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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Forget Climate Change

Do I think the climate is changing?  
Yup.

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

And could the climate change rather quickly?  
Very possibly. It's done so before.

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.  Even more fun, 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. 

*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.

Selling off Our Countries for Fuel
In order to keep our cars and trucks running, we buy huge amounts of crude oil overseas. 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' 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 should do.

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 sad is that if we did this, the demand for oil will drop off, it's price will come down and the incentive to switch to electric cars will be greatly reduced. In fact, just recently I read a piece about 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.

  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 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 shutting us off*. 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**.

* We are also vulnerable to China cutting off our REM's but that is another story.
**I just heard the news (12/12/10) that America has borrowed $700b from China!!!  Jeeessshhh! And now China is about to "invest" 6b in New Zealand!!!!

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 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.

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. 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 sulphur and nitrogen.  It produces p10's (small particles of carbon which are bad for health) and  carbon monoxide. Burning coal releases mercury and far more radioactivity than a similar sized 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 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 estimate that if all the aerosols disappeared, we would have a jump in temperature of about 2 degrees. 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!!!!

For instance 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.

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 it just as westerners did as their pollution reached toxic levels.

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 dumping it into a river valley until you come to the coal. When you finish the first seam, you strip off the next layer of gangue 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 a lot of iron pyrites (FeS) to the air and water. It breaks down 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 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 would also come down. It is just plain silly to burn such a valuable resource when renewables are available and economic*.

*Wind generated electricity is (2010 prices) coming in at around 8.3 cents per Kwhr at present.  Domestic consumers pay around 20c per Kwhr.  Lots of profit at those prices.
 

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. 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

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.

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.

3 comments:

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

Martinez said...

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

heidi

John Brookes said...

Nice - thank you.