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Ox pulling waterwheel
8.30.02
Science and Health:
The Earth Debate
More on This Story:
Energy

Development brings more energy consumption. In turn, greater consumption of some forms of energy bring the attendant problems of pollution, and health problems, and the use of nonrenewable sources. The trick — not solved by the 1992 Rio Earth Summit or the Millennium Summit — is making development in a "sustainable" fashion. Proposed solutions are not without controversy — as the United States decision not to sign international agreements to reduce CO2 emissions shows.

Consumption of energy grew in the 1990s, with great disparities in usage between the developed and developing world remaining. Use of renewable energy sources (hydro, biomass, wind, solar, geothermal) also increased in the last decade. If the global growth rate of energy use continues at its present rate, consumption will be double the 1998 rate by 2035, and will triple it by 2055.

The World of Energy

Percentage of world population dependent on non-fossil fuels:  33%
% of world's energy coming from renewable sources:  4.5%
Rate of per capita consumption of energy by developed countries and developing countries:  10 times
United States percentage of world BTU consumption:  26%
United States percentage of world CO2 emissions:  24%
1980 U.S. coal production in million of tons:  890
2001 U.S. coal production in million of tons:  1,121
Percentage of coal production from surface mining, 2000:  65%
Percentage decline in coal industry employment 1986 to 1997:  -47.29%
Sources: The Energy Information Administration; The United Nations Energy Committee

The burning of coal is viewed by many as an environmental danger because it releases several gasses into the environment, including, carbon dioxide or CO2. The matter of coal-burning plants, CO2 emissions and The Clean Air Act, are currently under debate in the United States Senate. (Track legislation on the Web.)

The CO2 Issue

Percentage of the world's human-caused greenhouse gases from fossil fuel:  75%
Percentage of the world's CO2 emissions today still in the air in 2100:  33%
Parts per million CO2 in atmosphere before industrialization:  270
Parts per million CO2 in atmosphere after industrialization:  360
Sources: International Energy Agency: KEY WORLD ENERGY STATISTICS, 2001; THE ECONOMIST, Kahn, Jeremy. "Stop Me Before I Pollute Again." FORTUNE. 21 January 2002 , 87. Glick, Patricia. The Toll from Coal. National Wildlife Federation. 2000.


A Model of Things to Come?

On August 1, 1989, AT&T made an unprecedented move. AT&T voluntarily committed itself to eliminating the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) from its manufacturing process within five years. AT&Ts response was motivated by the 1987 UN Montreal Protocol.

The Montreal Protocol is an international agreement among signatory countries to voluntarily decrease the consumption and production of CFCs that deplete the ozone layer. The destruction of the ozone layer allows harmful ultraviolet B or UVB rays to reach the earth rather than be absorbed within the atmosphere. Scientists widely agree it is the increase of UVB exposure that has led to explosions in the cancer rate.

The widespread popularity and concern over the ozone layer pushed AT&T toward making a change. By 1994 AT&T has eliminated not only the use of CFC's in the manufacturing process but had also announced its decision to stop accepting packaging or package materials produced with CFCs from its suppliers.

AT&T's decision was also profitable. The decision to phase out CFC use allowed the company to innovate its cleaning processes. The use of tepenes as a cleaning solution saved AT&T 10 cents per square foot, an overall annual savings of $3 million.

Sources: Rochester University of Technology, Department of Energy

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