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Three Feet Higher and Rising

Facing Global Warming In Maryland

National Environmental Trust
OVER THE BOARDWALK: The National Environmental Trust released this photoillustration showing sea levels now (top) and the effects of a 1-meter rise in sea level, projected for the year 2095 (bottom).
Christopher Myers
DUTY NOW FOR THE FUTURE: The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health's Dr. Cindy Parker worries that climate change will spread disease; (below) Johns Hopkins University Energy Manager Davis Bookhart plans to make Johns Hopkins "carbon neutral."
Christopher Myers
BETTER TO LIGHT AN ENERGY-EFFICIENT CANDLE...: Each compact fluorescent light bulb, such as the one pictured, can prevent as much as a quarter ton of coal from being burned to generate electricity.
IN THE END, THE CRABS WIN: A National Environmental Trust photoillustration showing current sea level (above) and the projected effects of sea level rise by 2095.

By Ralph Brave | Posted 7/12/2006

Download a short Quicktime movie created by the National Environmental Trust that illustrates a 1-meter rise in sea level.

Go to the NET website for animations of the effects of sea leve rise on other cities.

Under ordinary circumstances, this would be an awkward and even embarrassing moment. Chris Fox has had to stop his presentation because his voice is all choked up and his eyes are welling with tears. He tries to continue and has to stop again. Once more he tries. It's no use.

But there's nothing awkward or embarrassing about it. The educator and director of the Environment Project at the Community College of Baltimore County-Catonsville is halfway through his presentation on the science and impact of global warming, using only data, images, and articles from scientific journals. At the moment he chokes up, he's gotten to the evidence indicating an accelerated extinction of species worldwide. It's enough to make a grown man cry.

Strong emotions and passions are often the norm among those who put their attention on global warming-or, as it is now commonly referred to, climate change. At a mid-April symposium on the subject held at Villa Julie College in Stevenson, a series of presentations by leading experts broke into chaos when WMAR-TV weatherman Justin Berk stepped forward and pronounced that much of what had been heard is "propaganda." A Villa Julie social science professor countered with a declaration that climate change is "a bigger threat than terrorism." The ensuing exchanges among the panelists became so heated that the student audience was entirely ignored.

During a talk to the Maryland Nurses Association earlier this year, Josh Tulkin, a young organizer for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, mentioned that global warming's potential effects on the earth were so disturbing to him that he often can't sleep. The audience gently laughed at what they took to be hyperbole. "I'm not joking," he said.

Crying, screaming, insomnia-these are among the side effects of looking at climate change straight on. Toward the end of his new documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth, former vice president Al Gore warns against another side effect of the phenomenon-the tendency to go from denial or ignorance to despair.

The warning is an apt one, because the facts readily elicit feelings of helplessness. There's no quick fix or simple solution to global warming, as it involves the entire structure of energy systems that we depend upon to power most things we do, from driving the kids to school to running our computers. So much is potentially at stake for the future, yet there seem to be such severe limits on what an individual can do. Scientists tell us that even if we immediately did everything possible to mitigate the problem, the planet would still face 50 to 150 years of global-warming impacts from the greenhouse gases we've already emitted into the atmosphere. No way around it: Climate change is a mind-bender.

Even in Maryland, where there are no ice shelves dramatically breaking away or bleached coral reefs dying off, there are still very real risks and threats.

Brent Yarnal was part of a team of Pennsylvania State University scientists who conducted the first, and apparently only, comprehensive assessment of global warming's potential effects on Maryland. Published in March 2000 as part of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Assessment (MARA) for the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the report documents the range of expected outcomes for the area. The report remains definitive because, apparently, no Maryland governor or legislature has yet commissioned scientists to conduct a thorough state-level study.

"We determined that the Mid-Atlantic region would have significant impacts both negative and positive," Yarnal says, "with the negative impacts far outweighing the positive. The biggest negative impacts that we were most certain of were in the coastal zone. There would be increased saltwater intrusion, increased coastal erosion, and increased sea-level rise." The study predicted a rise in sea level of four inches to a foot by 2030 and one foot three inches to three and half feet by 2095, with substantial coastal land losses occurring in the low-lying counties of the southern Eastern Shore.

The sea-level rise will increase the effects of the storm surges and hurricanes that hit Maryland, and the state's response to these greatly concern Dr. Cindy Parker, a professor at the Center for Public Health Preparedness at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Parker, speaking for herself as an active member of Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, says, "Though most people don't think of it this way, sea level affects health. Storm surge affects health. When people lose their homes, that affects their health."

The experience of New Orleans holds important public health lessons, Parker believes. "When a hurricane hits, you can evacuate people, but you can't evacuate infrastructure, like water treatment plants or hospitals," she says. "Only a few hospitals in New Orleans have reopened since Katrina, and people are suffering because of it. We need to think about this and take action in the high-risk areas now."

Intensifying wet conditions, similar to the recent week-long storms in June, bring with them the threat of the spread of infectious disease by insects. The MARA study also cited a high-risk of increased mortality from urban heat stress. The 35,000 deaths that resulted from the 2003 heat wave in Europe are often cited as bearing out this concern for what global warming could have in store here.

In the six years since the MARA report, Yarnal says, "Projections that were less certain have become more certain. We've seen that most of the things which were going to be impacts of climate change are indeed turning out to be true."

Meanwhile, the time frame in which to adjust to these and other impacts, and to prevent further climate destabilization, appears to have shortened. For most of the past two to three decades during which global warming has become more scientifically studied and publicly debated, the concern about its most serious impacts have been discussed in terms of a century from now. That changed in 2002, when the National Academies of Science published a report titled "Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises."

What the report demonstrated, says Penn State professor of geosciences Richard Alley, the lead scientist and author of the document, is that in terms of time, the climate in the past has changed radically in just a decade or two: "At the end of the cold snap 12,000 years ago, there was a change of 18 degrees Fahrenheit, which occurred on an order of 10 years. By `order,' we mean that it could have been three years or it could have been 30, but it wasn't a hundred."

Alley, who is world-renowned for this work, says, "The analogy we use for abrupt climate change is sitting in a canoe. If you lean a little bit, the boat leans a little bit. If you lean a little more, the boat leans a little more. It's predictable and makes sense. But if you lean a little too much, the boat flips over. That's abrupt climate change."

The event that has drawn the most attention for its potential to alter the climate in the North Atlantic, perhaps abruptly and with possible severe impacts on Maryland, is the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. The current melting of that ice sheet into the Atlantic is already causing grave concern in Europe to the extent that low-lying cities like Amsterdam are actively investigating how to create floatable buildings. If the entire ice sheet melted more quickly than expected-"If it gets too hot, ice melts, we know that," Alley observes-the predicted three-foot rise in sea level over the next century could become a 20-foot rise.

If something like that occurs, the entire Eastern Shore could be devastated. "I've never looked at how high the Delmarva peninsula is," Yarnal says. "But if major ice sheets were to melt, then, yeah, I'm pretty sure most of Delmarva would be lost. We know, for instance, that with major hurricanes, or even some moderate hurricanes during the past century, parts of Delmarva have been overtopped by storm surge."

Uncertainty about the timing and rate of effects from global warming do not allow this scenario, however unlikely, to be entirely dismissed. "Probably to get rid of a whole ice sheet would take centuries," says Alley. "But, people used to say millennia and now they say centuries." He pauses, then adds, "Even if it takes centuries to melt an ice sheet, but it starts now, you will have sea level rising the whole time."

 

When WYPR-FM's Marc Steiner recently hosted a show on the subject of global warming, he announced to his listeners that, as far as his radio program was concerned, the debate about the reality of global warming was over. Steiner's statement reflects a shift that occurred during the past year: The climate around climate change has changed. Perhaps it was Hurricane Katrina, or cable news repeatedly showing footage from a warming Arctic. Whatever the right metaphor-critical mass or tipping point-the scientific consensus on global warming and public opinion seems to have reached it. In hushed tones and with raised eyebrows, scientists now mention that "even [Richard] Lindzen at MIT has started to come around," referring to a respected scientist who has been a skeptic about the human contribution to global warming. Officials at Constellation Energy Group, BGE's parent company, speak frankly about living in "a carbon-constrained world." A Baltimore grocery cashier speaks of recent storms as "severe" and tilts his head in tentative agreement that this severe weather might be influenced by global warming. The serious debate over global warming is indeed over.

The remaining skeptics tend to be ideological, attempting to spin the mounting scientific evidence to fit their worldviews and grab some media attention. The Competitive Enterprise Institute, an energy industry-funded advocacy group, is the leading example. When Al Gore's documentary on global warming was released, the Competitive Enterprise Institute aired television ads declaring, "Carbon dioxide. They call it pollution. We call it life." Global warming is just the latest effort of politicians "to steal your liberty and your money," Competitive Enterprise Institute policy analyst Marlo Lewis says in an interview with City Paper. But the institute doesn't dispute that warming is occurring, though it disagrees about the rate of warming and the consequences. Warming occurred when the Roman Empire flourished, Lewis asserts. The Competitive Enterprise Institute receives significant funding from ExxonMobil, though in a recent Washington Post interview, the institute's director, Fred Smith, bemoaned the withering of its funding from other oil companies that have gone to the other side.

There are still questions about global warming's geographic distribution and timetable and intensity of impacts to be resolved. But the debate is now focused on what needs to be done.

The simple, basic reality underlying climate change is that when we burn fossil fuels like gas and coal, carbon dioxide gets emitted into the atmosphere and stays in the atmosphere for a long time. When the sun's rays hit the earth, most of that energy gets reflected back out into space. But the extra carbon dioxide molecules that we've added to the atmosphere capture more of the heat from those re-radiated sun rays, causing the atmosphere to warm-and so the earth warms. With enough carbon dioxide concentrated in the atmosphere, the planet starts to warm beyond the range that the earth and earthlings are used to-and causes changes to the winds and waters that compose and determine our weather. (There are other greenhouse gases, some with even greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but in terms of quantity, carbon dioxide is the big one.)

There's no single weather event that can be irrefutably attributed to global warming, just as no lung cancer can be directly attributed to a particular pack of cigarettes that has been smoked. It's the longer-term pattern of weather and weather events, occurring in correlation with increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, that makes the case: when glaciers are melting all over the world, when the 10 hottest years on record have occurred in the past 15 years, when coral reefs are dying all over the world, and these are all happening at the same time and are all predictable outcomes from a warming world.

The solution, then, seems obvious enough: Reduce the carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. The dilemma is that producing carbon dioxide is an achievement that up to now has been a measure of our success in producing power for our homes and businesses and transportation and recreation.

"We break carbon bonds to create energy," Constellation Energy lead engineer John Quinn explains in an interview. "What you try to throw off is carbon dioxide. It's not a by-product like the other pollutants. It's what you're aiming to get when you do fossil fuel combustion."

Dealing with carbon dioxide as a pollutant is "a paradigm shift for everyone," says Quinn. "The other pollutants, you say, `Let's go lower and a little bit lower [in emissions], let's make sure our health is maintained.' With other pollutants you're concerned about being 30 miles away to a couple of hundred miles away from a power plant [smoke]stack. But with carbon, I release a molecule of carbon dioxide from a stack in Maryland or release one in China, it's essentially the same impact. What you make is a transparent blanket around the planet."

That "transparent blanket" is now being built up with an additional 26 gigatons (billions of tons) of carbon dioxide each year. In the absence of carbon dioxide controls and with expected population and economic growth, as much as another 9,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide will be added over the next 100 years.

But the effort to control carbon dioxide, to shift to a "carbon-constrained world," runs directly up against the coal and gas power plants and the oil-based vehicle fleet that are integral parts of the world's economies and many personal lives-including here in Maryland.

An April 2001 inventory of greenhouse gas emissions in Maryland, conducted by the state Air and Radiation Management Administration, provides a picture of the state's contribution to the problem. Using 1990 as its baseline, the inventory found that Maryland emitted about 107 million tons of greenhouse gases that year. Two-thirds of those gases were carbon dioxide.

There are two major concentrated sectors responsible for these emissions. "Electric utilities are the major source of greenhouse gas emissions in Maryland, emitting 21 million tons in 1990, which is 19 percent of total Maryland greenhouse gas emissions," the study concluded. Three-fifths to three-quarters of Maryland electricity is generated from coal plants, the fossil fuel that produces the most carbon dioxide when burned. The coal-fired Brandon Shores plant in Anne Arundel County, owned by Constellation, emits more than 8 million tons of carbon dioxide each year alone.

The other major sector responsible for greenhouse gas emissions is transportation (mainly cars and trucks), emitting 24.5 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions, or 23 percent of Maryland's total.

While there are other significant contributors to the state's greenhouse gas emissions, such as industrial processing plants, power generators and cars are the primary targets for controlling carbon dioxide.

"Right now, there's no [federal or state] regulation associated with controlling carbon dioxide emissions," explains John Sherwell, a Ph.D. physical chemist who works on air-quality issues for the Power Plant Research Group within the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. "There's no obligation to do anything about carbon dioxide."

That fact, and the growing acceptance of the need to make the "paradigm shift" to controlling carbon dioxide emissions, defines the intense struggle over energy and environmental policy that's occurred in Annapolis recently, a struggle that can only grow fiercer in the years ahead.

As a result of the years-long organizing efforts by the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and other environmentalists, the state took its most significant step in combating global warming with the passage of the Healthy Air Act during the 2006 legislative session. The new law launches a process for directly regulating carbon dioxide emissions. But what results the act will achieve in reducing carbon dioxide emissions from Maryland remains in question.

The Healthy Air Act is also known as the "4-P bill," since it is designed to control the emission of four air pollutants. But there's a difference between three of the pollutants (nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, and mercury) and carbon dioxide. "One of the problems with carbon dioxide is that you can't add a technology to the end of the power plant stack and pull it out," explains Tad Aburn, a 23-year veteran and recently appointed chief of the Air and Radiation Management Division within the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). "For nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, I can actually add scrubbers, and they literally scrub pollution out of the stack. With carbon dioxide, you don't have that luxury."

That fact, Aburn says, partly underlies Gov. Robert Ehrlich's administration consistently but unsuccessfully arguing for deletion of the carbon dioxide provisions from the Healthy Air Act.

The act legislates that Maryland join a group of seven other New England and Mid-Atlantic states in a carbon dioxide "cap and trade" program known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI, and referred to as "Reggie"). Under RGGI, which Maryland must join by June 2007, companies operating power plants will be given a cap for their carbon dioxide emissions. In 2014, a mandate for reducing carbon dioxide emissions kicks in, with a 10 percent reduction required by 2018. The cap can be met by reducing emissions, or buying emission permits that other power plants in the region have in excess, or having a fine imposed. The basic idea is that by putting a price on carbon dioxide emissions the power of the market will be enlisted to reduce those emissions.

Josh Bushinsky of the Pew Center on Climate Change says that RGGI follows the success of a similar system for dealing with acid rain caused by sulfur emissions, giving states and emitters "flexibility to find the lowest cost options in meeting reduction targets."

But Aburn and others express concern that Maryland could be at a disadvantage as a result of RGGI. More than 60 percent of electricity generated in Maryland comes from coal plants; the other states in RGGI get only 15 to 25 percent of their electricity from coal.

"We're not really opposed to this kind of cap and trade program if it's done on a level playing field and gets us the environmental results we want," Aburn says. "But it's really hard to be involved in a program like that when you're on the border with states like Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Virginia who aren't part of the [RGGI] process. If we ratchet down on our [coal] sources here in Maryland, increased costs could lead to plant shut-down, reliability problems, even brownouts and blackouts, and increased consumer costs. Meantime, the CO2 emissions in neighboring states could actually go up."

Aburn's comments are based on a February 2006 analysis of these issues written by general counsel for the Maryland Public Service Commission to the legislature when the Healthy Air Act was being heard in committee. But the same Public Service Commission analysis notes that the approximate cost of a megawatt hour produced from natural gas is $68, compared to $22 for the same electricity produced by coal.

"Coal-burning plants are the cheapest," says Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat, lead author of the Healthy Air Act. "They're cash cows. Even if their costs go up, it doesn't come anywhere close to the market price."

With Maryland shackled to coal for much of its electric supply, state officials will be working vigorously to ensure participation in RGGI accommodates a carbon dioxide emissions cap set high enough to allow for Maryland's coal dependency. "I'm sure you've heard talk in the environmental community that the caps set by the other RGGI states were not terribly aggressive," Aburn says. "We're going to be working very hard to make sure that some of the concerns we have are addressed."

If the state dislikes the details of the RGGI pact, there are a plenitude of "outs" built into the legislation. According to the bill, the governor may unilaterally withdraw from RGGI after Jan. 1, 2009, with a report to the legislature explaining the withdrawal and a new plan to reduce CO2 emissions from state power plants. The bill also mandates an academic study on the economic and power supply impacts of joining RGGI. While this study is not due until January 1, 2008, Environment Maryland director Brad Haevener says that he has heard the study is on a fast track to be completed by the end of 2006. "That would be just in time to introduce legislation early next year repealing the carbon dioxide provisions," he worries.

But as Pinsky points out, "Maryland always had the right to pull out of RGGI. When the other states negotiated the creation of RGGI, they weren't stupid. They said we want the right to pull out. So with 30 days notice, any state can pull out."

But even if Maryland proceeds with RGGI in good faith-and Aburn says, "We plan on following the law"-the question remains: Will RGGI work?

According to Constellation's John Quinn, who served as a "stakeholder" in RGGI's deliberations, RGGI's own current computer modeling show its system resulting in a 40 percent lower reduction in carbon dioxide emissions due to "leakage." Leakage is the term for electric production moving to non-RGGI states. Marc Breslow, executive director of the Massachusetts Climate Action Network, and a close observer of the RGGI negotiations, says, "The correct solution to the leakage problem is to require power sellers from outside RGGI to play by the same rules." But, Breslow says, there may be legal obstacles to this approach, an issue now being researched.

The experience of the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), the world's most advanced cap and trade system for carbon dioxide emissions, reinforces reasons for pause. The European nations set their target emissions so high that all but one of the countries easily came in below their caps. The result was a larger than expected surplus of emissions credits, causing a near collapse of the trading market. The ETS, which was launched in January 2005, has survived these early obstacles, though Germany recently announced that it would exclude the coal industry from the emissions trading system. One British carbon-emissions financier, in the May issue of Nature magazine, witnessing the European carbon market's birth pangs, wryly noted, "The only thing it [ETS] has not yet done is reduce emissions."

 

The Ehrlich administration has maintained that control of carbon dioxide emissions requires a national or an international system. But there is no national system, or an international system in which the United States participates. The Bush administration withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, and the Environmental Protection Agency under the current president has resisted every effort to regulate carbon dioxide.

Ehrlich's Democratic opponent in the governor's race, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, has taken a different stance. O'Malley endorsed the Healthy Air Act, and signed onto a campaign by 200 other cities across the country to enact policies that will move their communities toward achieving the carbon reduction goals of Kyoto. Inquiries to the mayor's office to speak with staff in charge of reaching that goal received no response as of press time.

The mayor and the Baltimore City Council also signed onto a lawsuit challenging the Bush administration's rescinding of an EPA rule that carbon dioxide can be regulated under the Clean Air Act. Just two weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take up this case, the first time that the nation's highest court will hear a global warming case.

John Stanton, vice president for climate and air programs at the National Environmental Trust, which is a party to the case, views the situation as highlighting the paralysis in the U.S. on climate change. "The executive branch refuses to regulate carbon dioxide. We've gone to Congress, which also says they won't regulate. In fact, the chair of the Environmental and Public Works Committee, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, has a web site stating that global warming is a hoax."

The Supreme Court has a number of options for its decision in the case, ranging from agreeing with Bush and the lower court to going beyond the formal issues and declaring carbon dioxide to be a pollutant. A decision is expected in the spring of 2007.

 

However great the reduction in the rate of increase of carbon dioxide emissions achieved by regulation, the growth of total global greenhouse gas emissions will still outpace the effort. At some point, a technology for dealing with carbon dioxide at fossil-fuel power plants will be required if global warming is to be successfully curtailed. One such technology is being actively researched by a federal partnership that includes Maryland.

There is a process available to remove carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, although it can't be installed easily on an existing smokestack like a scrubber. Carbon dioxide has an affinity for a class of chemicals known as amines. If a coal plant's flue gases pass over amines, the carbon dioxide locks onto the amines. Heat is then applied to the gas mixture, which isolates the carbon dioxide-the whole process is known as carbon capture. There's a small 180-megawatt coal plant in the state, Warrior Run in Cumberland, already doing this and selling the carbon dioxide for commercial use. Warrior Run sells about 4,000 tons a month of carbon dioxide to Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Coors, and other beverage companies for use in carbonation, says Kris Emerick, the plant's carbon dioxide facility team leader.

The big problem to be solved regarding carbon capture is carbon storage. All the soda and beer in the world can't handle it. So once you've isolated billions of tons of carbon dioxide, where do you put it? The answer, being actively investigated all over the world, is in the ground, otherwise known as "geologic sequestration."

Deep underground geological formations that hundreds of millions of years ago were beaches offer the best prospects, says James J. Dooley, a senior research scientist at the Joint Global Change Research Institute based at the University of Maryland in College Park. "The layers of these formations are made of compacted grains of sand," Dooley explains. "The carbon dioxide goes in there and fingers its way in between all these little grains of sand and over time gets locked up in the formation."

One of the large remaining questions is whether the carbon dioxide will stay underground. "That's the intense area of research," says Dooley. "What are the monitoring tools and what do they really tell you? There can never be any absolute certainty that every molecule is there."

If underground injection and storage does prove reliable, there are two underground formations underlying Maryland capable of handling the emissions from all large carbon dioxide emission sources in the state for more than 800 years, the Maryland Energy Administration reports. There are also gas and coal basins in the state that could add additional decades of storage capacity.

But how do you get the carbon emissions from the coal plants to the storage sites? New plants could be built near the storage areas, most of which are in Western Maryland, but carbon emissions from existing plants would require dedicated pipelines running hundreds of miles.

"Right now there are about 3,000 miles of dedicated carbon dioxide pipelines in the U.S.," Dooley says. "There are large pipeline networks that exist in and around Texas to use the carbon dioxide to help with oil extraction. As far as I know, there are no existing carbon dioxide pipelines in Maryland."

Dooley estimates that carbon capture and storage would add 10 to 40 percent to the cost of electricity at the power plant-though some estimates are higher. Carbon capture and storage "is probably not going to deploy until carbon dioxide prices [in a trading system] get above $20 per ton," Dooley says. (The proposed RGGI trading system that Maryland is joining next year currently estimates that emissions permits will cost around $1 to $11 per ton.) But Dooley adds that the right basis of comparison is whether carbon dioxide capture and storage is cheaper than other ways of abating emissions on a large scale, suggesting that reducing auto emissions may be costlier.

He believes that the next five to 10 years are critical for "shaking down" this technology if it is going to make a difference for global warming. The stakes are high because, Dooley notes, "it's not a challenge of building five or 10 or 50 or a hundred, but maybe thousands of power plants, cement kilns, and steel mills that use this technology. Only then would carbon dioxide capture and storage be a truly robust solution capable of mitigating billions of tons of emissions per year in Maryland, in China, in India, in Des Moines."

But Dooley is cautious in his outlook for this technology to solve the problem. "I want to be clear," he says. "I do not think there is any silver bullet for climate change, including this technology. I think it's a very important technology. But the scale of the challenge is so large. It's probably not going to work everywhere."

Others are even less optimistic about any energy future still dependent on fossil fuels.

Asked what he would advise the president to do about climate change, Penn State geosciences professor Richard Alley comments, "For me, I think the urgent priority is to tell a whole lot of people who are graduating from high school this year that there is a future in figuring out how to make money and clean up the environment on the energy front. We know enough about energy futures that eventually the price is going to go up and energy is going to get scarce and we're going to want more of it. If we burn all the fossil fuels and then look for some alternative, we will have changed the world, and some of the ways we will have changed it we will not be happy about."

 

If al-Qaida put chemicals in the atmosphere that threatened the earth or the United States, one can imagine the nation mobilizing to combat the threat as it has never mobilized before. Just about everyone would willingly go on a warlike footing to do whatever needed to be done. The often-mentioned need for a new "Manhattan Project," referring to the concentrated effort of scientists and engineers to build an atom bomb during World War II, evokes this sense of national purpose, dedication, and urgency for stemming carbon dioxide emissions and for finding a non-fossil fuel solution.

Global warming scientist James Hansen, the respected director of the New York-based NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has been repeatedly warning that the next 10 years are critical. "Not 10 years to decide upon action," he recently wrote, "but 10 years to alter fundamentally the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions." Without that action, Hansen warns, "climate disaster will become unavoidable."

But since we ourselves are putting the perilous chemicals up there, and are materially benefiting by doing so every moment of every day in ways large and small, there's often a kind of evasive acknowledgement typical of anyone caught engaging in a bad habit. In fact, social scientists are actively investigating the nature of human responses to global warming, says Penn State's Brent Yarnal. One of the responses being researched, he says, is "the optimism bias, when people think it's going to happen to everybody else, but it's not going to happen to me."

But there are Marylanders who not only understand that global warming is happening to them but are trying to do something about it in their personal and work lives. A recent New York Times story featured such an action by 38-year-old Anne Pashby of Baltimore. Unable to keep track of the city's recycling pick-up schedule, she turned to the web site of the Conservation Fund, figured out the "carbon footprint" from her daily activity (14 tons) and offset that by paying $57 to plant 11 trees in the lower Mississippi Valley. Anne Pashby had become "carbon neutral."

Maryland companies and institutions are also starting to aggressively address their carbon dioxide emissions. Probably few are as ambitious as Johns Hopkins University. JHU's recently hired energy manager, Davis Bookhart, says that the Kyoto Protocol was a good start and created a framework, but his goal at Hopkins goes far beyond that. "We want to be completely carbon neutral," he says. "There's no reason not to be."

Transforming the school's shuttle buses to run on biodiesel, using electric-powered carts for transportation around campus, and the direct purchase of wind power are parts of the formula being considered to achieve this goal. Bookhart is now overseeing a study to determine the campus' total greenhouse gas emissions.

During the next legislative session, the state's environmental organizations plan to focus on the transportation sector. The goal, says Environment Maryland director Brad Haevener, is to enact a clean car bill requiring new autos to meet higher vehicle emissions standards.

Chesapeake Climate Action Network executive director Mike Tidwell suggests that creating a public fund to finance energy efficiency improvements could also see the light of day in Annapolis next year. Tidwell, and others, view an aggressive energy efficiency program as a crucial companion to all the other efforts to combat greenhouse gas emissions.

"Ten or 15 years from now, can we have an economy of this size using just a quarter of the energy, including just a quarter of the electricity, that we now use? Absolutely," Tidwell asserts. "The question is, will we? I hope we will, but it's an open question."

Another way of posing Tidwell's question might be as follows: A compact fluorescent light bulb, available at many area supermarkets and hardware stores, fits into any ordinary light socket and saves one quarter ton of coal from being burned. How many Marylanders does it take to screw in a compact fluorescent light bulb?

City Paper previously reported on the effects of climate change on the Baltimore region in Weather Retort by Van Smith, Nov. 20, 1996.

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