Thursday, March 29, 2007

Climate change lecture

A couple of days ago Wally Broeker, Columbia University professor and leader in the fields of geology and earth science, came to speak at Vassar. He is widely respected for his work among his colleagues: he's written 9 books, 400+ scientific papers, and was awarded the national medal of science. Naturally, he has lots of ideas on global warming, and some of them were pretty interesting:

- Like most scientists I have heard on the subject, he agrees that the big question is not whether or not adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere will increase the temperature, but instead how the earth will react to additional heat. Apparently there really is no precedent because the earth has never been this hot in recent eras.

- While he admits that at some point we will run out of oil, he told us that fossil fuels can be made out of coal too, so it will be a long time before we run out of fossil fuels. Given that 85% of our energy right now comes from fossil fuels, it is evident that we're going to have to find something to do about our fossil fuel problem.

- He claims that right now we are in a position where it will be nearly impossible to stop the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from doubling, but it is of the utmost importance that we stop it from tripling.

- While he advocates all sorts of alternative energy sources, the idea that he stressed was CO2 removal. Apparently, carbon dioxide can be liquefied at a pressure of 14 atmospheres. If it is liquefied, it will obviously be much more difficult to get into our atmosphere. According to Broeker, scientists right now are working on a prototype machine that will be able to do this, and they are going to announce it in a few months. They have not gone public earlier because they are worried that they won't get the patents. If this worked, we could find a way to release this liquid (which there would not be that much of) in a safe manner, such as at the bottom of the ocean where 85% of it would ionize.

Obviously, this last idea of Broeker's was the most interesting. I certainly hope it works, because based on the rest of his speach, we can use all the help we can get.