We Must Reduce Energy Use, Not Just CO2 Emissions, To Prevent Catastrophic Global Warming

playing with fire

Playing With Fire (image by charles chan, CC 2.0 license)

An article in Sunday's Science Daily reports on research showing that more than half of the Earth's warming since the dawn of the industrial age is due to the heat released from our energy use, not atmospheric warming due to the greenhouse effect.

While the greenhouse effect is still a significant contributor - and will become more so as GHG levels in the atmosphere rise - simply the heat released when burning fuels is also being stored in the atmosphere, as well as in the earth, sea, and arctic ice.

The researchers have calculated that the heat energy accumulated in the atmosphere corresponds to a mere 6.6% of global warming, while the remaining heat is stored in the ground (31.5%), melting ice (33.4%) and sea water (28.5%). They point out that net heat emissions between the industrial revolution circa 1880 and the modern era at 2000 correspond to almost three quarters of the accumulated heat, i.e., global warming, during that period.

Their conclusion is that simply capturing our CO2 emissions, will not prevent global warming. We have to actually reduce the amount of heat we are releasing into the world via our energy use - which mostly involves burning things, and therefore generating waste heat.

The good news is that solar photovoltaics, wind power, even solar thermal generate much less, or even negative, waste heat than either conventional energy sources, or nuclear energy. And of course energy efficiency is the cheapest and most cost-effective mitigation we have at our fingertips.

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  1. we produced a lot of energy and fatigue riding the Seattle To Portland bike ride this past weekend – 204 miles in one day… good story on our blog.

    I believe our solar panels and hot water heater will be installed soon…Largest green roof in continental us nearly finished…will that not help carbon emissions…

    several blogs are talking about vegetarianism….I like David Korten’s economic reductions of Phantom Wealth vs Real Wealth in Agenda for a new Economy…
    Do you read YES! magazine? powerful

    Hope you are doing well…

    Patricia’s last blog post..A Pictorial Story of the 2009 Seattle to Portland Bike Ride

  2. Finding alternatives to fossil fuels is the need of the day. As the world energy need rises, the sources of fossil fuel are fast depleting. If the world goes for alternatives to fossil fuels, we can abolish the hegemony of OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) and other oil producing countries, thereby reducing their stranglehold on the world economy. While we are still far away from total exhaustion of fossil fuel or crude oil, its high time that we find other energy sources! Its never disadvantageous to have more alternatives.

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