A positive spin on an out-of-control world

| 03/08/2008

Given all the negative stories in the media in the last few months, I thought it would be as well to add some sunshine to the picture.  Today we are faced with climate change and all that this entails. What, you may ask, could possibly be good on a planet faced with all these problems?

An energy shortage with rapidly rising fuel prices, rising food prices, an unsustainable level of human population and an economic recession.

96% of the world’s transportation energy is currently supplied by oil.

$75 = Cost of barrel of oil on July 18th, 2007.

$131 = Cost of barrel of oil on July 18th, 2008.

This has to be seen as an advantageous period for all of us. It is a time when, yes, we will have make huge investments in changing our way of life and our technology. However, the potential of the coming period is unimaginably great. Whether you are an investor in a new alternative energy startup or perhaps you are thinking of a better life for your children and grand children, this is a time when each and every one of us can actually make a positive change for good of mankind. This is a time ofrevolutionary change; it is bigger than the change from an agricultural society to an industrial society. It is the time to seize the day and realize that we can have a clean atmosphere, sparkling rivers and an ocean full of fish.

The positive side of this all of this is that we can fix many of the problems with existing technology and knowledge. It will not be cheap and it will mean a change in our lifestyles, but the outcome will be a better life for our children and grandchildren. Lord Nicholas Stern in his report has suggested that it will cost us on a global scale 1% of global GDP each year to fix the global warming problem by sequestering or burying CO2 (carbon), but if we wait it will cost us 20% of global GDP per year for the foreseeable future. The alternative is a climate that will expose us to what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calls “risks of large-scale singularities” or what Wallace Broecker more colourfully called “unpleasant surprises in the greenhouse”.

We have to stop pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. There is no longer time for excuses, we have to stop. And we can do so. It can’t be done overnight, but we can collectively put a price and a cap on carbon output and let the market dictate how the polluters sequester their output. There is a great deal of research and development going on at present. Eli Gal, who two decades ago at General Electric made quantum improvements in sulphur dioxide scrubbers, is confident that the technology for carbon capture or removing the carbon from the exhaust gas of coal powered power plants will become “so cheap that plant operators won’t notice it”. It won’t be as easy as it was with sulphur dioxide, for where a 500 megawatt power plant produced 50,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, the same plant would produce 3 million tons of carbon dioxide. But is can be done, and we have no choice.

If we look back to the 70s, the compulsory inclusion of catalytic converters on new motor vehicles to combat air pollution is proof that technological advances can quickly address what were considered intractable problems without sacrificing modern amenity.

There are biotechnology firms that have invented technologies to use algae to efficiently convert carbon dioxide to oxygen and biomass. By running a power plant’s flue gas through a type of algae soup, the algae is able to remove 82% of the carbon dioxide on sunny days and 50% when it was overcast (the difference being the reduced photosynthesis on overcast days). Algae can also be grown for oil extraction, a process much more efficient that ethanol from corn or soybean, and furthermore is not depleting food production.

In the field of solar energy manufacturers are now able to print photovoltaics on to film making it a question of ‘how many miles would you like?’ The output of one of these manufacturers is sold out for the next few years. This new technology is bringing the cost down by 50%. In the wind turbine field there are now plug and play models that require only the installation of a breaker box to tie them into your home system. There are also new designs that are very quiet and will generate power at fairly low wind speeds.

Caribbean Utilities Company is, as of this week, requesting expressions of interest in wind turbines for the Cayman Islands.

Our societies will change from our normal throwaway economy, which not only wastes resources but energy as well, as stated by Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute.

In the electric vehicle industry, battery technology is improving at a phenomenal rate with nano-technology being used to improve the performance of Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, and if we restructure the transportation system using mass transit to replace cars, we can reduce materials use by 87% and fuel use accordingly. Honda has just announced that their FCX Clarity will be hitting the streets of Southern California in the coming weeks and you might catch a glimpse of the future. The first handpicked drivers of the FCX Clarity zero-emission fuel cell vehicle are out and about, leaving only water vapor behind.

Just imagine driving to work in an electric car and there is no noise from the engine and acceleration when needed is impressive. Nor will there will be great clouds of foul smelling exhaust gasses when you are out for your evening jog.

This is our chance to demand of our leaders that they make the changes to international treaties, local legislation and policy to make this a better world. This planet is the only home we have and therefore we have no option but to make it work. The alternative is not a pleasant thought. Over my desk I have two photographs, one of this planet from 300,000 miles out labeled Option #2 and the other of the surface of the Moon from an altitude of 250 miles labeled Option #1, and the choice is as they say is a ‘no brainer’. These photographs provide a great deal of motivation to me on a daily basis. They remind me that my children and their descendants will require this, our home, for many generations to come.

Nick Robson is Chairman of The Cayman Institute



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  1. Anonymous says:

    at the same time there is little doubt that there has been a significant increase in temperature in recent times. The significant problem that most have is why.

    I have seen some comments that there is a cooling based upon satellite data. The problem with that idea is that you check the accuracy of satellite data with observational data from weather stations mainly and they show an increase.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Could you please explain this comment


    "Their famous "Hockey Stick" shaped graph of recent world temperatures has been shown to be fraudulent."

    • Anonymous says:
      The IPCC’s hockey stick is a graph of  the earth’s temperature covering the last 600 years.
      It shows a flat curve from 1400 AD to about 1900, and then a sharp rise up from then.
      It omits the fact that the earth’s temperature was much higher in 1200 AD than it is now, and grossly over states the rise since 1900.
      It has been the Warmist’s main supports for predicting alarming warming, and is always quoted by those who are pushing global warming.
      In fact, after the last ice age which ended about 10,000 years ago,  the earth warmed up warmed up continuously for 3000 years when the Sumerians founded their civilization. After that, it cooled off  for a few  thousand years before turning up again, reaching another peak around 1200 AD.
      However, this peak was not as high as the previous one, but it was high enough for the Vikings to discover Greenland and grow crops there. There were also flourishing vineyards all over Britain.
      The next downturn in the earth’s temperature froze the Vikings out of Greenland by 1450 AD, as it descended into the mini ice age.
      One quesition I have always asked the Warmists is "Who was doing the CO2 to cause these knwon large temperature variations since the last ice age?
      Even more, who was doing the CO2 to cause the four 100,000 year long ice ages in the last 650,000 years, when there were no humans around?


  3. Anonymous says:

    I enjoyed reading Nick Robson’s essay entitled "A positive spin on an out-of-control world"

    Certainly, the world IS out of control, and Nick has written a forceful and well organized analysis.
    However, because it contains so many factual errors, it is misleading.
    The  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC) has been discredited in recent years, particularly in the last two years. In fact, there is nowhere near a scientific consensus on the dramatic and sensational claims made by this panel.
    Their famous "Hockey Stick" shaped graph of recent world temperatures has been shown to be fraudulent. Their mathematical models on long term climate change, which I have looked at, are packed with guesses, called "parameterizations"  to replace unknown and unmeasurable quantities and feedbacks which are needed by the models.
    It’s no wonder that none of their models can track or explain the known climate changes in the past, or even predict climate changes even one year ahead.
    Last winter was so severe that it broke cold records all over the world and set global warming back by at least 10 years. The current winter underway now in Australia, and the current summer in Canada, are continuing this cooling trend.
    Many climatologists are concerned about the global cooling which began around the year 2000. What’s more, this cooling trend correlates with the sun’s activity as measured by the number of sun spots.
    It is known that the medieval mini ice age, which lasted for 400 years, is correlated with a period of little or no sunspot activity called the Maunder Minimum.
    The relevance of this to our climate today is that the number of sunspots has been declining since about 2002. Solar Cycle 23 ended two or more years ago, and Solar Cycle 24 has not yet started. Solar scientists say they do not know why , that this is unprecedented, and do not know when the sun will startup again.
    Last winter was the most severe in a chain of recent cold winters, which indicates that we may be in a trend. I hope not, but our coming winter will be very interesting indeed.
    CO2 concentration is another non-problem. Many climatologists are now saying there is very little, if any, correlation between CO2 and world temperatures. One even said that we need triple the CO2 concentration that we have now, to optimize plant growth and food production.
    So far from trying to reduce CO2, we should be doing the opposite.
    Nevertheless, I am against burning any fossil fuels for energy, and not because of any adverse climate effects. Oil, in particular, is far too valuable for other uses, such as making plastics, paints, and the chemicals we need for industry.
    So, what is the best way to replace the power generated from fossil fuels. The US gets 50% of its electricity from coal, 20% from nuclear, and about 20% from natural gas.
    The obvious solution is to build more nuclear power stations.They burn uranium, which does not have any other use, and produce no pollution at all. There are new designs which are modular, compact, that are intrinsically safe, breed more fuel than they use, and produce far less waste.
    For example, the new Hyperion Power Generator, can produce 25 megawatts for 10 years on one fuel charge, requires no moving parts, fits into a small space, and produces very little waste. It will be shipped as a modular, sealed, unit at an estimated cost of $25 million.
    Can wind power, solar power, wave power, tidal power, geothermal power, algae power, the hydrogen cycle or ethanol ever produce the concentrations of energy that we need to run our industries.
    No, they are far too dilute. Solar energy, for example, is only 1200 watts per square meter, out which only 240 watts can be harvested using our most efficient solar cells. Thin film solar cells are only 10% efficient.
    The 560 megawatt thin film solar power plant just announced in California will cover 9.6 square miles. Unfortunately it will only work when the sun shines.
    Wind power is also too dilute, Most large wind turbines generate 1 megawatt under optimal wind conditions, requiring 1000 of them to equal the output of one standard fossil or nuclear fueled power plant. And once again, only when the wind blows.
    Geothermal plants have many problems, including cooling the geothermal reservoirs from which they tap their heat.  Because of low temperatures, around 300 degF max, their steam cannot efficiently drive steam turbines.
    The national electrical grid is not designed to supply the whole country. It is designed to carry power between load points, and depends on large generating stations to anchor those load points.
    For example, New York’s recent power outage was caused by New York not having enough of its own power generation, Its power demand simply overloaded the power grid.
    I am mentioning this because it costs a lot of  money to install and maintain power grids. You just cannot hook up diverse wind turbines to any power grid unless they are supplying enough power to make it worth while.
    Depending on distance, terrain, and other factors, you may need thousands of megawatts to justify feeder lines to the nearest power grid. 
    This works in favor of large fossil or nuclear power plants, and against solar or wind power.
    Therefore, the place for  solar and wind is on roof tops, or in neighborhoods.
    The trouble today is that no one seems to think in terms of overall system efficiency and costs.
    The Intenet andpress are  chock full of  hype that will never see the light of day. Most of them are chasing public money, trying to find bureaucrats who are dumb enough (not hard to find) who will give them money.
    Ideas which are not even close to being practical are being announced every day, for example oil from algae.
    All this does is confuse the public. It’s way past time that the powers that be start asking for overal systems analysis before wasting our taxpayer’s money. For heaven’s sake, why do not they hire a few independent systems engineers to make a public report before committing our money on what are usually hair brained schemes?
    Gerry Miller, P.Eng. (retired)
  4. Anonymous says:



  5. Guy says:

    Wow! That was outstanding.

    Thank you!