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How to Cool a Planet (Maybe)

William J. Broad, NY Times
In the past few decades, a handful of scientists have come up with big, futuristic ways to fight global warming: Build sunshades in orbit to cool the planet. Tinker with clouds to make them reflect more sunlight back into space. Trick oceans into soaking up more heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

Their proposals were relegated to the fringes of climate science. Few journals would publish them. Few government agencies would pay for feasibility studies. Environmentalists and mainstream scientists said the focus should be on reducing greenhouse gases and preventing global warming in the first place.

But now, in a major reversal, some of the world’s most prominent scientists say the proposals deserve a serious look because of growing concerns about global warming.

Worried about a potential planetary crisis, these leaders are calling on governments and scientific groups to study exotic ways to reduce global warming, seeing them as possible fallback positions if the planet eventually needs a dose of emergency cooling.

“We should treat these ideas like any other research and get into the mind-set of taking them seriously,” said Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington.

The plans and proposed studies are part of a controversial field known as geoengineering, which means rearranging the earth’s environment on a large scale to suit human needs and promote habitability. Dr. Cicerone, an atmospheric chemist, will detail his arguments in favor of geoengineering studies in the August issue of the journal Climatic Change.
(27 June 2006)

Environmental Chiefs Join Forces to Fight Growth in Air Travel

Michael McCarthy and Clare Kenny, Independent / UK via Common Dreams
Britain’s environmental leaders today call on the Government to change course over aviation policy – or pay a huge environmental and social price.

In a letter to The Independent, an unprecedented coalition of senior greens, scientists and politicians demands a radical rethink of current plans for air travel expansion, which they say will lead to an enormous increase in emissions of the greenhouse gases causing global warming.

The letter marks the first shot in a campaign highlighting the consequences of allowing air travel to grow in line with demand – the so-called “predict and provide” approach. This was at the heart of the 2003 Aviation White Paper, which foresaw new airport runways being built across Britain in the next 30 years as passenger numbers grow nearly threefold, boosted by the market in cheap flights.

The message of the Rethink! campaign, organised by AirportWatch, an alliance of environmental organisations and community groups at airports around the UK, and being spread by a series of newspaper advertisements, is that unless the Government alters its approach, the price to pay will be unacceptably high, involving at least a doubling of aviation’s contribution to climate change. Aviation is the fastest-growing source of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.

It will also involve, the campaign says, the exposure of hundreds of thousands more people to aircraft noise, the destruction of numerous natural habitats and historic buildings, and more pollution for communities near airports.

Today’s letter is signed not only by leaders of green groups such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Transport 2000, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the World Wide Fund for Nature, but also by Labour, Tory, Liberal Democrat and Green Party politicians, senior scientists such as the chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, Sir John Lawton, and the heads of major charities including the National Trust, the Woodland Trust and War On Want.
(27 June 2006)

Air-conditioning: Our Cross to Bear

Stan Cox, AlterNet
Those air-conditioners that keep things cool and comfortable inside are helping make the outside world even nastier.

When it’s hot and humid out and the air-conditioner’s not running, America suffers. Babies break out in rashes, couples bicker, computers go haywire. In much of the nation, an August power outage is viewed not as an inconvenience but as a public health emergency.

In the 50 years since air-conditioning hit the mass market, America has become so well-addicted that our dependence goes almost entirely unremarked. A/C is built into our economy and our culture. Stepping from a torrid parking lot into a 72-degree, air-conditioned lobby can provide a degree of instantaneous relief and physical pleasure experienced through few other legal means. But if the effect of air-conditioning on a hot human being can be compared to that of a pain-relieving drug, its economic impact is more like that of an anabolic steroid. And withdrawal, when it comes, will be painful.

We’re as committed to air-conditioning as we are to cars and computer chips. And a device lucky enough to become indispensable can demand and get whatever it needs to keep running. For the air-conditioner, that’s a lot…

Almost one kilowatt-hour of electricity out of every five consumed in the United States in a full year goes to cooling buildings…

The electricity used annually to air-condition America’s homes, stores, offices, factories, schools, churches, libraries, domed stadiums, hospitals, warehouses, prisons and other buildings (not including what’s used to cool manufacturing processes and military facilities) exceeds the entire electricity consumption of the world’s second and fourth most populous nations — India and Indonesia — combined.

The refreshing air that comes out of an air-conditioning system has an evil twin: carbon-laden exhaust from the utilities that power it.
(22 June 2006)

Daimler Hopes Americans Are Finally Ready for the Minicar

Mark Landler, New York Times
Are Americans finally ready to get Smart?

DaimlerChrysler, which shelved an earlier plan to bring its Smart minicar brand to the United States, plans to announce Wednesday that it will introduce the tiny two-seat vehicle to the American market early in 2008, according to several executives at the company.

The German-American carmaker is betting that with stubbornly high gasoline prices, mounting concerns about global warming, and waning interest in sport utility vehicles, consumers in the United States will welcome a car that is no larger than a good-size riding mower.
(28 June 2006)