Global Warming

Global Warming

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Global Warming


The world's scientific experts agree that industrial and land use activities are having an adverse impact on our climate. Burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gasoline creates global warming pollution that acts as the glass in a greenhouse, reflecting heat back toward the Earth and warming our climate. If we do not take steps now to reduce our emissions of global warming pollution, we will suffer serious environmental, public health, and economic repercussions. We owe it to our next generations to leave them a healthy environment and economy. Industries must start reducing their emissions of global warming pollution before we seal the fate of future generations.

The earth's climate is predicted to change because human activities are altering the chemical composition of the atmosphere through the buildup of greenhouse gases (primarily carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide). Its functions are similarly to the walls and roof of a greenhouse, allowing sunlight to enter, but preventing heat from escaping. Sunlight passes through the atmosphere and heats the earth?s surface. The earth gives off heat energy, in the form of infrared radiation, which travels back toward the atmosphere. Instead of going into space, some of the infrared radiation is trapped by greenhouse gases (Schneider, 1989). The main greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor, and ozone. The gases send infrared radiation back to the earth's surface.

Some greenhouse gases occur naturally in the atmosphere, while others result from human activities. Naturally occuring greenhouse gases include water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Certain human activities, however, add to the levels of most of these naturally occurring gases: 1) Carbon dioxide is released to the atmosphere when solid waste, fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal), and wood and wood products are burned. 2) Methane is emitted during the production and transport of coal, natural gas, and oil. Methane emissions also result from the decomposition of organic wastes in municipal solid waste landfills, and the raising of livestock. 3) Nitrous oxide is emitted during agricultural and industrial activities, as well as during combustion of solid waste and fossil fuels. Greenhouse gases that are not naturally occurring include byproducts of foam production, refrigeration, and air conditioning called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), as well as hyrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and perfluorocarbons (PFCs) generated by industrial processes.

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Each greenhouse gas differs in its ability to absorb heat in the atmosphere. HFCs and PFCs are the most heat-absorbent. Methane traps over 21 times more heat than carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide absorbs 270 times more heat than carbon dioxide. Often, estimates of greenhouse gas emissions are presented in units of millions of metric tons of carbon equivalents (MMTEC), which weights each gas by its Global Warming Potential (GWP) value (Revkin, 1992).

Energy from the sun drives the earth?s weather and climate, and heats the earth?s surface; in turn, the earth radiates energy back into space. Atmospheric greenhouse gases (water vapor, carbon dioxide, and other gases) trap some of the outgoing energy, retaining heat somewhat like the glass panels of a greenhouse. Without this natural greenhouse effect, temperatures would be much lower than they are now, and life as known today, would not be possible. Instead, the earth?s average temperature is a more hospitable. However, problems may arise when the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases increases.

According to Easterbook, around the mid-1800 with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide levels began increasing. The carbon dioxide concentration has risen sharply from 280 ppm (parts per million) to 360 ppm, or about 25 percent increase. The methane concentration has risen about 150 percent. The increases are mainly a result of the burning of fossil fuels and the clearing of forests. The average global temperature has risen about 1 degree Celsius since the late 1800?s. Though it has not been proven that there is a relationship between greenhouse gases levels and the surface temperature, it is likely that the relationship exists. Scientists believe that if people wait until the 2100?s when people can more accurately model climate changes, it will be too late to change the severe impacts of climate change. Scientists have predicted that by 2050, the atmospheric carbon dioxide level will be twice the preindustrial level.

Rising global temperatures are expected to raise sea level, and change precipitation and other local climate conditions. Changing regional climate could alter forests, crop yields, and water supplies. It could also threaten human health, and harm birds, fish, and many types of ecosystems. Deserts may expand into existing rangelands, and the character of some of our National Parks may be permanently altered. Increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases are likely to accelerate the rate of climate change. Scientists expect that the average global surface temperature could raise 1.6-6.3 F by 2100, with significant regional variation. Evaporation will increase as the climate warms, which will increase average global precipitation. Soil moisture is likely to decline in many regions, and intense rainstorms are likely to become more frequent. Sea level is likely to rise two feet along most of the United States coast (Revkin, 1992).

As expected, in recent years, temperatures have been among the hottest recorded. The warmest five-year period occurred from 1991 to 1995; 1995 was the hottest year on record. Not, it seems that ?1997 is looking like the warmest year on record? (Hanley, 1997). Global warming is expected to have wide-ranging effects, including rising sea levels, increased prevalence of tropical diseases, habitat loss, and extreme weather. Higher temperatures are expected to accelerate the melting of polar ice caps, leading to higher sea levels, which could inundate low-lying coastal areas and islands. Scientists predict that as tropical weather expands farther north and south, tropical diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and yellow fever will expand also. In Rwanda, malaria rates rose 337 percent with a 2-degree increase in temperatures. As climate changes, most species will not be able to survive in their current geographic locations. As a result, they will need to move to more suitable areas. However, whereas plants and animals had 10,000 years to adapt to a warming climate after the last ice age, they will have only 100 years if humans increase the temperature a similar amount around 5 degrees in the next century. Scientists believe that global warming will not only bring higher temperatures, but also extreme weather variation. For example, what was once a 100-year flood might become commonplace. Hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, flooding, and droughts will occur more frequently.

As Fishman and Kalish mentioned, doctors and scientists around the world are becoming increasingly alarmed over global warming?s impact on human health. Abnormal and extreme weather, which scientists have long predicted would be an early effect of global warming, have claimed hundreds of lives across the US in recent years. Our warming climate is also creating the ideal conditions for the spread of infectious disease, putting millions of people at risk. Malaria, dengue fever, and encephalities, these names are not usually heard in emergency rooms and doctor?s offices in the United States. But if people don?t act to curb global warming, they will be. As temperatures rise, disease-carrying mosquitoes and rodents spread, infecting people in their wake. Doctors at the Harvard Medical School have other diseases to climate change.

Dengue, or breakbone, fever is a mosquito borne disease related to yellow fever. Unlike its relative, however, there is no vaccine against dengue. One strain of the disease, hemorrhagic dengue fever, is often deadly, and doctors in the US and other areas into which it is expected to spread have little experience diagnosing or treating it. Temperatures limit the range of the mosquito that carries dengue fever. Frost kills both adults and larvae. In the past, these have prevented the disease from spreading from the tropics, but rising temperatures are changing that. It has moved steadily north in recent decades, and to higher elevations. In the United States the mosquito which carries dengue has reached as far north as Chicago. Like dengue fever, malaria is a mosquito borne illness normally limited by temperatures. Rising temperatures have expanded its range, and exposed new populations to infection. Scientists project that as warmer temperatures continue to spread north and south from the tropics and to higher elevations, malaria-carrying mosquitoes will spread with them. They project that global warming could put as much as 65% of the world?s population at risk of infection by malaria. Here in the United States malaria infections are already on the rise. Houston has experienced a malaria outbreak in each of the last two years. In the last three years malaria cases have occurred as far north as New Jersey, Michigan and Queens, New York. In 1997 an outbreak occurred in Florida, striking the Disney World theme park, and mosquitoes carrying the illness were discovered in New York (Abrahamson, 1989).

Climate-related increase in sea surface temperatures and sea level can lead to higher incidence of water-borne infectious and toxin-related illnesses such as cholera and shellfish poisoning; zooplankton which can harbor cholera proliferate in warmer water temperatures, and provide a potential environmental reservoir for the disease. Cholera killed 120,000 worldwide people in 1995, most of them children. Outbreaks of encephalitis, another illness with strong links to warmer temperatures, also appear to be on the rise. Since 1987 there have been major outbreaks in Florida, Mississippi, New Orleans, Texas, Arizona, California, and Colorado (Philander, 1998).

According to Mitchell, part of the difficulty involved with tackling the problem of global warming is a result of the fact that its main consequences will occur years, or even centuries, in the future. Since policymakers cannot go outside and see the effects of global warming, as could be done with such environmental problems as air and water pollution, they generally see less of a reason to take action. Because the foundation of industrial economies lies in the burning of fossil fuels, solving the problem of global warming will require a major restructuring of many countries? economies. This will be easier for some countries than for others. Australia and oil producing countries in the Middle East, whose economies are based almost completely on the production of fossil fuels, would have the most trouble complying with a treaty. The United States and Japan could comply, but hesitate due to fears of slowed economic growth and lost profits. At the other end of the spectrum, European Union countries will have the least trouble decreasing emissions. When West Germany absorbed East Germany, many of its heavily polluting factories were closed down. France is already largely dependent on nuclear power and Denmark has made use of power from wind.

Many of our worst environmental problems are directly associated with burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas to produce energy. Pollution from energy production causes respiratory disease, smog, acid rain, and global warming. Households consume three-fifths of the energy produced in the U.S. The average American household produces 6,376 pounds of carbon into the air in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2). With 99 million households, that adds up to 287 million metric tons of carbon, or a fifth of U.S. carbon emissions (Kunzig and Zimmer, 1988). Simply increasing the efficiency of household energy use would significantly reduce the amount of pollution associated with household energy use. By taking simple steps individuals can protect the planet and save money on their energy bills.

Despite the significant amount of pollution that is attributable to household energy use, many producers of household appliances and equipment continue to place inefficient models on the market. In some cases these models will have lower purchase prices than more efficient models, hiding the fact that they will cost consumers more over their lifetime by using more money. It is important to remember that when an appliance or piece of electronic equipment is purchased, the consumer is not just paying the purchase price, they are committing to pay for electricity to run it for as along as they own it. This can add significantly to a product?s cost. For example, running a refrigerator for 15-20 years costs two to three times as much as the initial purchase price of the unit. The sum of the purchase price and the energy cost of running an appliance over its lifetime are called the ?life cycle cost? (Wilson and Morrill, 1998).

Everyone is aware that his or her automobile produces pollution. However, the energy used in the average house contributes twice as much greenhouse gas pollution as the average car. These emissions could be 30 percent lower while saving precious household dollars if houses were equipped with energy efficient products. Some household appliances are secretly wasting electricity and costing money consumers probably aren?t even aware of. Many TVs, VCRs, cable boxes, CD players, cordless phones, and microwaves continue to consume energy even when switched off. The power used by idle TVs and VCRs alone costs American consumers more than $ 1 billion per year ? about $ 30 per household. If people were to get rid of the power plants that supply this energy, it would have the pollution equivalent of removing 2 million cars from the road (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 1998). Inefficient household appliances and equipment, which manufacturers continue to market, waste consumer?s money on inflated energy bills. However, many consumers do not know how to pick more efficient items. The following section of this report considers common household appliances and equipment and suggests strategies for selecting energy-efficient models and making the most efficient use of standard models. Cooling systems are one of the largest users of household energy. Air conditioning use has doubled in the United States since 1981 with two-thirds of all U.S. households having air conditioners. These cooling systems are responsible for consumption of 5 percent of all the energy produced in the U.S. with a cost to homeowners of over $ 11 billion (Wilson and Morrill, 1998). By buying more energy-efficient systems and taking steps to reduce the need for air conditioning, consumers can reduce their energy bills and cooling-related carbon emissions through reducing unwanted heat, choosing the right cooling system, and set the thermostat to the right temperature.

Nineteen percent of all electricity sold in the United States is consumed by lighting. If energy-efficient lighting were installed everywhere profitable, America?s demand for electricity would drop by more than 10 percent. This would result in annual emissions reductions of 1.3 million metric tons of sulfur dioxide, 600,000 metric tons of nitrogen oxides, and 202 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. It would be the pollution-reduction equivalent of taking 44.5 million cars off the road (Ogden, 1996). Lighting accounts for 5-10 percent of total energy use in the average American home and costs $50 to $150 per year in electricity. Switching to lighting which uses energy more efficiently, could create significant savings for the average American household. Most houses currently use incandescent lighting that uses only 10 percent of the electricity it consumes to produce light. The other 90 percent ends up as waste heat. On the other hand, compact fluorescent bulbs use only 25-30 percent of the energy incandescent use and they last up to ten times longer. A compact fluorescent bulb can save several times its purchase price over its lifetime through reduced electricity bills and fewer replacement bulbs. Halogen torchiere lamps have become one of the most popular indoor lighting fixtures for residential use. Over 40 million of them have sold in the U.S. in the past decade. These lights not only waste energy, they have been shown to be a serious fire threat in homes, offices, and dorms. New Energy Star light fixtures look the same as halogen lamps but operate at much safer temperatures and can help consumers reduce their energy bills significantly over the life of the bulb.

Consumers in the market for a new refrigerator have an opportunity to make a significant increase in their home?s energy efficiency because refrigerators consume 20 percent of all residential electricity and average about 685 kWh per year (Ogden, 1996). In recent years, refrigerators have undergone tremendous changes. The typical refrigerator sold in 1996 had more features, yet used about half the electricity of a comparable model sold in 1980. Some recent improvements in refrigerator technology were spurred by an incentive program called the ?Golden Carrot? Super-Efficient Refrigerator Program. In 1992, a group of electric utilities formed a consortium called the Super Efficient Refrigerator Program, Inc. (SERP) to encourage refrigerator manufacturers to develop and market substantially more efficient refrigerator-freezers. The ?carrot? was a $30 million pot of incentive money. The manufacturer who could supply the most energy savings at the lowest cost per kWh saved would win the entire pot. The prototype which won the pot used 40 percent less energy than required under 1993 federal efficiency standards (Ogden, 1996).

Office equipment is the fastest growing electricity use in commercial buildings in the United States. Right now, office equipment consumes about 30 billion kWh, or approximately five percent of the total commercial electric energy use at a cost of $2.1 billion in electrical bills. Throw in the electricity for air conditioning to displace the heat created by this equipment and the number soars to 40 billion kWh. If half reduced energy use for office equipment, the pollution reduction would be equivalent to removing 6,750,000 cars from the road (Ledbetter and Smith, 1996). In addition to saving on energy bills, there are added perks to making an office more energy-efficient. When equipment does not waste as much energy in heat, it doesn?t need a fan; thereby, efficient products offer a quieter, cooler-working space. The amount of energy used widely between types of office equipment, and often the number of units of equipment will have a greater impact on energy use than microcomputers, most offices have many more microcomputers than copiers. Therefore, a strategy to maximize energy efficiency might focus as much on microcomputers as copiers. When deciding on the best way to design or improve your office?s energy-efficiently, remember to consider not only how much energy you can save with one piece of equipment, but also how many units of each type of equipment you use.

Many businesses are finding that improving the efficiency lighting within their facility improves their bottom line. The Environmental Protection Agency?s Green Lights Partnership promotes energy efficiency as a business strategy those owners and managers of commercial and industrial buildings can adopt to improve their bottom line. Businesses that invest in a lighting upgrade through Green Lights have found that they can reduce the energy they use in commercial buildings, this represents major savings (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 1998).

In the past decade, personal computers have become a fixture in most offices. Technological advancements, in particular those related to laptop computers, have dramatically increased computer energy-efficiency. The Energy Star program labels computers that automatically enter a low power or sleep mode after a period of inactivity and meet efficiency specifications based on power supply. Most manufacturers have models that fit these specifications. If an Energy Star computer is compatible with your network and can operate the software you intend to use, they provide an easy way to ensure you are using computer energy-efficiently (Ledbetter and Smith, 1996).

Consumers generally think of energy use applying to items that plug into an electrical socket or have their own batteries, but paper can represent significant energy use. It takes 10-20 Wh of energy to produce a sheet of plain paper. In contrast, it requires about 5 Wh per page to operate a laser printer and about 2 Wh per page to operate an ink jet printer (Ledbetter and Smith, 1996). Paper use makes up a significant portion of energy use attributable to an office. Studies have shown that paper consumption can be as high as 80 pounds per employee per year, which is three-foot stack of paper for each person. Fortunately, the average office has many opportunities to reduce paper consumption.

Vehicle choice is the single largest opportunity for consumers to reduce their contributions to global warming pollution. The transportation sector consumed 35 percent of the nation?s energy and produced more than 32 percent of U. S. CO2 emissions in 1990. In addition, transportation energy use accounts for about half of all air pollution emissions and more than 80 percent of air pollution in cities. It is also expected to be the fastest growing source of U.S. CO2 emissions unless we take steps to produce more efficient vehicles (Ogden, 1996). Increased government support for public transportation would make a huge difference in transportation emission levels. However, consumers can also make a meaningful contribution by choosing vehicles with lower emissions. A huge potential exists for increased energy efficiency in transportation. We spend over $77 billion on gasoline and oil for our vehicles each year and end up with the bulk of that gasoline being spewed out of tailpipes as waste exhaust. Today?s internal combustion engines are less than 25 percent efficient. With current technology we can raise the average new-car fuel economy 65 percent, from 28 to 46 miles per gallon. A comparable improvement can be made for ?light trucks?, a classification that includes Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs), pick up trucks, and vans.

Environmentalists believe that the treaty will save companies and consumers millions of dollars in clean up cost and will dampen economic growth only slightly. However, others predict that the agreement will severely harm the economy, slowing growth between 2 and 3 percentage points, and could result in 2 to 3 million lost jobs. Says Connie Holmes, of the Global Climate Coalition, and association of automakers and energy industries, in response to the treaty, ?It?s totally nuts. It is totally unrealistic.? (Bee News Services) A recent study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy found that ?the United States could reduce annual emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by as much as 20 percent from the 1990 level by 2010 at no net cost to the economy?(Ramakrishna, 1997).

If it goes into effect, the global warming treaty could lead to higher gas and electricity prices. However, 73 percentage of people polled by the Pew Research Center said they would be willing to pay an extra 5 cents per gallon of gasoline if it would significantly reduce global warming (Glenn, 1997). Surprisingly, 60 percent said they would even pay 25 cents more per gallon if it would significantly reduce global warming (Glenn, 1997).

?Toward the end of his whirlwind 16 hour visit here at the international negotiations on global warming, Vice President Al Gore met Monday night with representatives of oil, coal, and electric companies, assuring them that he would respect their interests. Sitting in the same chair at the same rectangular table less than an hour later, Gore assured representatives of environmental groups that he would respect their interests? (Berke, 1997). With the 2000 presidential election approaching, Gore has begun to try to please everyone and, in doing so, has become increasingly careful with environmental issues. Gore needs the support of both industry and environmental groups for his 2000 campaign. ?These days Gore tries to satisfy interest groups that are crucial to his quest for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000?(Berke, 1997). Gore has departed somewhat from his previously environmental focus. Though Gore?s book, Earth in the Balance, discusses the dangers associated with global warming, the proposal the United States brought to the Kyoto summit was ?one of the weakest positions on the table?(Glenn, 1997).

Regardless of Gore?s performance at the conference, he has already begun to encounter problems with the senate, which must ratify the treaty for it to go into effect. Earlier this year, the senate voted unanimously that a treaty lacking requirements for developing countries would be unacceptable. Some politicians? apparent efforts to make global warming a partisan issue are compounding the problems. Politicians, especially Republicans, asked Clinton to ?promptly submit the treaty and allow the senate to kill it?(Bee News Services, 1997). As a result of this bickering, the treaty will probably not go to the senate before 1999 at the earliest. The Clinton administration hopes that, by then, developing countries can be convinced to take part in emission reductions, making the treaty more attractive to the senate.

If the treaty is ratified, we will have to increase our dependence on renewable, non-polluting sources of energy, such as solar and wind. Though less than one percent of the global energy markets, renewable energy is rapidly becoming more widespread. Popularity of solar and wind power is increasing quickly among businesses due to a 25 percent per year growth rate. As a result of lower costs of technology, the world market for solar power has grown from $340 million in 1988 to $1 billion in 1991. In Japan, 70,000 homes have been built with solar cell-covered roofs, which satisfy most of a family?s energy need. Six percent of Denmark?s electricity will be produced by wind this year. Second behind industrial energy production, cars produce large amounts of carbon dioxide. Fortunately, some action has already been taken to encourage the production of non-polluting cars. In 2003, 10 percent of cars sold in California must be exhaust-free. General Motors, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, and other automakers have already begun to produce zero-emissions cars (Mitchell, 1991).

Since several years will pass before a treaty comes into effect, and because of the possible ineffectiveness of the treaty, consumers must start taking action now. When buying a car, one should choose the most efficient car that meets his or her needs. Sport utility vehicles and minivans are terrible polluters, so they should be avoided. People should carpool, use mass transit, ride a bike, or walk when possible. When buying appliances, consumers should choose energy-efficient models. ?A new refrigerator can keep 3,000 pounds of CO2 out of the air each year?(Rauber, 1997). Compact fluorescent light bulbs also cut down on energy consumption, saving 400 pounds of coal per year.

To lessen the conflict over global warming somewhat, scientists should attempt to improve the reliability of their predictions on climate change and its effects. With more dependable projections of temperature and sea level variations, politicians would be more informed before making decisions, and would not be subject to erroneous results put forth by coal and oil industry-funded studies. Climate models must also take into account more variables to produce accurate results.

Few Americans realize that even today much of our electricity comes from dirty, heavily polluting, coal-fired power plants. In fact, fossil fuels account for over 85% of fuel use in the United States. These power plants spew hundreds of millions of tons of global warming pollution into our atmosphere each year. They are also contributing to numerous other pollution problems, including acid rain and smog. Worldwide, fossil fuel power plants produce about 60% of all greenhouse gas emissions. While producing electricity, these plants function as global warming machines, steadily altering the climate of our planet. There are viable alternatives to fossil fuel. Clean, renewable energy from the sun and wind offer non-polluting, economical, and durable alternatives for generating electricity (Wilson and Morrill, 1998). We can also reduce pollution by using electricity more efficiently. If we are protect our children and grandchildren from a dangerous change in the Earth?s climate, we must make the switch to cleaner, renewable forms of energy, and use electricity more wisely.

Solar energy can be directly converted into usable energy through a variety of processes- solar water heating, passive solar heating and cooling, photovoltaic technology, and solar thermal technology. Solar water heating uses a solar collector to absorb the sun?s energy and then heat water in a solar tank. Passive solar heating and cooling work within a building?s design, without requiring additional mechanical equipment, to maximize natural energy flows and optimize landscaping methods to increase heat gain in the winter and decrease it in the summer. Photovoltaic systems convert sunlight into direct current electricity and consist of solar cells. These cells are wired together to form modules, which are sealed and wired together to form panels. These panels are grouped together to form an array. A solar array can cheaply convert sunlight into electricity to meet demands for power without polluting our air. New solar technology is emerging on a yearly basis (Lemonick, 1997). Today rooftop solar panels can largely offset the electricity demands of homes and buildings. In summer months they often generate more electricity then their owners can use, allowing the surplus to be sold to electric utilities to reduce the need for generation from dirty, fossil fuel fired power plants.

From the mountain passes of California to the shores of the North Sea, wind turbines are now producing commercial quantities of electricity without the emission of global warming gases. Wind energy is actually an indirect form of solar energy- the wind is mainly driven by temperature differences on the earth?s surface caused by sunlight. Uneven warming of the atmosphere results in rising and circulating air currents, which can be used to generator and produces electricity. Wind turbines are placed on towers where the wind blows harder and more steadily. The longer the blades and the faster and more constant the wind speed, the more electricity the turbines generate.

According to the US Department of Energy, the world?s winds could provides as much as 5,800 quadrillion British Thermal Unit (BTUs) of energy each year, or more than 15 times the world?s total energy consumption in 1992. Wind power is now one of the fastest growing sources of new electricity generation. By the year 2000, wind turbines are estimated to produce enough electricity to offset 20 to 40 billion pounds of carbon dioxide. Wind energy is cheap and clean. Unfortunately, it faces and American, and world, energy market heavily slanted towards fossil fuel technology through subsidies and tax incentives. If we are to curb pollution from electricity generation, this must change. There is enormous potential for greater use of wind energy in the US, especially in the Midwest, and using that potential would mean an economic boon. States such as Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota hold the potential of becoming the Saudi Arabia of wind power.

For years, NASA has used fuel cell technology to generate electricity and power spacecraft. Fuel cells work by allowing oxygen to react with natural gas, methanol or hydrogen to produce electricity without combustion. The fuel is fed into an electrolyte near fuel cells; water and heat are the only byproducts. Fuel cells are poised for a breakthrough into the mainstream, and offer a clean alternative for not only electricity generation, but also powering our automobiles and other vehicles. Both Mercedes-Benz and Toyota plan to produce fuel cell-powered electric vehicles in the next decade. Such vehicles would have far greater range than today?s battery-powered electric cars.

Over the past two decades, the price of many renewable energy technologies has declined by more than 60 %. Over the past decade alone, the cost of wind-generated electricity has dropped by more than 80 %. Despite their advantages, renewable technologies are not being used to the extent possible. In the US today, solar and wind energy account for less than 3 % of all electricity generated. As utilities seek deregulation of the electricity industry that share could get even smaller. It is expected utilities will burn more coal and emit more pollution than ever as they seek to maximize profits. At the same time, Congress has severely cut funding for research into clean technology, preferring instead to fund oil exploration projects and experiments into new ways to burn coal. This has to change. America cannot remain a world power in the 21st century while relying on 19th century fossil fuel technology to generate energy. Americans must demand cleaner, safer forms of energy, and use that energy more wisely. If we are going to curb global warming and protect the future of our children, we must make the transition to cleaner, renewable technologies.

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