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Issue Date: March 2007


Clearing the Air


Steve Gleydura
gleydura@clevelandmagazine.com
Twenty-two dollars and eight cents.

That’s the price to drive my 2002 Chrysler Sebring for one year — approximately 9,000 miles, 385.71 gallons of gas.
 
The toll on the environment for all that driving? It’s measured in metric tons of carbon dioxide — 3.37 MT spewed from my tailpipe. And in case you’re a little rusty on the conversion, that’s 7,444.2 pounds of CO2 from just one average American driver.
 
The world’s climate scientists have been warning us about global warming for almost 20 years. It may have only seemed like a puff of exhaust back in 1990 when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found evidence of global warming but concluded the causes could be natural just as easily as human.
By 2001, the evidence was building like the white billows from our steel mills. The panel said it was “likely” (66 percent to 90 percent sure) human activity caused most of the global warming in the last 50 years.
But with scientific wiggle room to hide behind, we mostly ignored the warnings.
It’s almost impossible to do that now.
In February, the world’s scientists said global warming was “unequivocal,” based on “increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of ice and rising global average sea level.” 
Consider that 11 of the last 12 years have ranked among the 12 warmest years on record since 1850. Droughts have become more intense and longer over wider areas since the 1970s. The frequency of strong single-day rain or snowfalls has increased, even in areas where overall precipitation has decreased. And hurricanes have grown in intensity since the 1970s.
The trends are likely to continue, the panel says. In 2005, the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide were out of whack — far exceeding the natural range over the last 650,000 years.

The primary source of this increase? The use of fossil fuels.
Fossil fuels provided 80 percent of global energy in 2004, according to the International Energy Agency. By 2030, that figure could grow to 81 percent.
All this is driving us at breakneck speed toward a tipping point, many scientists argue. Unabated greenhouse gas emissions “would cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate system during the 21st century that would likely be larger than those observed during the 20th century,” according to the IPCC.
How much time do we have to turn things around? Case Western Reserve University physicist Lawrence Krauss agrees with those scientists who say less than a decade.
Changes will be needed in clean-air technology, power production and public policy to curb our greenhouse-gas production.

California and several states in the Northeast have already announced plans for caps on carbon dioxide emissions. The federal government is considering several plans as well, including a “cap and trade system” that would set a limit to how much CO2 could be produced with pollution credits available to be bought and sold.
And though voluntary markets exist to reduce and trade carbon dioxide emissions, even companies such as DuPont, GE and Exxon are pushing for a federal mandate.
“It’s the only common ground left into which we can dump for free,” says Michael Short, program director for the Clean Air Conservancy, a local nonprofit that seeks to improve the environment by retiring marketable emissions-reduction credits.
We pay — directly or through taxes — for the removal and cleanup of everything else we throw away from our trash to our wastewater, he argues. And the cap and trade system has already proven effective.
My $22.08 to the Clean Air Conservancy’s NETZERO Emissions program
(www.cleanairconservancy.org) is a small step in my own battle to reduce the damage I’m causing our planet. There’s a lot more I can do.
 
There’s a lot more we all can do: Walk rather than drive; replace regular light bulbs with fluorescent bulbs; plant a tree. And push for
 
Cleveland to take the lead in clean, renewable energy, including the plan for wind turbines on Lake Erie.
But it needs to start now, because in the not too distant future the price we pay may not be measured in dollar signs. n

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