1,000 barrels of oil were burned in the time you clicked on this page. We consume 300 billion barrels of oil per year. To put that figure in perspective, BP spilled 5,000 barrels of oil per day in the Gulf of Mexico and the slick was the size of Delaware and Rhode Island.
“Fossil fuel consumption is at the center of almost all economies, so we know for sure stabilizing (the planet) will be difficult,” Dr. Berrien Moore, founder of scientific research centers, Climate Central and National Weather Center, told an audience at Cleveland Museum of Natural History on Friday.
Carbon has shot up to 400 parts per million in the atmosphere—that is 40% above pre-industrial levels.
“We have dramatically changed the CO2 concentration,” he said. “This is not some small tweak on the system.”
Moore talked about what this means for life on the planet.
Carbon doesn’t stay put. It moves from landscape through atmosphere to ocean where it raises the acid level of sea water.
A warmer planet holds more moisture which raises the certainty of more extreme weather.
“We’re virtually certain (99 out of 100) that we’ll have more frequent hot and fewer cold temperature extremes over land,” he said. “Globally it is likely (two-thirds) that the areas covered by monsoon will increase.”
Cleveland will likely have our most miserable summer weather become the seasonal norm in our lifetimes.
Human influence has melted Arctic ice in equivalent size to the eastern U.S.
“For low lying regions like New York this will become an important reality.”
Since burning fossil fuels for transportation and in buildings accounts for half of our carbon footprint, the response Moore subscribes to is ramping up renewables.
He’s bullish on converting food waste to energy, but said growing corn for biofuels is “a feel-good technology” because it would take four Earths to grow biofuel for all of the gas tanks in the world.
Moore, whose chair at University of Oklahoma was endowed by Chesapeake Energy, a company with billions invested in fracking, said natural gas will play a role in lowering the carbon intensity of the U.S.
“It is a far more efficient fuel than coal,” he said.
But when asked about fracking’s impacts, such as water pollution and methane leaks, Moore, a leader in the non-partisan research on climate change and its impacts, said the industry, at present, is not being as careful as it should.
“Fracking has been done badly in areas where natural gas is near the surface, leading to contamination of water and methane releases,” he said. “There is a potential advantage for natural gas, but are you going to do it wisely or cheaply because you’re competing with other forms of energy?”
The fracking industry is paying close attention to research on long-term availability of water and the connection to earthquakes.
On the bright side, solar has great potential. “There are a lot of places in the U.S. that would be fabulous despite the problems with the technology (as temperatures go up efficiency goes down).”
Wind has been a success story—13,100 new megawatts generated last year put the U.S. in the top spot for new wind capacity.
“This is going to be a major contributing force.”
During questions, Moore was asked what he thought would bring about systemic change.
“How we get out of this Faustian bargain without wrecking the economy?” he said. “That’s the trick in these tough economic times. I think it’s through really creative R&D. And the Keeling curve should be on every gas pump.”