Doom or boom: energy and climate woes

The United States contributes the most CO2 – the main cause of warming.

Campus life gives opportunity to reflect. We explore new classes and skills while focusing on core passions. We initiate and cultivate relationships: accidental, romantic and practical. That’s how students increase both vision and direction. Some learning is not fun. Long on freedom and short on experience, students wonder about challenges as they ponder possibilities. Global warming represents what might be the biggest puzzle in their lives.

The spread of industrialization throughout history has aggravated warming of the atmosphere. Now the world economy uses almost 400 quadrillion BTUs of energy to generate $65 trillion of goods and services. But 80 percent of that energy comes from one-time use of fossil fuels. The U.S. economy uses about 106 quads to produce $13 trillion (2006). The bad news is that 86 percent of our energy comes from fossil fuels. Clearly, the United States is the largest contributor to CO2 – the chief cause of warming. Students wonder how this “leadership” will affect their romantic and practical relations in the future.

“Global warming” and “climate change” are benign references to climate destruction. Today’s data indicates risks and dangers are increasing for all students. Worse evidence is found in recent research showing that the concentration of CO2 has increased 16 percent over the last 16 years. This will bring economic and social disaster -unless we plan a more sustainable path for the 21st century.

James Hansen, NASA’s climate chief, claims that we have 10 years to learn our way. If we fail, students will see a collapse of our social system from cumulative social effects of droughts, fires, storms, tornadoes and hurricanes. The intensity and duration of these phenomena are already changing. We have started paying for these costs. Climate destruction means extinction unless you and your tools can migrate north to the next habitable biome.

We can change now voluntarily, or nature will change us. Denial and despair are simple compared to hope. A recent conference on the St. Paul campus, “Preparing your Community for Climate and Energy Change,” demonstrated that a hopeful team is taking the field for Minnesota. There is a positive path for those with the patience for this puzzle. But it will not be easy.

Bill Mittlefehldt is a University alumnus. Please send comment to [email protected]