Morning Speakers at the Environmental Wars

Sat, 2006-06-03 12:22Sarah Pullman
Sarah Pullman's picture

Morning Speakers at the Environmental Wars

These are my quick notes from the morning's speakers. I've done my best to keep them concise and accurate, but liveblogging is never the most polished format. I hope you find them interesting! Richard will also be posting commentary.

David Baltimore

Quick bio – President of CalTech, awarded Nobel Prize at age 37. Something of a science celebrity. He does not call himself an expert on global warming, but believes he represents an informed position.

He spoke about the importance of having a government that respects science, and argues that the past five years have seen a great disregard of science by the Bush administration.

He says that both the facts of science (we see this in examples like fighting the AIDS epidemic as it happens rather than using it as an excuse for moralizing, and the support for teaching of intelligent design), and the role of science in American competitiveness have been threatened. And we need the support of basic research. So why the lack of respect for scientific fact and the scientific basis of our economy? Clearly ideology over facts.

This conference is trying to bring rationality to the discussion, Baltimore says. He hopes it doesn't get bogged down in arguing about global warming, which even the bush administration agrees is happening. We need to get beyond that and start talking about solutions.

It is so important that there be a conduit from the scientific community into the administration so that at least people know what's right and what's wrong.

Dr David Goodstein

- author of Out of Gas.

Shermer says that his book about the end of oil scared him (though he still has his SUV.)

Oil the cheapest fluid available in America - cheaper per litre than bottled water.

Temperatures have historically followed carbon dioxide levels. The last 200 years have seen a big increase in CO2 and if temperatures follow, as they have him the past, we're hoped.

In the nineteenth century, we needed fuel for illumination. Then the internal combustion engine came alone and we're using up all the fuel and it will run out. M. King Hubbert figured our oil discovery would peak in the 30s, and peak extraction would be in 1970. This is called the Hubbert Curve. As it turns out, his predictions have been uncannily accurate.

There is compelling evidence that we have peaked with oil supply. (See Campbell and LaHerrere in Scientific American in 1998.) That said, increasing price makes more available, and “reserve” numbers are soft. But the basic idea is right. And we couldn't support the current population without petrochemicals, never mind a future population.

Goodstein spoke about oil sands and coal as energy sources. Neither is sustainable at all. In the oil sands, more and more energy has to be put in to get energy out, which eventually becomes a losing game. As for coal, there's lots of it, but it's dirty, terrible for the greenhouse effect, we'd have And it appears that Hubberts peak for coal will happen sometime this century. The only viable alternatives to fossil fuels are solar and nuclear, and it's not going to be easy, politically or technically.

His prediction: “civilization as we know it will come to an end sometimes in this century, when the fuel runs out.” Under normal circumstances, he added, scientists love it when their predictions come true, because then they get boasting rights. In this instance, Goodstein said he would dearly love to be proved wrong – by any one or any means possible.

Dr Tapio Schneider

Schneider spoke about the science of the greenhouse effect. He's dressed in a suit and clearly a scientist to the core, and he says that the scientific certainty is very clear. You can no more doubt the numbers and mechanisms that he's laying out than you can doubt that your flourescent lightbulb illuminates when you flick the switch.

There is more CO2 in the atmosphere now than there has been in 700 thousand years. However, it seems there are delays in the climate system. Temperatures have not shot up in the past 200 years the way that CO2 has. There is some intertia as the oceans and the earth's surface warms up.

Schneider has no patience for skeptics. Says that temperatures are rising, and if anyone tonight tries to tell us otherwise, we're listening to fiction.