The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, December 10, 1997 - 7
researchers turn attention to global warming
By Sam Stavis
Daily Staff Reporter
While global warming continues to capture
the spotlight as a hot international topic,
University researchers are quietly forming their
own theories on global warming's environmental
effects, and problems that will be encountered as
,rns try to combat its damaging conse-
The basic cause of global warming is the
increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the earth's
atmosphere, said University biologist James
"CO2 is rising in the atmosphere at an
unprecedented rate, Teeri said. "It has gone up
30 percent since the start of the Industrial
This increase of CO, and other artificial
'k s in the atmosphere has been accompanied
by a worldwide increase in temperature, Teen
"it is clear that the temperature has risen over
the last century, and it is likely that CO, and
other manmade gases have contributed," he
Teeri and other University researchers have
discovered an unexpected result of the
increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere -
one that could have serious effects: "Elevated
CO2 changes how green plants grow," Teed
Teen's research has shown that green plants
grown in high levels of CO2 are larger but have
much less nutritional value in their leaves.
Herbivores that eat these energy-deficient
plants - as well as the predators that eat these
herbivores -grow smaller, producing a chain
reaction throughout the entire global ecosys-
tem. The full impact of this discovery is not yet
The simple solution to global warming and
other related issues is to reduce carbon emis-
sions, but this is easier said than done. In order
to reduce carbon emissions, nations have to
stop burning conventional fossil fuels, and
increase the usage of cleaner alternative fuel
"The major difficulty is that trying to cut
greenhouse gas emissions involves dealing
with all the things that are central to our
growth," said political science Prof. Harold
Jacobson said all sources of greenhouse
gases, including cars, factories and many oth-
ers, must be altered in order to reduce emis-
"We have to change all of those," Jacobson
said. "It goes to the heart of (our society)."
But the switch from fossil fuels to alternative
fuel sources is fraught with uncertainties.
Nations planning to cut carbon emissions by
reducing the amount of fossil fuels they burn
have to account for several unknowns. For
instance, no one knows the exact number of
world fossil fuel reserves, and how long they
will last. Also, the world cannot depend on
cleaner alternative fuel sources that do not yet
exist, such as nuclear fusion and fuel cell tech-
To make matters worse, many nations plan-
ning to cut carbon emissions are not taking these
uncertainities into account.
In an effort to account for all possible situa-
tions, Industrial and Operations Engineering
Prof. John Birge has developed a model for the
economic effects of reducing carbon emmis-
Birge's model incorporates the uncertainties
involved in switching from conventional to
alternative energy resources, such as the
remaining amount of global fossil fuel
reserves, and the rate of development of fusion
and fuel cells.
"We can't base policy on best guesses," Birge
"It is clear that the
risen over the last
- James Teen
said. "The effect of plugging in your best guess
can be almost catastrophic."
Birge calculated that in the United States,
the cost of ignoring the uncertainty involved
in reducing carbon emissions would be about
two percent of the U.S. economy, or billions
"Our policy has to be pretty broad," Birge
said. "We can't invest in any one thing."
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MUSIC INDUSTRY: bookin aency seeis
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NEED HELP WITH YARD work- moving
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RESEARCH DATA COLLECTION &
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Apply in person, weekdays 8:30 a.m. - 5:30
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RESEARCH INTERVIEWERS Full and
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The Michigan Daily