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The Environment: Right, Wrong and Future
"Global warming." The term, for those who revel in the heat, sounds quite promising. But higher temperatures do not just mean better tans. The laundry list of consequences includes drought, disease, floods, and lost ecosystems. Consider global warming the earth’s retaliation for years of abuse. Unlike nuclear bombs or terrorists, global warming is a life-threatening attack that every citizen of every nation can control. The biggest cause of global warming stems from the ironically named greenhouse gases emitted from the burning of fossil fuels.
Most feel fighting off global warming is a David and Goliath battle at best, minus the cliché "victorious underdog" ending. Yet saving the environment has never been easier. Scientists know the problem and how to prevent it. All the Earth needs now is a little bit of global teamwork.
Unfortunately, the United States is not much of a team player. There’s no I in team, but there are quite a few in the United States of America. In 1997, over 160 countries met in Kyoto, Japan to negotiate ways to reduce worldwide greenhouse gas emissions (specifically, carbon dioxide) to 5.2 percent below the 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. Compared to the emissions levels that would occur by 2010 without the Kyoto Protocol, this target actually represents a 29 percent cut. The Kyoto Protocol set specific emissions reduction targets for each industrialized nation (excluding developing countries). To meet their targets, most of the ratifying nations combined several strategies. They planned to place restrictions on their biggest polluters, manage transportation to slow or reduce emissions from automobiles, and make better use of renewable energy sources—such as solar power, wind power, and biodiesel—in place of fossil fuels. Most of the world’s industrialized nations supported the Kyoto Protocol. Yet the Bush administration withdrew their support of the protocol, even though the United States releases more greenhouse gases than any other nation and accounts for more than 25 percent of those generated by humans worldwide. Instead, Bush proposed a plan with incentives for U.S. businesses to voluntarily reduce greenhouse gas emissions 4.5 percent by 2010, which he claimed would equal taking 70 million cars off the road. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, however, the Bush plan actually would result in a 30 percent increase in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions over 1990 levels instead of the 7 percent reduction the treaty requires. This is because the Bush plan measures the reduction against current emissions instead of the 1990 benchmark used by the Kyoto Protocol.
The United States, affectionately known for its addiction to oil, effectively super-sized global warming through its stubborn negligence. But just because our government gave the environment the cold shoulder does not mean we have to. Grass-roots efforts have already begun sprouting up throughout the country. Such environmentally-friendly steps, while unable to nullify past environmental neglect, can help ensure a healthy Earth in the future. We are the cause and have the potential to be the solution. By recycling, conserving energy, and looking for alternative fuel sources, environmental protection can begin. It can begin in Anytown, U.S.A.
"Reduce. Reuse. Recycle." These three classic Rs remain staples in environmental protection. We can Reduce waste (and prevent future waste) by purchasing durable, long lasting products. By repairing items, donating them to charity, or reselling them, not only are we eliminating waste, we are also Reusing them. Recycling reigns supreme as the easiest, quickest way to save our planet. All we need to do is take materials such as glass, metal, plastics, and paper, collect and separate them. The supplies are processed into new products. We can then go out and support such recycled products by purchasing them ourselves.
Energy conservation becomes a key player in the fight against global warming. Simple everyday actions such as turning off faucets and lights conserve energy and money (via lower energy bills). The fossil fuels wasted in the average home equate to more than two car’s worth of carbon dioxide emission. In colder climates, heaters waste excessive amounts of unnecessary energy. Yet before going to sleep or when the house is empty, the thermostat can easily be turned down to at least 55 degrees. Need incentive? For every one degree the thermostat gets lowered, we can save up to five percent on our heating costs. Shades serve as free impromptu heaters, because they reduce the amount of heat lost through windows.
Millions of years ago, the Earth gave us a useful gift: fossil fuels. Unfortunately, over the past hundred years society has become obsessed with using and abusing those fuels. Apparently no one received the "nonrenewable resource" memo. This fossil fuel overdose resulted in an energy crisis hangover such as rising gasoline prices and higher electricity bills. By pushing society into a financial corner, alternative energy sources have begun appearing. The main alternative-energy contenders include utilizing natural elements such as the sun, wind, and water. Solar energy is currently being tested out on small-scale appliances such as furnaces for homes and heaters for swimming pools. Wind power has also become a healthy energy alternative. Both solar power and wind power solely depend upon weather and location, making the harnessing process slightly more difficult. The United States should take a page out of Denmark’s book; more than 20% of Danish electricity consumption is covered by clean energy from wind turbines. Denmark’s remarkable pioneering into modern wind power technology sets a hopeful example for the rest of the world that alternative fuels do work. Geothermal energy uses heat from the earth’s hot interior. Unfortunately, unlike solar or wind, this energy is not resourceful enough to handle our energy needs. Hydroelectricity requires damming rivers to utilize the potential energy stored in water. In the U.S. 180,000 MW of hydroelectric power potential is available, but only about a third of that is currently being harnessed. Tidal energy, hydroelectricity’s distant cousin, has also been considered as an alternative, and while harnessing tidal waves could provide a great deal of energy (estimated to support around 20% of Great Britain’s power requirements) only around twenty sites around the globe could serve as tidal power stations. While such alternative energy sources have always been here, society has chosen to take the easy escape route via fossil fuels.
Since most of these alternative fuels are still in the testing stages (and, in the defense of oil, some might have damaging ecological leftover problems), the least we can do is walk, capitalize on public transportation, and purchase cars with efficient gas mileage (sadly, the Hummers need to be dismissed. This isn’t Iraq. Tanks are not a requirement to buy groceries, no matter how bad the neighborhood is.).
Due to past negligence, the limited supply of fossil fuels has become even more limited, leaving current and future generations to deal with a long-term energy crisis. Hopefully, we as a nation can band together. By starting up small environmental protection programs (such as recycling) and by pushing the government to fund research for alternative energy, we can salvage what is left of our planet. If not, prepare for the extinction of polar bears, penguins, and the automobile.