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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

A Global Warning

Global warming is an issue as large as its name suggests. On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, MassPIRG, the state’s largest environmental preservation organization, held a panel in the Provost’s Conference Room on the Healey Library’s eighth floor to discuss just how big a problem it is.

The first of the panelists to speak was Curtis Olsen of the UMB Environmental, Coastal and Ocean Sciences (ECOS) Department. Olsen used a number of visual aids to explain the natural process of global warming and cooling cycles that take place between ice ages, explaining that on average interglacial periods, such as the current one, last approximately 20,000 years, and that we are now about 18,000 years into the epoch. The potential impact that human use of fossil fuels, which release the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, could have on this process is still uncertain at this point, but Olsen did present some very important and unsettling figures that were extrapolated based on current trends.

According to samples derived from air pockets in Arctic and Antarctic ice, the highest concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere during the earth’s last inter-glacial period was about 280 parts per million. The current carbon dioxide concentration is 370ppM, which is the highest of any level since during the Mesozoic era, and has been increasing at a rate of about 2.7ppM per year. In the United States the average citizen adds about 20 tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year, whereas the rest of the world produces about 3 tons per capita. Environmentalists seek stricter laws governing the reduction of emissions and the conservation of resources, as well as means to research and develop methods to extract some of the greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere, either converting them into solids or liquids, or storing them underground.

Much of the responsibility of a full-scale effort to reduce the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere would fall to the U.S., according to Olsen. The world’s two largest nations, China and India, are growing at a rate that demands the use of fossil fuels, and it would be unfair of the world’s richest country to demand that developing nations cut down on their emissions. On that note, Olsen offered the audience a look at artist’s renderings of ground-based carbon dioxide collector units, of which he said about 300,000 would be needed in order to remove enough of the gases from the air to counterbalance emissions and preserve, or reduce, the current concentration. Olsen closed by suggesting a course of action, saying, “I propose that we put less effort into trying to regulate countries who are releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, because that’s really a doomed process, and that we put a lot more of our efforts into trying to remove the CO2 from the atmosphere and maintain the [climate system].”

The second speaker was David Levy of UMB’s Management and Marketing Department. Levy’s speech focused on the economic ramifications of long-term efforts to curb emissions and remove greenhouse gases from the air, as well as arguments and possible roadblocks from both the private and public sectors worldwide that could hinder such efforts. Levy spoke at length on the Kyoto Protocol on emissions in industrialized countries, originally drafted in 1997, and U.S. efforts to prevent its ratification. He also mentioned numerous estimates of costs for research into alternative fuels and building windmills and the type of collector fixtures that Olsen mentioned-costs that many of the world’s largest fossil fuel consumers have not been willing to take on.

Third up was MassPIRG’s Colin Peppard, who tackled the activist’s role. Peppard’s part in the forum was to offer insight as to how those on the UMB campus can aid the prevention of a potential environmental disaster by taking part in the state’s environmental lobby. Peppard noted that in the past two months, MassPIRG collected 12,000 signatures urging Governor Romney to allocate more money for conservation programs and alternative fuel and greenhouse gas extraction technology research, and they’re now aiming for 25,000 signatures. He also underscored the importance of colleges such as UMB as the places where the science and technology needed to combat global warming are created and tested. “The thought,” Peppard concluded, “of reaching [CO2 concentrations of] 400 parts per million or 800 parts per million is a really scary one, and it’s up to you to make the people in the Statehouse and around the region aware ofthat.”