited Spain that I realized that clothes dryers are not essential to every day life. Are they helpful? Absolutely! However they also use a ton of energy (we’ve looked into this before, but according to Direct Energy it’s about 2-6 kWh, https://www.directenergy.com/learning-center/how-much-energy-dryer-use#:~:text=Electric%20dryers%20span%20a%20wide,cents%2C%20depending%20on%20the%20model), and while I understand that I’m not going to get the same soft, “fresh out of the dryer” effect with a clothing line, it made me wonder how I could reshape my cultural norms of energy usage, and what this might look like on a global scale.

Global Energy Usage: https://yearbook.enerdata.net/total-energy/world-consumption-statistics.html

This data is interesting though probably not surprising. China used the most electricity from 1919-2019, followed by the U.S., and then India – but that correlates *almost* directly with populations, at least for the most populous three countries (https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/population-by-country/), since the top three nations with the highest population are currently: China, India, and the U.S., respectively. After the top three however, this correlation between energy usage and population weakens – the following countries with the highest energy usage, according to the same link – Russia, Japan, South Korea, Germany, Canada – are not the countries with the next highest populations – Indonesia, Pakistan, Brazil, Nigeria, and Bangladesh. Thus, energy per person is not the same in every country.

The picture is even more puzzling when looking at CO2 emissions. You might think that CO2 emissions correlate directly with energy usage – but take a look at the following link, and you’ll find that’s once again, not true: https://yearbook.enerdata.net/co2-fuel-combustion/CO2-emissions-data-from-fuel-combustion.html. This implies that some countries use energy more efficiently than others – they use more energy, but produce less CO2. There is of course more to this story – which we’ll continue onto later in the week – but for now, I hope this gets you thinking about energy efficiency and how you can improve it on an individual level, by changing the culture around energy usage one step at a time.

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