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Every generation various portions of the human race appear to suffer a mass hallucinatory event. Most are quite innocuous like the South Sea Island Bubble, Tulip Mania or Reds under the bed. Even to the Malthusian Catastrophe prediction of the Reverend Thomas Malthus circa 1800AD. Some are tragic, like burning witches. Others can prove expensive, especially to the most vulnerable members of our society. That is how I consider the Warmist absurdity.
Take note. I am not talking about pollution by organic substances like pesticides or herbicides. Those pollutants should be heavily taxed. I am just concerned below with atmospheric Carbon Dioxide levels.
I am aware that Carbon Dioxide (Hence called "CO2") is a "greenhouse gas". Like the glass of a greenhouse, CO2 is transparent to electromagnetic radiation in the 400 to 700 NM electromagnetic wavelength band. (visible light) And, like glass, it is opaque to longer wavelengths (infra red aka "heat radiation"). This means that it allows light from the Sun to reach the ground, then the CO2 absorbs the reflected (as heat) radiation that is retransmitted and warms up. So let me concede that the global temperature might rise a few degrees if the CO2 concentration rises. And that as a result the sea level might rise by up to a meter over the next 85 years. Oh yes. And that the weather might get wilder.
I am a long time commenter on Global Warming. My most recent comment was in January 2014. As long ago as March 2005 I predicted the effect of global warming on the "Roaring Forties" (I suggested they would become the "Howling 45's"). Recent research by ANU (reported in SMH May 11 2014 as "Wilder Winds, less rain, as Roaring Forties become Furious Fifties") has essentially confirmed my prediction.
My technical credentials obviously do not match up with those of Suzanne Carey, Professor in the “Molecular Genetics of Cancer Division”???? at the Walter and Elizabeth Hall Institute or with those of Distinguished “Professor of Economics”???? at ANU Ross Garnaut. Nor do I have an enthusiastic ABC or FOX hanging out for any crumbs I might wish to scatter.
My qualifications are more mundane. I am not a Professor or a cancer researcher or an economist. I am a Mechanical Engineer and have modeled the atmospheric boundary layer (roughly the winds up to about one kilometer) in a wind tunnel. Mechanical Engineers are primarily concerned with heat engines and moving machinery. As such I studied Thermodynamics, Fluid Mechanics, Chemistry of various fuels, Materials Technology, Mechanics. And other similar stuff. Engineers describe the atmosphere as a "heat engine".
I have two issues with the warmist alarmists. One is a comparative costof their solution. The other is, do we really want to cool down the planet?
What would be the cost if we converted all our coal and gas to renewable resources?
The "World Factbook" estimates that in 2011 the world used 22 trillion KWH of electricity per annum. The graph below is from wikipedia. Electricity by coal costs between 0.04 and 0.08 Euros/KWH, so let us take the mean value of 0.06 Eu/KWH. Large scale PV (PhotoVoltaic) electricity mean cost is 0.095 Eu/KWH and less expensive wind onshore (If you don't mind the noise) mean cost is 0.075 Eu/KWH. Multiplying the difference between power cost (0.085 and 0.06 = 0.025Eu/KWH) by world consumption of 22 trillion KWH gives a very conservative estimate of the extra cost we pay to use renewables, which comes to US $800 billion p/a. That was about 1% of GWP (Gross World Product) in 2011.
That number is conservative because I have not included a "power storage" cost. Coal power is flexible. If everyone switches on their air conditioners or heaters, then just feed the furnace more coal. But if you rely on sunlight or wind, where can you get that power for your heater on a still, cold night? The answer is, you need power storage. Currently the best option is a hydro scheme, where you pump water uphill when there is surplus electricity, and use hydro power on those cold windless nights.
As for petrol (aka "gas" for our American audience). The world uses about 90 million bbl/day at a current cost of about $100/bbl, which translates to around 5 trillion litres at 64c/litre. Carbon & hydrogen fuels have a far greater energy density than other forms of storage, so let us consider substitution of the "green" fuel ethanol. It takes around 2 Kg of grain (say wheat) to make a litre of ethanol, and wheat currently costs about 33c/Kg. However Ethanol has only 75% of the energy value of petrol. So replacing petrol with ethanol would cost an extra 18c/litre equivalent, or another $900 billion/pa
So replacing Coal and Oil with renewable fuels would very conservatively cost the world an extra $1.7 trillion p/a.
What are the costs if we do not stop the greenhouse warming?
OK so we might lose a few habitats containing unique flora and fauna. I would suggest creating artificial environments, or finding a new locale. At the very least the chance of reconstitution at some future date could be assured by preserving genetic samples.
Another cost much cited is damage by rising sea levels. The warmist website "Climate Central" contains an estimate that in the next hundred years about 2.6% of the world's population will be living in areas that are at risk from regular flooding. (They do not subtract current flood prone areas in Holland, Bangladesh etc. which might well include 2.3% of the world's population.)
The Dutch have been building Dykes to hold back the ocean for centuries. Currently, 17% of the Netherlands is below sea level. Sure, building dykes is an expense. But they are only needed in some locations, and are those few dykes going to cost more each year than the combined annual GDP of Turkey and Indonesia (which come to less than $1,700 billion)?
The only other cost mentioned by the warmists is inclement (windier) weather. My solution is, make the building codes more stringent.
I very much doubt that the amortised cost of all those changes would exceed $1,700 billion p/a.
So the cost of switching to renewable fuels is 2% of world GDP forever.
Do We Really Want to Cool Down the Planet?
One thing that warmists do not mention is Ice Ages and Glacial/Interglacial periods. Ice ages are very infrequent, and very dangerous. It is thought that during at least one Ice Age there was Ice at sea level at the equator.
Glacial periods are what our planet has experienced about 90% of the time for the last thousand millennium. Right now we are at the end of a short warm (aka "interglacial") period that has lasted 10,000 years. That followed a period of 100,000 years during which the global temperature averaged 6 Deg C lower than now. If history repeats we can expect a drop in world temperatures of around 6 Deg C over the next few centuries.
Below are graphs from wikipedia (Major ice ages). The data is from sedimentary and Vostok Ice cores. Lake Vostok is in Antarctica, and is a water lake under around 4,000 meters of ice. The first graph shows temperature fluctuations over the last five million years. That is about when Mammals first appeared on our planet.
Take some time to look and think about the graph below. That horizontal line labelled "0" on the left hand scale is our current world temperature. You will notice that five million years ago the average world temperature was around 1-2 Deg. C warmer than it is today. You will also notice that the average temperature over the last million years was about 4C lower than it is now, and that it dipped as much as 8C below what it is now. Nobody is sure what causes the oscillations in world temperature, but looking at that huistorical graph, I am more worried about global freezing than I am about global warming.
The three graphs below have a much shorter timescale than the one above, and have greater detail. They cover a period of only one million years.
You will note that we are coming to the end of a rather short warm period during which the planetary average temperature was high. (top graph below, extreme RH side.) The last 10,000 years have been unusually warm. You can see from the top graph that if nature is allowed to take it's normal cyclic course, you could expect your local temperatures to drop by as much as 8 C (that's about 15 F for Americans) over the next few centuries, and it will (if history repeats) remain at that low point for the next 90,000 years. Cities like London, Berlin and New York could well become uninhabitable. Countries like Canada and most of Northern Europe and half of the USA would be riddled with glaciers. The Derwent river (In Tasmania) could well become a glacier.
As stated above, astronomers are undecided as to the cause of the Glacial-Interglacial cycle. Wikipedia cites Malkovitch as suggesting that the earths precession is to blame. A more recent theory is that there is a shift in the internal magnetic field of the Sun. Any effect would only need to alter the surface temperature of the Sun by as much as 10C - 20C. That might not sound like very much, when the Sun's temperature is estimated at 5776K. However the radiation energy transmitted by the Sun is the fourth power of Temperature. A 20C decrease in the Sun's temperature will produce a 1.4% decrease in the energy falling on the earth. That should be more than enough to bring on an ice age.
In summary, personally, I vote that we keep the Carbon Dioxide levels high. The temperature graph above looks to me like a bistable situation. If we tip Earth into the cold option, it might not be so easy to return it to the warm option. This is because
Once there is lots of ice and snow on the ground, Earth's albedo (reflectivity) rises and much more of the warmth of sunlight gets reflected straight back into space, thus further cooling our planet. This effect where a change produces effects that accelerate the change is known to engineers as a "positive feedback loop".
As the oceans cool, the solubility of gas (especially Carbon Dioxide) in the oceans increases. This effect would be most marked in the larger areas of ocean available in the lower latitudes. As a result photosynthesis would become more active and over a wider area, which would accelerate the reduction of the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, which would in turn accelerate global cooling to again produce a cooling positive feedback loop. This effect can clearly be seen in the graph of CO2 concentration (green graph) above, where the concentration of CO2 diminishes as the world temperature falls and photosynthesis in the oceans becomes more widespread.
On the other hand, I do not believe that an increase of 5C warned of by the alarmists will produce the catastrophic consequences predicted by economist Stern, or the selected reviewers of the IPCC, or Suzanne Carey, Professor in the Molecular Genetics of Cancer Division at the Walter and Elizabeth Hall Institute or with those of Distinguished Professor of Economics at ANU Ross Garnaut. Even the direst predictions only warn of increased flooding for less than 1% of the world population, or for a few extra deaths from heat in the tropics (with no mention of the lives saved from freezing in arctic zones, or the lives saved by a faster increase of GWP (Gross World Product). As can be seen from the "five million year" graph, temperatures 3C higher than are current existed during the early Pliocene, when the earliest precursors to humans (Australopithecus and homo habilis) first appeared.
I suspect that our climate scientists have not properly modeled the effect of an increased CO2 concentration on photosynthesis. Greater photosynthesis would accellerate the fixing of CO2 and serve as a negative feedback mechanism on warming.
I live in a warm country, I do not fancy having my descendants living in an ice environment.
Earlier Barvennon blogs on the environment can be found here:
Climate Change January 2014.