Posted by: ericgrimsrud | May 25, 2015

The present disconnect between modern climate science and St. Olaf College, for example

First, while I have your full attention, please have a look at the following video.  It is about an hour long.  If you don’t take the time to do this, you will perhaps not understand the point of this post.  The video can be seen at

Welcome back. If you did, indeed, watch the video provided above, you are now poised to understand the great disconnect that exists between the very best and latest science available on the subject of man-caused global warming and the general public including its institutions of higher learning.

To summarize the video, a main point made by climate scientist Kevin Anderson, Deputy Director of the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research (London) is that “radical and immediate changes” in the lifestyles of those living in the “wealthy” countries of the world are needed if we are to avoid catastrophic temperature rises above two degrees Centigrade.  It is via changes in the carbon footprints of these relatively wealthy inhabitants of Earth that needed reductions in total global emissions of CO2 can be most easily and most quickly made – simply by changes in their lifestyles. While these needed changes include many different forms of energy conservation, those highlighted in this video were the methods and frequency of travel chosen by the wealthy.

Now I should also take a moment here to assure you that Kevin Anderson is not just a second-rate scientist “whistling Dixie” concerning his personal biases on an environmental issue.  He is one of the most accomplished and highly respected leaders in the world in critically important field of climate modeling. Modern modeling is done by taking all of the information available, from observations of the past and from the basic principles of physics and from them constructing predictions of the future. The Tyndall Centre for Climate Research is an organisation based in the United Kingdom that brings together scientists, economists, engineers and social scientists from about a dozen of Britain’s top research universities.

So next, who in the public domain should I (admittedly unfairly) choose for a comparison of their activities against the recommendations of Dr. Anderson?  While almost any American organization in the domains of business or education would do, I am going to “pick on” St. Olaf College of Northfield Minnesota here simply because that college happens to be my own alma mater and that of numerous relatives going back to my grandfather, Lawrence Grimsrud, who graduated in 1899. Thus, I am picking on St. Olaf College here because it is “my own” so to speak,  just as when I require a brunt in the telling of my favorite jokes, I usually select either “Norwegians”, in general, or “Ole”, in particular. With this self-effacing approach, I believe that I am less likely to offend someone.

OK, so now let’s use St. Olaf College as an example of an organization that clearly does not yet conform to the recommendations of Dr. Anderson and let’s do that by focusing on the single issue of travel.

St. Olaf is appropriately proud of its extensive “Studies Abroad” programs. A large fraction of its students in all majors take courses in which professor-led trips to distant places are involved.  Even its basketball team now travels to Europe during the summertime apparently because their BB schedule during the academic year diminishes their access to St.O’s studies abroad programs.  I was also a BB player while at St.Olaf and have provided some financial support for this new travel program.

In the Spring 2015 issue of the St.Olaf magazine, there is a short article entitled “Why do we travel” reminding us of the obvious, undisputed and time-honored benefits of travel.  It goes on to describe one specific course that recently took faculty and students to Germany where they studied the cultural effects of the Reformation.  Then the article described two upcoming trips offered to St.Olaf alumni, one to the Bay Area of California and another to the Holy Land.

Now let me be clear on one point – I think these programs are wonderful and appropriate for those who can afford them. I would like to be on all of them myself.  But what is lacking in the article I am referring to above is another companion article entitled “How do we travel?” In that proposed article I doubt that the modes of transport reported would be in compliance with the recommendations made by Dr. Anderson in his video interview.  That is, I would doubt that most of those going on that trip to the Holy Land or even to San Francisco will be going by lower carbon intensive methods involving relatively slow mass transport on the seas, rail or in buses. Most would undoubtedly be going by high carbon footprint aircraft and then returning as quickly as they can by the same method in order to get back to their busy lives at home – possibly involving another quick trip to another distant place.

At this point, I think I can already hear the criticisms that are likely to come my way as a result of what I just said.  Most common among them will be, “but Eric, you are far too naive.  The world simply does not work that way anymore.”  And I will agree with that comment in advance, while also pointing out the misuse of the word “work” in it.  As Dr. Anderson clearly states, our current way of living, including travelling, is not “working”.  The status quo modes of transport presently being promoted by St. Olaf College and almost all other sizable organizations are not sustainable. Sure we have to do what we have to do, but must also learn how to do it in a manner that does not pass the bill onto future generations.

RADICAL changes are indeed required RIGHT NOW and they can be done right now by changes in the lifestyles of the more wealthy countries, organizations, and individuals of the world. Concerning travel, only low carbon methods should be used and if travel by aircraft is necessary, that aircraft should be powered by bio-diesel fuel which is carbon neutral, but more expensive.

The issue of climate change is no longer just a scientific and/or economic issue.  We now know enough about the science as to make it a MORAL issue. Furthermore, I believe it is now the most important moral issue on the table.  Given the historic commitments of St. Olaf College to moral issues and its service to mankind, it would be most appropriate for St. Olaf College to become an even better institutional example in the fight against global warming by moving to a higher level of “walking the walk”.

If you are still confused about the necessity of what I have recommended here, please have another look at the video referred to above.  Then ask yourself whether you are going to put your trust in the likes of Kevin Anderson or the US’s scientific counterpart, James Hanson, or in the likes of Rush Limbaugh or, more likely, in the moderate and numerous “greenwashers” among us who “talk the talk” but skip the tough parts about individual participation.  If I am in error by favoring Anderson’s recommendations, you can blame that on the excellent education I received at St. Olaf College concerning a wide variety of subjects within both the sciences and the humanities – in which the importance of one’s responsibility and service to mankind was emphasized.

Again, sure we have to do what we have do, but we also have to very quickly learn how to do those things in a manner that does not pass the bill onto future generations. That is, we have to pay for our selected life styles right now in the present as we make our choices. And this can be accomplished. For example, cars, buses, trains and even aircraft can be propelled by carbon neutral bio-fuels or hydrogen whenever that trip needs to be taken. And, of course, we can also consider more carefully whether or not that trip needs to be taken. It’s really a matter of personal will, choices and political action. As far as I know we still have a free market system that responds to the professed needs and preferences of its members. And our educational institutions are in a perfect position for changing those preferences to the significantly higher levels now demanded by the latest science of climate change. We have painted ourselves into the corner we now find ourselves because we have not payed sufficient attention to such warnings in the past. Obviously, I would like few things better than to see my alma mater, St. Olaf College, embrace this opportunity for assuming a higher level of leadership during this most dangerous period of global environmental change. .


  1. Eric Said:  “Concerning travel, only low carbon methods should be used and if travel by aircraft is necessary, that aircraft should be powered by bio-diesel fuel which is carbon neutral, but considerably more expensive.” & considerably more expensive is an understatement.

    Here is some information on the “Green” Military that one sees if they watch Fox News and their little piece about the camellia plant to be grown in California. How much of this can the nation afford when the military’s budgets have already been cut?
    Biofuels Industry at Crossroads as Military Waits for Lower Prices (UPDATED) 
    June 2012 
    “Military leaders like to say that their aircraft, ships and personnel can’t tell the difference between petroleum and biofuel. But their budgets can.
    Proponents say that the biofuels industry is at a crucial juncture and needs the right mix of policy, action and financial support to cross the bridge to commercialization. But if any leg of that support goes weak, the military may have to wait even longer for green fuel to reach competitive prices.
    To be sure, the costs have been coming down. The Navy is paying $12 million for 450,000 gallons of biofuel to power a carrier strike group off the coast of Hawaii this year. That $26.6-per-gallon purchase is nowhere near the $2.50 the service pays for each gallon of petroleum. (It has been stated that it would be about $16 per gallon if it were mixed with standard jet fuel.) But it can be considered a good deal when compared to what the Navy paid biofuels supplier Solazyme Inc. under a previous contract.
    The service in 2009 spent $8.5 million for 20,000 gallons of algae-based fuel. That works out to $425 per gallon. In the fall of that year, the Defense Logistics Agency paid Montana’s Sustainable Oils $2.7 million for 40,000 gallons of fuel from the camellia plant. That’s about $67.50 per gallon.”

    [REsponse from Eric: John, thanks for the FOX-provided information. I don’t actually know what current prices are for all forms of bio fuels. Will look into it more closely. Your numbers seem a bit high. These things are subsidy dependent and it can be hard to deduce relative costs.

    In any case I suspect that increased use and increased research will help make biofuels financially more viable. All we know today is that the total net eventual cost of using petro based fuel will be too large as to allow putting a number on it. What we pay at the pump today is the minor part of those total costs.]

  2. According to pure biodeisel costs about 85 cents per gal more than petroleum deisel.

  3. Eric,

    I did waste 30 minutes listening to the video at the head of this thread.

    lt was a fine example of fantasy and delusion. While it is true that CO2 levels are rising at an accelerating rate there is no evidence to support the idea that this will cause temperatures to rise by 2 Kelvin or more as stated by several of the self described “Experts”.

    As I have told you before, Mother Nature has a wicked sense of humor so she is making liars out of your experts by refusing to let temperatures rise for 18 years and counting.

    Please accept my apologies for not commenting here lately. My teaching load has risen in the way global temperature was supposed to.

    {Response from EPG: Galloping, while peer reviewed science has historically provided our best predictions of what Mother Nature does, personal opinions have not been so useful. If you had some of the former and not just the latter – we might be inclined to take your comments seriously.

    Also, note that the relation between T and CO2 is now not just one of “correlation” but has recently also been shown to be one of “causation”, by which higher CO2 causes higher T – just as higher T also causes higher CO2, of course. This new insight, called the “missing link”, was explained in one of my March 2015 posts}.

  4. Surprisingly, Airplanes More Energy Efficient Than Cars
    In fact, unless you drive a car that gets 33.8 gallons per mile (or carry more than one passenger), new airplanes coming off the assembly line are more fuel-efficient, according to researchers at University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute.

    “Fuel economy must improve 57% (from the current average of 23.8 mpg) in order for light-duty vehicles to match the current energy efficiency of commercial airline flights,” notes Michael Sivak at University of Michigan. The option is for cars to carry at least 2.3 people, up from 1.38 today. That could happen given the trend toward car-sharing and ride-sharing.

    [John, You left out an important point. Air travel even to distant places is so quick and convenient that those who can afford it do not just take that one trip. They travel again and again and again. It one have to take that trip by the slower means, they would be less likely the make that trip again, and again, and again. That is they would plan their trips more carefully and cover more bases with each one – as we used to in the “good old days”. ]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: