PSU professor talks about climate

LOCK HAVEN — “We can have a world with icebergs and rainbows,” said Dr. Richard Alley. In other words, everything in the natural world can once more be in its proper place.

His message on Tuesday, April 10 was that it will take 30 years to make the transition to renewable energy, but this will result in a bigger economy with more jobs, improved health, greater national security, a cleaner environment — and the resultant way of life will be more consistent with the Golden Rule.

Alley, distinguished Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences at Penn State, delivered the talk “The Big Picture on Energy and the Environment” to a packed room at the Ross Library. His theme was clear from the beginning: the world is warming, the warming is caused by humans, and scientists are in agreement on these matters.

“There is no serious scientific controversy,” he said. “There simply is not another side.”

He also said good things have come from fossil fuels. One-hundred times our own ability to expend energy is accomplished for us by fossil fuels, he said. At the same time, there have been costs. To stoke Pennsylvania’s iron furnaces, which were fueled by charcoal, one square mile of trees per year had to be cut down for every furnace in operation. The trees were decimated. At the same time, whale oil was used for lamps.

Then oil was discovered seeping from the ground. There are trees and whales today because something else is being burned, according to Alley. But fossil fuels are also a limited resource which, when depleted, will require 100 million years to return, he said.

And they are costly, he said. While each person in America discards half a ton of waste per year, the individual American is also responsible for releasing 19 tons of carbon dioxide into the air during the same period of time. Carbon dioxide is responsible for the effects of climate change, according to Alley: heat stress, sea level rise, floods and droughts, stronger storms, tropical diseases, civil unrest.

The good news, he said, is this is a time of great opportunity. Only a “tiny” area of the world would be needed to provide enough energy through solar, to fuel and feed the entire world’s population, according to Alley. He also said switching to solar could double the production of energy.

The talk was lively and was followed by thoughtful questions from the audience. When asked about the most serious cost of climate change, Alley answered it is sea-level rise, which could happen in a matter of decades. The real question, he said, is whether we as human beings can get our own house in order, whether we can work together to get over the bumps.

When asked what can be done locally, he suggested picking one thing and following through on it. “Talk about it, and vote about it,” he advised.

The talk was sponsored by SPARK (Supporting Public Action and Reliable Knowledge).

SPARK will be working with the Lock Haven University Biology Club and Environmental Club to co-sponsor an Earth Day Celebration, set for Sunday, April 22 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.