Archive for August 3rd, 2008

A positive spin on an out-of-control world

| 03/08/2008 | 6 Comments

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, andif 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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Online Classified section coming soon

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