A Convenient Lie

I don't want to see anyone picking on Al Gore again.

Apparently, Bush is "in the process of solving" the debate over whether global warming is caused by human activity

Well, no, dear, you're not.


"In an interview with People magazine, President George W. Bush said there is "a worthy debate" on whether global warming is caused by human activities.

"It's a debate, actually, that I'm in the process of solving by advancing new technologies, burning coal cleanly in electric plants, or promoting hydrogen-powered automobiles, or advancing ethanol as an alternative to gasoline," he said.

Bush said the major question on climate change is whether it is caused by human activities."

This is so wrong, that it is hard to know where to begin.

The primary driver of current climate change is human activity, primarily through forcing of carbon dioxide by burning of fossil carbon. No debate there.

George Bush is not in the process of solving the debate. He could settle the political uncertainty by acknowledging the facts, but that is not a solution of the debate.

Advancing the technology does not "solve the debate", it helps reduce the impact and in the long run may lead to less change, but it does not change anything about the causal relationship.

There are plenty of issues to debate in relation to climate change: the exact sensitivity range; secondary feedbacks; how it couples to external forcing; possibility of large regional variability; amelioration strategies; regional impacts; global equity and inequality of impacts; even the self-limiting of the change by anthropic impact (severe impact on civilization could sharply and forcibly reduce fossil fuel emission).

The President of the USA should be better informed and better able to articulate the issue than this.

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Of course, burning coal, clean or dirty, still produces CO2. Burning alcohol does the same. Maybe he didn't pay attention in his chemistry classes, and gets advice from similar laggards. It would help if it were possible for him to be embarrassed.

By Mark Paris (not verified) on 07 Jul 2006 #permalink

Mark, I'm not really a big friend of GWB at all, but here I'll have to defend him (at least partially). While you're right that burning coal always causes net CO_2 emissions from a fossil source, burning ethanol only re-releases the CO_2 that the plant from which the ethanol was obtained had absorbed throughout its lifetime. In a way, you could say that an ethanol-fuelled car is driven by solar energy captured via photosynthesis; especially, a completely ethanol-based fuel economy would have a fully closed carbon cycle, hence no net CO_2 emissions, and much less impact on the climate. Of course there are other issues, but ethanol-based fuel is certainly a good possibility to lessen human impact on the climate.

Uh, Georg, there is a net production of CO2 with this ethanol cycle unless you somehow overcome the laws of thermodynamics. Not all of the carbon incorported into the plants ends up in ethanol while a significant amount of external energy is used to grow the crop [plowing pesticides,fertilizers], transport the crop, process the crop and transport the ethanol.

By natural cynic (not verified) on 08 Jul 2006 #permalink

Natural Cynic, I think you are confused about what is being recycled. It's carbon, not energy. The sun serves as an external energy source, so this isn't a closed system, and the laws of thermodynamics in their usual closed-system formulation don't apply unless you take the sun to be part of the system, and in that case the decrease in free energy and increase in entropy that happens in the center of the sun is really not an issue for us on earth. And a chemical element such as carbon can (in principle) be recycled with 100% efficiency -- the earth's biosphere taken as a whole is an example of such recycling.

Everyone should remember that the current bio-ethanol processes still use fossil fuel (to provide heat, certain fertilizers, etc.). These fossil inputs aren't absolutely essential, but they are currently significant, at least for corn-based ethanol. Consider bio-ethanol to be a kind of solar-assisted synfuel, which is not entirely a bad thing.

By Paul Dietz (not verified) on 08 Jul 2006 #permalink

Sure the current technology is far from perfect, but there is nothing in principle to stop it from becoming nearly perfect. Especially neither chemistry nor thermodynamics prohibit a closed carbon cycle. That's all I was saying.