Tuesday, November 30, 2010

CLEAN Coal! (Say WATT?)

The December 2010 issue of the Atlantic shows an amazing turn-around by the Global Warming alarmists! Yes, they are still alarmed and predicting imminent climate change disaster, but ...

BUT, they have reversed themselves on their previous 'ol devil coal! (This follows their equally sharp reversal on nuclear energy over the past few years.)

Turns out we need coal to generate Watts of electricity for our electric cars and, they say, we can do it in a way that is environmentally correct.

The cover story, by respected author James Fallows, is titled Why the Future of Clean Energy is Dirty Coal. {Click the link to read it free online.}

"To environmentalists, 'clean coal' is an insulting oxymoron. But for now, the only way to meet the world’s energy needs, and to arrest climate change before it produces irreversible cataclysm, is to use coal—dirty, sooty, toxic coal— ..."

Recall that, only last year, a leading alarmist, NASA's James Hansen, one of the key science advisors on Al Gore's The Inconvenient Truth movie, wrote:

"..coal is the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on our planet. ... The dirtiest trick that governments play on their citizens is the pretense that they are working on “clean coal”..." and "The trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains. Coal-fired power plants are factories of death."
Amazingly, while atmospheric CO2 is still the bogeyman of what alarmists say is an imminent Global Warming disaster, coal, which is nearly all carbon and generates CO2 when burned as intended, is part of the solution! Fallows writes:

Before James Watt invented the steam engine in the late 1700s—that is, before human societies had much incentive to burn coal and later oil in large quantities—the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was around 280 parts per million, or ppm ... By 1900, as Europe and North America were industrializing, it had reached about 300 ppm.

Now the carbon-dioxide concentration is at or above 390 ppm, which is probably the highest level in many millions of years. “We know that the last time CO2 was sustained at this level, much of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets were not there,” Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State, told me. Because of the 37 billion annual tons of carbon-dioxide emissions, the atmospheric carbon-dioxide level continues to go up by about two ppm a year. For perspective: by the time today’s sixth-graders finish high school, the world carbon-dioxide level will probably have passed 400 ppm, and by the time most of them are starting families, it will have entered the 420s. ...

Michael Mann told me. “What we have with rising CO2 levels in general is a dramatically increasing probability of serious and deleterious change in our climate.” He went down the list: more frequent, severe, and sustained heat waves, like those that affected Russia and the United States this summer; more frequent and destructive hurricanes and floods; more frequent droughts, like the “thousand-year drought” that has devastated Australian agriculture; and altered patterns of the El NiƱo phenomenon, which will change rainfall patterns in the Americas. ...
You should recognize Michael Mann as the creator of the deceptive "hockey stick curve" at the center of many of the Climategate emails. (See this and this and this and this.)

So, what is the solution? Fallows writes:

Isn’t “clean energy” the answer? Of course—because everything is the answer. The people I spoke with and reports I read differed in emphasis, sometimes significantly. Some urged greater stress on efficiency and conservation; some, a faster move toward nuclear power or natural gas; some, an all-out push for solar power and other renewable sources ...

“Emotionally, we would all like to think that wind, solar, and conservation will solve the problem for us,” David Mohler of Duke Energy told me. “Nothing will change, our comfort and convenience will be the same, and we can avoid that nasty coal. Unfortunately, the math doesn’t work that way.”...

Coal will be with us because it is abundant: any projected “peak coal” stage would come many decades after the world reaches “peak oil.” It will be with us because of where it’s located: the top four coal-reserve countries are the United States, Russia, China, and India, which together have about 40 percent of the world’s population and more than 60 percent of its coal. ...

“I know this is a theological issue for some people,” Julio Friedmann of Lawrence Livermore said. “Solar and wind power are going to be important, but it is really hard to get them beyond 10 percent of total power supply.” ...

What would progress on coal entail? The proposals are variations on two approaches: ways to capture carbon dioxide before it can escape into the air and ways to reduce the carbon dioxide that coal produces when burned. In “post-combustion” systems, the coal is burned normally, but then chemical or physical processes separate carbon dioxide from the plume of hot flue gas that comes out of the smokestack. Once “captured” as a relatively pure stream of carbon dioxide, this part of the exhaust is pressurized into liquid form and then sold or stored. ...

“Pre-combustion” systems are fundamentally more efficient. In them, the coal is treated chemically to produce a flammable gas with lower carbon content than untreated coal. This means less carbon dioxide going up the smokestack to be separated and stored.

Either way, pre- or post-, the final step in dealing with carbon is “sequestration”—doing something with the carbon dioxide that has been isolated at such cost and effort, so it doesn’t just escape into the air. ... All larger-scale, longer-term proposals for storing carbon involve injecting it deep underground, into porous rock that will trap it indefinitely. In the right geological circumstances, the captured carbon dioxide can even be used for “enhanced oil recovery,” forcing oil out of the porous rock into which it is introduced and up into wells.
According to Fallows, China is in the lead on this clean coal technology, with help from American and other western corporations. While it is good that at least some of the Global Warming alarmists are warming up to coal as a necessary part of the solution, it would be better IMHO, if they were also more realistic about the actual dangers of climate change and the likelihood (again IMHO) that most of the warming of the past century is due to natural cycles not under human control and that we are likely already in a multi-decade period of stable temperatures, and perhaps a bit of cooling.

Yes, I think we need to do something about the unprecedented steady rise in CO2 levels, but we have to do it is a way that will not destroy our economies or force us to drastically reduce our lifestyles. One thing I agree with James Hansen about is that an across-the-board carbon tax, assessed equally against all sequestered fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) and collected at the mine, well, or port, is the best solution, far more suitable to the task than the "cap and trade" political scam, and more likely to work.

Rather than have governments pick winners (and mess up as they did with corn ethanol subsidies that raised food prices and reduced gas mileage without doing much to control CO2 emissions) I prefer to tax carbon progressively a bit more each year and let industry and other users decide for themselves how to adapt to the higher prices. Nothing stimulates action and invention like saving your own money. Nothing wastes money like government taking money from "Mr. A" and giving it to "Mr. B" for the "good of society".


Another story in the same issue of the Atlantic is about famed physicist Freeman Dyson and The Danger of Cosmic Genius.{Click the link to read it free online.}

They write:
In the range of his genius, Freeman Dyson is heir to Einstein—a visionary who has reshaped thinking in fields from math to astrophysics to medicine, and who has conceived nuclear-propelled spaceships designed to transport human colonists to distant planets. And yet on the matter of global warming he is, as an outspoken skeptic, dead wrong: wrong on the facts, wrong on the science. How could someone as smart as Dyson be so dumb about the environment?
Does it occur to them that the Global Warming alarmists may be the ones who are wrong?

Ira Glickstein

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Effects of human behavior on life of our planet

[From David Sussman, posted by Ira with his permission and based on his 12 November 2010 presentation to the Philosophy Club, The Villages, Fl, Click here to Download the Powerpoint presentation.]

The structure of the analysis contains essentially three components:

(1) The human condition,

(2) behavioral consequences deleterious to the future of life on Earth, and

(3) a view of the future.

The human condition derives essentially from our evolutionary history, all of us products of an unbroken string of survivors stretching back to the first glimmers of life from self-replicating molecules 3.5 billion years ago. As humans are one of countless species, extant and extinct, created by natural processes, there is no reason to believe that we, or any other, are endowed with freedom of choice. This is regarded as an illusion stemming from other features of the strategy honed for us by nature, e.g. consciousness and speech. Our strategy is enshrouded in myth, explained by Reg Morrison (Spirit in the Gene) as a necessity predicated on the need for emotional response to immediate threat rather than logical analysis. Another dimension of our ‘condition’, and linked inevitably to the others, is our propensity to expand our numbers much beyond what our rational faculties would inform us is sustainable and compatible with an extended tenure for us and other life forms on Earth.

Behavioral consequences - Of the wide array of possibilities that arise from our condition, essentially coalesced into our particular operational strategy, I have selected a few salient behavioral characteristics that I believe bear most strongly on prospects for the future of life:

  • our failure to nurture so as to maintain natural identity and physical and mental health of every child on Earth, or to inculcate an appreciation of the tenets of democracy;
  • stressing rights rather than responsibilities in social organization, leading to excesses as best described by Garrett Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons”;
  • sex exploitation in its many manifestations – for the purposes of dominance, manipulation and economic advantage;
  • the unholy alliance of religion and politics, each employing similar strategies for securing operatives’ aggrandizement;
  • the divorce of science from philosophy, leaving its practitioners devoid of a framework that could more productively guide the nature and applications of their inquiries;
  • our propensity to take confrontation beyond the brink to violence and mayhem;
  • the practice of concentrating capital and other forces leading to inordinate disparity in the distribution of wealth and other life amenities.

What of the future? Is humanity at an evolutionary dead end? Certainly survival in civilized society is different from what would be dictated by nature “red in tooth and claw”. And although evolution proceeds at a snails pace, culture sweeps through like a zephyr. The absence of choice leaves it up to nature, the overseer of both evolution and culture, as well as conditions that we will confront in the future. Are we capable of predicting the future? Inherent uncertainty in physical processes that underlie all that we think and do, precludes prognostication. Societies, as any other complex system, are either fundamentally too complex for our “poor power” or subject to both subatomic (with macroscopic manifestations) and chaotic uncertainty.

David Sussman
NOTE: See earlier discussion related to David Sussman's presentation in a topic posted by Joel last week.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Semantic Puzzles

[from Joel, image added by Ira]
The philosopher Wittgenstein believed that there are no philosophical problems, only semantic puzzles. David Sussman, our speaker at Friday's [The Villages, FL] philosophy club meeting presented a talk about humanism. Among other things, he presented the philosophical problem that a mechanistic approach to the human mind excludes the possibility of free will and yet we believe we have free will. He proposed that perhaps a person cannot be blamed for what is an inevitable consequence of brain machinery. I believe this is just an example of a semantic puzzle. Can you state the puzzle and find the solution?