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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Forget Climate Change

Do I think the climate is changing?  

Do I think humans are responsible?  
Pretty much. The basic physics is pretty simple*.

And could the climate change rather quickly?  
Very possibly. It's done so before without the help of humans.  The ice record shows that under natural gentle pushes, the climate sometimes flips.

Would this be so bad?  
Sure would!! If climatic zones change and with them the wheat, rice and corn growing zones, we will have epic scale starvation**. Even more fun, when the Arctic ocean becomes ice free, it becomes a massive solar collector. Just watch Greenland melt as  the Arctic becomes more and more ice free each year . Watch the subways of New York and London flood.  More fun still, if enough melting occurs in Greenland in a given year, it could shut down the Gulf Stream and lead to temperatures on the European coast equivalent to the temperatures at the same latitude on the American coast.  That's an irony for you.  Global warming causing severe freezing in Europe.

Of course, then, that heat remains in the south, killing corals and other heat-vulnerable organisms. 
*So is a computer;  just a bunch of switches that are either on or off or if you like a bunch of one's and zero's but look at how complex it gets when you combine them together in various ways.  At the core, climate change is pretty simple but then it gets really really complicated. I can quite sympathize with the doubters.

**Once we had mountains of wheat, butter, eggs etc stored up - a year or two of food for the world.  Now it is down to less than two months.

So what's all this about forgetting climate change?
The fact is that there are a whole raft of other reasons to take the very measure that would also address climate change. You don't believe in climate change?? You don't believe that we are causing it??  Fine!  Lets look at some other reasons to stop using fossil fuel.  Many of these are the very reasons that would appeal to your isolationist, mid west, religious fundamentalist, evangelical, right wing, American politician

Selling off Our Countries for Fuel
In order to keep our cars and trucks running, we, in the 'west', buy huge amounts of crude oil from other countries. Oil flows towards us, money the other way. What do these countries do with this money. They buy up the infrastructure of our countries. They buy up our sea ports and air ports, our businesses, our real estate, wall street and main street. All over the so called 'developed world' and especially in America we are becoming tenants in our own land. All so that we can run our cars when we should be taking public transport. All so we can drive a huge car with boasting rights rather than a smaller car that does everything a car needs to do. All so we can run gas guzzlers instead of electric cars charged from renewable energy or, for that matter, use public transport.

And what else do they do with the money.  They finance radical groups who we call terrorists from our side of the fence, who give us 9/11 and other similar media events.   It is a moot point whether OPEC countries finance the terrs from belief or simply to buy off these groups so that they won't themselves be attacked  but the result is the same.

It's time we stopped being grashoppers and become ants (Aesops Fables).  It's time we got serious about installing wind turbines and solar panels.  It's time we backed down the Car companies and oil companies and insisted on decent reasonably priced electric cars.  What's ironic is that if we do this, the demand for oil will drop off, it's price will come down and the incentive to switch to electric cars will be reduced. In fact, just recently I read an article by one of the Saudi Princes stating that they must keep the price of Crude down so that the world will have no incentive to change to renewables.  At least he understands how the system works. Sorry mate, it is already too late, the transformation has reached the point where it is unstoppable. 

  Anyway, with a typically human lack of foresight we will be flick flacking back and forth from 'buy the electric car' - to - 'buy the petrol car'. It reminds me of the prince in Shreck hopping from one foot to the other, trying to decide which princess to pursue.

Strategic vulnerability
Needing huge quantities of oil to keep our society going, we are very vulnerable to the suppliers or another major power shutting us off. If we are shut off, the west will precipitate yet another war to ensure supply which will guarantee the next generation of terrorists. If all our domestic fleet changed to electric cars running on renewable electricity, we would probably have enough oil internally to power the remaining vehicles which are far harder to power with electricity such as earth moving machinery and large trucks*. For that matter, we could ship most things by electric rail in containers and deliver them locally by electric trucks*. Just think for a moment which countries control our oil supplies. Not the countries we want to hand over our sovereignty to**.

 * Tesla has apparently now come up with an electric truck (end 2019) which is a game changer.  Looks like we could power our mega, long range trucks with electricity.

On the flip side, our lust for oil is causing the bully of the world, the USA, to foment war and depose democratically elected leaders in country after country to keep control of the oil rich areas.  This pushes the people into the arms of radical terrorist groups, often of a religious fundamentalist bent,  and makes it necessary to impose all sorts of measures within our countries that reduce our democratic freedoms.  
Note: Read The Untold History of the United States by Stone and Kuznic

Acidifying the Oceans
Much (~50%) of the carbon dioxide which is being produced is being taken up by the oceans and the sea is not yet in equilibrium with the air.  If we stopped releasing carbon dioxide today, the oceans would still absorb more. The Carbon dioxide is acidifying the oceans. Sea water is buffered system which means it can absorb acid without much change in pH (measure of acidity). However, when the first buffer is used up, a little more Carbon dioxide will rapidly drop the pH. At some point in this rapid drop in pH, aragonite and calcite (two forms of calcium carbonate) will become the buffer and the shells of corals, oysters, clams, pteropods and so forth will start to dissolve.  In a couple of areas of the ocean this process is already under way, caused by natural processes exacerbated by man made Carbon dioxide.
Note: Pteropods serve the same function in many waters as do Krill in the Antarctic.

This will be the beginning of the end of the oceans as we know them. Gone will be whole food chains and shelter for a huge number of animals and their young. Something will take over. There will still the same amount of plankton available - the same amount of sun energy. Who knows. Maybe we will have a sea dominated by jelly fish. The turtles should be happy.  Incidentally, it has already been observed that jelly fish are increasing and this has a double effect.  Jelly fish hoover up large numbers of larvae of other species including of many commercial species.  It's a hugely negative, positive-feed-back system.

Polluting the atmosphere
Our burning of fossil fuels is producing acid rain from the oxides of sulfur and nitrogen.  It produces p10's, and smaller, (small particles of carbon which are bad for health) and  carbon monoxide. Oxides of nitrogen  are another health hazards produced by burning fossil fuel.  Burning coal releases mercury and releases far more radioactivity than a similar electrical capacity nuclear power station. All this causes suffering and medical costs. Phasing out the combustion of fossil fuels would remove much of this pollution. We would still be left with pollution from burning wood and animal dung, mainly in third world countries,  but, in time, perhaps we can replace these with electricity.

Here is another irony for you.

Scientists refer to all the particulate material, solid and liquid,  as aerosols and some estimate are that if all the aerosols disappeared, we would have a jump in temperature of up to 2 degrees C. Aerosols have a life time of weeks in the atmosphere so this effect could happen rather rapidly if we clean up our act. An interesting effect was seen when planes stopped flying for a few days after 9/11. It is ironic that one type of pollution (aerosols) is keeping us from feeling the full effect of the other form of pollution (carbon dioxide).  Now we are talking about engineering a solution!!!!

The idea has been floated of putting a bunch of mini mirrors between us and the sun at one of  the Legrange points.  These need constant renewal.  Just imagine the impact at the next economic crisis when maintaining the Legrange mirrors is cut from the budget and we are at, say, 500ppm Carbon dioxide.

Some ning nong has proposed that we pump sea water on to Arctic ice in the winter to thicken the ice.  Another disastrous proposal and, even if it worked (it wouldn't) what happens at the next economic crisis.

At present Asia is contributing massive amounts of pollution to the atmosphere.  Her crops are failing because of the pollution.  It will be interesting what will happen when she finally cleans up her act.  Her people are beginning to demand action just as westerners did as their pollution reached toxic levels.  In addition, while China has been building massive numbers of coal fired power stations to power her economy, she is also the leader in the world in installing solar and wind generation.  She doesn't want to be dependent on fossil fuel, much of it from the western world so over the next few decades, her pollution could rapidly decrease.

The technology to remove pollutants from smoke stacks has been around since about the 1950's so China only has to decide to clean up their air and it could happen extremely quickly.

Trashing Nature
No need to bring up the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. It is fresh in every one's mind but how about mountain top removal. In parts of the States, this is the preferred method of getting to seams of coal. You strip off the top of the mountain and dump it into a near by river valley until you come to the coal. When you finish the first seam, you strip off the next layer of gangue (waste rock) and dump it into the valley to get to the next seam and so forth.

You could have put wind turbines on the top of the mountain and over time produced more energy than is contained in the coal. The  river valley would have been left in its pristine condition for future generations.

While you are mining this way, you often expose  iron pyrites (FeS) to the air and water. It oxidizes and produces sulphuric acid (H2SO4) which trashes the streams below where you dump the fill.

Using a resource which is far to valuable to burn
Coal and oil as a source of reduced (chemically) carbon are extremely valuable feed stocks for a whole raft of industries. If they were used as feed stocks rather than as fuel, they would last for Millennia instead of decades. The rate of Carbon dioxide production would sharply decrease. With less demand, the price of fossil fuel would come down and along with it, all the products produced from coal and oil.   It is just plain silly to burn such a valuable resource when renewables are available and economic*.

Besides, a low level of Carbon dioxide emissions will likely stave off the next glacial period.  We should be sliding into one of these right now# but our emissions have pushed it far out.  We don't want to waste this valuable defense in one great splurge and then have to sit by while our cities are bulldozed by the next continental glaciers.

*Wind generated electricity is (2010 prices) coming in at around 8.3 cents per kWh at present.  Domestic consumers pay around 20c per kWh.  Lots of profit at those prices. It will only get better year after year.

* An item in the news 23Nov, 2016.  Mexico is putting in a solar electric system that they estimate will bring the price of electricity down to 2.4c per kWh

# Read Richard Alley's book, Earth - The Operators Manual 
    Also Ruddiman's book, Plows, Plagues and Petroleum

Destroying the societies in other countries
Great wealth has a totally disruptive effect on countries. This is sometimes referred to as the resource curse. Nigeria is a case in point. The wealth is fed into these developing countries to the top brass (the mafia) in order to corrupt them and keep them on the side of the exploiting country*. The Mafia uses this wealth to suppress their own people. For instance, despite having no oil, the people in the countries surrounding Nigeria are far better off than the citizens of Nigeria.

*Read Hoodwinked by John Perkins . Also Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.

Propping up the Corporatocracy Which is Trashing our Economies, our Ecology and our chance of survival
Again read Hoodwinked by John Perkins. He says it far better than I could.

Oil is getting more expensive
The price of crude and hence petrol and diesel is going one way. I bet the next peak hits well above the previous $140 per barrel and the next trough is higher than the previous $75 a barrel. At the same time, as we mount the technological curve, renewable are getting cheaper*. Its a no brainer.

*Boy, I got this one wrong - at least in the short term (2015).  OPEC realized that her high oil prices were creating a push toward renewables and has upped the supply of oil to keep prices down.  Just now we have had an announcement of Sanctions being removed from Iran (July 2015) so more oil may enter the market.  Oil is pricing at about $55 per barrel and has been for a number of years. As electric cars take over, the price of oil will be under even more pressure.

The coal industry is highly automated.  There are not many jobs there.  There are far more in the installation and maintenance of solar and wind facilities.  Best of all, the money is going into the hands of the workers, not into the pockets of the fat cats.  If you were a coal worker and exposed to all the carcinogens that you and your family, living near the coal works, are exposed to, wouldn't you rather be retrained to work in a clean outdoor environment.
To secure her energy supplies, The 'West' goes to war.  Not needing hardly any fossil fuels would eliminate these wars.  The results would be: 
*Not sending young men and women into harms way
*Not killing soldiers and civilians of other countries
*Not creating a new tranche of  terrorists
*Not creating a new tranch of refugees
*Not propping up dictatorships in other countries
*Not wasting the wealth of the west on the military when there is a crying need for repairing infrastructure, educating the young, providing good health care and so forth.

Economic Stimulus
It is often ignored by economists (who are likely in thrall to the fat cats) that the best way to stimulate the economy is to get money into the hands of the lowest economic strata of society.  They spend it all just to keep their heads above water. People who are better off, squirrel away extra money so it doesn't enter the economy. Vastly more jobs (and healthy jobs) are created by the installation and maintenance of renewable energy than coal.  Money flows one way, goods and services the other way.

Even if you don't think Global warming is happening or that if it is happening, we are not doing it, it is still worthwhile to slash our use of fossil fuels.


Alex Siliamov said...

Very nice article! If only anybody would accept these obvious facts.
Stop wanting more and more of everything would help too. So that renewable energy wouldn't just be used for the increased (and unnecessary?) consumption.

Greetings from Germany

Unknown said...

Ahhh if only everyone had your clear head! Just remember the world can't end today because its already tomorrow in New Zealand...


J C Brookes said...

Nice - thank you.

Bruce said...

"Using a resource which is far to valuable to burn
Coal and oil are extremely valuable feed stocks for a whole raft of industries. If they were used as feed stocks rather than as fuel, they would last for Millennia instead of decades."

I don't understand this. Could you expand on it a little? What good is coal to an industry if it is not burnt?


William Hughes-Games said...

Reduced carbon (as opposed to oxidized carbon) in coal, oil, wood or any other carbon rich substance is feed stock for manufacturing fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, dyes, plastics and a vast further range of products. It is also use to reduce ores of metals (to combine with the oxygen in iron oxide ores, for instance, to free the iron). Each if these industries releases carbon dioxide, even if it is only in the final disposal of their products but at a vastly slower rate than if burnt for energy. There is the possibility that the remarkably stable climate we have experienced since the end of the last glacial (mistakingly called an ice age in some popular articles) is due to our production of Carbon dioxide. Man, long before the so called modern age has been firing forests, wiping out whole ecologies and in short, buggering up our planet. We are now releasing so much Carbon into the atmosphere that we have not only stopped the slow slide into the next glacial but have reversed the trend and may be heading for a climate similar to what we had before the present ice age, some two and a half million years ago. If reduced, sequestered geological carbon was used as a feed stock for industry, it might just be enough to hold our climate steady and avoid the next ice age while at the same time not sending us into a climate change so severe that much of our present civilization would be wiped out.