Posted by: ericgrimsrud | February 9, 2019

My beef with my alma mater illustrates a fatal shortcoming of our country’s colleges

 


 

Unless you and the institutions you represent have been scientifically out to lunch in the last decade, you know very well that:

  • Increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere are causing the heat content and average temperatures of our planet to increase
  • These changes have been occurring continuously and increasingly since the beginning of the Industrial Age – largely due to the combustion of fossil fuels, a process by which geological carbon is converted to its biological forms (CO2 and plants).
  • That new, additional biological carbon does not get converted back into its geological forms for a very long time – it takes millions of years to convert CO2 to limestone and plant material to fossilized carbon.
  • Mankind has not yet discovered a means of removing that excess biological carbon on an industrial scale at a feasible cost.
  • While great advances have been made in the means of energy production by non-polluting alternative methods (such as solar panels and windmills), the atmospheric content of CO2 is still increasing and is doing so at an increased rate each year. It is clear that fossil fuel use is still increasing, not decreasing.
  • In order to have a chance of successfully arresting continued warming for the sake of future generations, we need to reduce CO2 emissions to absolute zero within the next few decades.
  • Given the above information, a central requirement of arresting the advance of additional warming is the elimination of all anthropogenic emissions of CO2 in the next two or three decades. This means the elimination of natural gas, gasoline, diesel fuel, and coal use for providing the energy we require for work, heat, and transportation.
  • These changes have and will continue to cause consternation in many sectors of our economy that have developed a dependency on fossil fuels.
  • Nevertheless, Mother Nature does not give a hoot about the maintenance of our present lifestyles. She does things one way – Her way – in response to the changes we are making in our atmosphere.

So what is my “beef” with St. Olaf College? In their actions and their publications, they do not seem to recognize the list of concerns I posted above. Instead, they seem to be ignoring the calls for aggressive action against global warming. Most egregious of their actions is the fact that they continue to invest in fossil-fuel-related industries. If one wishes to reduce fossil fuel use to zero as rapidly as possible, all investments in the industries that either produce fossil fuels or make extensive use of them must be stopped.

When the President of St. Olaf College was recently asked why they continue to invest in these companies, he offered two reasons. One was that the resources of St.O are too small as to make a difference in the US markets.  In other words, he seems to think what St.O does doesn’t matter.  The other reason he offered was that being invested in the fossil fuel industries provides St.O with a “seat at the table”. Concerning his first reason, he is throwing away his opportunity for leadership on this issue. Concerning his second reason, he is suggesting that the fossil fuel corporations will be receptive to the recommendations of an institution that “talks the talk” better than it “walks the walk”.

Let’s face it. St. Olaf College, like many colleges in the USA, are essentially “business as usual” partners of Corporate America. While they do their best to appear to also be centers of intellectual thought, their inaction on the greatest problem of our times suggests that they are not. They appear to be sitting this one out for fear that their industrial donations might be damaged if they become too active – better to focus instead on civil rights issues that no longer take a lot of courage to endorse.

In closing, one might ask, where are the students, faculty, and alumni of St. Olaf College on the issue of global warming? Have they also been cowed into silence? Do they really believe that their windmills and solar panels allow St.O a pass on participation in the more substantial and possibly more painful changes that will also be required in order to bring emissions to zero in a couple decades? Shouldn’t all fossil-fuel intensive activities sponsored by St.O College be more carefully examined starting right now?


Responses

  1. The primary factors that determine temperature on worlds are TSI (Total Solar Irradiance) and pressure. Gas composition is at best a minor factor. Venus has >97% CO2 compared to 0.04% on Earth yet the temperature ratio at constant pressure is 1.176:

    http://www.drroyspencer.com/2019/01/chuck-todd-devotes-an-hour-to-attacking-a-strawman/#comment-340020


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