The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Trapped heat burning question for populace

Illustration by Fred Matamoros/MCT
Illustration by Fred Matamoros/MCT

By Katie B. Martinez/reporter

Illustration by Fred Matamoros/MCT
Illustration by Fred Matamoros/MCT

Everyone is talking about global warming these days, but few people realize how serious the implications are for this planet.

For one billion years, life on Earth has been sustained by a precarious balance of gases in the atmosphere. But during the past 200 years, our industrial activity has overloaded that life-giving atmosphere with heat-trapping carbon dioxide, resulting in large-scale disruptions in climate.

Global warming, an increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere, is caused by what scientists refer to as the greenhouse effect. Basically, the heat and radiation from the sun are trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere by particles and pollutants in the air. This is natural to a certain extent. But as the environment becomes more and more polluted, more and more heat becomes trapped, and the temperatures increase.

Many people may not realize that the pollution emitted stays inside the environment for hundreds of years, and the amount of environmental pollution grows with every second of every day. As the population of the world grows exponentially, so does the pollution—and so does global warming.

Understanding Major Pollutants

By far the largest pollutant contributing to the greenhouse effect is carbon dioxide, emitted by the burning of fossil fuels. This primarily occurs when people drive and use electricity inside their homes and businesses.
The United States is the largest contributor of carbon dioxide in the world. This country has some of the lowest standards on car emissions of all the industrialized countries in the world. The cars that many Americans drive everyday would be illegal in China and a growing number of countries because they emit more pollution than necessary.

New technology can help the situation, but it is not being used by big businesses.

Nowhere is this more evident than in this state where utility companies have plans to build 17 new coal-burning plants in Texas over the next four years. Electricity created by coal-burning plants is a huge burden on the environment, yet companies are resistant to investing in change.

At the forefront of the issue is TXU Electric, which plans to invest $10 billion in 11 new coal-burning plants. Although TXU plans to implement programs that will reduce the amount of certain pollutants emitted by the new plants, activists argue that it is not nearly enough, according to a Dec. 1 Star-Telegram article.

Dallas Mayor Laura Miller has fought to require higher standards on the electricity companies, to little avail. The multi-billion-dollar plan is backed by Texas Governor Rick Perry, who has signed an executive order enabling the permits for these facilities to be fast tracked.

“ I don’t think people have any idea what it will be like if we have 18 power plants now, and they wake up in five years and we have twice as many then. I think you’re going to see a significant change in the way our sky looks,” Miller said in an NPR interview last year.

Miller supports a new system for refining coal into electricity called “integrated gasification combined cycle.” This advanced type of coal-burning plant produces 70-90 percent fewer harmful emissions than traditional coal-burning plants, but is more expensive to build and operate.

Even before the building of these new plants, Texas contributes more carbon dioxide than any other state in the country. After the new plants are up and running, Texas will send nearly as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as California, New York and Florida combined.

This potential increase has one TCC professor concerned. Dr. Clair Ossian has taught geology courses since 1965, and he has witnessed and monitored changes in the environment for decades. The professor and geologist has written more than 100 publications in the field of geology.

“ Nobody seems to be truly believing that global warming is happening,” he said in a telephone interview, “but it is happening now, and it’s happening fast.”

Ossian arranged a viewing of Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth for TCC students and faculty in December. The film lays out—in a series of charts, graphs, facts and figures—the rate at which global warming is progressing and the manifestations of global warming within environment.

“ Look at what’s happening in our own backyard. People have to realize that they do have an enormous stake in global warming,” he said. “You don’t have to take my word for it. You don’t even have to take Al Gore’s word for it. Get out there and educate yourself about what is happening and why.”

Recognizing the Signs

The signs of global warming are everywhere. Melting glaciers and ice caps, unpredictable and severe weather, droughts and floods, heat waves and blizzards are being attributed to global warming’s wreaking havoc on weather patterns.

Lake Travis, one of the largest lakes in Texas, is down 20-30 feet this year, reduced to a trickle in some areas. Hilly areas once 20 feet underwater are protruding like islands in the middle of the lake. Lakes all over the United States have hit record-breaking lows over the past decade.

The 10 hottest years ever recorded in the history of the United States have all been in the last 14 years.

Higher atmospheric temperatures mean higher ocean water temperatures, and warmer ocean waters mean more frequent and severe hurricanes and tropical storms.

Since 1990, the number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes has almost doubled, according to a study published by the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Another study published in the Journal of Nature came to a similar conclusion. Focusing on North Atlantic and North Pacific hurricanes, Kerry Emanuel (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) found that the duration and destructive power of these hurricanes had increased by up to 70 percent.

Altering the trend
The only good news about global warming is that individual persons can make a huge difference. The average American is directly responsible for emitting thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide annually.

When making better choices regarding transportation and energy consumption, a little bit goes a long way. In addition to recycling and planting trees, an individual can take many small steps to make an impact.
Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Seven principles to live by

1. Make better transportation choices: Every gallon of gas we burn in our cars releases 25 pounds of carbon dioxide into the environment. If a hybrid-type vehicle is not a feasible alternative, at least choose a model that gets good gas mileage, and keep it well maintained with regular tune-ups.

2. Conserve electricity whenever possible: For most people, the largest source of energy consumption in the home comes from the heating and air conditioning system. Adjusting the temperature just a few degrees can make a huge difference at the end of the year. Turning off lights during the day and unplugging small appliances and electronics when not in use are also great ways to reduce consumption.

3. Use high efficiency light bulbs: If every household in the United States replaced one regular light bulb with an energy-saving model, that could reduce global warming pollution by more than 90 billion pounds over the life of the bulbs; the same as taking 6.3 million cars off the road. So replace incandescent bulbs with more efficient compact fluorescents.

4. Buy Energy Star-rated appliances: When it comes time to replace appliances, look for the Energy Star label (refrigerators, freezers, furnaces, air conditioners and water heaters use the most energy). These items may cost a bit more initially, but the energy savings will pay back the extra investment within a couple of years. Household energy savings really can make a difference: If each household in the United States replaced its existing appliances with the most efficient models available, we would save $15 billion in energy costs and eliminate 175 million tons of heat-trapping gases.

5. Get a home energy audit: Take advantage of the free home energy audits offered by many utility companies. Simple measures, such as installing a programmable thermostat to replace an old dial unit or sealing and insulating heating and cooling ducts, can each reduce a family’s carbon dioxide emissions.

6. Conserve water whenever possible: A family of four can save as much as 10,000 gallons of water annually just by turning off the water while brushing their teeth. Running dishwashers and washing machines only when full also saves thousands of gallons annually. Be aware that water is a precious natural resource and act accordingly.

7. Know where politicians, businesses stand on global-warming issues: Some politicians have gone so far as to call global warming a hoax, and in many cases a review of their campaign contributors will reveal where their loyalties lie. Choose companies that are environmentally friendly and let politicians and businesses know that this issue is important.

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