• Question: Have you got any idea in how we are going to stop global warming

    Asked by jimbob99 to Alan, Caspar, Diana, Murray, Sarah on 21 Mar 2011 in Categories: .
    • Photo: Diana Drennan

      Diana Drennan answered on 18 Mar 2011:

      We need to stop burning fossil fuels ! Every time we burn something – whether it’s gasoline, coal, natural gas – we release carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas. Except Hydrogen doesn’t, burning hydrogen just gives off water vapor. So, if we could come up with a way to make hydrogen without using fossil fuels to do it, we’d be 1/2 way there. I say 1/2 way because we’d still need to make the power plants, the cars, the stoves, the gas stations, etc… I like wind power and solar power, but they aren’t used very much yet, and aren’t very efficient. To stop global warming we really need to “bite the bullet” and just make the commitment to changing the way we make power. The fact that we’re spending so much money on drilling new oil wells instead of developing new types of power tells me that we’re not serious about it yet. Which makes me sad. The whole situation is all further complicated by the greed of big oil companies and politics and a population that doesn’t really believe in climate change yet.

    • Photo: Alan Winfield

      Alan Winfield answered on 18 Mar 2011:

      Yes, I have some ideas. One is that we need to stop using energy like crazy. For instance if we drove our cars less and instead walked or cycled for short journeys. If we reduce the number of flights we take, or if we can take the train instead of the plane. If we kept things for much longer and repaired them when they go wrong instead of throwing them away. If we stopped burning so much coal, oil or gas to generate electricity but instead used cleaner or renewable methods of making electricity. If we stopped cutting down rainforests that help to soak up atmospheric carbon. All of these things – and I’ve listed just a few – would have the effect of reducing the level of ‘greenhouse gasses’ that go into the atmosphere and warm it up.

    • Photo: Murray Collins

      Murray Collins answered on 19 Mar 2011:

      Hi JimBob,

      This is a very important question. Humans are affecting the climate by emitting particular gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide through things like deforestation, industrial development, and transport (aeroplanes, cars etc). To change this we can do many things! Two of the main things we need to do are 1. reduce energy consumption by being more efficient and making changes in our society; and 2. change the ways in which we produce and distribute energy. We also need to help poorer countries to do these things, particularly reducing emissions from deforestation, which is the area I am working in. Then when we know what we can do scientifically, we need the right policy in place to make it happen. So, 3. political support is essential.

      1. Reducing energy consumption
      * we can increase the energy efficiency of the technology that we use.
      This can be the things we use in our home, like fridges and televisions, through to the machines we transport ourselves in. So making lighter aircraft that fly further on less fuel is one way for instance.

      * Increasing the efficiency of the processes we use to make things.
      This means that we improve the efficiency of the technology used in the manufacturing process of machines, and also in constructing new buildings. Construction causes a lot of emissions, like when you have a building site with all those machines running.

      2. Changing energy production

      * Improving the capacity of renewable fuels
      We urgently need to invest in research and development of energy sources other than fossil-fuels like coal. We have been trying to ‘trickle’ these kind of technologies into our energy supplies, but I think personally that this has been a large mistake and that need radical shifts in our energy production systems. Large scale investment in improving technologies such as solar energy (photo-voltaic cells) would hopefully lead to much efficiencies and capacity in these technologies (meaning we should hope to get more energy for less).

      * Continue to support research into nuclear energy so that it can be produced as safely and as efficiently as possible. Despite the accident in Japan, I still think nuclear energy will be extremely important part of our energy supply in the future, particularly if nuclear physicists can successfully supple power from nuclear fusion. This would be a wonderful breakthrough.

      * Continuing to develop technologies that reduce emissions from fossil-fuel power stations, for instance carbon storage and sequestration units that are put on the chimneys of power stations and reduce emissions at the source of production.

      These are just a few of the options that we can take. There are many more. One important thing we could do is to help make changes in poorer countries When scientists discovered that carbon dioxide emissions from cutting down trees in tropical rainforests was causing about 15% of all the emissions that people cause across the world, there was an increased focus on managing these forests better to reduce emissions from their clearance. This is the area which I am working on, and we think that if rich countries could help poor tropical countries to slow rates of deforestation, we could have major reductions in carbon dioxide emissions quite quickly. This is particularly the case if we can stop reducing the clearance of peat swamp forests, which hold massive amounts of carbon. This is why I am working in peat swamp forest conservation!

      3. Political issues
      We probably don’t need enormous technological advances at this stage to address climate change. What is really essential, absolutely essential, is getting the political will to do something about it (that means getting politicians to agree to actually do something, and then do it!). Unfortunately in countries like the USA, a country which has provided such an enormous contribution historically to the development of science, the politicians are rejecting/ignoring all the science which explains the processes and mechanisms of climate change. This means that even though scientists have a great amount of understanding of the ways we are affecting the planet, and the things we could do to reduce our impact, the people who make decisions about what to do are deciding not to do anything about it! This is one of my reasons for being involved in this science communication project. We are fortunate enough to live in a democratic society with freedoms to protest, demonstrate and make our opinions known. The more people who know and understand the challenges we face, the better.

      You are the next generation, and what your world, and your children’s world, looks like will depend to a large extent on the decisions that we make now as a society. I think that it will be deeply unfair if my generation and older generations refuse to do anything to address these problems, and leave the younger generations with a poorer world, and with fewer choices to do anything about it. That is one of the main reasons for working in this broader area -trying to actually do something about the challenges we face!

      Projects like I’m a Scientist I think can help directly connect people not actively working in science, but who are interested and concerned about particular issues (like climate change) with those people who are lucky enough to be working directly in universities and other research organisations. When we are connected, we can communicate. When we communicate we can all learn from one another. When we learn from one another and understand different aspects of the problems we face we can reach agreement about what to do as a group of people, as a society. When we agree we are better able to make tough decisions about what we need to do, like making changes to the way we live.

      Keep the questions going and let’s keep talking. Have a good weekend, it’s sunny outside!



    • Photo: Caspar Addyman

      Caspar Addyman answered on 21 Mar 2011:

      I am optimistic that we can eventually reduce the negative effects that humans are having on the planet. I think that the two most important things that can be done to help this right now are stopping the destruction of rainforests and finding alternatives to fossil-fuels. Solar power seems like the best bet to me.

    • Photo: Sarah Thomas

      Sarah Thomas answered on 21 Mar 2011:

      Well if global warming is caused by green house gases, which are caused by burning fossil fuels and deforestation then the way to stop it is to replant forests instead of destroying them and find renewable methods of obtaining energy.

      If only it was so simple…