Small Solutions to a Global Problem

Brad Hock

Some of us have gone greener and built energy efficient houses with special light bulbs and solar power panels. Others of us may have installed windmills to generate electricity. But, by and large, when hearing the effects of global warming, most of us Americans want to listen, but not act we’ll give Al Gore the Nobel Peace Prize, but not curtail our consumption of forms of energy that release greenhouse gases.

The problem with the movement against global warming is the movement’s polarizing force of accusation; since the process of depleting the ozone layer is irreversible, Americans are made to feel guilty for using energy that erodes an atmospheric layer.

A problem has been identified, but not a solution.

Some may think hope is lost and that the only way to curtail greenhouse gas emissions is to ride a bike to work every day and eat tofu instead of meat for the reason that the methane gas released by the fertilizer from farm animals will, over time, add up to an amount that will be sufficient to deplete the ozone layer.

With much less absurd reasoning, a feasible solution needs to be formulated.

But auto manufacturers are not helping cure the process. Since emissions standards have been relatively loose and are imposed as a function of the entire fleet of an auto-manufacturer and not on single cars, whenever an auto manufacturer releases a car more energy-efficient, it is able to release a car less energy-efficient. Unless the government wants to impose stricter limits on the fleets of cars auto manufactures produce (which it has already done, but to a negligible degree), we are left looking elsewhere for a solution.

And nuclear power is not getting all that much attention. Compare megawatt for megawatt how much energy a piece of uranium and a piece of coal can produce. The ratio is in the stratosphere favoring uranium, of course which is why alternative modes of energy, such as nuclear power, ought to be taken with more science and less opinion. Chernobyl was an anomaly and occurred at a plant that was mismanaged and had signs of the onslaught of malfunction its small staff hadn’t conducted proper diagnostic tests on its specified schedule. But the anti-nuclear bandwagon drives on, despite also the famed en=vironmentalist Paul Newman’s ringing endorsements of nuclear power being sufficiently safe and green.

Further, although wind power continues to develop, it does so slowly. High fixed costs and low operating costs define windmill production, which means that it requires a lot of capital to start a windmill company and that it takes a long time before the investment generates profit; small businesses will need outside funding if they decide to start a wind power project. Moreover, some complain that windmills are unattractive and that sounds from the windmills disturb the peace.

Additionally, the development of solar technologies and the installation of solar panels is slow. The government does not provide much funding for the development the development of fossil fuels receives almost triple the funding from the Energy Department which means that venture capitalists back many of the projects. Unless there is a major breakthrough in solar technology, there is no reason to assume that the degree to which the government supports solar power projects will soon change.

Considering that it may take some time for the government to impose new standards for autos and provide more funding for solar power projects and research, for nuclear power to gain a fair reputation, and for windmills to be easier to fund, smaller steps in the right direction are worth considering.

First, put down that bottled water. Even though the plastic can be recycled, the process of melting down and casting molds involves energy: can you guess the effects? I do not see how drinking tap water, especially if filtered, could impose the serious health conditions about which I often hear.

Second, city-dwellers ought to use subway systems and buses instead of cars if it is feasible to do so. The marginal amount of weight (and hence, energy) added to the subway cars and the buses from more passengers pales in comparison to the energy required to transport oneself in one’s private auto.

Third, if driving, drive stick shift. Stick shift cars get slightly better gas mileage due to the driver having more discretion over the revolutions per minute (RPMs) of the car’s engine. Taking the car out of gear down long hills and driving in higher gears will keep the RPMs low, so that gas mileage is maximized.

These small steps, if taken by many, will help bring some form of compromise to the global warming problem that I have scant seen.