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Green Building Bible, Fourth Edition
Green Building Bible, fourth edition (both books)
These two books are the perfect starting place to help you get to grips with one of the most vitally important aspects of our society - our homes and living environment.

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    • CommentTimeApr 24th 2007 edited
    China could overtake the US as the globe's biggest producer of greenhouse gases later this year, far earlier than expected, one of the world's leading energy bodies warned today.
    India not far behind.
    • CommentAuthorbiffvernon
    • CommentTimeApr 25th 2007
    ...and when our per capita emission is as low as theirs we'll be able to shout from the moral high ground. Meanwhile we just have to mutter, "Do as we say not as we do".
    Have we all been swept up in some kind of global suicide pack or what?
    Why do people assume that climate change = suicide? Mankind is a very adaptable animal - we live in every imaginable climatic condition. We already produce enough food for around 30billion people - it's just that a lot of it is wasted in the conversion from vegetable to animal. Whilst it is true that there will be displacements of populations, it is not impossible to adapt to the changing environment. Vast areas of land are available in Canada for example, most of it virtually uninhabitable at the moment (at least, unless one is Inuit) because it is so cold. Much of this land may become habitable if the climate in that region warms.

    I, for one, am sick of the doomsday mentality that many have when talking of climate change. I think the truth may be that there is nothing we can do to prevent change - what we can do is mitigate the effects of the change and ensure a more equitable distribution of the finite resources we do have, rather than the incredibly skewed distribution we have now. It's sad that Western society projects its lifestyle as something for the rest of the world to aspire to - knowing full well that the only reason we have our lifestyle is because we keep the majority in poverty (using the Western materialistic measurement of wealth) and/or slavery to sustain our lifestyle. There's more than enough resources for everyone - but not enough for everyone to have our lifestyles. Either we accept less, keep the majority in poverty or kill them - it seems that the latter two options are the ones that have been the most used since the industrial revolution onwards. But to say that climate change is suicide is hyperbole in the extreme.

    Paul in Montreal.
    • CommentAuthorTuna
    • CommentTimeApr 25th 2007
    Posted By: biffvernon...and when our per capita emission is as low as theirs we'll be able to shout from the moral high ground. Meanwhile we just have to mutter, "Do as we say not as we do".

    Agreed. As China struggles to reach up to the standard of living seen as normal in the west, perhaps Westerners should focus on bringing our per capita energy usage down to that of China, rather than complaining that China has perfectly reasonable ambitions. If we in the west can pioneer energy efficient technologies, we might have something we can sell to China. Better than than sink as the East becomes the dominant superpower.
    I think I said suicide not extinction. Of course mankind as a species will survive global warming but I think the Chinese and Indians need to start thinking about the consequences of their fossil fuel based industrialisation which will more than cancel out any reductions in greenhouse gases the West makes (if they do actually make any of course until forced to do so by Peak Oil). They are dependent for their water resources on glacial meltwater and the monsoon. Severe global warming will more than likely deny them both these resources and turn their countries into deserts (not many people live in deserts or could ever do so). Given that we will be well down the depletion curve for all fossil fuels by mid century, hence they will be unable to sustain the living standards they are now working for, their current course really does seem pointless.

    I feel it is very unlikely the Canadian Government will want any climate refugees from Asia as they will be busy accomodating Americans and Mexicans. Much more likely the Chinese and Indians will reach an accomodation with the Russians who will be the other major beneficially from warmer climates.

    If we had a population of 2 billion around 1900 before we started using hydrocarbons I can only see us going back down there when we are forced to live without them, whether they have just run out or we dare not burn them for fear of the climate consequences. Add to that the likelihood that we will be confined to Canada, Northern Europe and Siberia rather than the vast areas we currently occupy. Remember also, that we will have to manage this dislocation of population in an era when oil, gas and coal have become very scarce. Imagine having to organise the construction of millions of new homes and associated infrastructure in the current polar regions without diesel powered machinery and do it in a matter of a few decades.

    The second definition of suicide in the Oxford English dictionary is "the self-inflicted ruin of one's own prospects or interests" which seems to me to be a fairly apt description of what the industrialisation going on in India and China at the moment.
    Personally, I think focusing on CO2 emissions is a fallacy unless sequestration is used. Because without sequestration, every bit of carbon in fossil fuels will be released into the atmosphere - the only thing that will change is the rate of emission. I think it is far more important to focus on efficient use of fossil fuels rather than preventing the emission of CO2 - there's already so much CO2 in the atmosphere that the climate will change irregardless - even if we stopped using all fossil fuels right now (obviously impossible). And even then, I still don't think CO2 is such a big issue. There was much more CO2 in the atmosphere in the past (before plant life got going) and the climate was obviously amenable to the development of life - in other words, the earth was not too hot to sustain an ecosphere. We know the black body equilibrium temperature with no greenhouse effect - it shouldn't be hard to calculate what it would be if the CO2 level was such that all the fossil fuels had been burned.

    As for which areas become uninhabitable, I think it's hard to say since it is hard to model what the actual climate will be with warming. We can probably predict sea-levels and so know which areas will be uninhabitable (doesn't look too good for the UK that's for sure). But as to which areas become deserts, I think that's harder to predict. Increased temperature will lead to more moisture in the atmosphere which will surely change the rainfall patterns across the planet. It's probably more important to find a means of producing sufficient fresh water for the population rather than worrying about CO2 levels. As for fossil fuels, I believe there are several hundred years of coal reserves that will inevitably be used so peak fuel is a long way off. It's not difficult to produce useful liquid fuels for transportation from coal. This is where fossil fuels are most useful: transportation.

    As for the Canadian government accepting climate refugees? That's hard to say. Canada's population growth is only through immigration these days and there's more than enough space to accommodate every person on the planet (though not enough resources to sustain them, except possibly water ... since Canada has a disproportionately large share of the available fresh water).

    It would be interesting to calculate how much energy a person really needs for food, heat and transport and then to calculate how this compares to the total amount of energy the earth receives from the sun each year. This would give an upper bound on the population that could be supported since one can simply model the whole ecosphere as a very complex heat engine. Arguably the growth in population has been made possible by the amount of energy available (mainly from fossil fuels). It would be interesting to see what the actual limits are, given the various conversion efficiencies from solar energy through food etc.

    All that said, we should still aim to use our resources efficiently, but I honestly believe the hyperbole over climate change as a doomsday scenario is being overdone. By the way, I'm in no way denying that the climate is changing. I just don't think we can do anything to stop it now (which is not the same as saying we should do nothing).

    Paul in Montreal
    • CommentTimeApr 25th 2007
    I agree with practically everything Paul's saying (on this occasion!). I also think Chris is right in expecting vast reduction in world population. That may amount to 'adaption' as Paul says - but sure won't like it as it happens!
    We may produce enough to feed everyone, once we stop wasting six-sevenths of it by turning veg into meat; however seven-eighths of our food production wouldn't happen without direct or indirect use of fossil fuel and petrochemicals. As well as burning fossil as fuel, we're also eating it.
    Interesting comment on coal in this piece by Chris Vernon on the Oil Drum:-


    I don't necessarily think we should assume there are hundreds of years worth of coal left to be had. Hope the Canadians don't pollute too much of their land and water resource in the exploitation of the oil sands and shales.
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