Useful links and previous articles
unacceptable realties of global warming
response to green paper
The Waterright philosophy
Chapter 6 Carbon CaptureThis section is currently being written, but in the mean time you may like to look at some of these links.
The technology and politics of global warming
In Solving the Water Crisis I talk about communal intelligence, how any group of people, from a small community upwards shows a communal intelligence, a form of amalgamation of the views and skills of the various people. With cooperation this leads to amazing productivity. However when communal intelligence fails we have what economist call the 'law of the commons' with competition to take control of a common or shared asset leads to its destruction.
As is name says global warming is a global problem which requires cooperation to protect an essential asset. At this moment we do not have this global cooperation instead we have disagreement between many parties but particularly the developed and developing countries.
This disagreement is fuelled by a combination of differences in politics and viewpoints. Let us look at the technology first.
Viewpoints on global warmingThere are many views on global warming however there is significant agreement on a number of key points. The main stream view is that global warming is happening and the cause is man made emissions. The sceptics challenge this mainstream view. However both sides agree that the world is warming. They also agree that the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is increasing. The sceptics argue that the climate has been changing continuously and current climate change is due to natural causes and is not man made.
In essence the argument boils down to the contribution man is making to global warming, the sceptics arguing that man is only making a minor impact while the main stream argues that man is the dominating effect.
While there may not be that much difference in the basic position of the mainstream and sceptics there is a wide difference in the proposed action plans, specifically the level of resources which should be devoted to combating global warming.
The politics of global warming
In this debate there are three facts which have not been given their due weight.
The first is the dramatic increase in productivity of manufacturing industry. I took my first job in engineering in 1958. Looking back over those fifty odd years shows the dramatic increase in productivity in manufacturing industry. The marginal cost of producing an extra unit of production is very small in comparison with the apparent cost of the product. Most of the energy in a modern operation is devoted to the various steps in selling the product, which include all the product revision and consequent changes in production equipment.
This means the predicted costs of implementing a carbon reduction scheme are overestimated.
The second point stems from the balance between developed and developing nations. The simple fact are that the current level of green houses gases has been produced by the developed nations but the future growth of green houses gases will come from the developing nations, particularly China and India. It is just simply unrealistic to think that the developing countries will freeze or even reduce their level of emissions.
The third point relates specifically to Australia, one of the countries most at threat from global warming. Our level of emissions are only a fraction, less than 2% of the global emissions. What we do in this country to reduce our emission will have minimal effect on the impact of global warming on our country.
The only strategy which will protect us from the effects of global warming is to influence, as far as we are able, the rest of the world. This is where an understanding of communal intelligence is important. This says we need to be able to offer the rest of the world some alternative solution to simply cutting emissions.
Unfortunately there has developed an almost Armageddon philosophy that by burning fossil fuels we are committing some almighty sin for which we will be punished.
Global warming is not an issue for pseudo religious or environmental morality to play a role. The decisions must be based on the physics and chemistry of the threat.
The simple reality is that whatever the developed countries achieve in cutting their emission it will have little effect on global warming while the developing countries continue to increase and eventually dominate emissions.
The solution lies in being able to offer the developing countries an option they can be reasonably expected to accept.
Finding a solution
The energy in our fossils fuels has come from the sun over the millennia, converting the high levels of carbon dioxide in the air into more complex organic molecules which have been trapped underground.
It would therefore seem that the solution is to duplicate this natural action of capturing carbon from the atmosphere and trapping it in the soil.
Currently the only large scale method of capturing carbon is by photosynthesis. No doubt there may be some artificial alternative to the natural action of plants in the future but today exploiting this natural action of plants seems the only viable process.
is this a viable approach? Currently the amount of carbon captured by plants is some thirty times the total man made emissions. The problem is that most of the carbon captured by plants simply re-enters the atmosphere. Photosynthesis produces complex organic or long chain molecules. These are readily broken down to the much simpler carbon dioxide.
This can happen by the simple depolymerisation or breakdown from direct sunlight (UVdegradation), by bacteria consuming the long chain molecules for food or by fire.
It very difficult to completely stop this depolymerisation so the complex organics will last for the thousands of years which some people feel are necessary for carbon capture. But neither is it necessary. Any disbelieve stems from a failure to appreciate the difference between static and dynamic equilibrium.
If we have water in a sealed bottle is will stay there with the level neither rising or falling, this is static equilibrium. If we unseal the bottle and either poor water out or in we have changed the amount of water in store. But it is the same water.
If we look at a river which is neither rising or falling then we have dynamic equilibrium. There is always the same volume of water in the river but it is not the same water, that is continuously changing as the river flows. If the river rises because there is more water entering the river, say from a heavy rain, the amount of water stored in the river will rise. The critical factor is rate, more water will be stored if the rate at which water is entering the river is higher than the rate it is leaving.
Carbon capture in the soil is dynamic equilibrium. We do not have to store the same carbon permanently in the soil. We simply have to keep on increasing the total carbon in the soil. To do this we need to slow down the rate at which the complex organic molecules are being broken down so the rate at which carbon is re-entering the atmosphere is less than the rate at which it is being captured. The total volume of carbon in the soil will then continuously increase, even though it may be different carbon.
In fact all we have to do is make sure that the difference in rate at which plants absorbing and releasing carbon back to the atmosphere is equal to the rate at which man is putting carbon back into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuel. We will than have achieved equilibrium and the carbon level will remain constant.
The wicking bed system does precisely this. The organic material is captured under the ground where is it protected from the deadly UV radiation in sunlight which partially causes carbon to re-enter the atmosphere. It also changes the mechanics of degradation. Composting under highly aerobic conditions, particularly if done at a higher temperature, encourages the types of microbes , bacteria, which release carbon back into the atmosphere.
In the wicking bed system decomposition occurs underground with a high moisture content. This encourages, the types of microbes, fungi, which release less carbon back into the atmosphere.
Australia roleAustralia key role in global warming should be to introduce this technology to the developing countries who are well placed to incorporate this technology into their existing agricultural systems and then work with them to have carbon capture into the soil accepted as part of the post Kyoto protocol
to be expanded
|27 March 2009||
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