Conservation & Sustainability

 

            These days it seems that nearly everyone wants to be thought of as "green", a word that has become synonymous with moral.  Environmentalism is a simple philosophy:  individuals do not have to think for themselves, but only do what they are told by "experts", and they can feel good about themselves.  Conservation (real sustainability) was a movement based on individuals that sought to clean the air and water and to urge people to conserve our resources, but that movement has been replaced with a top-down orthodoxy of state control that is intolerant of dissent.  Accordingly, it seems worthwhile to examine the tenets of the current environmental religion in search of the truth. 

             We all want the cleanest possible air and water for health reasons; however, it appears the goal of the environmental movement is power over the people rather than an improved environment for mankind.  According to the EPA, since 1970, the aggregate of six air pollutants has decreased by 67% (shown below) and point source emissions into the water have gone down significantly.  Yet  students in my university geology class think the air and water have never been dirtier.  That comes from misinformed high school teachers and erroneous textbooks.  When I ask high school students, when have they ever heard an environmentalist propose a solution that did not hurt people or business, they are unable to give an example.  By environmentalist, I mean someone in the movement who is prominent enough to be quoted in the information media.  I do not mean the majority of citizens who want to conserve resources and keep the air and water clean.  They also want a robust economy.

 

Clean Air

            The six major air pollutants are particulates, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds, lead, and nitrogen oxides.  As a group, these have been cut in half since 1980, and lead is down 97%.  Catalytic converters have reduced automobile emissions since 1975.  Industrial and power plant stack emissions have been reduced by technologies such as bag houses, scrubbers, and electrostatic precipitators that have been widely used since the 1970s.  We do not see smoke billowing from smokestacks anymore--the white emission is condensed steam--nor do we hear as much about smog alerts.  Note that carbon dioxide is not listed as a pollutant.  Overall, our air has not been this clean in 100 years.

Clean Water

            Much of the pollution in water came from industrial waste.  Regulations from the 70s and 80s largely put a stop to this source.  With regard to the oceans, oil spills are quickly contained, and even large spills like the BP well in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 have been ameliorated quickly by oil-loving microorganisms.  The oceans' self-cleansing powers are as vast as the oceans themselves.

Recycling

            Thou shalt recycle is one of the commandments of the green people.  Few people like to waste things, but why should we use energy to recycle renewable resources like paper?  Aluminum requires a great deal of electricity to extract it from bauxite, so recycling cans makes economic sense.  For economic reasons and to avoid wastage, much paper and steel are recycled back to the process within the mill or plant before they ever reach the consumer.   When it costs more to recycle something than the product is worth, it brings the concept into question.  Of course resources like water and fuels should be conserved and not wasted.  Conservation is a virtue, but environmentalism has become a godless religion. Some recent trends are tabulated below.

  1970 2006 Change
Air Pollutants     -67%
Waste 3.3lbs/day 4.4lbs/day 33%
Toxic waste water     -13%
Toxic waste air     -39%
Energy use     30%
Oil reserves     67%
Gas reserves     ~200%
Life expectancy 71 78 10%
Male 67 75 12%
Female 75 80 7%

Is waste ever acceptable?  Yes, in military action and to save a life, for examples.

Climate Change (nee global warming)

            This topic requires significant discussion, because the misinformation about it is being touted by both the true believers and the press as gospel truth. 

 Climate History

            The Earth's climate has been changing for the last 4.5 Ga (billion years).  So let us begin by taking a broad view with a long time scale and do away with the term "climate change". Until about 2.5 Ga when photosynthesizing stromatolites became ubiquitous, the atmosphere did not even have free oxygen.  From ~800 million years ago to 600 Ma, the Earth experienced a major glaciation and cooled (snowball Earth).  Even the oceans froze. Shortly thereafter (geologically speaking), the Cambrian explosion of species took place.  In the Ordovician period (~500 Ma) and Mesozoic era (~250 Ma - 65 Ma), the Earth was much warmer than it is today.  In the Pleistocene epoch (2.5 Ma - 12,000 years ago), the northern hemisphere experienced cycles of glaciation and interglacial periods; in fact, we may still be in an interglacial period.  Reducing our time line to the Holocene (recent) epoch, amid periods of warming and cooling, we find the medieval warm period around 1200 AD when the Vikings colonized Greenland and Labrador, and the little ice age from about 1400 to 1850.  George Washington experienced this hardship at Valley Forge . 

Recent History

            If we look only at the last century, we find warming in the first half of the 20th century, probably due to solar effects.  Evidence for a solar cause lies in warming of the stratosphere.  Greenhouse gases mostly affect the troposphere (lower atmosphere).  The atmosphere cooled slightly in mid century, leading to fears of a new ice age.  Warming of the troposphere occurred from 1980-1998 possibly due to greenhouse gases, and the atmospheric temperature has been steady ever since.  These data are summarized below.

 

Period

°C/decade

Probable Cause

1910-1945

0.151

Solar

1946-1974

~0

?

1975-1998

0.178

Greenhouse

1999-2014

~0

El Niño?/solar

 

    Some causes of the constantly changing climate include cyclic processes like Milankovitch cycles, volcanoes, plate tectonics, solar variations, El Nino, and changes in atmospheric composition.  Of all of these mechanisms, only the last, and only if anthropogenic in origin, seem to worry the Global Warming establishment.  That observation seems to fit a political/financial motivation more than an environmental one.

 Greenhouse Gases

            Greenhouse gases in order of concentration are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide.  These can trap heat in the lower atmosphere and are responsible for preventing a complete freezing of the Earth's surface referred to as "snowball earth".  Diatomic gases like nitrogen and oxygen do not absorb infrared in the right regions.  Greenhouse gases like CO2 absorb in the IR by an asymmetric stretch. Man's activity has unquestionably added CO2 to the atmosphere recently, but its concentration has varied widely over the Earth's history.  The role of anthropogenic CO2 in the Earth's temperature has not been established; rather it has been assumed based on the fallacy of cum hoc ergo propter hoc; in other words coincidence does not imply cause-and-effect.  Man's activity surely affects CO2 concentration, but the processes of weathering and volcanic eruption tend to keep the concentration within limits.  Water vapor is by far the most effective greenhouse gas, but it is hard to blame man for humidity.  Methane is second most effective, but it comes mostly from livestock, whose emissions are notoriously hard to control!  Greenhouse warming occurs mostly in cooler places and times such as: high latitudes, mountain tops, night, and winter—places where warming might be welcomed.

 

Problems Associated with Global Warming

            Of the problems generally cited as due to GW, the most feared is sea level rise.  It has risen 0.6' in the last century, and it has risen 100' in the last 18,000 years since the end of the last glaciation. Other problems include loss of biodiversity, increased/decreased rainfall (depending on the model), and deaths from heat.  One could counter these problems with a list of benefits from warming as shown below.

 

Problems

Benefits

Sea level rise/loss of land

More land for agriculture/civilization

Species go extinct

Plants thrive

More deaths from heat

Fewer deaths from cold

 

Decreased energy use

 

Northwest passage opens

    Dire claims, that wildfires, storm frequency/intensity, and oceanic circulation have changed for the worse are generally based on models; whereas, actual data show no clear trends. See section on models below.  Depending on your point of view, you may think those marked in red or green in the table above are important. Would you rather have a warmer planet or a cooler one? History shows that constant temperature is not an option.

Actions to counteract perceived warming

The courses of action available to governments are:

  1. do nothing
  2. negotiate international agreements
  3. increase regulation,
  4. engineering solutions.

 

    So far, environmentalists have only proposed nos. 2 and 3.  Though I believe number 1 is the best course of action, engineering solutions are also viable, though rarely discussed.  Some of these include:

  1. expand the use of nuclear fission and natural gas for electricity generation
  2. add aerosols to the atmosphere for cooling
  3. increase carbon sequestration in soil, perhaps through crop genetic engineering
  4. plant trees in cities - use light colored paving and roofing materials

   

 

Global Warming Hoax?

            All of the foregoing discussion assumes well-intentioned disagreement among persons who want the best for mankind. If this assumption is not valid, then the whole concept of anthropogenic global warming must be viewed differently. Moreover, who is to decide what average global surface temperature is ideal, and who thinks he is so strong as to maintain a stable Earth temperature?

 Climategate

            In the fall of 2009, emails from well-funded researchers in the UK and Penn State University were leaked and showed a conspiracy to hide the original data, brand skeptical scientists as deniers, and ban publication of their findings. Furthermore, the keeper of the complete land-based temperature history in the UK claimed to have lost it and said they hoped nobody realized that the UK had a freedom of information act. Two Canadian scientists were able to recreate the data and found that certain data points were omitted if they did not fit the foregone conclusion. Some previously rural sites had become urban over the years, and thus locally warmer. In other words, the entire body of non-satellite-based research was all "dry lab." A review of the climategate emails can be found here. In November 2011 we had Climategate II.  If the data are bogus, the benefits of GW ignored, and the allowed solutions limited, what could motivate people to such dishonesty? Let's consider some possibilities.

Class of Person

Possible Motivation

Politician

Power, reelection, transfer of money

Press

Easy to report superficial story, shallow thinking, ratings, sell papers

Scientists

Funding, acclaim, tenure, promotion, preconceptions

 

            It is not hard to imagine politicians spending other people's money to keep themselves in office. Nor is it unusual for reporters ignorant in matters of science to follow the lead of others and do sloppy work. However, one would like to think that scientists search for the truth, and many climate scientists do in fact question the dubious data described above. However in the university environment, many scientists would rather get along and be funded than be right. Peer review is supposed to keep science honest, but in the case of climategate, attempts were made to control those who reviewed papers and to reject the publications of those researchers who disagreed with the orthodoxy. The dishonest climate scientists in the majority actively tried to silence the honest ones who were skeptical.  Two words could describe many of the people in these three classes involved in the sham—dishonest, dishonorable.

2014 Warmest year on record

        Those who made that claim used surface based measurements that are subject to urban expansion and local warming.  Satellite measurements are immune to that effect.  Furthermore, if temperatures have been rising through 1998 and steady since, it is reasonable for any recent year to be the warmest on record, because the temperatures are neither rising nor falling. 

Energy

            The Earth is endowed by its creator with various sources of energy most of which derive from the sun.  Not all of these are suitable for conversion to man's use, but suitable solar sources include direct insolation (photovoltaic & thermal solar), hydroelectric, wind, and fossil fuels including coal, natural gas, petroleum, oil shale, and tar sands.  Non-solar sources include nuclear, geothermal, and tidal.  Our current distribution of energy sources in the US is illustrated below (from US EIA).  In the 2010 plot, wind accounts for 0.013% and photovoltaic solar for 0.002%. Note also that biomass at 6% includes ethanol in gasoline, produced at the expense of food.  It should be understood that the energy to power an electric automobile most often comes from coal, as does the energy for electric home heating, such as heat pumps and electric resistance baseboard heaters.  The only less efficient way to heat a house than electric resistance is to burn it down!

2004

2013

Distribution of energy sources in the USA

           

            Because it can be stored in tanks, transported, and pumped, petroleum is ideal for transportation. Coal stores a lot of energy and requires a railroad for transportation; its use, therefore, is compatible with steam generation of electricity. Mine-mouth electric power plants even eliminate the railroad requirement. Natural gas is abundant in the US, and is used for, industrial processes, home heating, and fleet transportation, and its use is rapidly increasing for electricity generation.  It burns cleanly and efficiently, and can be transported by pipeline or as liquefied natural gas for export. Nuclear power is clean with abundant fuel. It would be as commonplace in the US as it is in Europe were it not for strong lobbies and weak politicians.

Alternative Energy

            This term generally includes hydroelectric, geothermal, wind, and solar. Hydroelectric is used wherever enough running water is available and not used for other purposes such as irrigation or recreation. Geothermal is used wherever hot spots occur in the Earth, such as the mid-Atlantic ridge. Both of these energy sources are clean, efficient, and cheap. Wind and solar are the favorites of the environmentalists. They are hard to site, inefficient, unreliable, and expensive without subsidies. When have you ever heard an environmentalist propose an action that did not cost a lot of money, and in so doing, hurt people or business?

Comments and Predictions

            Inasmuch as energy markets are global, it is not so important whether petroleum is extracted in the Persian Gulf, Texas, North Dakota, Canada, or the Arctic. However, the source of fossil fuels does matter because of logistics, including the method of transportation and the siting of refineries. Thus, exploiting the oil and gas reserves in North America and its adjacent waters will stabilize and lower world energy prices. Although the amount of fossil fuels in the Earth is literally finite, it is effectively increasing owing to exploration and increased efficiency of recovery. Reserves of petroleum and especially natural gas increase every year. Therefore with continued exploration, it makes no sense to wreck the global economy in the presumptuous notion of saving the Earth. Our resources should be used wisely but not parsimoniously.

Computer Models 

            Much of the misinformation is propagated by citing computer models.  The atmosphere cannot be accurately modeled for purposes of reliable weather prediction. In my geology classes I would show a 12-hr. model (NAM) weather forecast for the day of the lecture along with the live weather map at the lecture time.  About 50% of the time the 12-hr forecast was correct. Therefore, if we cannot reliably predict tomorrow's weather, how can we claim climate prediction in 50 or more years?  The reason is models cannot measure all the variables involved in climate, nor can they accurately model climatic processes, so the output is what we would expect—meaningless.  This is not garbage in/garbage out; the data going in are just fine.  This is a failure of the model algorithms. Specifically, climate models do not account well for variables such as: clouds, dust, biological activity, land use, and exchange among carbon reservoirs. Yet the press often frames their reports with statements such as "If scientific models are correct, then (fill in some disaster) will occur."  When formulated this way, the statement is true, even though the conclusion is false.  If you take nothing else from this discussion, it should be, do not believe climate models!

 Predictions

            Qualitatively, I predict that in 50 years, this country will still be using coal and nuclear fission for electricity generation with increased use of natural gas at the expense of coal. Nuclear power depends heavily on economic conditions, and its use should be relatively stable. Although wind will become slightly more important if subsidies continue, it will still constitute only a tiny portion of the mix. Petroleum will still dominate transportation with increasing use of natural gas, if politicians do not obstruct the recovery of the ever-expanding reserves of both. Solar photovoltaic generation requires a scientific breakthrough to make it efficient and will never be a factor on a large scale.

What do you want?

          If your main concern is reducing carbon dioxide emissions, then you should be in favor of nuclear power. If your main concern is energy independence, then you should favor natural gas that is being set free by fracking in many parts of the US as well as the oil shale and tar sands of the western US and Canada. If your main concern is clean air and water, then you should be optimistic.

 Some Common Myths

Politics and the Environment

        The old grassroots conservation movement has given way to the new politicized environmental movement. Politicians take and spend money from some people to secure votes. It has been said that the environmental movement is the new home for this country's communists. Inasmuch as communism is no longer in style, environmentalism offers a more acceptable way to take power from the middle class, redistribute wealth, marginalize religion, and destroy capitalism. If the general population can be convinced that they are doing good, they will drive small, expensive, unsafe cars and generally act against their own welfare. Middle and high school textbooks have diminished factual accuracy in the name of overarching goals like diversity, population control, and saving the planet. I think some of the politicians know that much of today's environmentalism is a hoax, but go along to get along and stay in office. Others are just too ignorant of science or of low mental capacity that they cannot perceive the truth.

Al Gore's absurd statement

            "At stake is nothing less than the survival of human civilization and the habitability of the Earth for our species." (Al Gore, 2006). One's own common sense establishes Mr. Gore's statement as absurd; no one needs me to explain that to them. So how can one take anything the man says seriously? Although I am optimistic that the truth will finally become clear, I am pessimistic in the short run, because of the widespread misinformation in the education system, the press, and politicians.

Overactive Government

            A good example of an intrusive and ill-informed government initiative is the 2007 law that mandates fluorescent and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) by 2012. So the workhorse incandescent bulb available in numerous sizes and tints should be replaced by 80 year-old technology. CFLs are coiled versions of the standard fluorescent tubes in many ceilings first commercialized by GE in 1934, all of which contain mercury that has not bothered anyone in all those years. LEDs are actually new technology that really is efficient and long lived, but are not available in large enough sizes yet to replace incandescent bulbs. When they are, the market will favor them.

The Earth as God

            A key aspect of environmentalism is replacing God with mother Earth. We are told that we must save the planet, as if man could alter major  processes no matter how hard we tried. A key aspect of today's environmentalism is to diminish humans while elevating plants, animals, and their ecology. Man is prohibited from drilling for oil if it will alter the environment of some animal. We are told to use less energy to save it for later generations, yet we are told to drive plug-in cars even though they use more energy than gasoline powered ones. Government employees including teachers are constrained not to mention God; the press largely does not believe in God, and some of the elite think they are god. Perhaps the only thing left to do is to pray that God will enlighten those who inhabit His Earth.

Summary Thoughts

            To call oneself green these days, it is expected that you be conscious of your carbon footprint, recycle everything, worry about all species except Homo sapiens, and curtail your use of energy to the extent that it impairs your lifestyle. In other words, to be green, we must fret about things not under our control, impose hardship and expense on ourselves to effect change that we cannot perceive. This is all to save the planet from ourselves, as if we could control the climate of a 4.5 billion year old planet. The oxygen-rich atmosphere did not even exist for the first 2 Ga, and since then, its composition and temperature distribution have changed widely. We have been bombarded by comets and meteors, seen mass extinctions, glaciations that extended to "snowball earth" conditions. What arrogance makes us think we can save the Earth?  Mr. Gore's statement seems even more simple-minded!

             Another noteworthy aspect of environmentalism is that it does not require us to learn about environmental processes, but only do what so-called experts tell us. Contrast this know-nothing approach with studying the physical sciences, engineering, and economics and their application to our climate. With even a modicum of knowledge of these fields, one could discern where problems exist, prioritize them, and apply effective solutions. Moreover, we would become aware of man's limited power over things terrestrial. We might also thank the Creator for our resources.

 

J. J. Friel, Ph.D.

1/30/15