Global Warming; The Physics, The Hysteria, The GW Industry and its Politicization
The issue of global warming may be the defining issue for mankind in the 21st century. Since the beginning of history, the story of mankind has been a tale of continuous evolution of isolated hunter-gatherers to the city states of early civilizations in South America, Africa, Asia and Europe. In the middle of the 18th century, Europe, specifically England initiated the harnessing of water power for industrial production accelerated by steam power (from coal) and later by oil & gas. The early technologies spread through the Western world, including North America (which, along with South America had experienced increasing colonization by Europe from the 16th century onwards). Modern societies were encouraged to use increasing amounts of energy to raise living standards from agrarian to industrial levels. The earth was considered both source and sink to support boundless utilization and development of thermal energy. In the late 19th century, though, scientists began to show curiosity in CO2 levels and their impact on climate; scientists being scientists, asked a simple question; what happens if CO2 levels change?
Many engineers, among other scientific and technical professions who are schooled in the practical application of physics, have difficulty in accepting “global warming” and the expository work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC]. The objections include practicality of "global mean temperature" measurement (precision of 0.5 C° mean change, decades span; the "hockey-stick" graph), the role of glaciation and inter-glacials (currently in the Holocene glacial retreat), changes in the earth’s orbit around the sun (Milankovich cycles) and questions of scientific method.
Since engineers and other scientific and technical professions may have equivocal acceptance of the “anthropocentric climate warming” argument, this equivocation bears some examination (from an engineer’s vantage point).
In this essay, we explore background and developments of global warming and climate change defined by the IPCC reports which are comprehensive but, in specifics, can be incomprehensible and inaccessible. This essay will have, due to its brevity, shortcomings and we invite readers to pass along your comments to the author. Helpful comments (those that simply add value to treatment of the issue, invectives are not necessary) will be incorporated into this essay.
Professor Svante Arrhenius
At the close of the 19th century (1896), Professor Arrhenius published a paper, On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground. Carbonic acid was the conventional designation for CO2 at the time. Professor Arrhenius’ findings indicated that both water vapor and carbonic acid i.e., CO2 contributed to atmospheric heating induced by re-radiation of energy from the earth back to Space. This outbound, re-radiated energy was absorbed by molecules of CO2 and H2O causing these molecules to “excite” i.e., incur atomic-scale motion resulting in a temperature increase much like an agricultural green house and hence, colloquially, the “greenhouse” effect and "greenhouse gas" [GHG]. As more molecules present, i.e., their concentration increased, more heating occurred.
To an extent, H2O concentration is considered “fixed”, but nonetheless does vary from desert to ocean tropics; CO2 was historically considered fixed or rather in equilibrium between various producing (e.g., volcanoes, combustion) and removal (e.g., natural sequestration) mechanisms.
The unique result of Arrhenius’ experimentally supported calculations was to calculate a sensitivity in mean earth temperature to changes in atmospheric CO2 concentration; varying this concentraton by ± 50% caused a difference in calculated mean temperature of approximately ± 3.8 Cº between 60º and 70º latitude over continental areas and ± 2.9 Cº over ocean areas. (Yes, we mean Cº since this is a difference in temperature, not the value of temperature on the Celsius scale)
A routine question for 3rd year university engineering students is to duplicate Arrhenius’ work but using modern concepts of heat transfer physics. These include the radiative heat transfer law, use of the Stefan Boltzman constant, absorptance and emittance factors associated with atmospheric CO2 and H2O concentrations but without the complexity of Arrhenius’ computational effort. Students are surprised to calculate that the mean temperature of the Earth without the benefit of atmospheric CO2 and H2O is about – 50 ºC and + 15 ºC when the gases are present. A challenging examination question for the students is to calculate the impact of an increase in CO2 et cetera paribus .
Arrhenius based his calculations on a CO2 concentration of 300 ppm ± 150 ppm. Note that CO2 concentration in 1890 was about 290 ppm (by ice core determination). As of 2018, CO2 concentration is measured at 409 ppm at Mauna Loa, Hawaii. A complication is the presence of additional gases which behave like CO2, designated CO2 equivalents. Arrhenius did not need to account for these in 1896. CH4, N2O and halocarbons (CFC, HCFC, etc.) have greater GHG intensity so that CO2 and CO2,e are measured and referenced.
The above illustrates the actual, long-established physical science grounded in the principles of radiative heat transfer. These techniques are used in the design of industrial heat transfer equipment used in refineries, petrochemical plants, power generation plants, HRSG & OTSG equipment and similar systems relying on the utitilization of H2 and CO2 containing gas streams. There is no uncertainty in the physics; there will be some uncertainty, though in defining the inputs for a system (e.g., cloud & snow cover, humidity for terrestrial systems). Industrial systems are well instrumented and well researched to provide better certainty in calculation.
The Arrhenius calculations are necessarily not "exact" as indicated in Arrhenius' paper reflective of the assumptions, simplifications and data quality available at the time and impact accuracy and precision. Arrhenius did not have a digital computer in 1896 nor the sensitive measuring equipment of the present so his calculations are conservative (as they should be)!
Panic of 1896
Professor Arrhenius’ results caused a panic when the general population interpreted his results as indicating there could be insufficient CO2 generation to sustain the mild temperatures then being experienced and a return to Little Ice Age conditions may be possible. As late as the 1950’s, there were popular reports concerning a return of Ice Age conditions; some readers may recall considering a move to Central America to make their escape. However, what did occur was that in 1958, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) installed the Mauna Loa Observatory to monitor atmospheric data.
The NOAA measured CO2 concentrations of 315 ppm. The increase in CO2 concentration from the baseline of 290 ppm in 1890 to 315 ppm in 1958 was small and inconsequential. However, since then it has shown a remarkable acceleration to 409 ppm in 2018. According to the IPCC, this trajectory indicates an increase in global mean temperature by 1.5 Cº between 2030 and 2052. Note that this is about ½ of the rise calculated by Arrhenius in 1896, a remarkable testimony to his efforts!
Per the IPCC Special Report 1.5 ºC (2018), “anthropogenic emissions (including greenhouse gases, aerosols and their precursors) up to the present are unlikely to cause further warming of more than 0.5 C° over the next two to three decades or on a century time scale” [paragraph A.2.1, p 7].
The Panic of COP24
The global warming discussion has received new urgency at the Conference of the Parties, COP24 concluded in Katowice, Poland in December 2018. Climate scientists have raised alarm that the earth is headed to a warming of 3 C° by the end of this century as total CO2 equivalent emissions continue to actually trend upward. That outrage is directed against the USA and the West for failing to reduce their emissions sufficiently quickly to avoid terrestrial disaster. While not clear as to the specifics of the possible disaster we have been assured that a 3 C° rise is a global catastrophe.
The reaction from environmentalists and the general public is approaching hysterical levels as evidenced by student groups launching lawsuits against their governments and with developing and emerging economies suggesting developed nations owe billions and trillions in environmental damages and funding assistance for mitigation. At the COP24, poorer nations vulnerable to climate change demanded clarity on how an already agreed $100 billion a year of climate damage mitigation financing by 2020 will be provided, and on efforts to build on that amount further from the end of the decade.
Another example of this hysteria and politicization involves a court case launched by the State of Massachusetts against ExxonMobil claiming that it concealed its knowlede of the role fossil fuels play in climate change. This is astonishing in that many engineering, physics, chemistry and climate science students, graduates and discipline professionals have studied the relationship of atmospheric CO2 emissions and H2O content to atmospheric warming since Arrhenius' work in 1896; these effects are well known and published in the technical literature since then. Through the following decades, hundreds of thousands, more likely several million people at any time in the USA alone would have known this relationship .
Eminent personalities have also taken up the cause; in Globalization and Its Discontents; Revisited Nobel laureate economics theorist Joseph E. Stiglitz opines on the injustices between developed and developing nations with respect to climate change; ” . . .with most of the increases in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases which give rise to it coming from the advanced countries, and most of the costs being borne by the developing countries”. Note that according to the WTO [i.e., the World Trade Organization] China is a ”developing nation”.
There is resistance in the West, particularly from the USA, to the science of global warming and refusal to curtail or modify their economies to reduce carbon emissions. Those who question the climate science are branded “deniers” deserving of that special place in hell reserved for those who question “accepted” conventions. These were the places reserved for various men and women in history such as Hypatia, Copernicus, Giordino Bruno, Galileo and others through the centuries.
As demonstrated, the physics and science of global warming are consistent; whether a precise and accurate relationship between CO2,e and temperature can be calculated is problematic on account of the complexities not accounted for in the Arrhenius approach. As Arrhenius described, assumptions were required. Presumably, the IPCC deals with these in their computer models which consequently makes verification and validation problematic for the public. In a way, the IPCC determinations seem to be optimistic as temperature increases should be greater as we pave (via roads and structures) the earth. What portion do we attribute to inter-glacial effects? What apportionment to the 1st law of thermodynamics?
However,the impact of a 1.5 C°, 2.0 C° or 3.0 C° rise, attributable to increased CO2 emissions, on terrestrial systems is even less transparent and less demonstrated; how much polar ice is melting compared to the expected volumes (what is the proportional loss in waterways as temperature increases, what volume of ice is lost)? How much glacial ice is melting from interglacial effects compared to anthropogenic causes (i.e., increased CO2, CO2,e)? Or, are losses simply assigned to global warming as compared to impacts from direct human activities?
COP19 [Warsaw, 2013] apparently has established or intends to establish (UN website is not clear on progress) an assessment mechanism for loss and damage suffered by developing countries. The mechanism is to consider both immediate extreme and slow-onset events. The popular tendency has been to anecdotally assign many climate events to climate change; droughts, fires, ice-storms, hurricanes, and rising sea levels are a few of these adverse events and for which compensation is being sought for impacted developing countries.
The Present Path Forward
The utilization of hydrocarbon fuels by combustion for the past 350 years has meant extraordinary progress for humanity; this technology brought humanity from isolated communities to the formation of countries (national communities) and to our current global village. There will always be a need for carbon based commodities (organic composites, synthetics, petrochemicals). If CO2 emissions were not the cause of our "climate change" problem, the "problem" would be securing future hydrocarbon supplies.
The conventional paths forward to deal with "climate change" that are being continually presented at the various COP include multiple prescriptions, and are primarily directed to Western nations;
• to tax their populations on ”carbon pollution”
• to employ cap & trade schemes
• to reduce GHG through alternate fossil fuels (e.g., ethanol)
• to eliminate use of halocarbon materials
• to de-industrialize and migrate to a service oriented economy
• to compensate and fund harm reduction efforts in developing and least-developed nations
• to switch to ”renewables”
• to sequester atmospheric CO2 i.e., carbon capture & storage
The least preferred of these methods are those that require populations to endure another tax; carbon taxes provide a tantalizing revenue source for too many governments. Governments uniformly do not provide taxpayers with value for their taxes or provide measures of effectiveness. Revenue streams of billions and trillions of dollars, as suggested by Canada's Environment Minister and the global warming industry are too tempting for spendthrift governments who indulge themselves in vote buying or self-enrichment expenditure mechanisms such as subsidies, grants, programs and projects that enrich the insider few at the expense of the many.
Curtailment and substitution of hydrocarbons is appealing and in the West reduction is occurring as renewables become competitive with conventional energy sources. Coal fired plants are being prematurely shut down, some being switched to less CO2 emitting natural gas and co-generation.
In Canada, oil pipelines, in a radical move, are being cancelled and obstructed resulting in economic shock to regional and federal economies. ”Enlightened” politicians are strutting on the world stage garnering praise from extreme environmental groups for their leadership in kneecapping their national economies for the cause of climate change. A rather compelling graph was recently published showing the exponential growth in carbon emissions from ”major developing countries” compared to the gradual decline in emissions from the Western developed countries. The trajectory of the data illustrates that the West is de-carbonizing its economies. In contrast, the increasing trajectory of ”developing countries” is accepted on the premise that they need” to catch up to the developed countries”. A reasonable response arises; is climate change / global warming a problem or not? Is ideology driving ill-considered actions of Western governments, special interests and predatory behavior at the expense of greater public good?
The UN 2018 Gap report
Figure 1 (UN Figure 2.3) below reveals that the fastest growing CO2 emitters are China and India. Both the USA and the European Union [EU] are reducing their emissions; the EU beginning in the late 1980's and the USA beginning to decline coincident with the financial crisis of 2008. In both of these Western economies, emissions are declining and use of renewable energy is increasing in comparison to the net impact of emissions from the balance of the world. Figure 2 shows that the EU is the most effective user of hydrocarbons in producing wealth. The figure vividly shows the impact of the Fukushima nuclear accident on Japan in 2011 and the progress of the USA and Canada in using hydrocarbon resources. Both China and India are well behind although improving utilization at the same rate as the USA. Canada is inconsistent but that may be attributable to the release of CO2 by extensive periodic fires in its vast forests.
While China is known to be increasing energy sourcing from renewables, it also expanding coal use and cement production to meets its expanding economic needs. India is also seen to be increasing emissions at a proportional rate. China maintains a claim to "developing country" status while India is similarly so considered. Note that the WTO does not assign status, individual countries self-declare their status. Other countries may challenge this declaration, but none has done so.
Figure 1 CO2 Emmissions Contributions
Figure 2 Economic Return
The European Union, Japan, the USA and Canada have been doing the heaving lifting of reducing CO2 emissions while continuing to grow their economies. The impact of the Fukushima disaster is evident on Japan's recent performance.
It is unfortunate that the media and Western media, in particular, have not discussed this with comparable enthusiasm to the shrill reporting of the global doom awaiting us on the pretext that the West persists in gluttonous use of hydrocarbons.
It is understandable that developing nations wish to avoid environmental calamity and improve incomes and living standards for their populations. But governments have not been forthright with their domestic populations in acknowledging that the earth's resources are limited and cannot sustain the global population at a comparable living standard to the West; to do so would require the resources of some four (4) earths, but we only have one. Pressuring the West to defacto de-industrialization to avert climate change and obtain a global parity and sustainability is insiduous. A more transparent and comprehensive discussion to achieve this is needed rather than the apparent stealth strategy being used. Recent protests in France, western Canada and the USA are beginning as these populations grasp the trajectories and agenda.
A Rational Path Forward
The 2008 financial crisis was sparked in the USA due to sub-prime lending by a number of systemically important financial institutions; the lack of regulatory oversight by those charged with this oversight, namely the US Federal Reserve, on the presumption that markets are self-correcting, sufficiently sophisticated, and resilient let a mindset of greed and callousness export to Iceland, Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Germany and others who had placed faith in the regulatory environment and the gospel of the Fed, the US Treasury, the SEC and complementary regulatory bodies. The lesson; you can’t trust nonsense even if dressed in an Armani suit. When crisis arrived, taxpayers in the USA and the EU picked up the tab with a number of EU financial institutions still in jeopardy 10 years out. Sadly, Western media was anemic in bringing and keeping the story in the public view.
What has the 2008 financial crisis to do with global warming? The crisis occurred because those who had the power influenced their governments to rescind the lessons of history, repealing the Glass – Steagall Act of 1933 which fire-walled retail and investment banks. Deregulation of Savings & Loan banks in the 1980's led to a crisis which cost the American taxpayer over $180B and was a dress rehearsal and prelude to the sub-prime free-for-all of 2008. The ensuing result is increasing inequality in wealth and the further erosion of responsible governments, again a negative trajectory for middle income taxpayers. Those institutions that were mandated to protect the taxpayer and consumer either did not have the will and / nor the competence to do right for their constituents.
Globalization is a stark lesson to this thesis. Referring to Stiglitz, he very gracefully opines that globalization has been mismanaged by those who should know better (because of their power, their office, their supposed competence). But he is unequivocal in stating that globalization is off-the-rails because of multi-national corporations who have written the rules that allows them to take advantage of the lowest global labor costs to yield increased margins. These lowest global labor costs (e.g.,$ 0.35 / hr in Bangladesh, $25 / day in Mexico, etc.) amount to 21st century serfdom in most of the developing countries. Many economists will say that globalization has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of the extreme poverty of living on $1 / day because earnings now are $2 / day but . . . $2 / day still leaves the recipient in poverty.
How does this apply to global warming? Do we really want to leave it to the same politicians who gave us the financial crisis and globalization? Globalization rules were written by multi-national corporations who do not have allegiance to any domestic populations, but only to their grossly overpaid executives and shareholders.
Firstly then, we need a leadership (government, business, public) that represents and stewards to all of society, not only privileged special interests (this includes false environmentalism and corporate self-interests).
Secondly, a candid discussion with the public on the options to contribute to mitigation of global warming; we all want to be part of reasonable and meaningful solutions. While global warming is a possibility consistent with the physics (of radiative heat transfer), it is not a completed discussion; other effects of higher CO2 and equivalents are problematic in themselves (such as ocean acidification). Deforestation, loss of natural habitat and wildlife, global oceanic plastic pollution and over-population (and additional issues) need to be part of the larger discussion and comprehensive stewardship of the earth.
Canada is at a signficant disadvantage with renewable energy sources similar to the situation of the EU, Russia, Japan and Korea. We are in upper northern latitudes that receive less effective solar irradiance. Canada's and global potential for wind energy is limited. Consider the graph at lower right, Figure 4.
75% of the general population is not aware that oil & gas are used for more than road, rail, air transportation and home heating. Oil & gas feedstocks are used to manufacture thousands of secondary products essential to modern living; without oil, toss your smartphone. Approximately 25% to 40% of a barrel of oil are used as feedstock for the production of chemicals, plastics and synthetic materials used in fertilizers, clothing, food & consumer products, high tech materials (contact lenses!) & composites, paints & dyes, and much more. Without these, modern society would need to revert to a world comparable to the 1880's. Even wind and solar power generation would be jeopardized by lack of essential components produced from oil & gas feedstocks. Withdrawing oil & gas from manufacturing of secondary products would impose severe demand on terrestial sources of alternate raw materials.
Curtailing pipelines in Canada when oil & gas are essential for modern living, depriving Canada of oil & gas markets undermines national economic health, deprives Canada of trade opportunities, does not help developing countries, and weakens Canada politically, militarily, economically. Canada’s contribution to global CO2 and equivalent emissions is 722 Mt (2015); this represents about 1.6% of global emissions. Hydrocarbon based energy consumption is predicted to increase for the foreseeable future as developing states strive for improved standards of living, as their populations increase, and as air, cruise travel and ocean transport increase. Canada's pipelines can be built simultaneously as our domestic population embraces technology to decrease the domestic carbon footprint (and not shut-in our resources or pay into the money pit of carbon taxes). With the rapidly declining cost of renewable energies and emission reductions opportunities through technology, substantial total CO2 emissions reductions can be made in those areas where oil & gas is utilized at low value, such as personal road transportation. Figure 2 illustrates that Canada is on a nominally positive trajectory; the impact of forest fires does impact Canada's progress periodically.
Canada's GHG Paris Agreement (2015) CO2 reduction goal is to be 30% below 2015 emissions by 2030. Canada's emission inventory was 722 Mt in 2015. Therefore, the 2030 goal is 505 Mt by 2030 or a reduction of 217 Mt. In review of the sources of CO2 emissions, three high potential opportunities are in road transportation (158.5 Mt), venting & flaring (12.3 Mt) and biomass (55.5 Mt) for a total of 226.6 Mt. Road transportation by burning of hydrocarbons is outdated, flaring is a needless and lazy way to manage excess hydrocarbons. Of course, this full reduction potential will not be immediately achieved but Canada's National Inventory Report does provide a comprehensive list of opportunities to identify additional candidates.
Global energy consumption is estimated to be 18 TW (Figure 3), energy available via solar irradiance is 3 orders of magnitude greater (i.e., 18,000 TW); solar energy is a viable source of energy for a large portion of humanities energy needs. The costs of renewables has decreased to where they are competitive with hydrocarbons for energy supply (Figure 4). Figure 4 reveals that the ideal location for many solar energy "farms" is among some of the least developed nations on earth (Africa) and less developed (South America, southern Europe, India). The benefits and synergies are obvious; development, employment, standard of living improvements in "high solar" countries. Focus can then shift to more dire issues.
To implement this progressive initiative, the kind of leadership, organization, mobilization, and commitment as displayed for the Apollo moon landing program led by the USA in the 1960's. Of course, there is much more required but carbon taxes, cap & trade and damage settlements are money transfer schemes of dubious efficacy (most countries have corrupt governments) which will leave Western economies weakened and susceptible to unrest.
Investment and infrastructure development opportunities seem to be literally staring one in the face (Figure 4, again).
Three key technologies are needed:
• increasing solar to electrical energy conversion efficiency (presently ~ 20%)
• high voltage long distance electrical transmission (intra & intercontinental transmission)
• central & local storage technologies (lithium based technology is not strategically sound, consider liquid metal based)
All these technologies are established, in progress or development can be accelerated with investment from the private sector. There is minimal risk in the objective (transitioning to more responsible and value added use of precious & finite hydrocarbon resources, reduce the risk of "global warming", increasing global wealth for all citizens, reducing dangerous & illegal migration). A regime for promoting this is the responsibility of "responsible governments" (i.e., of, by and for the people) modeled on past and recent national interest projects. Thereto, a fair and equitable regulatory environment is required and mechanisms to ensure benefits accrue to all citizens.
Carbon Taxes ?
For western governments, carbon taxes and cap & trade schemes are being promoted. Taxing C02 emissions at USD $20 / tonne C02 and rising to USD $100 by 2030 as being promoted by the OECD will prove irresistible to governments whether pocketing all or some of those revenues. The economic theory states that a carbon tax will drive business and consumers to alter their behavior towards de-carbonizing the economy.
Taxing at $20 / tonne C02 will have the potential of raising $20 B and 5x that amount at $100 / tonne yearly. Some economists suggest $100 / tonne is only the tipping point for modifying consumer behavior and $400 / tonne is needed to have significant impact! This Canadian federal carbon tax will be recycled back to households with incomes below a threshold resulting in one-half to two-thirds of households receiving a net benefit (perhaps up to $850 per year). In essence, the government plans to operate a revenue re-distribution scheme. How this translates into reducing C02 emissions is difficult to follow; wealthier households will be annoyed at the net cost (which will remain affordable, for now) and less-wealthy households will have no reason to object (free money!). A carbon tax represents politicization of the global warming crisis. Very obviously, the majority of households will be appreciative at the ballot box.
To address the root issue of reducing C02 emmissions, a more practical and effective mechanism to stimulate behavior modification would be to allow household taxpayers to deduct purchases of systems using renewable technologies. A capital cost allowance (CCA) for solar energy systems, hybrid and e-vehicle purchases over a 3 to 5 year period would be very effective. Businesses already have this opportunity in the Canadian tax code. A CCA for households would address the more wasteful uses of hydrocarbons while maintaining vital and strategic petrochemical and hydrocarbon processing industries. As prices drop for these renewable systems, they become affordable for more households and accelerate the transition from wasteful use of hydrocarbons to value-added use with concurrent reduction in C02 emissions.
Figure 3 Energy Sourcing & Consumption
Figure 4 Global Solar Irradiance
Please feel free to contact the author with your critique or suggestions for adding value to our thesis.