Can We Solve Weather Woes?

If this is global warming, we need to work faster to cut fossil fuel usage

Was the drought the product of global warming? Did human action cause this? Or was it just part of Mother Nature's grand plan?

Iowa State Meteorologist Elwynn Taylor has been asked those questions more than once this year, and he answers them like an economist: Yes… and no.

"The climate, on its own, does a lot of changing," he says. "The weather we have today is a lot like it was 30 years ago, so in some respects this is part of a cycle. But people are doing enough in this world that there is some impact on climate, and we ought to correct those things."

A little history may be in order. Freon gas was developed in 1928, and considered a miracle compound because it was non-toxic and could replace the deadly methyl chloride used in refrigerators at the time. Frigidaire held the first patent. In just a few years refrigerators with Freon became standard in household kitchens.

As society began to use more and more Freon, scientists in the '70s began to notice holes in the ozone, that atmospheric layer that protects us from harmful ultraviolet light in the stratosphere. Then scientists discovered Freon was building up in the atmosphere. They began to connect the two developments.

"We knew we had to put a stop to it," says Taylor.

An international treaty called the Montreal Protocol went into effect 25 years ago phasing out numerous substances known to cause ozone depletion. This included "R22," or Freon, now prohibited for use in new air conditioning equipment. It is scheduled for complete ban by 2020. A refrigerant called 410A is environmentally sound and won't deplete the ozone layer.

"We now don't let Freon go in the atmosphere," says Taylor. Eventually, the atmosphere will cure itself - in about 150 years."

The second global warming test is less easy to solve. We have doubled the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels for energy, explains Taylor. "As long as we're burning fossils faster than the earth can create new fossils, carbon dioxide will get higher," he says.

One way to reduce carbon in the atmosphere: use more renewable energy, such as biofuels.

"There's a lot of debate on this," he says. "But, we did something about one, we need to do something sensible about the other, like generate energy from another source. We could get it from biofuels. And corn will be the most likely source of biofuels at least through 2040."

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