It Isn’t Saving the Planet—It’s Saving Ourselves

While Australia’s new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is infinitely greener than John Howard was (Howard simply didn’t care about climate change at all), I am nevertheless disappointed with the fairly weak emissions targets that his government has set, and the push toward alternative energy (particularly solar in what must be the sunniest nation on earth) could be a whole lot stronger. This is especially so when we need grand new projects to create employment; business sees environmentalism as the enemy of profits and jobs, but this is a very shortsighted and overly simplistic view in my opinion.

In the mean time, the Maldives have vowed to become carbon neutral within a decade, by totally eliminating their dependency on fossil fuels, and switching completely to solar and wind energy. Even though the total cost of this plan will be worth more than their entire annual GDP, it will save them a lot of money in the long run: it should pay for itself in ten years, then after that their energy costs will be cut dramatically from what they are now (as they are currently dependent on oil imports to supply their energy needs). Hopefully they won’t be the only country who does such a calculation.

So why is a country of such modest means (and carbon footprint) as the Maldives leading the way in climate change initiatives? Basically because they—like other low-lying island nations—will be the first countries to be seriously effected by global warming, as predicted sea level rises will mean they are threatened with being under water in the not too distant future. They want to set an example that other nations will follow, in the hope that they will be able to avert this threat to their very existence. As we are such selfish and shortsighted creatures, nothing motivates us like our own self-interest.

Thing is though, dealing with climate change isn’t just in the self-interest of the Maldives and other island nations; it is in all of our self-interest. The fact of the matter is, to say that environmentalism is “saving the planet” isn’t really correct, as the planet will survive no matter what we do, and life will adapt and survive. Of course, many of the species that exist today will go extinct, so you could say environmentalism is saving the planet as we know it. But more than anything else, environmentalism is about saving ourselves. Perhaps no other species in the history of our planet is more dependent on a stable, unchanging environment than we are, yet ironically, we have also done more to alter the natural environment than any other species in history. Of course, we have only set out to modify the environment to suit our own selfish needs, but when one species is so out of balance with everything else, there will inevitably be consequences. I will discuss the likely extent of this in a future article.

However much of global warming is caused by human activities though, it is very clear that we are ill-equipped to deal with dramatic climate change. In the mean time however, in order to get people to act most effectively on this issue, I think we need to put it in the terms that matter the most to us: it is about our survival, not the planet’s. If we do that, I think people will be more likely to act.

Tags: ,

Good article on the Maldives, Sachiko! It is great to see lesser developed nations taking a leading role in this issue. It is certainly interesting that they are doing it through privatizing their state owned energy company. Their actions constitute a contradiction in either US party’s mantra when it comes to climate change, though:

1. It contradicts Republicans’ views that environmentalism is unprofitable, and
2. It contradicts Democrats’ views that positive environmental change can only be brought about through government control

I am saddened, however, to hear about their falling for carbon credit scams. Those programs are merely government or private companies charging indulgences for “Green Guilt”:

http://kn.theiet.org/magazine/issues/0901/carbon-swindle-0901.cfm

Regardless, the Maldives are a great example. Hopefully other nations follow suit. Here in the UK, BP is currently the leading investor in alternative energies such as solar, wind, and biomass, so that provides me with some hope.

My biggest worry in all this, however, is the amount of non-anthropogenic climate change. What can we do if we spend all this money in reducing our carbon emissions to negligible levels, only to find the effect just as negligible? We know from historical analysis that the climate has changed without us, and there is scientific data to indicate a lot of the past 100 years of warming is linked to solar forcing:

http://www.sciencebits.com/CO2orSolar

But the jury is still out as to the overall conclusion. I guess I would put myself as cautiously optimistic about the future.

  
Quote
  Reply

Hi Sagredo,

As I mentioned above, I am going to be discussing the actual causes of global warming in a future article. Climate change is a huge topic, which will require a few articles to cover properly I think.

  
Quote
  Reply

In Australia, you must be keenly aware of the Ross Ice Shelf and what is happening in Antarctica, just as in Canada we are observing the melting of the north pole! We also experience worse forest fires in the summer (even worse for you, of course) pine beetle infestation in the forests, etc. And yet we have a brief cold stretch in Edmonton and the right wing columnists come out of the woodwork to deny the truth about climate change (take this one in Edmonton Journal yesterday — http://www.edmontonjournal.com/news/Sound+global+warming/1391903/story.html ) Just ridiculous!!

I would hope that you are right about enlightened self-interest taking over, but an indispensable ingredient is leadership. When George W. Bush was in denial about global warming for 5-6 years, actively censoring government research on global warming, in became very easy for Liberal and conservative politicians in Canada and Australia to drag their feet on implementation of Kyoto Accord, among other things…now, with President Obama there is an improvement, and least there will be a functioning emissions-trading market in North America. But I am skeptical about the emphasis on carbon sequestration, which is serving as an excuse for continuing with coal mining and oil sands development—see http://markcrawford.blogspot.com/2009/03/billions-for-carbon-sequestration.html .

Coincidentally, and rather ironically, George Bush is right here in Alberta as I write, giving a talk in Calgary about “Meeting Challenges for Leadership in the 21st Century”. Imagine that!

  
Quote
  Reply

Hi Mark,

I too am skeptical about carbon sequestration as well. What happens when the stuff we bury comes back to the surface, as it inevitably will at some point in the future (however distant that may be)?

George W. Bush and meeting challenges for leadership sound like mutually exclusive terms to me. ;-)

  
Quote
  Reply

I would be cautious about interchanging the expressions “global warming” and “climate change” too freely. The anglophilic ex-vice-prez Al Gore is publishing books in the US to help popularize a special-interest porkbarrel campaign against “global warming”. Some people are getting the impression that “global warming”, leading to predictable sea-level rise within (or not far beyond) the forseeable time frame of current government policies, is already an established scientific fact. This is a double deception — for one thing, the “warming” is NOT proven, and the applicable time frame remains very ambiguous. The second thing is a cover-up of the fact that recent US administrations have been generally backsliding on their commitments to the support of Earth Sciences, in spite of conspicuous touting of a few impressive R&D “showpieces” here and there. The public gets a fabricated “barnraising” over the global warming and related intrigues like carbon credits, trades, and quotas, all based on a very incomplete, inadequate, and crude model of a very extravagant and dynamic planet still adorned with numerous unsolved mysteries. Surely Earth is precious and worthy of the most comprehensive Science program that all of its peoples can possibly muster. Ask yourselves just how favorably the visible attitude and personal preferences of ex-prez Bush and other similarly aggrandized goons around the world have influenced the progress of serious, in-depth studies of our planet over the last decade. And in that query, please make note of the fact that the current recessionary blow-out has been resulting in record job losses for well-educated and technologically experienced middle-age people — the ones most likely to be contributing to meaningful advanced research projects, were they only enfranchised to do so.

  
Quote
  Reply

I would have thought that global warming was pretty much proven by now. The only real questions I think are why, how much, and what to do about it. Anyway, I will be covering this in a future article.

  
Quote
  Reply

Global “climate change” is the term which is most accurate at this time, because the effects to the “local” climate will vary dramatically. However what is currently being seen is the shift forward of temperate, sub-arctic & arctic regions seasonal expressions by about 2 weeks at this point in time. What is also being seen is that the temperature change is currently highest in the Artic regions, with temperature increases in the sub-arctic and temperate regions being variable but usually 2/3 to 1/2 as much.

What is the confusing point to most of the media, is that the overall storage of energy in the atmospheric levels/oceans is increasing each year. Add energy to the entire system and it will be measured most easily as heat, but that isn’t the entire picture, because it can also increase energy in energetic systems, such as air flows, jetstreams, storm systems, which then shifts where rainfall occurs, and how much water/particulate weight can be carried by the system overall. This leads to an increase in water vapor/small particles in the atmosphere, which is a much more potent combination for heat capturing agents than CO2, and the cycle continues, increasing incrementally at a creeping but steadily increasing rate of growth each cycle.

Also missing is the issue of the ocean temperatures and carbon absorption by the oceans, and what this is doing to the aquacultres and the abilty for the planet to have any buffering for the next years additional carbon being put out. Basically we are acidifying the oceans like soda water, and the action is most visible on the corals in the warmest waters, as those areas can absorb the most carbon dioxide (the carrying capacity of liquids for most soluables goes up with temperature). Also there is the issue of the garbage “continents” that are forming in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans where the convergence of ocean currents moves floating waste into huge rotating masses of garbage.

The issue is so big, that we will have to rewrite most of what we know as civillization to achieve the goal, but that doesn’t mean we have to go backwards. It only means we have to work towards a unified goal.

Unfortunately people are already scamming the system to prop up the coal and natural gas providers:
Tax incentivized emission trades – does nothing, just shifts the accounting.
Clean Coal. Sorry the math for all issues doesn’t add up.
This includes: Storage of CO2, Energy requirements to process and liquify for storage of CO2 and/or the energy requirements to pump CO2 into existing vaults. Even the company in Germany that has created the first “Clean Coal” prototype powerplant has said that the amount of CO2 that needs to be redirected, is uncontainable in the short to medium terms – (10-50 years), meaning the amount of CO2 would overwhelm any attempts to contain it within that time frame.

On the flip side, here are some credible ideas to reduce/reuse/recycle and actually improve the economy and improve our environment at the same time.

Cobalt Solar panelling/smart glass and solar amplification on office buildings/skyscrapers would be a massive start for decreasing power transmission needs.
Smog/particulate/carbon dioxide/ozone absorbing materials on skyscrapers on the first/second/third and fourth stories would remove 90% of the urban pollution from those low level areas of most metropolitan areas.
Rebuilding our water waste collection systems so that they aren’t adding waste/heat/effluent/drugs/fertilizers back to the river systems untreated. Then if the water was properly recycled/thermally depolymerized/chlorinated and high intensity X-rayed, this current waste water could produce high value fertilizers, petroleum products, and decrease the uptake of new water into the water distribution system by 90% per cycle.
Rebuilding the power distribution grid to allow for better power transmission would decrease the amount of power needed by up to 1/2, as that is how much of our current generated electrical power base is being lost due to innefficient transmission lines in the form of heat.
Establishing power storage facilities, using vanadium batteries capable of storing enough power for cities of 100,000 to operate for three days without incoming power, and/or by establishing superconductive loops capable of storing emergency power for a whole region, with almost unlimited potential storage capacities.
Continent wide solar panel strips would allow solar grids to be generating some power somewhere in the world 24 hours a day.
Strategically placed wind installations would also allow for 24 hour energy generation, at levels equal to existing generation levels.
Ocean wave generation/in river current generation could remove the need for river dam turbine generation which blocks everything from fish migration patterns to effective shipping to the interior of large continents.

Of course all of our personal transportation needs will also need to be converted to electric/hydrogen powered, our rail lines redone/upgraded, our commuter train systems moved to maglev systems so that continental travel doesn’t need to rely on air travel any longer for short distances.

Our technology will need to upgrade too, as with Graphene transistors, which are in the prototype stage right now, will allow for billions of transistors per milimeter, at energy rates 90% lower than current technologies, for very small fractions of existing costs. This will also generate new ways of doing business and interacting that could further change the usage of energy in the future.
Even lighting and digital display technologies are moving to be ultra bright, ultra efficient, low heat, low power energy misers, and when the next generation of LED technologies come out in 2010 we’ll see up to 99% efficient lighting at existing lumen levels, in current fixture configurations for comparable prices.

We are in a race, where we could lose the most of the habitable bioshpere between 2080-2120, or we could see in that same time, the emergence of a new human relationship with the biosphere that basically has us leaving most of the wild world alone, and having a truly human world apart that won’t have a damaging impact on things outside that world.

  
Quote
  Reply

Actually Akacra, the solubility of Carbon dioxide in water decreases w/ temperature, but increases w/ pressure:

http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/ja01861a033

As for your suggestions, I think they sound like good ideas. I’ve been trying to make the case for upgrading our electrical infrastructure to the government for years. I find it funny that we’re still using 110V instead of the 220V everyone else seems to use. The reason is that when electric light was first being developed here in the states, 110V was used because it produced the same luminescence in bulbs that gas lamps used, and the filaments could handle that voltage. By the time that it caught on in Europe, however, bulbs were sturdier, and it was found that electricity was transported more efficiently over long distances at high voltages. So they decided on 220V, and the US just stuck w/ what we had.

  
Quote
  Reply

I am sorry I wasn’t specific in my description of CO2 concentration to Carbonic Acid creation. It is true that at lower temperatures, there is more CO2 absorbed by water at 20 degrees C, than at 35 degrees C, but between those temperatures the rate of Carbonic Acid formation is hugely different, resulting in “CO2 saturation” and thus leading to “Carbonic Acid formation” at nearly twice the the molar density per cubic cm.

CO2 concentration at 20 degrees C (0.029 Mol/l)
This has an effect of creating pH 3.95 Carbonic Acid in the water.

CO2 concentration at 35 degrees C (0.056 Mol/l)
This has an effect of creating pH 3.81 Carbonic Acid in the water.

This is at 0.1 ATM (80-90 Bar), not 25, 50 or 700 ATM

It is described in this paper here:

http://www.thuisexperimenteren.nl/infopages/Carbondioxide%20in%20water%20equilibrium.doc

If you read all 6 pages, it includes the full explanation with full balanced equations and the methodologies regarding their findings.

It also pinpoints the reason why the bleaching of coral in these tropical zones is happening so quickly and why increased temperature and formation of Carbonic Acid (what we do with soda) is so bad for our teeth and coral overall. It creates PH measures of 3.95 to 3.81 acting in an environment that is supposed to be around 7.0-7.4.

Also, Monovalent salt (e.g. NaCl) content in water also decreases the absorbtion CO2 as well, but doesn’t seem to have an impact on Carbonic Acid creation.

This can be found on page 34 of this document:
http://www.co2-cato.nl/doc.php?lid=71

So, again I apologize for not being specific with the mechanisms, but the source to the issue is the same, more CO2 in the air, causes more interaction with the oceans, which cause more Carbonic Acid to be created in the waters. Warmer waters having a more concentrated amount Carbonic Acid due to higher suspension rates, leading to the reason that coral reefs currently being bleached are generally in shallower water. They would have the most exposure to the newly enriched Carbonic Acid levels that have been building up steadily over the past 100 years, but being subject to a greater density of exposure within the last 35.

We are at a tipping point, with China and India coming on line using carbon based fuels increasingly over the past 35 years, it really does seem we as a species need to stop putting more weight on the lever that catpults the rock back onto us.

As to transmission technology, with local sourcing of power we could almost go back to Edison’s idea, for DC current transmission. Sure DC current is only viably sent up to roughly 8 Km, but if most of the energy is created locally, and backed up in battery form, we could just send AC power to DC power conversion stations at times when these localized needs exceeded back up power demands. It would be nice to go back to power systems that when worked on (hot), would only burn us slightly, instead of having the chance of fibrillating the heart and killing us. We could also save even more energy, as we could power down both amperage and voltage and we wouldn’t need so many darn transformers in the power transmission grids/end product usage. Think how many thousands of tons of freight and copper wire we could save if every darn electronic gadget didn’t need a transformer cube somewhere in the system.

  
Quote
  Reply

I much appreciate the above overview of carbon, climate, and energy issues, folks. This includes some very STRONG hypotheses and actual hard facts that could help empower humans to sharpen up numerous technologies for early-on and verifiable enduring benefit. I would next begin to hope that more people “out there” would become motivated and able to read such discussions as this one with some patience, understanding, and true intellectual courage.

  
Quote
  Reply