Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Copenhagen Climate Change Challenge

Professor Roel SniederGreeting from the Professor Roel Snieder, Colorado School of Mines, who is talk on "The Global Energy Challenge" at the Australian National University. He is the author of A Guided Tour of Mathematical Methods for the Physical Sciences and The Art of Being a Scientist. The talk is part of the Toyota-ANU Public Lecture Series 2009, which is timely as John Ward mentioned in his introduction, the Prime Minister launched Toyota's Australian made hybrid Camry last week. Professor Snieder talked about another car, the Tata Nano, now being made in India, which while it will use less fuel than a larger vehicle, it will still use a large amount in the numbers predicted to be sold. He made the point that this fuel was created over millions of years and is being used up. Exactly when the rate of oil production will peak is debatable, but it will peak within a few decades.

Professor Snieder discussed alternatives to oil for fuel. Ethanol can be used, but currently competes with food crops for feedstock. If cellulose can be converted to fuel this would allow non-food plants to be used, but this requires scientific breakthroughs. Conversion of shale oil or coal to fuel is feasible, but will produce CO2 emissions.

Ironically at this point someone called me from the Copenhagen climate change summit so I had to nip out of the talk and missed a bit. When I returned Professor Snieder was talking about the effect of the loss of ice. Sea level rises will result in the loss of parts of Florida, Holland and Bangladesh. He pointed out that the people effected are not necessarily those who caused the problem.

Professor Snieder then presented the "good news": 60% of energy in the US is wasted. This is good news, as it provided the opportunity for energy efficiency to reduce carbon emissions, as well as fossil fuel use. He used the example of a hotel he stayed in recently where both the room heater and air conditioner were on at the same time. Energy saving measures will save money in the long term. Government incentives can help with this and create jobs at the same time.

Professor Snieder quoted Michele Tolela Myers: "I think we have a responsibility to insist that education is more than learning job skills, that it is also the bedrock of a democracy (from "A Student Is Not an Input" NY Times, March 26, 2001). He argued that there is a role of students to push for energy conservation and they can do projects about it. However, I would argue that green job skills can also be incorporated in courses, as I do in teaching "Green Information Technology Strategies" (COMP7310) to masters students at the ANU.

The Professor ended by inviting anyone to read and download the slides from his presentation. He welcomed reuse and changed of the slides, but asked if they were changed to please change the attribution.

At question time he pointed out that carbon sequestration was the most expensive option.

Professor Snieder is also conducting a short course for research students at ANU and will gie a talk on carbon sequestration at ANU on Thursday at 4pm.

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