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Kicking the Carbon Habit

Kicking the Carbon Habit: Global Warming and the Case for Renewable and Nuclear Energy

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 272
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    Kicking the Carbon Habit
    Book Description:

    With glaciers melting, oceans growing more acidic, species dying out, and catastrophic events like Hurricane Katrina ever more probable, strong steps must be taken now to slow global warming. Further warming threatens entire regional economies and the well being of whole populations, and in this century alone, it could create a global cataclysm. Synthesizing information from leading scientists and the most up-to-date research, science journalist William Sweet examines what the United States can do to help prevent climate devastation.

    Rather than focusing on cutting oil consumption, which Sweet argues is expensive and unrealistic, the United States should concentrate on drastically reducing its use of coal. Coal-fired plants, which currently produce more than half of the electricity in the United States, account for two fifths of the country's greenhouse gas emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Sweet believes a mixture of more environmentally sound technologies-wind turbines, natural gas, and nuclear reactors-can effectively replace coal plants, especially since dramatic improvements in technology have made nuclear power cleaner, safer, and more efficient.

    Sweet cuts through all the confusion and controversies. He explores dramatic advances made by climate scientists over the past twenty years and addresses the various political and economic issues associated with global warming, including the practicality of reducing emissions from automobiles, the efficacy of taxing energy consumption, and the responsibility of the United States to its citizens and the international community to reduce greenhouse gases. Timely and provocative, Kicking the Carbon Habit is essential reading for anyone interested in environmental science, economics, and the future of the planet.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51037-0
    Subjects: Political Science, Environmental Science, Chemistry, Technology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. CHAPTER 1 The Case for Sharply Cutting U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions
    (pp. 1-8)

    In the early and mid-1990s, a consensus developed among climate scientists that the world was warming alarmingly and that human activity was playing a role. That consensus, very cautiously expressed at first, was the basis of an international agreement for most advanced industrial countries to cut radiation-trapping greenhouse gas emissions to levels about 5 to 10 percent below those prevailing in 1990. Reducing emissions from combustion of critically needed oil, gas, and coal that much was, admittedly, an ambitious goal. But in light of the success the world had had in eliminating the chlorofluorocarbons that were eating up the earth’s...


    • CHAPTER 2 The Basis of It All: Pennsylvania in the Pennsylvanian
      (pp. 11-26)

      Today, on a rise looming over Pittsburgh’s city center, there is a historic marker proudly noting that the state’s bituminous coal industry began on that spot on Mount Washington in 1760, and that the Pittsburgh coal bed was “eventually to be judged the most valuable individual mineral deposit in the United States.” This is where the industrial revolution took off in the United States; it would run its course over two centuries, until the advent of our so-called postindustrial society. Now all the talk is of software services, technical innovation, and intellectual property. But what’s sometimes lost sight of in...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Air We Breathe: The Human Costs of Coal Combustion
      (pp. 27-45)

      The reasons coal has become the fuel most used to generate electricity in the United States—not to mention countries like China, and India, where it’s even more dominant—are not hard to identify. Unlike oil, which must be imported from distant and untrustworthy foreign suppliers, it is available right here and readily recoverable in gigantic quantities. What is more, it will be in adequate supply for centuries to come. Most important of all, considered in a narrow monetary sense, burning coal is the cheapest way of generating electricity. As oil and natural gas prices skyrocketed, starting in 2003, coal’s...

    • CHAPTER 4 From Outer Space: Asia’s Brown Cloud, and More
      (pp. 46-60)

      Veteran astronaut Richard Truly, speaking a number of years ago to fellows of the National Academy of Engineering, said that on repeated visits to outer space over the years, with each look back at earth, “the effects of human activity are dramatically apparent.”¹ Truly, who went on to be the head of the U.S. government’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, was referring to a sight that observant airline passengers will have noticed too. If you fly, say, from Chicago to Boston, from Frankfurt to Stockholm, or from Tokyo to Beijing, all along the way you’ll see smoke rising...


    • CHAPTER 5 The Drillers
      (pp. 63-87)

      Driving along the south side of Cape Cod, on Route 28 from South Yarmouth to Chatham, where the cape abruptly curves north, you might notice, coming out of Harwich, a little antiques shop set back from the road, nestled between a country barber shop and a bait-and-tackle store. If you went in, you wouldn’t find much at first glance to distinguish it or its proprietor, Chester Langway, from many other such establishments in the vicinity. There’s a miscellany of the usual oddities—pots and pans, an old dentist’s chair minus the drilling apparatus, glass and ceramics, and a depiction of...

    • CHAPTER 6 The Modelers
      (pp. 88-110)

      In january 2005, when the American Meteorological Society convened in San Diego for its annual meeting, there were two special symposia honoring giants in computerized climate modeling. Fittingly, one of the all-day panels paid tribute to a scientist generally associated with fundamental limits to the predictability of weather, while the second recognized a modeler who has done perhaps more than any other person to make climate predictable.

      One scientist, Edward Lorenz, an elderly meteorologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is very nearly a household name, at least among the mathematically minded. During the 1950s, Lorenz made a startling discovery...

    • CHAPTER 7 The Synthesizers
      (pp. 111-130)

      As drilling and modeling have evolved from tiny pioneering efforts into global enterprises, the scientific results have become so voluminous and complex that it would take a Renaissance man or woman to digest them as they are reported. A handful of individuals may be capable of staying on top of it all, but even they can be stretched beyond their limits when it comes to drawing practical conclusions and communicating them to policy makers and the public.

      Because of this, the trend in recent years has been for universities to found a new kind of scientific institution, dedicated to synthesizing...


    • CHAPTER 8 Breaking the Carbon Habit
      (pp. 133-147)

      Since the mid- to late 1990s, virtually all qualified scientists have firmly agreed that fossil fuel combustion is warming the world.¹ So strong is the consensus, journalists have begun to wonder whether their normal instinct to tell both sides of a story has actually led them to produce unbalanced work—giving skeptics about global warming much more leeway than they deserve.² The seeming unanimity among scientists is, in truth, somewhat deceptive. While there’s general agreement that something ought to be done to rein in greenhouse gas emissions, if only as insurance against the possibility that global warming could have severe...

    • CHAPTER 9 Going All Out for Renewables, Conservation, and Green Design
      (pp. 148-166)

      When world energy demand is projected for the next half century and estimates are made of how much low- or zero-carbon energy would have to be substituted to prevent greenhouse gas emissions from more than doubling, the figures are at first glance so gargantuan, the situation seems almost hopeless. The International Energy Agency in Paris has concluded that if business continues as usual, with no special efforts made to curtail energy demand, it will grow in just the next 30 years by two thirds; fossil fuels will supply 90 percent of that increase.¹ The IEA projects that electricity demand will...

    • CHAPTER 10 Natural Gas, Gasoline, and the Vision of a Hydrogen Economy
      (pp. 167-179)

      One of the more profound ideas about energy to have emerged in the last generation or so is this: the march of material progress, from the first hunt-and-forage cultures to today’s most advanced postindustrial societies, is in essence a triumphal procession from high-carbon, low-hydrogen fuels like wood to low- or zero-carbon, hydrogen-intense fuels like natural gas. The notion is that as material civilization has advanced, we have moved steadily from less efficient, dirtier fuels to more efficient, cleaner ones. The hydrogen-intense fuels are better because when hydrocarbons are burned, a much larger fraction of the energy gain comes from the...

    • CHAPTER 11 A Second Look at Nuclear Energy
      (pp. 180-196)

      If the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are to be kept from more than doubling in this century, the United States is going to have to do not just its fair share, so to speak, but a little more. This is because as the world’s richest and most highly endowed country, it can afford to do more; because U.S. use of energy is singularly extravagant; and because the world’s poor countries cannot be stopped from developing as fast as they can and therefore using more energy than at present.

      An affordable and achievable energy future for the United States would look...

  8. Conclusion: How to Reduce Greenhouse Gases Now, Using Today’s Technology
    (pp. 197-208)

    Predictions are by nature treacherous. The Greek historian Herodotus, in his account of the Persian wars, tells a famous cautionary tale. There lived in the sixth century B.C. a monarch named Croesus, who ruled the prosperous kingdom of Lydia, in what is now western Turkey. The Lydians, Herodotus tells us, were in almost all important respects culturally indistinguishable from the Greeks on the other side of the Aegean. Croesus, having ascended to the throne in 560, having proceeded to subjugate many neighboring peoples, and having amassed the wealth with which his name has been synonymous ever since, decided to challenge...

    (pp. 209-210)
  10. NOTES
    (pp. 211-236)
    (pp. 237-240)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 241-256)