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Personal action key in global-warming fight, Purdue prof tells climate-change conference

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (The Catholic Moment) — Like it or not, Americans are largely responsible for global warming. They form 4.5 percent of the world’s population, but they produce 25 percent of the carbon dioxide.

Climate change is threatening the planet, and every person can do something about it, says Kirk Alter, a Purdue University expert. He spoke at the second session of the “Climate Change 101: Creation Cries for Justice” series on April 9 at St. Thomas Aquinas Church.

The three sessions were sponsored by the Social Concerns Ministry at the church.

Individual action is critical, Alter said. He cited these suggestions: Walk. Ride a bike or a bus. Switch to fluorescent light bulbs. Conserve electricity. Eat less meat. Drive a more energy-efficient car. Consider moving back into town. Use political clout to force lawmakers to create incentives needed to develop renewable energy sources.

“There will be new technologies,” Alter told the crowd of approximately 50. “When challenged, the American people tend to respond in times of natural crisis. We need to get mobilized. This is a time of natural crisis.”

“I liked him,” said Tom Kessens, a St. Thomas Aquinas parishioner. “I’m interested in different technologies. We’re the problem. Like Pogo said, ‘I met the enemy, and he is me.’”

The coal, hard facts

Coal, oil and natural gas create pollution, and they’re in limited supply. Half of the electricity in the United States — and 90 percent of the electricity in Indiana — comes from coal-fired power plants. But strip mining often destroys the landscape and creates water pollution. Burning coal pollutes the atmosphere.

It takes a pound of coal to create enough electricity to light 10 light bulbs for an hour, or run an air-conditioner for 15 minutes. The power consumed in the average American home requires five tons of coal each year.

Alter, who worked in construction in California for 21 years, is associate professor of building construction management and a member of the Purdue Climate Change Research Center. He is an expert on sustainable development and construction, environmental systems and “green” building.

The United States has enough coal to last 150 to 250 years, he said, but “I’m not a ‘clean-coal’ proponent … it comes with terrible environmental costs.” He added that the huge supplies available “allow us to be lazy in coming up with solutions” to U.S. reliance on fossil fuels.

Climate change is attracting more attention in Church circles. The Vatican’s nuncio to the United Nations recently told the U.N. that debate about global warming has “helped put into focus the inescapable responsibility of one and all to care for the environment.”

The nuncio, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, said that consumers “must be aware that their consumption patterns have direct impact on the health of the environment.”

In February, Bishop John Kirby, chairman of the Irish bishops’ overseas aid agency, Trocaire, said that the world’s richest countries should be taxed to help ease the effects of global warming on the world’s poorest countries.

“Developing countries haven’t caused global warming, but the world’s poorest people are left to cope with the consequences for three reasons,” he said. “They live in areas that are seeing the biggest impact of global warming; they depend heavily on the weather for their livelihoods, and they are already living in poverty, therefore they are less able to cope with the impacts of these climate changes.”

Personal habits must change

According to the United Nations, recorded natural disasters over the last decade have tripled since the 1970s, Bishop Kirby said, and if greenhouse emissions continue at their present rate, Africa will experience major crop failures and water shortages.

All countries must tackle the problem of climate change, he said, but rich industrialized nations “bear particular responsibility for action.”

Alter said that as a people, Americans lack the political will needed to realistically address the issue of global warming. He encouraged more activism.

The number of solar cells and wind farms is increasing, but 2006 was the fifth hottest year since record-keeping began in 1880. U.S. meat consumption remains enormous, despite the fact that livestock production accounts for 20 percent of global greenhouse emissions.

“You can ‘eat down the food chain’ and still eat meat, just less meat,” Alter said.

Contractors are building more energy-efficient buildings, but the world’s population continues to increase. That means that personal habits also must change to affect energy consumption.

Americans, especially, must reexamine their values. “We have to change us,” Alter said.

Compact fluorescent bulbs, for instance, use 25 percent of the power consumed by an incandescent bulb, and they last 10 times longer. Wind energy provides electricity cheaply. Photovolaic panels are becoming more popular and allow sunlight to be used for water heating and home heating. In Europe, drivers of electric cars can pull into “battery exchange” stations for fresh batteries.

Most importantly, Alter said, “We need to look at ourselves. Knock off a kilowatt tomorrow. Walk somewhere and not drive. That will make a change.”


This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of The Catholic Moment (, official publication of the Diocese of Lafayette, Ind.



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1 - 1 of 1 Comments

  1. Sam
    6 years ago

    Wasn't it the same bunch of "chicken littles" trying to scare us in the 70's with a "nuclear freeze"?

    The climate has been cooling since 1998. I guess the prophets of "gloom n doom" will have to switch back to the "nuclear freeze" apocalypse.

    Honestly, this hyped hoax is all about bigger government and less individual freedom.

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