Monday, August 24, 2009

Overview: Greenhouse Gasses

greenhouse-gas.jpgThe heart of climate change is the greenhouse gas effect. Molecules of various gasses trap heat, causing the atmosphere to heat up. Some of these gasses are okay and normal, but when there is too much it creates too much heat. Too much heat throws the whole system out of balance. What makes a gas a greenhouse gas is that it traps heat. (image courtesy ZooFari from Wikimedia Commons)

Some of the gasses (such as carbon dioxide) are part of natural processes (such as breathing) leading to erroneous claims of harmlessness. The same gasses can be emitted by non-natural processes (such as burning fossil fuel) which are not at all harmless. It's one thing for a gas to come from a natural process, it's quite another thing for it to come from an unnatural one. The natural world designed itself to accomodate naturally occuring quantities of various gasses, and human activity to add additional quantities of these gasses throws the system out of balance.

The principal greenhouse gases that enter the atmosphere because of human activities are (courtesy EPA):

  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2): Carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere by burning of fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal), solid waste, trees and wood products, and also as a result of other chemical reactions (e.g., manufacture of cement). Carbon dioxide is also removed from the atmosphere (or “sequestered”) when it is absorbed by plants as part of the biological carbon cycle.
  • Methane (CH4): Methane is emitted during the production and transport of coal, natural gas, and oil. Methane emissions also result from livestock and other agricultural practices and by the decay of organic waste in municipal solid waste landfills.
  • Nitrous Oxide (N2O): Nitrous oxide is emitted during agricultural and industrial activities, as well as during combustion of fossil fuels and solid waste.
  • Fluorinated Gases: Hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride are synthetic, powerful greenhouse gases that are emitted from a variety of industrial processes. Fluorinated gases are sometimes used as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances (i.e., CFCs, HCFCs, and halons). These gases are typically emitted in smaller quantities, but because they are potent greenhouse gases, they are sometimes referred to as High Global Warming Potential gases (“High GWP gases”).

A greenhouse gas inventory is an accounting of the amount of greenhouse gases emitted to or removed from the atmosphere over a specific period of time (e.g., one year). A greenhouse gas inventory also provides information on the activities that cause emissions and removals, as well as background on the methods used to make the calculations.

Friday, August 21, 2009

How computer games can save the world?

When I think of Computer Games it doesn't call to mind an educational experience which will cause someone to plant trees, recycle more often, switch to LED lighting, etc. Computer games seem to be more about awesome graphics depicting horrific violence. But a session at the The Green Software Unconference made an interesting point and idea: GAMES will Save the World How?

The session was hosted by Ken Eklund with which is an initiative attempting to drive the "green" conversation to diverse audiences through its national public television series, online ecosystem and game narrative streams.

Unfortunately I could not be in that talk but the meeting notes say a lot of things in outline form.

Computer games create a virtual environment within which a player can interact with game elements. That's very high level but I think the point is the game doesn't have to be about awesome graphics depicting horrific violence. The game elements can be instructional, for instance it could depict a forest ecosystem and your job is to manage the ecosystem through dozens of generations.

The notes describe a game Ken did about a world without oil. It might have been a fictional scenario where Oil never existed on this planet or it could be a post-Peak oil scenario. In any case it would be very educational to have a SimCity sort of game depicting people living out their lives, but it's a life with oil depletion or life with zero oil. Supposedly it really affected the way people thought about oil.

I have a question reading through the notes.. an idea they may have discussed. What is it about the horrific violence games that make them popular? And if you make a game that's educational and meant to influence opinion towards a green cause, what would get people to come to the game, to play the game, and to play the game long enough so it makes the desired effect?

Monday, August 17, 2009 day of climate action

Scientists say that 350 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere is the safe limit for humanity. For all of human history until about 300 years ago, our atmosphere contained 275 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide. That’s a useful amount—without some CO2 and other greenhouse gases that trap heat in our atmosphere, our planet would be too cold for life on Earth. About 300 years ago the coal and oil age of human history began. Harnessing of coal, and later oil, drove the machines of the Industrial Revolution which eventually led to all the machines and industry surrounding us today. While the machines have brought some useful benefits, the use of oil and coal have harmful side effects that are threatening all our wellbeing.


One of the side effects is an increasing concentration of harmful gasses in the atmosphere. While CO2 is a natural byproduct of animals, its increasing concentration is damaging the natural ecological balance. The current concentration of atmospheric CO2 is 389 parts per million. Side effects include rising sea levels, melting glaciers, ocean acidification, and more severe weather. Returning to 350 parts per million (or less) is required posthaste. is organizing an international Day of Action. They are calling on people around the world to organize a 350 action for October 24 at an iconic place in their community and upload a photo of their event to website.

At a minimum a "350 action" is to simply gather a group of people, include the number 350, and upload photo's to They suggest a variety of actions including teach-in's, inviting political leaders, organizing rallies, a trash cleanup, etc.

They have available resources for publicity or basic information to display during a 350 action.

It's well and good to have a day of gaining attention to an important issue such as this. What about long term change? On the site they discuss that it is an invitation to build a movement, and clearly they mean for some long term action in addition to the day of action on October 24. The web site doesn't say what the "movement" will be doing in the long term.