SAN MARCOS — The question is no longer whether human-caused global warming exists, but what humans can do about it. That was the message of the panel of experts that assembled for the “Tackling Climate Change” lecture at Cal State San Marcos on April 9.
According to the panelists, global warming is tied closely to “the greenhouse effect,” the property of the atmosphere that keeps heat from radiating out into space after the sun has warmed the Earth. The effect is a natural one and it keeps the planet in a tolerable temperature range. However, over the last century, mankind has pumped carbon dioxide through power generation and from the tailpipes of billions of automobiles. This CO2 has intensified the greenhouse effect, raising temperatures worldwide.
“The worry is not that there’s a greenhouse effect,” panelist Dr. Richard Somerville said. “The worry is that we’re changing it. Better than one out of four molecules of CO2 in the atmosphere today are there because we put them there.”
Computer projections shown at the lecture predicted worldwide temperature increases of more than 7 degrees Fahrenheit, which would shift global rain patterns and turn the sub-tropics into vast deserts. If things go on as they have, Somerville cautioned, the world will be virtually unrecognizable by the end of the century.
California, at least, is committed to keeping that from happening. The California state government passed AB 32 in September 2006, which calls for a return to 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. An executive order, signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005, calls for 80 percent reductions from the 1990 levels by 2050.
Getting there is the hard part. Current measures like the Pavley tailpipe emissions standards, a mandated 20 percent renewable energy portfolio for power companies and the low-carbon fuel standards for automobiles should stop the rise of emissions but won’t bring them down.
“We can get it down to flat,” Dr. Nilimini Sivla-Send, a panelist and energy policy analyst with USD’s School of Law, said. “We’ll have to do a whole lot of small measures in order to get to that AB 32 target.”
This is where private industry comes in, business professor and panelist Dr. Jim Hamerly said. Hamerly acknowledged the government’s role in fostering research and generating plans, but said it will be for-profit businesses that drive emissions reductions.
“Unlike federally mandated programs … my belief is that private investment does a much better job at measuring the economic viability of a technology or alternative and they do a much better job of ferreting out what works and what doesn’t,” Hamerly said.
Hamerly said that the amount of venture capital invested in “clean tech” has soared from less than $1 billion in 2005 to $8 billion in 2009. Hamerly cited the fact as proof that “clean technology” is reaching the point of profitability and therefore practicality.
Thanks in large part to these investment companies, some 220 startup “clean tech” businesses have sprung up in San Diego county alone. Hamerly said he expected the county to become an early stage hub for efficient technologies, much as it was for the pharmaceutical industry a decade ago.
It will be these industries that will enable our state to meet its stringent environmental standards, Hamerly said, and in doing so, set an example for the rest of the country and the world.