Scientist from Penn State University addresses link between energy use and climate change
Dr. Richard Alley, Evan Pugh professor of geosciences and associate of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute at Penn State University, spoke at Lycoming College in Marc.
His presentation, “The big picture on energy and climate,” discussed the dynamics between money, jobs, national security, ethics and the environment, and how they influence perceptions and decisions about energy.
Alley presented a history of energy sources starting with lumber and whale oil. When they began to run out, demand for coal and oil increased. Unlike trees and whale populations that can replenish in 100 years, fossil fuels require millions of years to form.
“So we must learn while we burn, or burn then learn. Regardless of how long we use them, (fossil fuels) will run out,” Alley said. Through the burning of fossil fuels, the average American releases about 19 tons of carbon dioxide into the air every year, which affects the climate.
He highlighted the need to tap renewables, such as wind and solar, which are limitless sources of energy and do not release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Addressing climate change skeptics, Alley showed the basis for understanding the realities of global warming is based on physics, observation, climate models and history.
Alley acknowledged that temperatures fluctuate over the years, but they clearly have been and are continuing to trend upward since the turn of the century.
“You have to look at the temperatures over a long period of time. Skeptics tend to focus on only several years at a time, which show little movement in average temperatures,” Alley said. “That (focus on a narrow time frame) allows legislators and industry to deflect the need for real change.”
Alley recognized that nature produces carbon dioxide on its own, but stated humans create about twice as much carbon dioxide as natural sources. “If we don’t restrain carbon dioxide, the coming changes are bigger than they have been in the past. The costs will rise faster and the changes will create global winners and losers.”
Another issue related to climate change is the documented increase of human conflict with increases in temperatures. Social scientists have documented that as heat increases, so do shootings, rapes and social media shouting. Alley notes that leaders of U.S. armed forces perceive climate change as a national security threat because the U.S. is called to help with military issues around the world.
“When our students are old, our average temperatures will be hotter than our highest temperatures are now,” Alley said. “If we don’t change what we are doing, the world will lose about 40 percent of its ability to work outside. By late in the century, computer models predict that there will be areas in the world where it will be too hot to survive.”
Alley promotes turning to solar and wind energy sources because they are sustainable and have less environmental impact.
For statistics used during Alley’s presentation, visit climatecommunication.yale.edu/visualizations-data/.