By: Francis P. Koster, Ed.D.
Thanksgiving approaches. I will bow my head in gratitude for my children and grandchildren and appreciating what they have brought to my life, and rededicating my energy to protect them from harm as best I can.
Occasionally I read terrible, gut-wrenching stories about someone leaving their sleeping child in a car with the windows up, where they die because the trapped energy of the sun raised the temperature inside the car. How badly that parent must feel for the rest of their life.
The parent had a choice — take the easy route and visit a store while the sleepy child stayed in the car, or go through the hassle of unstrapping the child, getting out the stroller, installing the child, doing the errand, returning to stow the stroller, install the child in the car seat and deal with the cranky little thing. In our United States, parents make the wrong, fatal, choice about 40 times a year.
The well respected International Energy Agency (IEA) prepares annual reports on the world’s energy situation for use by the worlds’ governments. The most recent report, “World Energy Outlook 2012,” published a few weeks ago, was widely quoted in places like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Charlotte Observer. These news outlets celebrated portions of the report, which says in one part that the United States had enough oil, natural gas and coal (fossil fuels) to both meet our own needs and become the worlds’ major exporter of energy — larger than Saudi Arabia — by around 2020. What a boom to our economy!
In the United States, the total number of jobs involved in all three fossil-fuel industries totals about 11,000,000. This includes people who sell gas at convenience stores, carry coal by train and fix appliances, plus those that get a trickle-down economic impact. This is about 8 percent of our workforce. If we expand production, we could anticipate a positive economic impact, the newspapers report.
What the news outlets did not tell the public was that the same report also said that if just one-third of the coal, oil and natural gas already in our proven reserves is burned before 2050, the impact on our temperature, climate and economy will be disastrous.
I am a futurist — I think about risk/reward challenges that shape our society’s future. I have four children and three grandchildren. This is personal.
Over the past 40 years, a scientific consensus has agreed that the “safe” limit of temperature rise was around 3.4 degrees fahrenheit when measured against temperatures in the late 1800s. We are already about half way to the 3.4 degree safe limit, and the rate of change is increasing. We have been adding about four-tenths of a degree Fahrenheit per decade, since the 1970s. Interestingly, much of the United States is getting warmer twice as fast as the average for the globe, s this global average rise understates our country’s problem.
Temperature is driven by the amount of climate-changing gasses in our atmosphere, making the Earth’s surface behave just like the interior of the parent’s car in the parking lot. Greenhouse gasses are measured in parts per million (ppm). Scientists have been telling us for more than 40 years that we need to keep the climate-changing gas portion of our atmosphere around the 350 ppm range or we would be at risk, and that if we hit a global average in the 400 ppm range, things could go very bad quite quickly. That’s the “tipping point” when melting glaciers and polar ice would begin to release large amounts of stored natural greenhouse gasses from previously frozen areas. You get a runaway train.
Several months ago, sustained readings over 400 ppm were recorded in the Arctic. This is really, really not good.
Even thinking about this requires enormous courage. The ugly fact becoming increasingly clear is that we have to choose between using a lot of the fossil fuels our economy currently depends on, or protecting the temperature of the “car” for our offspring, who look to us to shield them and do the right thing.” I’m not going to argue that the choice confronting us is easy. I am going to argue that the impact of making the wrong choice is devastating.
On a personal level, you can take small steps that add up. Duke Power will send you up to 15 energy-saving light bulbs for free (http://www.duke-energy.com/freecfls/). Using these bulbs helps lower greenhouse gas emissions.
As we learn more about how our world is changing, we can be thankful for our families — and pray for guidance as we wrestle with these confusing and literally life altering decisions to protect them.
Facing new truths is not easy — but in the long run, ignoring or resisting them will bring greater pain.
 The number of jobs for the oil and gas industry is from a TV commercial produced by the industry, which claims 9.2 million jobs. It is the highest claim I could find. API-JOBS-15.mvw is the pdf. Other sources claim this is too high by a factor of at least two, because it counts household employees of gas executives, gas station attendants, and so forth. You can find their point of view here: http://www.treehugger.com/fossil-fuels/oil-gas-industry-jobs-overstated-four-times-by-american-petroleum-institute.html. The coal employment figure is 1.9 million jobs, and comes from the American Mining Association website, which their PR people helped me locate, read, and understand. It can be found at http://nma.org/index.php/economic-publications. The total workforce of the United States number came from http://bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t13.htm. Add 9.2 oil and gas to 1.9 coal = 11.1 million jobs out of 144 million results in 8 percent.