CAN OUR WORLD AS WE KNOW IT END?
In order to better answer this loaded title, I have a question for you? If governments had told Henry Ford that replacing the horse drawn wagons with cars, which use gasoline, would cause the melting of the polar ice, as well as typhoons, hurricanes, flooding of coastal areas and polluted air, and the first human being who found coal was excellent for heating their cave in a bonfire, would be told to cease and desist because it pollutes the air in the world, and Thomas Edison, the greatest of the American inventors would be told you cannot produce electricity, the most popular of all inventions ,by burning coal because it is a polluter , would anybody have listened? What about passenger jets for travel and factories and houses for heating with coal or oil. The question is superfluous. Nobody knew at that time the effects of the CO2 released. Co2 released contributes to air pollution in its role of the “greenhouse effect” Co2 traps radiation of heat at ground level creating ground level ozone. This atmospheric layer prevents the earth from cooling. In any case giving humans this information, this vital information, would have been useless. Humans and all living beings act on the” here and the now” All living things act for their” present” benefit.
I would like to point out that humans are the only entities alive that have the inherent intelligence to actually ruin the world they were born into, but acting on the “here and now” prevents them from taking logical action because the benefit they will receive is not “now” or close enough to make a difference. So as to prevent the readers of this latest addition to my blog from actually committing suicide , I am going to tell you that some humans with their superior intelligence have found solutions which allow them to adhere to the “here and now ” principle or close enough to continue.
CARBONIZATION IS THE PROBLEM–ELECTRICITY IS THE ANSWER
The benefits of climate action lie in the future. It is hard to tell what exactly will happen but it is to the benefit of poorer populations and countries with well-organized interest group which exercise nearly all the political power. With interests not aligned it is not easy to organize. The positive aspect is that the costs are going down. It will lead to reshaping about ten sectors in the global economy such as electric power, transportation and parts of agricultural output . In electric power a major transformation is already underway, and low-emission technologies are more apparent in China, India and most Western countries. Clever policy interventions in wind, solar and nuclear power could soon make countries ‘power grids far less dependent on conventional fuels and radically reduce emissions. In high emission industries deep decarbonization is slow to arrive, unless companies are convinced that the process represents not only costs and risks for investors, but also an opportunity to increase value and revenue for the companies themselves. Few companies, very few, have begun to test zero-emission technologies at the appropriate scale. Governments and businesses must come together NOW and not make international worthless agreements which are not adhered to like mild ” carbon taxes”. For deep decarbonization electricity is the answer, but its use by itself is only part of the solution. It is not beneficial to produce electricity from coal or oil all over the world. It is far more beneficial to have a modest number of power plants distributing the clean electricity by wire. Today Western economies convert about 30% of their energy into electric power. Serious decarbonization demands this figure be doubled. Transportation and heating today still rely on vast amounts of fossil fuels. Transportation accounts for 27% of global energy nearly all of it burning oil.
Cars at this time are making changes. The latest electric vehicles rival conventional cars in performance and cost ,and are 8% of new sales in California (only1.3% in the USA) but with subsidies 56 % in Norway. With improved batteries heavier-duty vehicles could follow. As an example China now fields 420,000 electric buses.
Air travel makes up 2% of global emissions but is growing, but condensation trails in the sky doubles its warming effects . A modern battery can store only 2% of the energy contained in the comparable weight of jet fuel, which means to travel a long distance a big jet airlines would have to carry a heavy load in batteries, thus less passengers. Long distance shipping faces great challenges, so that electrification probably is not the answer yet, because it requires not only changing the conveyances but also building new charging infrastructures.
Besides transportation the most important electrification frontier is heating, not only in buildings, but as part of industrial production. Heating consumes about half the raw energy that people and firms use around the world. The industrial processes that require very high temperatures such as producing cement and steel and the refining of oil (for plastics) will continue to depend on on-site fossil fuel combustion for the foreseeable future ,since electricity cannot match the flexibility and power of direct fuel combustion.
Using electric energy will not on its own reduce emissions by much unless the power grid that generates this electricity gets cleaner. China has made progress in this regard by trashing old coal plants with new one that are more efficient. Fracking in the U.S. cuts down on emissions by extracting shale gas. In 2005 ,coal accounted for half the electricity produced. Now with shale gas, coals share is down to 1/4 .There is an old saying If you cannot beat them, bury them. This is possible with the help of so called CARBON CAPTURE and STORAGE (CCS). You capture the carbon emissions from the power sector released by all processes and pump it underground. This is in the development stage and would entail the redesign of power plants.
Improved fossil fuel technology has amounted to only shallow decarbonization–enough to slow the rate of carbonization. In the U.S. emissions have dropped by 29% since 2005 thanks to the shale gas revolution. To prevent the world from warming further will require technologies with zero emissions such as wind, solar and nuclear power and a mature hydro-electric industry in addition to CCS, if it proves feasible. According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, these low carbon technology would need to generate 80% of the worlds electricity (up from about 1/3 today) to limit warming to two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.
Human nature plays an important role, positively and negatively, in keeping our world intact. Thanks to the decreases in cost of wind and solar power equipment- and to a mature hydro-electric system power industry- renewable energy now accounts for over one-quarter of global electricity production. In the U.S.A. the cost of electricity from solar farms has dropped by 90% since 2009 and wind energy prices by 70%. But the problem is two-fold. People do not want these massive windmills close to where they live, because they are unsightly and create noise, and the same is true for massive solar panels. So now the main challenge is not to make energy cheaper but to integrate them into our standing power grids without disruptions. To avoid blackouts, a power grid must align, supply and demand at all times. However energy output from wind and solar depends on the weather, the season and the daily rise of the sun. The more a power grid relies on renewables , the more supply will not meet the demand. The users must vary their demand for power. and find ways to store surplus electricity on a much larger scale. Today nearly all bulk storage capacity takes the form of hydroelectric pumps, which store electricity by moving water uphill and recovering about 80% of the power when it flows back down. The use of electric vehicles is driving down the cost of lithium batteries which could be an affordable way to store energy at the grid level.
Nuclear energy is another form of zero-emission technology and you can receive flexible amounts of electricity to cover the supply gaps from wind and solar power. France`s nuclear reactors can switch from 1/4 to full power twice a day but The U.S.A and Canada after what happened at Chernobyl in Russia in 1986 and Fukushima Doiichi in Japan are very hesitant to continue on this route. Lives were lost in Russia and Japan and the costs were horrendous. Most countries would do well to expand nuclear power but public opinion at this time does not favour this move in North America. In China and South Korea which have active up to date nuclear power stations, costs are much lower and public opinion is less pronounced. Russia at this time, not renowned for its diligence regarding safety, is trying to export the technology with little success, but surprisingly Abu Dhabi`s purchase of four gigantic South Korean-built reactors set to start operating next year, shows great promise. Saudi Arabia which uses much fossil fuel may be next in line for a nuclear reactor.
There is no unanimity between engineers and economists who favour nuclear and carbon capture and storage, and political scientists who favour renewables, but then the problem of where to put them arises .Power lines make problems. Where to put them? There is desert in California which produces power for San Diego but it took 10 years to build a line that should have been finished in two. Citizens threw roadblocks in the way. That is how democracy works. China, not a very democratic country, does not consult its people, and builds wherever it wants ,when it wants . It has surpassed the United States and Europe and built dozens of high voltage lines, most in the last decade crossing its country.
Hydrogen is a new factor in carrying energy from producer to user with many advantages. It is easy to store making it ideal for power systems dependant on ever-fluctuating supplies of renewable energy. It can be burned without producing new emissions to generate high levels of heat in heavy industry that could replace on-site fossil fuel in sectors hard to electrify. It can be burned in pure form or mixed with other chemicals as liquid fuel to power cars, trucks, ships and airplanes . A zero emission economy could integrate the two carriers-electricity and hydrogen- using each dependant on suitability for different sectors. The technology needed to turn Hydrogen into an energy carrier exists in principle but at this time is too expensive (electrolyze water into Hydrogen and Oxygen) and the Hydrogen could then be transported through natural gas pipelines which already exist. Europe is poised to drive down the cost rapidly in Stockholm for making steel, Port Arthur in Texas for industrial chemistry and in Leeds England for residential heat.
CCS is posed to take off but commercial firms at this time need world help so if there are problems so they do not lose money alone. Changes are needed in the diets of cows, sheep and other livestock so they release less methane a warming gas , 34 to 86 times as bad as Carbon Dioxide. It would help if people ate less meat. Not very likely. There is the possibility to cultivate plants that are bred to grow large roots . These plants that engage in photosynthesis use Carbon Dioxide from the air to grow, why not the Carbon Dioxide humans buried. Remember Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). Farmers could avoid tilling the soil and the plants use the CO2 humans buried. It is possible to take CO2 from the air, compress it and bury it. As yet too expensive but humans are working on the problem.
It is quite apparent to all but the obtuse, that climate change has become more disastrous than originally thought, just as the people who make the decisions are realizing that cutting emissions is more difficult than passing air (farting), much more difficult. There is a large gap between climate goals, as in the Paris agreement`s target limiting warming to 1.5-2.0 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, and the facts on the ground. At this point the world has warmed 1.1 degrees and more is possible given the present inertia of governments and human nature. To close the gap between aspirations and reality, governments, and all of societies must realize they are playing with potential disaster if they depend on seductive, market based carbon pricing. The world needs new technology and much, much more R&D , and a real belief in the direction we are taking. In each major emitting sector, governments should create public-private partnerships to invest in and deploy possible solutions. This is an area the U.N. can function in, as it not only affects states ,it affects everybody alive and the problem will not be thwarted by states in the U.N. with their own interests ,which is how the U.N. acts now. It is in everybody’s interest to stop climate change.
The issue is too complicated to take on in a blog of this nature. The problem is countries with many different land masses now comprising deserts, lakes, rivers, forests mountains, valleys, and different industries . The problem cannot be left anymore to individual countries, companies or industries. In the nineteenth century man harnessed fossil fuels for industrial growth which led to massive warming of the earth. The defining project of this century which includes massive transformations of entire infrastructures may take even longer . It has been estimated for each degree of global warming you get about one billion people in trouble said Marten Scheffer an ecologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. The world must act quickly and effectively, or transfers of massive populations will take place that will create turmoil never before experienced. National boundaries and borders will mean nothing. NOTHING