What can we do about global warming?

Global warming is a very big problem and it is presumptuous to think that a solution can be stated in a few pages. But it is important to at least start thinking about the problem.

If all human activities which contribute to global warming were to stop today, some global warming would still occur. It is safe to say that some human activities will not stop because they include growing food and staying warm. The changes in the Earth's atmosphere, oceans, and land which lead to global warming have already occurred. Predictions about global warming range from moderate to catastrophic. It is important to avoid the catastrophe.

There is no place on Earth that has not felt the hand of humans. We humans are in control of the Earth. Human numbers and human technology make this so. We humans cannot avoid the responsibility.

It is important to do something about global warming. Some global warming will occur despite our best efforts. The important thing is to take measures to avoid the worst case which is a disaster for everyone on the Earth. Some of these measures are easy. Some require a little effort. Some are extreme or even draconian. Some require a change in thinking.

Personal Energy Conservation

Energy conservation leads to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Energy conservation saves money as well. Here is a short list of simple and mundane things an individual might do.

Check your tire pressure. (this improves mileage, handling and safety)
Replace incandescent lights with compact fluorescents.
Turn off your computer when you are not using it.
Unplug the chargers for your cellphone, digital camera, etc.

Here is a short list of slightly more difficult things an individual might do.

Stop using a separate freezer. (it uses a lot of electricity)
Buy only efficient appliances.
Buy efficient autos, or autos with 4 cylinder engines.
Insulate and weatherstrip your house or apartment.
Plan shopping trips to minimize gas consumption.

Here is a short list of more difficult things an individual might do.

Live close to work.
Checkout the possibility of telecommuting.
Use less airconditioning and heating.
Sell your SUV.
Use a bicycle.

Societal Energy Conservation

It is impossible to separate the issues of global warming and fossil fuel use. There are diverging estimates of the amount of remaining oil and natural reserves. None predict that the use of these fuels can be maintained beyond mid century. It is clear that their use will begin to decline within a decade. That does not mean that carbon dioxide emissions will automatically decline. The replacements include coal, heavy oil, tar sand, and oil shale contain more carbon. The replacements produce about at least twice the carbon dioxide for the same energy. There is no assurance that the conversion is possible. In any case the alternatives produce more sulfur dioxide and many other pollutants. The cost to the environment and the effect on global warming may make the alternatives very unattractive. 

Here is the brutal fact: Trucks, cars, tractors, airplanes, roads and airports are useless without oil. It is only a slight overstatement to say that everything in the United States runs on oil. A transport system for people and goods has to be devised that does not depend on fossil fuel. The energy source might be wind, solar, biomass, nuclear fission, nuclear fusion or combinations of these. The conversion will be easier while some fossil fuel is available.

It will take money, time, natural resources, and large amounts of brain power to devise the new transport system. Society as a whole must do this. Individuals can't. 


We must elect leaders who are not idealogues and who will listen to and take advice from a variety of sources. These include scientists, climatologists and especially paleoclimatologists. Politicians are famously concerned only with the near term. Long term for them means the next election. What is needed is a long term view. A century is not long enough.

CFCs, NOX and soot

There are many different kinds of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). The worst ones have already been outlawed. It has not been expensive to find alternatives. Reducing nitrous oxide emissions and soot has the additional benefit of reducing lung disease.