Tuesday, October 21, 2008

PBS Frontline: "Heat": weak progress in dealing with global warming

Tonight (Tuesday Oct 21, 2008) PBS stations aired the two-hour Frontline film “Heat,” written by Martin Smith, with the web link here.

The film starts out with a stroll-like hike at 19000 feet in the Himalaya, to view a glacier whose ice has dropped by 40% when compared to a 1921 black-and-white photo.

There is now an emerging consensus that the world must reduce its carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. There is a karma problem because the developed world uses much more energy and emits much more carbon per person than the developing world.

It covered the history of international accords, including Kyoto. At one meeting in Indonesia, the United States, previously refusing to sign because the bill let developing countries off the hook, was ambushed into an agreement when China accepted some restraints.

The film covered coal-fired electric plants. In the southeast, especially Florida, there are serious liability problems with storing carbon because it could leak and actually come into homes, causing suffocation (events like that have actually happened near a lake in Africa). The film showed the Powder River (Arch Coal’s Black Thunder mine near Gillette) basin in Wyoming, which feeds the largest rail conveyor belt in the world. One pound of coal (or a “scuttle”) will run a large television for 4 hours, and the typical American household consumers 9.5 tons of coal a year.

The film mentioned the carbon emissions associated with cement manufacture, as 5% of all the carbon emitted in the world.

The film then moved on to cover the slow rise in car mileage, and the new hybrid vehicles like the GM Volt, which is shown creeping up an incline at 10 mph. The efficacy of biofuels is debated, but they tend to consume a lot of energy to produce (especially corn), and they tend to encourage deforestation (carbon storage) in other areas (the Amazon basin) for food that we don’t grow.

The film discussed oil companies, especially ExxonMobil, and show XOM’s rig off the coast of Newfoundland, the largest in the world. An XOM spokesperson was questioned on the low support of renewable energy (which may have increased very recently, according to other news stories) and about its lobbying activity. There was a segment shown tar sands mining in northern Alberta.

The movie concluded with the defeat in the Senate of the Warner-Lieberman “cap and trade” bill.

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