Coffee mugs and T-shirts remain the staple of global warming (GW) marketers, but an across-the-board bonanza is starting to heat up. Earlier this year, Dell started its “Plant a Tree for Me” program to supposedly offset the carbon dioxide byproduct from the electricity used to run its products. 360 Interchange has introduced eco-friendly plastic flooring that is recyclable and promises to lower greenhouse gases. And, of course, global warming the movie, “An Inconvenient Truth,” has so-far grossed about $45 million worldwide.
Global warming may not be big business yet, but it soon will be. Let’s set the stage.
The threat from global warming is real even though naysayers abound. At this writing, fewer than 45 percent of the 66 respondents to our poll asking if global warming threatens our existence said “yes.” I am in the minority, so naysayers, bring it on!
A good place to examine the debate on the impact of rising temperatures is a joint Frontline and NOVA website. As news and science impact shows go (respectively), they are peerless. And, they pose the question correctly: “The overwhelming majority of scientists agree: earth’s temperature has risen during the past century. But is it due to man’s use of fossil fuel energy? And if so, how can we prevent the catastrophic results that some scientists predict if global warming continues?” Five climatology experts and a top coal lobbyist also present a balanced discussion of the topic on their joint “What’s up with the Weather?” website. And if it’s global warming studies you want, the National Technical Information Service collects them.
On the opposition side, I turned to a confusing and contradictory FAQ at Junkscience.com which tries to debunk popular beliefs about global warming. The questions are set up so the authors can (as if that’s what we were asking) answer in the negative and come off as smarter than the reader. For instance, it says the earth has a relatively stable temperature compared to the moon which is lifeless. Who cares? It says the earth doesn’t technically function like a greenhouse. Maybe that’s true, but again, who cares? Little mention is given as to why the glaciers are melting.
So, let’s turn back to the idea of designing products so you can say they minimize greenhouse gases. There are two primary ways — one is the product’s direct impact and the other and more popular way to reduce emissions is in the manufacturing of the product.
Let’s look at the former. Products like the Toyota Prius emit less CO2 than conventional gas-powered vehicles. The folks at Hybridblog.org estimate the Prius will save 169 gallons of gas a year over a Toyota Matrix and thus pump 1,875 kg less CO2 into the atmosphere. They also calculate that replacing 15 incandescent light bulbs with Compact Fluorescents is as good as driving a Prius. Of course, these numbers — based on usage assumptions — vary wildly, but they do provide basic guidelines which make some of us feel good.
Leaders in the second way — limiting greenhouse gases in manufacturing — are Japanese companies guided by the Kyoto Protocol. Ricoh, for instance, is trying to reduce greenhouse gases by 12 percent in three years over 1990 levels. Konica Minolta has pledged to reduced CO2 emissions by 7 percent over the same period. And over here, Analog Devices is voluntarily reducing its CO2 emissions because the U.S., sadly, is not a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol. Most large manufacturing companies have a statement of direction or objectives set to reduce CO2 emissions. Even Exxon has lots to say about global warming although, in true tobacco company-like fashion, it has been accused of waging a disinformation campaign about the effects. (Some argue the Prius is bad environmentally to manufacture given the nickel in batteries.)
Dare I say global warming isn’t a fad and won’t go away like low-carb diets. Global warming is a problem with unknown and possibly dire consequences. Whether you’re motivated as a do-gooder, by a binding accord like Kyoto or just plain out for profit, global warming is taking center stage.
I hope this column sets some of you off. I welcome all your comments and will publish them online. You can me reach by e-mail (email@example.com), cell phone, landline, in person, passing me on the highway spewing out greenhouse gases or by visiting my blog Design Engineering at Large.