NEWS

Planet Earth burning up at dangerous rate

Climatic changes are undoubtedly and unfortunately extremely difficult to reverse. Even if greenhouse gas emissions are restricted to current levels, the temperature will continue to rise. In Greece, despite poor prospects and international commitments, we are doing very little to avert the worst. Dimitris Lalas, who is the director of the national Observatory of Athens and in charge of drafting a national program to control greenhouse gas emissions, says that if things continue at the current rate, by 2010 the emissions of these gases in Greece will be 45 percent higher than in 1990. Lalas was speaking at a recent press conference after an ice-cream company made the decision to replace its refrigerator trucks with others that do not harm or overheat the atmosphere, a move supported by the environmental organization Greenpeace. «All scientific predictions show that, within the next 100 years, the Earth’s average temperature will rise,» said Lalas. The most conservative estimates predict a 1.5 degree Celsius rise in average temperatures, while others say it could be as high as 5.5 degrees. Lalas explained, however, that even if the conservative estimates are confirmed, there will be huge changes on the planet. Rising temperatures are chiefly due to the increase in greenhouse gas emissions connected to human activities, such as energy production and transport and, above all, the automobile. It is certain that we produce more greenhouses gases as more people acquire higher standards of living and therefore consume more energy. According to the Kyoto Protocol, Greece has the right to increase its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2010, but already these have increased by 23 percent. Also at the press conference, Ioannis Palaiokrassas, a former EU environment commissioner, said it would be enough to halt the operation of two lignite-burning power plants in order to have a considerable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. «On the other hand, although the environmental cost is enormous, only recently was a reduction in automobile tax announced,» he said. Nevertheless, a number of small steps, such as using different technology in commercial refrigerators and the use of hydrocarbons as a cooling gas, could make a considerable improvement. The cooling gases that used to be used in refrigerators (freon), caused major damage to the ozone layer. The hydrofluorocarbons HFCs that replaced them do not damage the ozone layer but, unfortunately, just one molecule of these substances is about 1,300 times stronger as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Hydrocarbons, on the other hand, which are no longer used as a refrigerant in 60 percent of household refrigerators on the market, are safe for the environment.