Monday, April 23, 2007

Changing light bulbs: A happy Earth Day to you!

For years the planet was just considered an inanimate rock on which we live. In fact it once was considered flat until people began traveling longer distances over the ocean, when it became apparent that it was round, more accurately an oblate spheroid.

Now people think the planet is alive and James Lovelock has given her a name, Gaia that allows people to identify with her more easily. But now that we realize Gaia is alive, it is becoming very apparent the she is ill with a rising temperature.

Climatologists have estimated that the planet's temperature has risen by 0.6 C (a conservative estimate) to as much as 0.75 C in the last 150 years. Approximately 0.2-0.3 C rise happened within the last 25 years (when advanced technology for remote sensing satellites were first developed). So when I was in high school, and punk rock was the craze, the world was a cooler place and I was much younger too.

In some places, the temperature rise is even much greater than the global average. PAGASA estimates that in the Philippines the rise is as much as 0.66 C in the last 40 years. So when I was born, the Philippines was much cooler. In Brisbane last year, I attended several climatology symposia in which the Philippines was set an example of a country that will suffer with global warming. It is not that the Philippines will become unbearably hot, it's just the monsoons will become more unpredictable.

Our lives as Filipinos are timed to the monsoons. When the school year ends and holy week begins is the start of the hot and dry season. When school begins we assume the "habagat" has set in bringing with it the rains. October is the start of the cool "amihan" and we know Christmas is near. I am an urbanite but farmers are even more dependent on these regularities than urbanites are.

Whether you are in the Philippines or somewhere else, water will be THE problem. Global warming will place a great strain on water resources. It is time for people to face up to the problem.

In the US, global warming has become a political hot potato (as hot as abortion and immigration). A new term has been heard in Capitol Hill; "Hot Politics". Environmentalists have accused the US President and Congress to have stymied any move to meet US commitments to greenhouse gas emission cuts. Global warming denial is bi-partisan. Thus moves to meet the Kyoto targets have been taken on by local and some state governments.

While a lot of US citizens are aware of the problem, some are still in denial. We read blog comments that say "How come you [climatologists] say that the air temperature has increased in the last 40 years if you can't say how hot or cold it will be tomorrow?" The answer is statistical, it is easier to estimate from a population (of temperature readings) than from a point estimate [such as Tuesday's weather]?

Nonetheless a focus of this year's Earth Day is about changing light bulbs from incandescent to more efficient compact fluorescents. These light bulbs consume 80% less energy than incandescents while giving the same amount of light and color rendition.

Changing light bulbs is just the start and that's EASY. Seriously experts say that Americans will have a hard time changing their resource intensive lifestyle even if they commit to emission reduction. This will have to go beyond light bulbs and to the more intensive use of legs and feet. Americans will have to walk to 1) school, 2) work if they live less than a mile from their workplaces or take public transport if they live further.

It would surprise many that on a per capita basis, New Yorkers have the least emissions since many have done away with cars. It is simply to expensive to have a car. Most people walk or take the subway and bus.

We have to start somewhere. If changing attitudes were just as easy as changing light bulbs!

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