More Than Just a ‘School of Mines,’ CSM Is a Major Player in Climate Research

The Colorado School of Mines, with its historic connection to fossil fuel and mineral extraction, would seem an unlikely place for a high-level pursuit of the transition from a world powered by fossil fuels to a world of clean energy, but that’s exactly what I have observed.

Even the Petroleum Engineering Department downplays petroleum extraction in its web page with the following opening lines: “As human standards of living rise, so does energy and resource consumption. Hydrocarbon energy will continue to dominate energy usage, and other non-hydrocarbon resource development, such as geothermal and subsurface resource acquisition and development, will continue to grow in importance.”

The spring 2022 edition of Mines Magazine had a major article with the headline, “Oil and gas engineers are the key to the energy transition.”

Back in February 2017, the Faculty Senate adopted a Climate Change Statement. Central to CSM’s commitment to addressing climate change is its Global Energy Future Initiative (GEFI) related to the university’s tagline, “Earth, Energy, Environment,” with a focus on Low Carbon and Renewable Energy, Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage, and Clean Water Innovations, in addition to Minerals & Metals, Supply Chain Transparency, and Oil & Gas.  Under “Oil & Gas,” the GEFI web page talks about “Designing interdisciplinary research focused on the science, engineering and policy of oil and gas in the net-zero energy future” (emphasis added)

While there is a commitment to continued extraction of oil and gas, including hydraulic fracturing, I’m impressed by the recognition that saving our planet depends on transitioning from oil and gas to other forms of energy that reduce or eliminate greenhouse gas emissions.

I have received the email newsletter of CSM’s Payne Institute for Public Policy for several years and have been impressed at the variety and depth of the research which it is working on with regards to climate change.

To give a sense of the depth and breadth of its research, the August 2022 email newsletter from the Payne Institute has the following headlines about different research projects, each with a detailed paragraph and a link to further information on the CSM website:

> New Winners, New Losers – Toward a New Energy Security

> Declaring a Climate Emergency Won’t Save the Planet — Energy Security Could

> Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage in the New Inflation Reduction Act

> Scrap, Sell, Auction or Repurpose? What’s the Best Business Model for Coal Plant Closure?

> How Energy Subsidy Reform Can Drive the Iranian Power Sector Towards a Low-Carbon Future

> Making Carbon Offset Disclosure Align with Climate Value

> Clearing the Non-Technical Hurdles for Carbon Capture & Sequestration

> Interest Group Power and the Passage of Nigeria’s Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) – A Multiple Streams Approach

> Tackling Ripple Effects of Renewable Energy on Mineral Supply Chain

> The Net-Zero Industry Tracker

I suggest that you Google “Colorado Schools of Mines Climate Change,” as I did, to see the many elements of CSM’s commitment to net zero energy research, climate change, and even on-campus sustainability. You’ll be impressed.

My fellow MIT alumni would never forgive me if I concluded this article without pointing out that our alma mater is equally committed to these issues and topics of research. For example, under its Climate Grand Challenges initiative, the Institute selected 27 teams as finalists from a field of nearly 100 initial proposals, representing 90 percent of MIT departments and involving almost 400 MIT faculty, senior researchers, and external collaborators. On April 11five teams with the most promising concepts were announced as multi-year flagship projects that will receive additional funding and support to develop, implement, and scale their solutions rapidly.

Were Last Week’s “Climate Strikes” Enough of a Wake-up Call on Climate Change?

We can thank Al Gore for educating us about global warming, but I wish a non-politician such as Carl Sagan had performed that service. I can’t think to any other scientific research which became partisan in a similar way.

Remember CFCs and the ozone hole? It wasn’t a partisan issue. The issue was addressed quickly in a bi-partisan manner.

It was meteorologists, not politicians, that taught us about El Nino and La Nina—the cyclical events in which changes in ocean temperature create weather patterns affecting our entire continent. No one has said El Nino is not real.  It is accepted science — like climate change.

It’s only because Al Gore introduced us to the “inconvenient truth” about climate change that his teachings were disputed and rejected as left-wing propaganda by those on the right. How sad, how unfortunate, and how deadly the consequences.

Last Friday I attended the “Climate Strike” event on the Colorado School of Mines campus and watched news coverage of bigger events around the world.  I’m 72 now, and, yes, the climate will worsen before I die. But those under 40 and certainly those under 20 are seeing the early effects of global warming and worry that their world will be unlivable by the time they’re my age.  For them, it’s a huge crisis.

Back in June, I attended my 50th reunion at M.I.T, during which there was a Technology Day symposium on climate change. One of the speakers, Prof. Noelle Selin, told us that the global concentration of carbon dioxide was 325 parts per million when we graduated in 1969, but now it was 410 ppm. She made us think about those who graduated in 2019 (who she dubbed “the Class of 410 ppm”) and speculated on the class that would be graduating at their 50th reunion. “Will it be the Class of 600 ppm or the Class of 700 ppm?” she asked. And what will life be like for them at their 50th reunion?

It was a sobering presentation. And you can be sure that it was even more sobering for the Class of 2019 and for M.I.T. students who have yet to graduate.  To view her 19-minute presentation, click here.

The impact on real estate — and national security — is apparent when you consider all the “climate refugees” who are likely to migrate from heavily impacted areas such as the Bahamas, Florida, Houston — and Syria, where drought, as much as civil war, contributed to the exodus of Syrians to Europe. Indeed, over a decade ago the U.S. Defense Department labeled climate change a threat to national security. You can understand why.  I do.

The headline of my column on Jan. 14, 2014 was, “We May Have Already Passed the Tipping Point on Climate Change.” That statement was based on the already dramatic reduction in summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, as documented by the Earth Policy Institute at Rutgers. I published their chart showing a correlation between the increase in atmospheric CO2 from 300 to 400 ppm since the Industrial Revolution, and the 50% loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic between the late 20th Century and 2013. 

The reason loss of sea ice creates a tipping point for our climate is that sea ice, being white, reflects sunlight, whereas open ocean, being dark, absorbs sunlight, causing more ice to melt and to melt faster. A warmer Arctic region in turn upsets weather patterns worldwide.

Almost six years have passed since I wrote that column, and now the Arctic Ocean is open and navigable for part of the summer. We have learned the term “polar vortex” and experienced the effects of wilder than normal fluctuations of the jet stream. Warmer oceans in the tropics have caused stronger, slower hurricanes, causing 100-year floods to become frequent, as we have already seen in Houston. These effects were already happening back in 2012 with superstorm Sandy in New York and New Jersey and even here in Colorado with the heavy rains and flooding of Sept. 2013.

Unfortunately, we have a president who will never admit he was wrong, so he will never admit that climate change is real, that it is exacerbated by CO2 emissions, and that the only hope, if there is any this late in the game, of reducing the impacts of climate change is to drastically reduce the output of greenhouse gases like CO2 and methane. Instead, inaction on climate change, and worse, may be this president’s #1 legacy.  How sad.