Tuesday, April 22, 2008

PBS: Car of the Future; Hot Politics -- more fuel for the global warming "debate"


Tonight, PBS aired two programs relevant to the fossil fuel and global warming debate.

At 8 PM EDT, many stations aired a Nova Segment “Car of the Future” (website: with hosts “Car Talk” guys Clik and Clak, that is, comedy brothers Tom and Ray Magliozi. They explored Iceland, where city busses are fueled by hydrogen fuel cells, and where there is the greatest supply of renewable energy on earth in proportion to population. They then switched to examining biofuels. The use of corn in the United States for ethanol fuel is not terribly carbon efficient; Brazil’s use of sugar cane is more promising, as would be switchgrass or sawgrass. To make biofuels more efficient, scientists need to engineer new bacteria to metabolize corn starch differently. The hybrid car charges batteries while running on fossil or biofuels, but the most promising car would be the plug-in hybrid. New kinds of lightweight fiber carbon materials will make cars stronger and lighter. The Tesla car looks like an interesting prototype, but would sell now for $92000. The nation has 170000 gasoline stations, and would need to replace the infrastructure with recharging stations.

This show out to be compared to the Sony Pictures Classics film "Who Killed the Electric Car," dir. Chris Paine, from 2006.

At 9 PM, some stations aired a Frontline segment, “Hot Politics,” website here. (In Washington, MPT aired it, but WETA changed at the last minute to report on the PA primary.) The Timelime on the website pretty well summarizes the documentary. Back in 1988, we had one of the hottest summers on record then, with huge fires in Yellowstone and on the West. The United Nations created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which reported in 1990. The first President Bush went reluctantly to a summit in Rio de Janeiro and agreed to a weak voluntary agreement. Candidate Clinton proposed a BTU tax during his campaign, that would have cost the average American around $17 a month.

Late in the second Clinton administration the United States signed a Kyoto agreement but never submitted it to the Senate for ratification. When campaigning in 2000, Gov. Bush promised to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and place caps on industry. He sent former Governor Christine Todd Whitman to Trieste, Italy (a hot spot in the 50s) to a meeting on climate change in 2001. But the Bush administration quickly recanted, with the “help” of a former lobbyist who manipulated government reports. The administration also gagged other officials from speaking out publicly and expressing their own opinions about global warming. Kyoto was derailed. The whole episode reminds me of the ethical issues involved in speaking publicly (as on the web) when you are paid to speak for someone else, as I’ve discussed on my blogs even in conjunction with “reputation defense.”

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