• The Risks
  • Solutions
  • A Green Economy
  • Oil Dependency
  • Alternative Energy
We have somehow always been concerned about Mother Nature and our place in it for centuries. It took some time however for us to place our focus more on conserving the environment rather than to let it waste away in the name of progress. When you hear the term "going green,” it usually refers to the many attempts to change the mind set of our society; we have to make a commitment to restore our relationship between human beings and our planet.

Let’s face it; our generation faces the first truly global environmental crisis in recorded history. The polar icecaps are shrinking, melting at a very rapid pace. Images from NASA satellites show that the area of permanent ice cover is contracting at a rate of 9 percent each decade. If this trend continues, summer in the Arctic could become ice free by the end of the century.

During some discussions about CFC reductions, the U.S. government, prompted by American CFC manufacturers, registered public pressure to cut CFC production through unilateral action. As the leading industry trade journal complained, “if the U.S. takes unilateral action, it takes the pressure off the rest of the world to act" and of course merely disadvantages U.S. industry to the advantage of its European rivals. The ozone treaty—the agreement by all major producing nations to proportionately reduce air pollution—was a necessary condition of any major nation’s actions. As in the case of the ozone agents, if enforceable, broadly multilateral agreements can be reached, and they are clearly to be preferred.

Some progress has been made over the last 15 years. In the northeastern United States, the sulfate content of rain and the concentration of the sulfur compounds in the air have decreased, reflecting pollution control measures mandated by the 1970 Clean Air Act and efforts of individual states to limit emissions. Regulations for controlling emissions from automobiles have contributed substantiality to the decline in nitrogen oxide emissions since their peak in 1978. However, there can be little doubt that emissions will have to be reduced much further to reduce the threats of acid deposition.

The greenhouse effect, acid rain, and ozone depletion has been damaging our already shrinking water resources. Drought has affected many areas of our planet as temperatures have been increasing. Water conservation has become very important in trying to offset our current environment crisis.

As scientists try to predict the future global environment, they constantly confront an enormous obstacle; incomplete understanding of how physical, chemical, and biological processes affect each other and shape the planet today. What is known about the past, however, demonstrates that climate and the fortunes of earths inhabitants have been intertwined since life began on earth, and that relatively small changes can have large unexpected consequences.

One of the most significant and telling events in the Earth’s history was the long slide of climate from warm to cold called the ice age. Ice ages are in many ways the flip side of the warming that we are currently experiencing. While researchers have attempted to explain the causes of the ice age for more than a century, recently developed scientific tools are yielding major new findings in the area of planet-wide climate change.

(“Climate change” is often used synonymously with “global warming,” but the two terms have separate meanings. Climate change refers to any major, planet-wide change of temperature over a period of time, either hotter or colder; global warming specifically refers to a planet-wide rise in temperature over a period of a time.)

Although we lack definitive evidence, it is not difficult to recognize that the initial phases of humanity caused climate change. It is very clear that throughout the history of life on Earth, the fortunes of Earth’s inhabitants have been tied to variations in climate. Lately we have produced conditions that have pushed the planet to the brink of climate change at a rate unprecedented in history.
Regulations
Regulations are rules made up by the government that require businesses to do certain things. These regulations vary from sector to sector and require specific actions by predetermined dates with fines for non compliance. One example of a climate related regulation is an automobile fuel efficiency standard, then we have renewable energy standards which require utilities to generate a rising percentage of their electricity with solar or wind power, and efficiency standards for appliances and buildings.

Carbon Tax
Let's look at one way we can somehow try to stop pollution. A good way if done effectively is using a carbon tax. A carbon tax is a way to charged for dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. A carbon tax fixes the problem that such pollution is currently free. If a carbon to is high enough it discourages businesses and consumers from polluting. it applies to all carbon used in the economy. A carbon tax will never be high enough to really do the job unless the penalty is an outrageous amount. 

Green Building
New home construction has recently surpassed the seven figure mark in the U.S. How many of these homes were built green?  No where close to enough. The construction market go so out of hand that most of our greenery was redeveloped and turned into a new office building, a strip mall, or even a residential subdivision. What really suffers is our wildlife and our natural ecosystems. Six percent of water pollution comes from manufacturing materials for new homes. More than 30 years ago the average size of a new home was about 1500 sq feet under air, now the average newly built home is a little more than 50% bigger. Imagine how much more energy it takes to heat or cool a home now than it did half a century ago.
What’s really behind the green technology movement? With the likes of billionaires Paul Allen, Ted Turner, Warren Buffet, Richard Branson, and T. Boone Pickens fighting for everyone to be greener, it makes sense to try and discover what effect this movement will have on our world. Is the green movement the next internet boom? Is it going to be as profitable? If businessmen as obviously successful as the aforementioned are convincing their peers to go green, common sense dictates that it must be a positive move. The green movement has been credited with the creation of over five million jobs, and we have yet to feel the movement’s full effects. So should we follow the examples of these immensely successful men who are suddenly going green?

It seems we are racing to change our future. Everywhere you look—grocery store checkout lines, newspaper stands, bookstores—a very dangerous future is being predicted. The disasters that we are fighting to prevent include massive hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts, famine, and the melting of the polar ice caps. Many nations have already taken the initiative in an attempt to protect their piece of the earth, but unfortunately the less fortunate lack the tools and help they need to save themselves. Is this rush to change our lifestyle being misappropriated by those willing to pay more than the average person can afford? We can safely say that the world will be a different place in 50 years, but will it be better or worse off? Only time will tell.

Climate change is not an American problem, it is a worldwide problem. Going green is not just a commitment that should be made in the United States; the entire world must follow suit, preferably sooner rather than later. For instance, China emits more carbon from their coal-burning power plants than any other country, enough to warm the entire globe. They, and their neighboring nations, would benefit as much as, if not more than, the U.S. from going green.

There’s no telling what a green economy will look like! Automobiles will have to be changed drastically. Some economists predict that we will be driving plug-in hybrid cars with fuel efficiencies of over 60 miles per gallon. With General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler currently battling such huge financial woes, they will have to change how they make cars in the future. The marketplace is looking for more dependable cars with far better gas mileage than the “Big Three” have been providing. In the near future there will be lithium battery-powered cars capable of accelerating from zero to sixty in less than five seconds, with a battery life of around 200 miles or more per charge.  Because this area of automotive development has not yet been successfully cornered as of yet, many start-up companies are trying to come up with the next big thing in solar car development.

Richard Branson, Chairman of Virgin Group, has pledged to dedicate Virgin Airlines’ profits over the next ten years—an estimated $3 billion—to creating the clean fuel of the future. Though he believes that this is "the right thing to do," he adds, “I'm not doing it purely as a charity, I'm saying that if we can come up with the right fuels we'll sell those fuels." (The market for technologies such as wind and solar power is growing at more than thirty percent per year, and some consulting firms predict that global investments in renewable energy could reach $750 billion over the next ten years.) Branson has also created the Virgin Earth Challenge, a $25 million prize to anyone who can devise a commercially viable design that reduces the amounts of man-made greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Several entrepreneurs, as well as major corporations, are trying to develop clean power technologies, utilizing everything from windmills to wave and tide power generators, which harness the tremendous energy found in our oceans. General Electric is implementing a plan to invest about $1.5 billion per year in clean technologies, and is also developing technology with the aim of storing CO2 emissions underground. Such green technologies will not be cheap, and will certainly cost much more than what we pay now, but like most new technology will be more cost effective in the long run. 

More and more home builders are constructing greener homes that have less negative impact on the environment. Many big businesses are spending the extra three to four percent it takes to make an environmentally friendly building, and saving as much as fifty percent on their energy bills because of it. The greenest buildings in the world are the World Trade Center Towers in Bahrain: three 96-foot propellers suspended between the towers supply the 42-stories in each with more than 1100 megawatts of electricity per year; the shape of the towers also creates an accelerated airflow that spins the jumbo blades.

Powering our homes with clean technologies is an opportunity well within our reach. With enough rooftop solar panels, homes and business can easily be powered by the sun. In areas constantly affected by major storms, such as Florida, the Gulf Coast, and the Mid-West, solar power is a great idea way to quickly restore power after a hurricane or tornado takes out the power lines. Wind power is also a cost effective way to power your home and is as cheap as electricity generated from natural gas.

The United States is the biggest greenhouse gas producers in the world and among  the last of the industrial nations to press hard for change. Even though we are one of the last countries to focus on climate change, we will be one of the leaders in this industry in just a few short years.
The United States uses about 25% of the oil that is produced in the world; we make up only 10% of the world’s population, but have more cars per household than any other nation on the planet. Clearly, Americans have a huge need for oil. Conflict with the Iranians caused oil prices to soar in 2008; while most of the world had been dealing with comparatively high gas prices for quite some time, in America gas stations were running on empty, closing on weekends or restricting the amount of furl customers could purchase, even going out of business. 

The world’s thirst for energy grows greater each day. If we continue on our current course, the global oil, utility, and auto industries will emit, directly and indirectly, enough greenhouse gases to change our climate. We've never seen anything like the current global energy demand, and there are not any signs of it slowing down. Oil demand is still strong in several countries including India, China, South America, the Middle East, and the U.S. Most Americans won’t heed to the call to reduce consumption, and just seem to go about business as usual. 

A growing number of Americans are wondering why the big oil companies are making such a big profit since George W. Bush took office. Many conspiracies have been thrown around but the blame can't be placed solely on the Bush Administration. Americans have themselves to blame for most of it. If we were to cut down on our driving habits we could cut the oil companies profits by billions of dollars each quarter. Calls have been made to the big oil companies to pursue green energy on a large scale. Gas companies seem to be following BP's lead. Chevron, Shell, and several others have invested in bio-fuels, wind power, and solar power. Almost all of the well-known petroleum companies now use 10% ethanol in their products. 

Converting the world’s electric grid to clean energy will not be easy. Just in the United States we have over 150 power plants currently building CO2-spewing coal plants. Believe it or not, coal is used for about 50% of America's electricity production. There is still a 200-year surplus of coal, making it the cheapest fuel available for generating power. Coal plants need stricter restrictions in order to clean up the industry.
Oil and natural gas are nonrenewable resources that takes millions of years to create, yet they remain our primary fuels for automobiles and energy creation, respectively. Fossil fuels, like oil and natural gas, are created from the remains of plants and animals that died millions of years ago and sank to the bottom of shallow bodies of water. Because it takes so long to create fossil fuels, and the rate at which we consume what supply there is, we will run out of oil and natural gas long before there is more to replenish the supply. In addition to the limited supply, our dependence upon fossil fuels puts the U.S. at an economic disadvantage, because of the relatively limited amounts found within our borders. We import most of our fossil fuels from foreign countries. All these factors combined should be increasing our use of alternative energy sources, such as wind power, solar power, and bio-fuels.

Wind power
The terms wind energy or wind power describe the process by which the wind is used to generate mechanical power or electricity. Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy in the wind into mechanical power. This mechanical power can be used for specific tasks (such as grinding grain or pumping water) or a generator can convert this mechanical power into electricity.

Solar Power
Solar power is energy which comes from the sun. This energy is very powerful and hits the earth regardless of whether or not we take advantage of it. Even the tiny percentage of sunlight that touches the earth is plenty to meet the energy and power needs of the entire human population more than 8,500 times over.

Bio-Fuels
Bio-fuels are transport fuels made from plant material and recycled elements of the food chain, and as such are considered renewable and sustainable in contrast to the majority of liquid and gas fuels we use today, which are fossil based with limited world reserves. Bio-fuels can be used in either pure form or blended with fossil fuels, in diesel powered vehicles and boats.  There are two classes of bio-fuel: bio-diesel and bio-ethanol.

Why Not Coal?
Earth contains a huge amount of coal, on the order of an estimated 7 to 10 trillion metric tons, making it our most abundant fuel. Enough coal can be economically mined to meet the world’s current energy use for hundreds of years. However, formidable environmental problems accompany both the extraction and the combustion of coal.

Deep mines often acidify nearby streams, and they pose serious threats to the health and safety of miners. Surface mines, even when reclined, generally destroy the land for any agricultural use more complex than grazing pastures. Coal combustion releases sulfur oxides and sulfates, mercury and other toxic metals, and organic carcinogenic compounds.

Even otherwise sophisticated people see clean coal technologies as viable measures to solve global warming. A "clean" power plant, however, produces the same amounts of carbon dioxide as a traditional plant, while producing less net power, because of the amount of energy used by the pollution control technologies that scrub sulfur and toxic metals out of the smokestacks. Thus, clean plants actually produce more global warming per kilowatt hour than traditional plants.
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