by David Fessler, Energy and Infrastructure Expert
Friday, October 9, 2009: Issue #1112
It's one of the fiercest debates in the world – both politically and economically.
That's because it concerns the world itself – namely, how to protect it from harmful environmental emissions and global warming.
Many environmentalists say global warming not only exists, but is also the leading cause of damage to the Earth. They cite obvious factors like the Antarctic ice shelves breaking off, glaciers melting at unprecedented rates and the holes in the Earth's ozone layer.
But a few scientists believe global warming is exaggerated, with warmer temperatures and melting ice the result of normal up-and-down cycles that occur every 10,000 years or so.
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For the record, I believe global warming is real. But the big debate centers on the question of why it's happening. Let's examine the biggest offenders, the incentives being offered to reduce emissions and who stands to capitalize from new energy legislation…
Global Warming… Greenhouse Gas Emissions Are The Real Problem
No matter where you stand, you'll likely know that the consensus is that greenhouse gas emissions are the cause of the problem.
The most prevalent of these gases is carbon dioxide (CO2). It's the result of burning fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and petroleum, as well as from vehicle emissions. The chart below – courtesy of the Environmental Protection Agency – shows the breakdown of greenhouse gas emissions – and just how much of a factor CO2 is…
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The greenhouse gas problem stems from this cycle…
- Gases rise up into the atmosphere, where they accumulate and create an "insulating" layer.
- This layer traps more of the sun's heat within the Earth's atmosphere instead of it radiating out into space.
- As a result, global temperatures rise. If left unchecked, within 100 years – or much sooner by some estimates – oceans will be 20 feet higher than today.
Obviously, rising ocean levels would have a devastating effect. Many low-lying coastal areas would be completely submerged, with millions having to move to higher ground. And some low-lying islands would disappear entirely.
Hurricanes and typhoons would be 10 times as damaging as they are now, and places previously thought to be immune from storm surges would find themselves in the middle of a New Orleans-like nightmare.