First thoughts on conservation

The first time I was made aware of conservation as a concept was in 1973. I had just finished my stint with the Army and the news was of long gas lines and the Arab Embargo, with oil prices quadrupled.

That was quite something to witness. Cars of those days averaged 10 miles per gallon, many worse. I can remember the family station wagon was lucky to get 10 mpg on the highway. City driving was far worse.

Soon, frightened consumers were trading in their big cars for smaller, more efficient ones, and governments talked of conservation. Legislation was proposed to mandate higher fuel efficiencies. These were the first words I remember about conservation.

There were plenty of howls at the idea of consuming less. And for what? Certainly not climate change. Not back then.

In fact, at that time, we were supposedly heading into the next ice age.

Decades prior, the Serbian mathematician Milutin Milankovitch had explained how our world warms and cools on roughly 100,000-year cycles due to its slowly changing position relative to the Sun. Milankovitch’s theory suggested Earth should be just beginning to head into its next ice age cycle. That didn’t happen.

Earlier predictions had suggested the opposite.

In 1967, Russian climatologist Mikhail Budyko published a paper predicting the planet would begin warming due to rising human emissions of carbon dioxide. Budyko’s paper, and another paper published in 1975 by Veerabhadran Ramanathan, pointed out that human-made chlorofluorocarbons (or CFCs) are particularly potent greenhouse gases, with as much as 200 times the heat-retaining capacity of carbon dioxide. Because people were adding CFCs to the lower atmosphere at an increasing rate, Ramanathan expressed concern that these new gases would eventually add to Earth’s greenhouse effect and cause our world to warm. (Because CFCs also erode Earth’s protective ozone layer, their use was mostly abolished in 1989 with the signing of the Montreal Protocol).

Unfortunately, it was too little too late. Just ask the folks down under who now live under a CFC generated hole that burns their skins, and where SPF 50 is the lowest level of sunscreen protection available.

But I digress from our story.

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