There is no silver bullet to slow global warming.
With human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide coming from so many sources, solutions will have to be wide-ranging, according to experts speaking at a weekend conference on global warming held at Southern Oregon University.
Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere rose 35 percent in the last 100 years, while global average temperatures increased by about — degree. Scientists predict significant changes and increased risks if global temperatures rise 3.6 degrees. They think the Earth is on pace to warm — to 9 degrees, said Philip Mote, Washington's state climatologist and a member of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
But completely stopping the rise in global temperatures would require near-Herculean efforts.
That's because the increase in greenhouse gas levels has already set changes in motion.
"Even if we freeze carbon dioxide levels, global warming is like a freight train. When you hit the brakes, it still travels a long way. The choices we make now take a long time to take effect," Mote said.
Just stabilizing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere would require an 80 percent cut in emissions &
a nearly inconceivable change for human societies, he said.
To meet that figure personally, Mote said he would have to double the fuel efficiency of his car, slash his driving in half, change his home heating practices and stop flying.
Slowing, not stopping
Rather than mandating deep cuts in emissions, the state of Oregon has adopted a more pragmatic approach to reduce emissions to 10 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2020, said Bob Therkelsen, an energy consultant and adjunct professor at SOU.
"That goal is possible to reach with strong leadership," he said. "What are the real things that people, business and government can do?"
Therkelsen said climate solutions are like a three-legged stool, with energy efficiency, electricity generation alternatives and fuel alternatives making up the legs.
Methods to improve energy efficiency are plentiful, including insulation, fluorescent light bulbs, natural lighting with windows and Energy Star appliances, he said.
One roadblock for widespread use of energy-efficient appliances is the fact that many appliances are bought by home builders and apartment owners &
not the residents who will be paying the electric bills, Mote said.
In the past, the federal Environmental Protection Agency realized that 80 percent of refrigerators were not bought by residents. That created little incentive to improve the abysmal efficiency of earlier refrigerators, so the EPA mandated higher efficiency standards, Mote said.
New refrigerators use only a fraction of the energy of older models. Replacing a model that is 10 years old or more will usually pay for itself in energy savings, according to the city of Ashland Conservation Division.
Mote said the federal government could mandate higher standards for home water heaters, ovens and other major appliances.
"All of these home appliances are ripe for this simple calculation," he said.
A similar economic problem is at play in relation to greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions are "externalities," meaning the person or business that pollutes doesn't bear the costs of the pollution, said Bob Doppelt, a member of Gov. Ted Kulongoski's Climate Change Integration Group.
"We all free ride, for example, when we drive," he said.
Systems are already in place for businesses, nonprofits and people to keep using pollution-causing energy sources but to buy offsets that support green power. Some organizations can trade emission credits as the government caps or slowly ratchets down emission levels. Those practices could be expanded, Therkelsen said.
The federal government bans states from requiring more fuel efficient vehicles, but states are finding ways around the ban by mandating lower emissions. A side effect is increased fuel efficiency. The auto industry is challenging that approach in court, he said.
While cutting greenhouse gas emissions can be costly, experts predict a $500 billion global market in low-carbon goods and services. The demand for solar hot water heaters, efficient motors and other products in growing, Doppelt said.
Preparing for change
Experts believe Oregon is well-positioned to take advantage of the projected boom in green business opportunities.
This year, the state legislature mandated that power utilities get a continually growing percentage of their power from renewable sources. That should spur research and development in alternative energy, supporters believe.
Although the Pacific Northwest is known for its hydroelectric production, Oregon gets only 43 percent of its power from that source. Coal-fired power plants provide 42 percent of the state's power, with renewables making up just — to 2 percent of the supply, Therkelsen said.
Alternatives include wind, geothermal, biomass, solar and nuclear power, although each method has pros and cons, Therkelsen said.
Meanwhile, people should begin to prepare for the changes global warming brings, said Roger Hamilton, a renewable energy consultant and Klamath County rancher.
Communities should adopt land use codes that restrict development in areas prone to floods, wildfires and landslides. The insurance industry is already raising premiums for homes in hazardous areas, he said.
New homes and commercial buildings can be oriented to take advantage of solar power and natural ventilation, he said.
With rising gas prices and possible transportation disruptions, towns and cities should become more self-sufficient regarding essential local services, Hamilton said.
Improved mass transit could reduce reliance on cars, Therkelsen said.
Winter sports businesses and ski areas should diversify to all-season activity in preparation for reduced snowpack, Hamilton said.
Wasteful flood and sprinkler irrigation systems should be replaced with drip irrigation systems because of lower summer water supplies and rising drought risk, said Greg Jones, an SOU professor and research climatologist who advises the wine industry.
"There is no single or simple solution. Many of these changes are going to require sacrifice and change in human behavior," Therkelsen said.
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Many tools could slow warming
There is no silver bullet to slow global warming.