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Tuesday, January 30, 2001 A Publication of the Newspeak Association Volume No. 66, Issue 3

Front Page
-Cleaning up snow: DPW gets to work
-Students gain new opportunity to stay informed
-Lecture series Engineers the future
-President's IQP Awards given out

News
-Police Log
-Off Campus News
-When family turns on TV, VCR or computer, AOL Time Warner is there
-Italian doctor says he plans human clone within next year
-Science has gone too far, says manifesto by world-religions expert
-Jokes and poems: E-mail brings more politics into the workplace

Opinions
-Are you really YOU?: When do you know you are 'gay'?
-WPI students join in protests:"Justice" in DC
-So long WPI, and thanks for all the degrees
-Anger over Ashcroft
-The Little Things
-Visions
-The Pit
-Philler

Arts & Entertainment
-Scots on the Rocks
-The Blunder of Anime Editing
-WPI gaming gets due attention
-What's Happening

Announcements
-Club Corner
-Crimson Clipboard

Sports
-Men's swim team deserves more credit
-Score Board
-Upcoming Contests

Visions


by Alex Knapp
Tech News Staff

"Global warming alternatives in the face of the failed Kyoto Treaty"

In the wake of the failed talks to establish global emissions abatement, the very real threat of global warming remains.

Politically and economically speaking, it is simply unfeasible for the United States to embark on a large emissions abatement program. The technology simply does not exist to both maintain and improve current standards of living and substantially cut emissions. Moreover, because of rising emissions from developing nations, it is unlikely that such abatement on the part of the U.S. alone would substantially mitigate the effects of global warming. Due to this fact, alternatives to unilateral emissions abatement must be developed. One such alternative is the use of plants, both on land and in the oceans, to decrease overall CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Potentially, this could be accomplished by reforestation on land, or plankton seeding in the oceans.

Since increasing levels of carbon dioxide are believed to lead to increased temperatures, any means of decreasing the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would have an overall mitigating effect on global warming. One such method would be a substantial program of reforestation in the United States. Since the 16th Century, over 25% of forests in the U.S. have been cut down. However, the U.S. possesses a large amount of economically marginal croplands and grazing areas. The Federal government controls most of these lands. If they were forested, they would capture about 50% of the total CO2 emissions of the United States. Not only that, but they would provide for enhanced biodiversity, wildlife, and recreation uses. Also, such a program would be relatively inexpensive (about $5bil a year) and would engender little to no political opposition.

Another possibility would be to try to increase plankton growth. Plankton in the oceans soak up an estimated 40% of CO2 from commercial and industrial emissions. However, the growth of plankton is sparse in the polar regions, due to a lack of iron in those waters. One potential means of sparking plankton growth would be to "seed" the polar oceans with iron dust, which should provide for a drastic growth in plankton in those areas. Although this sounds far-fetched, "iron seeding" does cause plankton growth. In 1996, the researchers seeded a 28 sq. mile area of ocean near the Galapagos Islands. Rapidly, plankton bloomed over the ocean, and quickly began taking in carbon dioxide to feed its growth. Projections from this experiment indicate that if the polar oceans were completely seeded in such a fashion, atmospheric CO2 would decrease by about 10%. This would substantially mitigate the greenhouse effect caused by CO2. Such plankton growth has other benefits as well. One potential benefit may be that the increase in plankton would lead to an increase in the populations of other ocean fauna, such as whales and dolphins, that feed on plankton. Another benefit, again, is that it is relatively inexpensive. A continual iron-seeding program would cost only about $10 billion a year. Yet another benefit is that plankton growth stops about a week after seeding, so if the plankton were determined to have a detrimental effect, the effort could be quickly disbanded.

Overall, both of these solutions have marked benefits. If successful, they could lead to a substantial decrease in CO2, which would substantially mitigate, if not eliminate, the effects of global warming. They are low-cost, and do not require any large-scale changes in the overall regulatory framework. Politically speaking, neither proposal should prove to be impossible to pass, although the proposal of growth of plankton in the oceans may make it more difficult to get radical environmental groups on board. Also, should these proposals prove successful, they may lead to the use of mitigation in other environmental areas, as well.

However, there are also many potential problems with these proposals. One of these is the simple fact that we are unaware of the long-term effects of either proposal. It is important that these initiatives not take place without substantial, small-scale study. Also, by focusing on mitigation of global warming effects, we may shift the focus away from air pollutant emissions, which, in addition to climate change, cause other substantial ecological and health problems. It is important that efforts to decrease emissions also continue, even if these programs prove successful. Another potential drawback are the costs of acting unilaterally. Although carrying out a program of reforestation is unlikely to cause negative comment on the international scene, large-scale plankton seeding could lead to international outcry and alienate potential allies in the battle to fight global warming.

Despite these drawbacks, it is important that the United States government focuses some of its environmental efforts on these proposals. The effects of reforestation and plankton seeding are very easy to study on a limited scale, and both are easy to disband should the results turn out to be detrimental. Should the studies bear out the efficacy and safety of these approaches, the United States should attempt to engage the international community in pursuing these solutions. Not only would they mitigate and possibly eliminate global warming, but they also point out a path through which environmental preservation and human development go hand-in-hand. Thus, it would be possible to avoid the dire predictions of some environmentalists that a clean environment is only possible if humanity scales back its progress. Success in the role of active caretaker of the environment could lead humanity to an age where there is not only continued scientific and economic development, but humans actively use the advances of science and technology to preserve, protect, and enrich the Earth.


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