Cecil Adams’ answer about whether greenhouse gasses contribute to global warming was good (The Straight Dope, 4/7), but there were a few things he stated that are incorrect and a lot that he overlooked. Contrary to Adams’ assertion, there is a tremendous amount that can be done to reduce CO2 emissions without shrinking our economy or making us become poorer. Without reducing our energy use, electricity can be generated by windmills, which need no fuel once they are constructed. Many energy companies in America are already using wind energy and actively building additional wind farms to generate power. Think of how much more efficient it is to generate electricity this way than to have to drill for oil and fight wars to secure it, to transport it, process it, transport it further, and run big massive power plants.
Minor adustments to the many thousands of existing buildings in this country could save millions of gallons of gas. Buildings in America could be made far more efficient with retrofits such as better weather sealing, better insulation, window tinting, more efficient light bulbs, timers for lights, heating, and air conditioning, to name a few. Millions of gallons of fuel would be saved with no reduction in standard of living and without making us poorer. If solar panels were added to all buildings in America, our energy demand would be reduced even more, thereby greatly reducing our energy use by millions of gallons of fuel.
Probably the largest waste of fuel in America is in our current forms of transportation. If every American started driving small cars, hybrid cars, and electric cars, our fuel use would be cut by more than half. No one would experience any loss of freedom, mobility, or standard of living. Going beyond this, if our existing train systems (instead of our road systems) were greatly expanded, we would get millions more people out of inefficient cars and inefficient airplanes, and into efficient trains. This would save millions more gallons of gas, again with no lowering of our standard of living. If the hundreds of billions of dollars spent so far on the war in Iraq were instead spent building new electric train systems all over America, we would have alleviated the need for the oil in Iraq, now and in the future.
Adams also stated that eventually we will switch to nuclear power and organic fuels. Nuclear power is not a solution at all. Nuclear power plants costs many billions to build. They require a tremendous amount of minerals and fuels to run which have to be mined, processed, and transported, and they produce one of the most dangerous radioactive wastes known to man that remain radioactive for thousands of years. Nuclear power can also be used to create the most toxic weapons known to man. This is not a feasible or desirable solution now or any time in the future. Organic fuels are not really the solution either since they take energy to grow, harvest, produce, and transport, and use nearly as much energy in the process as they produce.
The real solution is greatly reducing our energy demand by becoming more efficient and working smarter, and this doesn’t mean becoming poorer individually or as a nation. In fact, the less we all spend on gas and energy, the more money we have left for other things, and the more we get out of life. The only people who would become poorer are the oil companies, and that would be no great loss since they have been taking us for a wild ride for quite some time and have been reporting record profits in the history of corporations!
A big part of what you missed as a solution is the big revolution that is going on in the city planning/architecture and transportation fields, known as “new urbanism” and “transit-oriented development.” This revolution is sweeping the country with the revitalization and densification of our cities bringing many thousands of people back to our downtowns to live, which means living close to things like jobs, shops, services, and entertainment. This means more walking and less driving. When compact urbanism is combined with good train systems, many can live comfortably with only one car per family, or no car at all, thereby greatly reducing our energy use while still maintaining a high standard of living and having more money than ever to spend on things other than gas, repairs, and insurance.
Global warming is a very serious issue, and I think it is important for people to realize there are many viable solutions that they can participate in to help save our future. I think it is also very important for our elected leaders at the local, state, and federal levels to realize there are many things they can be doing to help solve this serious issue as well. America has the potential to become a world role model for sustainable development (instead of being known as we are today—as the country that wastes the most energy in the world). All sorts of new economic opportunities could be created for American corporations to produce many products and services that complement these solutions.