Tuesday, December 1, 2009

State of the World Issues that Matter to Me

Certainly everything addressed in the book State of the World 2009 by the Worldwatch Institute was of importance to me. However, there were a few issues that stood out.

It was made mention of in the chapter that I presented in a group and wrote about that one solution to the problem of carbon emissions was a process known as carbon capture and storage (CCS). My chapter was called "A Safe Landing for the Climate" and it just briefly stated that the cost of such a system would make it unreliable in most situations (26). CCS is also noted in the chapter "An Enduring Energy Future," where it is also denounced as unnecessary due to the use of renewable energy resources in its stead (131). However, a whole Climate Connection article is devoted to it, entitled "Carbon Capture and Storage." Here, the authors talk about how much of the world is dependent on coal and oil for fuel and the fact that carbon capture and storage "aims to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from any large point source, liquefy it, and store it underground" (99) Yet despite its apparent usefulness, the authors do point out its shortfalls or "constraints." One being that the technology may only "become available in the medium [rather] than the short term." "The number and location of safe reservoirs" is another problem. Another issue is that only CO2 will be captured, but other GHG's must be lessened according to the Kyoto Protocol. This process also uses a large amount of water, is expensive, changes the whole infrastructure of the plant or facility it is used on, and there are other alternatives already in the works (100-102). Carbon capture and storage may already be an obsolete technology, but it seemed interesting to me that CO2 could be recycled and that it could be used with preexisting coal and oil power plants.

Of additional fascination to me are the environmental issues related to South America, including Brazil, and other Spanish speaking countries. I am a Spanish minor, I am studying Portuguese, and I intend to visit much of Latin America some day, if not live there. South American countries are mentioned in the Climate Connection "Employment in a Low-Carbon World," where it talks about the growing biofuel crops in Brazil and Colombia offering more jobs. Brazil is also said to have over 500,000 recycling jobs in this article (117-118). In the chapter "Building Resilience," it tells of a city in Colombia that is making sure that low-income households are not building homes in areas that could be affected by the changing climate. Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru come up in a box about protecting watersheds in this chapter. These countries are taking efforts to "conserve clean and abundant water supplies" (161-162). Presented in the "Women and Climate Change: Vulnerabilities and Adaptive Capacities" Climate Connection, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico have been planting trees for the Mayan Nuts Project, which is contributing to reforestation. These were just a handful of the topics offered in State of the World 2009 that dealt with Latin America, and they definitely got my attention.

The last issue I'll cover was given in the Climate Connection "Using the Market to Address Climate Change," which I did a presentation on. Being a business major, this was a very relevant idea. According to the article, there are two main market-driven possibilities for forcing carbon emitting companies to lower their emissions. The two ways to do it are carbon taxes and a cap and trade system. A tax rate would be based on "the marginal damage done by a unit of carbon emitted." However, this "marginal damage is unknown," and is thus more of a political decision. A cap and trade system on the other hand would employ a limit on the total amount of carbon emissions in the country and allowances would be issued to companies. The price of an allowance could be dictated by market forces in an auction type setting. This type of system could change whole business structures, and probably for the better (103-105).

After getting a good idea about what this very informative book has to say about the future of the environment, there are some clear ways that I can see in which the United States can change their environmental policies. I think we as a country need to forget about using oil and coal as energy sources altogether and switch over to renewable resources. And all of these large, emitting companies will just have to deal with it. That's the main thing, I think, but also we need to "build resilience" against the coming climate changes, and at least I believe that our agricultural scene needs to change. I think we should be growing more sustainable crops and raising more sustainable livestock and fish.

I myself will be attempting as best I can to buy more sustainable products such as food, and I will do my best to limit my carbon emissions, for example by driving less.

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