What I’m watching

So, what I have to report on, has to do almost exclusively with climate change/global warming, decarbonization and greenhouse gas emissions. And, the shows that I’m watching and are of particular note, have all been aired on the Public Broadcasting Service, or PBS, and these are A Brief History of the Future (produced and narrated by Ari Wallach), Energy Switch (hosted by Scott Tinker an energy scientist) and the re-airing of the three-part PBS NOVA series Making North America, originally broadcast in 2015. That’s not all I’m watching of course, but it is what I’m viewing that has to do with science and the environment and, by extension, the atmosphere.

I feel it’s important to do a “What I’m watching” report from time to time because, by my watching these shows, I’m learning new things, or constructs, that I believe are important to expanding my horizons, if you will, my knowledge base, important in my gaining a deeper understanding about the environment in which I, we all live.

Okay, so I’ll start with A Brief History of the Future. The title is nothing if not interesting.

As I see it, this series is about how our world is being shaped and what, as humans, we accomplish now could, if not will, shape the future and future life on Earth. Two of the items covered that I thought were both valuable and very interesting were sustainable building and sustainable packaging.

The sustainable building part first. This all had to do with 3-D printable structures. Showed was how in working with local, natural resources went into home construction/production. And what I felt was most interesting about this particular process was that an entire home could be built in just a couple of weeks’ time from start to finish. But, it isn’t just this: Comparatively speaking, there is very little waste. I forget what was said regarding the number of unhoused people there are living in the U.S., but this method of home building could potentially address at least some of the homelessness situation.

As for sustainable packaging, the has implications both far and wide. The type of packaging material profiled was made from a type of mushroom. And, it is made to break down, or disintegrate, into the environment over time. Use of such material would allow us to move away from the use of non-bio-degradable substances such as plastic and styrofoam.

Of course, this isn’t all that is covered in the A Brief History of the Future series, but items I chose to highlight are definitely worth mentioning. This series has been airing on the local PBS station on Friday afternoons at 4 p.m.

Up next. Energy Switch. The show, a panel discussion and moderated by energy scientist Scott Tinker, is sponsored by the University of Texas at Austin.

I’ve been watching this half-hour-long show for quite a while now. It airs on the local PBS affiliate at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesdays. Tinker always has esteemed, knowledgeable guests on the show. And, of course, all of the discussion centers on energy.

Of all of the episodes I’ve watched, I find the two-parter dealing with industry decarbonization to be the most informative. Areas of concern are cement- and steel-making (part 1) and agriculture and petroleum/plastics (part 2). What was most revealing about these industries, where decarbonization of them is concerned, is that the processes employed to reduce the amount of carbon that’s generated via each of these sources, comes with their own drawbacks whether it has to do with costs involved, available technologies and inputs or fuel supplies used in these industries like limestone which has been the input or main ingredient in making cement. From what I remember hearing, in heating, limestone releases CO2. And, the trick is to find alternative inputs that are far less carbon rich or carbon dense and/or capture (and store or reuse) the CO2 before it enters the air. The same situation presents itself whether it has to do with growing crops (nitrogen), making steel (coal or natural gas used as a coke or iron-ore heating agent) and creating petrochemicals/plastics.

And, finally, a word or two regarding the Making North America series.

It’s not my intent here to get into a whole big discussion on what the series is about. I just want to touch upon a few of the key points as it has to do with human inhabitation in the context of climate change and planet warming. This aspect comes out mostly toward the end of episode 3: Making North America Human.

Narrator Kirk Johnson, a paleo-botanist, is shown driving a car on a Los Angeles-area freeway and is referencing oil and how prevalent in the ground it is there. Johnson also visited the La Brea Tar Pits, formed from decaying matter buried in the subsurface over a period of millions of years. The two — oil and tar — are connected. It is when this oil (and other fossil fuels) which contains carbon is refined into petroleum and then ignited via processes involving internal combustion, that this contributes to increased CO2 amounts and concentrations along with other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that has led to the warming of the air at the Earth’s surface. That is pretty much the note the NOVA series ends on.

Even though I have seen this series before, I don’t mind at all watching it again.

Corresponding, connected home-page-featured image: Wikimedia Commons

— Alan Kandel

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