sábado, 21 de abril de 2007

Billions and billions

Billions of tons of CO2

Every we produce 7000 million tons of CO2 per year; slightly more than 1 ton per person (as there are about 6100 million people in the World).

-Resume of pages 93-192 of Carl Sagan’s posthumous “Billions and billions”-

In this section of Carl Sagan´s book he describes a small, complicated and fragile ecosystem where tiny crustaceous are the main living part. Then he compares this with the big (and small), complex and weak ecosystem that represents the Earth.

Afterwards he begins talking about this Earth ecosystem, where he brings special attention to the history of life. Thanks to the species that have lived and co-operated on this planet, ones that have not done so have become extinct, and new species have been able to move in.

He called us, the humans, as the new neighbours not having great experience in voluntary co-operation between species (not even between humans). We have focussed on short-term needs and rarely think in the long term.

He shows us the indivisible aspect of our planet and the interdependency of the countries: in the USA people breathe oxygen that has been produced in Brazil, the acid rain produced in the USA industries damages Canada, the charcoal burned in China rises Argentinean temperatures …. Like it or not, human beings are linked to the rest of the human race, as well as plants and animals in the rest of the World. Our lives are connected (entrelazadas). Because we are not granted with an instinctive knowledge about who should deal with our technological World and make it safe and balanced, we need to discover a way of achieving this.
Probably it is an excessively optimistic posture by trusting some sort of Big Guardian of the Ecosystem coming from the sky in order to fix our mistakes.
It is our responsibility to fix it.

Later he describes our wonderful technological achievments:
We have created machines that cross the skies. We are that accustomed and used to their presence that frequently we fail to recognise how mythical an achievement it is. These flights are a symbol of the powers we have got. But with the big powers the big responsibilities come in place. Our technology has become that powerful that we are becoming a risk to ourselves. Science and technology has saved thousands of millions of lives, it has improved the health of many, and has steadily transformed the planet in a anastomosic union, but at the same time the planet has changed that much that people do not feel comfortable in it. We have created kinds of new devils: difficult to be seen, difficult to be understood, not easily solved problems (and for sure not without confrontation with those in power).

He also talks about how satisfying it is to see human beings, also able to reach a consensus such the one achieved in September 1987, when leaders of many CFC producing countries gathered in Montreal and formed a project on the reduction of CFC’s. Montreal protocol is important not only in the amplitude of the changes agreed, but mainly for its direction.

Carl Sagan easily explains the relationship between CFC’s and global warming. But he uses many pages in order to warn the reader about the grave negative effects, middle and long term, of global warming. He describes the contributory effects of the burning of fossil energy, clouds, Vulcanic eruptions etc. Moreover makes the point that fossil energy is not an economic consequence (as expense is made on protection of the producing countries, and on oil leaking disasters etc. …).

He hopes that new solar technology, wind farms (turbines eólicas), biomass conversion and hydrogen as sources of energy are introduced regularly. At the same time, more efficient use of fossil energy should be made. Nobody suggests not using it at all though. It is very unlikely that big industries, such as the steel and alluminium industries, are to be nourished by solar or wind energy. But if we are able to halve our needs to fossil energy we would have to fuel a great deal of it.

He also mentions that we could ask ourselves whether there is a way of getting rid of the CO2 produced. The only way of doing that it is to grow trees. When they grow they consume CO2. But by burning them later we would destroy the good part that has been done. Those trees could be used to build houses and furniture, or they could just be buried when they die. However, the part of the planet’s surface we should grow on in order to create significative benefit should be the USA. This would only be possible if the whole of humankind works on it. On the contrary, it destroys half a hectare of trees every second. Everyone can grow trees: individuals, countries and corporations; but mainly the latter. Arlington Applied Energy Services Company has built a central termica, but it is also growing enough trees in Guatemala in order to absorve more CO2 than the termic plant itself will produce. We should plant fast growing trees especially.
What is to be said to the charcoal industries, car factories, and oil plants? Could they not ask every industry that expels CO2 to also be in charge of getting rid of it?
Should it be done by citizens themselves? Why not grow trees at Christmas, anniversaries and weddings?

All these actions will impact positively on other aspects such as: cleaner air, minimizing oil disasters, new technologies, more people working, more benefits. This energy independency will allow the USA and other petrol dependent countries to make their children free of the danger. On the other hand, a percentage of the military expenses could come back to social benefits.

Even with the reticence of the industries linked to petrol, one big sector that has begun to worry about global warming is insurance companies. German and Swiss insurance companies have launched sensitisation campaigns for more responsible use of fossil energy. In many companies there is a new interest, at least a theoretical one, in a responsible treatment of nature.

The Japanese government has said “Global warming is a serious problem that is probably jeopardizing the roots of human life itself”.
Sweden announced that by 2010 its nuclear energy will halve, and CO2 production will be reduced in 30% by using the energy more efficiently and by using new sources of green energy. And this process will be economically positive.

On the contrary, OPEP countries remain reluctant to reduce their CO2 production as it will supposedly lower incomes. Russia and many developing countries are opposed to CO2 reduction as it will not allow them to have the industrialization boom that other countries had.
The USA is the only industrialized country that has not adopted significative measures to reduce CO2 production; while other countries act, this government designates commissions and voluntarily asks industries to decrease their CO2 production by having short term economic losses.

This time will be more difficult to act as in Montreal previously; affected industries are much more powerful, and do not have an amazing consequence as the ozone hole made by CFC. This time citizens should be the ones educating governments and industries.

I strongly recommend the reader to dive in to this book, which is full of scientific descriptions of frequent and important problems that the human race faces. Once a serious description of the problem is made, it can find a way of actuation, and globally approached, it will be able to solve or minimize the consequences.

His optimistic way of living allowed him to co-operate with NASA, be an active part in numerous international and multicultural meetings… (Please use this link to get more information on Carl Sagan´s life).

"Living on thin ice" The Observer Magazine´s article

AEGEE´s Flagship Project `08/`09

As a major interdisciplinary European student association we think that care for our living environment and sustainability should involve more the young people living in Europe.