The Climate Conference

The climate conference (COP 21) that is taking place in Paris is attempting to reverse the terrible consequences of many years of neglect that have brought the planet to a point of almost no return.  As a scientist I have to accept the mounting evidence that man-made pollution, mainly from carbon fossil fuels (coal, oil and gasoline) have caused global warming that is having disastrous consequences.  This includes the melting of the glaciers and the ice caps and the rise in sea levels around the world, causing  flooding and loss of habitat, especially in low-lying countries as far afield as Bangladesh, Holland and Vanuatu.  The aim of the conference is to obtain an international treaty whereby each country agrees to reduce their carbon footprint (the proportion of carbon dioxide that they produce) by mutual agreement.

But, contrary to the Western consensus that this needs to be done now, some developing countries say rightly, it is the advanced developed world that has brought us to this state, and now just as we are beginning to develop they want to take the means away from us.  For example, the Philippines is a developing country, that has limited energy production that doesn’t fulfill the needs of its large population.  They have a plan for the construction of 30 coal-burning power stations.  Why coal-burning, because coal is the cheapest energy source and it is readily available.  Even though it is the dirtiest fossil fuel, they cannot afford the more expensive but less polluting alternative energy production means, such as solar, wind or wave energy and certainly not nuclear power.

India is the same, and they argue that their huge population of mainly peasants cannot afford any other except the most primitive means of heating, namely burning cow dung.  They dry the cow dung with straw and it makes the perfect natural combustible substance, but it is very polluting and in fact the smoke from millions of fires all over India can be seen from space.  Yet, how can they replace it, when they have such limited means?   Then you have China, which has one of the most polluting industries on earth, where people in Beijing can hardly breathe. Because they are a communist country that has typically not bothered with environmental protection for their population, but at the same time are engaged in a huge capitalistic thrust for rapid development.

The initial statements at COP 21 have been optimistic, Pres. Obama and Pres. Hollande have delivered speeches that boast of the achievements of their alternative energy systems and how they are reaching or in fact passing the aims of past environmental conferences.  But, whether or not the conference can come to an enforceable agreement on reducing fossil fuel use is unclear.   Two of the countries that will be presenting their successful alternative energy industries are Brazil and Israel.  Brazil leads the world in using alcohol, which is less polluting, than gasoline, for its cars and public transport, and that is because it has a huge land mass, and by clearing forest it has planted crops that can be harvested not for food, but for alcohol production, so called biomass production.  These crops can also be used to produce electricity and Brazil is a pioneer in running electric public transport systems.  Israel is a leader in alternative energy production particularly in solar power.  There are huge Israeli solar fields not only in southern Israel, but in Portugal, Spain and the USA.

A lot depends on making the cost of alternative energy production low, and at first sight, people think that wind and solar power should be cheaper than oil.  Although oil just gushes from the ground, it then has to be refined in expensive refineries and the price of a barrel of oil is controlled on the international market by the Oil cartel, OPEC.  But, wind turbines are very expensive to produce and maintain and so far sea power is still in the early stages (wave energy both above and below sea level).  Solar power is developing fast, but although the sun shines a lot in some areas, nevertheless the mirrors or solar cells need to be kept clean for maximum production.  Then there are novel methods of energy storage.  This all makes for a complex picture and how the large number of countries and interests at the COP 21 conference will reconcile all of this remains to be seen

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3 thoughts on “The Climate Conference

  1. Interesting to note that a few thousand years ago the sea temperature was two degrees higher and that the Arctic ice cap virtually disappeared each year. There are scientists who suggest crying wolf in the short term may prove to be wrong.
    When nuclear bombs were dropped in WW2 it was declared nothing would grow at the epicentre for centuries!

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  2. “Global Warming” is all about only one thing – the attempt by leftists to implement a world wide carbon tax. NOTHING backs up any of their phony “settled Science.” These silly computer models always predict doomsday 30-100 years out, long after most of us will be gone. The predictions 30 years ago – ask yourself – was there anything even close to accurate – of course not. This has absolutely nothing to do with science. I think you need to ask yourself more questions, rather than just regurgitate the left’s garbage.

    Thanks.

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  3. Hi Jack, As I’m sure you know, the amount of global warming caused by the CO2 emmisions is not settled science. The direct warming due to CO2 is well known – something like 1 degree C for a doubling of CO2. It is the “feedback” effect of CO2, increasing warming from other substances, that is at issue. All the models have a factor to account for the feedback that CO2 causes to other warming substances in the atmosphere. The value of this factor has great influence on the resulting predictions for warming.  I don’t pretend to know whether there is a lot or a little actual warming, but CO2 itself is a modest warmer. It is known that CO2 causes warming, but how much? A bigger question is what to do about it, since the potential costs and deprivation of affordable electricity to 3rd nations and areas are issues with enormous consequences.  That said, none of the existing alternative energy sources is scalable to anything like replacing fossil fuels. Nuclear could do it, but it is not trusted to be safe, and the Japanese experience shows that even countries highly regarded for industrial capability can screw up nuclear power plants.  So we are left with a few directions. First, replacing coal with natural gas power plants makes a huge difference in emissions. With fracking, the US and the world have a lot of natural gas reserves, but I don’t know how easy it is to get the natural gas to the countries in need.  Second, if we are really serious about reducing CO2 emissions, developing fail-safe nuclear reactors and working the regulations to allow them to be built at less costs could make serious inroads to the use of fossil fuels.  Third, we need major R&D to improve the currently known non-fossil fuel energy sources and to find new ones. The recent pledge by Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeff Bezos to contribute billions to R&D may be a significant step forward. No one knows where this R&D may lead, but it is our only way forward if CO2 is as big a problem as the Global Warming crowd says it is.  Bob

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