This news item was created by students Tim Reid, Nick Vaughn, Christine Shank, Todd Manning, Michael Luttrull, and Greg Mueller as part of their Chemistry 210 Semester Project in WS99 under the guidance of Prof. Rainer Glaser.

Glaser's "Chemistry is in the News"
To Accompany Wade Organic Chemistry 4/e.
Chapter 3. Structure and StereoChemistry of Alkanes.

For each of the following questions, please refer to the following article:

E.P.A Says Catalytic Converter Is Growing Cause of Global Warming
by Matthew L. Wald (The New York Times, May 29, 1998)

Editorial Comments

The catalytic converter (see diagram) reduces engine efficiency and creates less fuel efficiency than we could achieve without it, but we accept burning more gasoline to get a cleaner exhaust. In the process we also accept increased emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, causing global warming.  According to the  EPA , the presence of these gases have increased in the atmosphere by 30, 145, and 15 percent, respectively, since 1800.

The only emission-free power plants capable of meeting even current needs are nuclear and hydroelectric, both of which are being blocked by environmental activists. Solar and wind turbines cannot produce enough energy to constitute a viable alternative (and certainly could not handle the additional energy burden of millions of electric cars). Moreover, some  environmental groups complain that wind turbines kill birds and that both wind turbines and solar panels are blights upon the landscape. Relying to a greater extent on coal and natural gas power plants risks releasing more methane and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere-and methane is 60 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Government has to weigh the alternatives. The public expects the best possible air quality at the lowest possible cost. Fossil fuels are currently the least costly, but nuclear and hydroelectric are sound energy sources and emission-free, and the hybrid electric car just introduced by Toyota  is an important interim step until a breakthrough in fuel cells makes the all-electric car a marketable reality.

Quite apart from the ongoing debate over a putative global warming, nuclear and hydroelectric power and hybrid cars are just a few of the many ideas that make good sense and constitute progress.

Pertinent Text References
Chapter 3: Structure and Stereochemistry of Alkanes


Question 1: Why is the production of nitrous oxide considered so bad?  In other words, even though carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas, why is there so much concern about nitrous oxide?  According to Maine's Department of Environmental Protection, what has caused this influx of other pollutants and what solution do they propose?

A:  The experts claim that nitrous oxide is "300 times more potent than carbon dioxide," thus posing more of a problem, especially when one considers the rate at which nitrous oxide emissions are increasing.  Maine's DEP states that the problem sterns from an attempt to deal with pollutants individually rather than comprehensively.  They suggest going with a completely different car design.

Question 2:  The article speaks about nitrous oxide as a greenhouse gas.  What are some of the other greenhouse gases according to the links?

A:  Other greenhouse gases other than NO are CO2, CH4, N2O, HFC's, PFC's, and SF6.

Question 3:  By how may millions of metric tons of carbon equivalent did nitrous oxide emissions rise between 1990 and 1996?

A:  18.0 million tons (take the value of 54.7 million tons in 1996 and substract from it the value of 36.7 million tons in 1990)

Question 4:  Is an electric car a legitimate solution to the greenhouse gas/global warming problem?

A:  Catch-22 because electric car uses energy from a power plant, itself a producer of atmospheric warming gases.

Question 5:  At various times in the past, the oil and automotive industries have shelved new technologies and advancements that improve fuel economy.  In addition, they have bought out privately owned mass transit systems in order to disassemble them.  Is it wise to trust these companies' statements and decisions today, considering their profit oriented motives?

Links Pertaining to Subject Matter:  Phoenix Arizona  , Automobile Emissions: An Overview , Illustration of Global Warming