Pollution and Politics

by Jackson Cooney

Republican senator, Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky has been pushing states to ignore President Obama’s global warming regulations. He argues that the administration’s anti-coal initiative aims to destroy America’s power generation under the pretense of protecting the climate. The EPA along with the President is requiring each state to submit a plan outlining how they are going to cut coal plant pollution. These plans will lead to the shutdown of hundreds of power plants in the Administration’s attempt to rely more heavily on renewable energy sources. As of now, 12 states have filed lawsuits in protest of this plan. However Senator McConnell has advised that the best way to fight this initiative would be to refuse to submit state plans. Continue reading

Make Rainforests Pay

by Jackson Cooney

Deforestation significantly impacts our world’s climate. Within the last 40 years, one billion acres of tropical forests have been cleared, contributing to a massive increase in overall CO2 levels. Because forests store huge amounts of carbon, cutting or burning them releases their stored carbon back into the atmosphere where it mixes with oxygen to create CO2. CO2 increases at an annual 12 to 15 percent due to deforestation. Although there are economic incentives to cut down these forests, for timber, farmland and mining sites, there may be a greater incentive to preserve them. Forest carbon reserves can be monetized and traded or sold to offset releases by companies that produce greenhouse gases. This benefits companies that need these reserves to stay below a polluting limit set by the government. The offsets are subtracted from their emissions, keeping them within the legal limit. Revenues can then be used to support energy efficiency or energy saving projects. Until recently, it was difficult to quantify “emissions avoided by not destroying tropical forests”. However, techniques have been implemented to quantify the emissions that would be saved, specifically, a process that protects an acre of forest, even if the specific acre in question is destroyed. The proceeds of the sale would then be returned to the local communities. Continue reading

Pristine Called into Question

by Jackson Cooney

There has been recent controversy over the state of many pristine rain forests. Those that have previously been called “virgin” due to the absence of human interaction are now being reviewed. It seems that humans have inhabited forests such the Amazon Basin, the lowland Congo basin, and the Indo-Malay region of Southeast Asia for many years. Evidence of human presence in these virgin forests includes pottery fragments, charcoal soil lairs, and iron tools. Because of this, there is little doubt of the presence of human civilizations in these lands. The question becomes: how has their presence affected the forests ability to prevail. These natives have used slash and burn techniques to create agriculture space, which has been largely thought of as the most harmful deforestation methods in recent times. It seems that the presence of humans on these lands about 2,500 years ago has actually enhanced the soil fertility due to this burning method. Human intervention and management of the land may have also caused an increase in tree diversity. Continue reading

The Implications of Geoengineering

by Jackson Cooney

A government-sponsored panel, assembled by NASA and other federal agencies, was assembled on February 10, 2015 to discuss the implications of using geoengin,,eering as a way to fight climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. Henry Fountain, writing in The New York Times summarizes as follows: geoengineering falls into two categories. One method captures and stores CO2 that has already been emitted. The other involves reflecting the sun’s rays back into the atmosphere so that less heat would enter the Earth. The first option has minimal risks, however it would be expensive and take time to see any noticeable effects. There would also be a need for more research in order to find a way to successfully store the CO2. The second option, solar radiation management, is more controversial. This involves dispersing sulfates into the atmosphere to reflect the sun’s rays away from Earth. This method is inexpensive and the effects are seen quickly, however it would have to be repeated many times. It would also do nothing to solve global problems related to CO2 like Ocean Acidification. Continue reading