Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Catch these PBS programs on climate & energy

Today's post is primarily to draw your attention to other stuff -- two fine programs aired on PBS last month (and now available on the web) about climate and energy. Earth: The Operators' Manual aired April 10 on many PBS stations (but not on mine!). NOVA's Power Surge aired on April 20. You don't even need to go off to the program's pages -- they are available for viewing on this very page!

As a plus, unlike many programs about climate and energy, both of these programs are hopeful in their tone and conclusions.

You can watch Earth: The Operators' Manual by clicking below. This program features Penn State climatologist Richard Alley describing the science of climate change in a clear and easy to understand way. Energy use, on various scales, is compared to the number of 100 watt lightbulbs that energy would illuminate. We humans collectively use 15.7 terawatts of energy - 15,700,000,000,000 watts or 157 billion 100 watt bulbs.

The program also draws thoughtful attention to how and why the US military is reducing its use of fossil fuels, the military implications of climate change, and how China is working to reduce its dependency on fossil fuels. It also notes that the city of Houston, TX is the United States' largest municipal purchaser of green energy.

NOVA's Power Surge investigates the way we use energy, how that's changing, where energy comes from, how we can use less of it, and how we can use energy more cleanly. This quote from the opening is good food for thought as you settle in for the program:
Everyone wants it [energy development] somewhere other than their own backyard. Guess what? If you don't solve the problem, your backyard isn't going to look the same anyway.
Central to the program is the discussion of climate wedges -- Stephen Pacala's idea that we need to reduce emissions by7 billion tons of carbon and we can divide that 7 billion into wedges of 1 billion tons each. Wedges include efficiency and solar, for example. We might use multiple efficiency wedges to reach stabilization. A range of technologies and societal changes are explored.

Also included is an interesting way to visualize your carbon footprint -- using tons of compost as a visual aid.

The program raises many interesting points of consideration, one near it's closing, strikes me as especially important as we move ahead in making energy decisions:
One big nuclear plant is the same thing as 3000 big wind turbines and is the same as about 50 square miles of photovoltaics. 
The quote then goes onto end with the one cited above from the beginning of the program. All of these approaches have substantial environmental impacts. Determining which is the worst of the lot makes me like efficiency even more. (Not mentioned here, though, is the idea that those solar panels can go on existing roofs).

Watch the full episode. See more NOVA.

There's overlap between the programs. Both of them substantial attention to efficiency and note that efficiency initiatives are money savers as well as emissions reduction strategies. Both of programs also note that China leads the world in the production of solar panels and at least hint at what that movement means from a political perspective. But the programs have substantial difference as well. And the approaches are different enough that you'll benefit from watching both of them.

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