Climate Change, Beijing Smog and New Energy
Recently tens of thousands of people met in Paris to create an agreement on action to mitigate "climate change." At the same time Beijing was experiencing some of the most severe smog in its history. The climate change talks were addressing a perceived problem that may be partially caused by CO2 in the atmosphere that is created by human action. The action items may or may not be the correct ones and may or may not be implemented and certainly will not be implemented soon enough or completely enough to address the problems in Beijing.
The smog in Beijing contained some carbon but the serious problem was the particulates that were a result of burning coal, oil and other fuels mostly by industry. I traveled through parts of China, including Beijing, in November 1991 with an international group of about 20. The smog was terrible in cities and rural areas alike. Trash and agricultural waste was burning along many roads and dwellings were being heated by primitive coal stoves. Steam locomotives powered slow and rickety trains. Traffic moved slowly on narrow roads congested with relatively few cars surrounded by bicycles, slow small trucks and overloaded wagons drawn by small smoking tractors with less power than a suburban garden tractor. Virtually everyone in our group had respiratory problems after a few days.
In 2013 I visited the Shanghai area and it was a different country. Modern cars and trucks from around the world traveled new multilane highways, high-speed elevated trains were better than anything in the U.S. and the amount of construction had to be seen to be believed. The smog was still bad but it was supporting a much larger GNP. The amount of fuel burned and smog produced per unit of work done was much less but the amount of work being done overpowered the results of greater efficiency, so the net effect on air quality (and water quality) was that it was in many areas worse than in 1991. The huge building boom has to taper off, and may do so with a crash, but when it does the air quality should improve. Further improvements in efficiency and conversion to cleaner fuels replacing coal will improve air quality much more.
This will happen with or without a climate change agreement because the problem is obvious and affects virtually everyone in the area in the present time. Carbon dioxide per se is not the issue in this but it will be reduced along with the pollutants that are causing immediate discomfort and health problems. It is a bit strange to make such a case against CO2 which is exhaled by virtually all animal life including humans and is essential to plant life which we depend on. Moderately higher CO2 levels enhance plant growth, including crops and trees which we may be glad to have.
The proposed agreement mostly addresses carbon. What about methane, which is a far more potent greenhouse gas? Contrary to the "fossil fuel" myth, it has most likely been in the earth since its formation. It is a major component of the solar system which is clearly seen in the gas giant planets and it is reasonable that it could be part of the makeup of the earth when it was formed. These ideas were discussed by Thomas Gold in his book, The Deep Hot Biosphere. This methane will continue to leak out of the earth for at least thousands of years no matter what mankind thinks of it.
The climate change agreement discusses the idea of modifying emitted gasses to keep the increase in temperature of the earth to less than a 2°C rise since the beginning of the industrial age or maybe only 1.5°C if more action is taken. Man has not figured out the ice ages. To think that the action that will result from this agreement can control the temperature of the earth like a thermostat is absurd. The only reason it was presented seriously is because of mass ignorance of the true mechanisms at work in the overall operation of the earth, which also includes the operation of the sun. Carbon reduction has become a religion and like all religions there are "true believers" that get on the band wagon without real thought. Many other mechanisms are at work and most have a much more important immediate effect than carbon.
Smog is one of them and reducing that will automatically solve more problems than the complexity of getting over 100 countries and billions of people to cooperate to get rid of a gas that cannot be detected without instrumentation and that they themselves exhale along with the animals that they raise for food and the crops that feed them need. A more pronounced and direct impact on temperature is caused by forests. Solving the world deforestation problems will also solve more problems and part of the result will be less carbon, less soil erosion, more oxygen, more even temperatures, more wildlife and more rainfall in the region affected. Development of new energy technologies would reduce carbon and have innumerable beneficial side effects.
The money that has been, and will be, spent on agreements that will not work aimed at a problem that is minor compared to numerous others, would be much better spent solving obvious local and world problems that will show direct benefit while incidentally also reducing carbon emissions.
Not only are governments not solving the perceived problem, they have exacerbated it by promoting the oil industry for decades. The damage this has caused is immense even if the wars over oil are not included. The incentives and tax benefits to the oil industry have kept the price of oil much lower than it would have been had it been a level playing field. Even when for political reasons the price of oil rose significantly as in the early 1970s, the opportunity to reduce dependence on it was bungled. Many companies started developing products and methods to reduce oil consumption and instead of letting them be market driven the government offered tax credits often given out illogically and politically which distorted the market; ultimately the price of oil came down and tax credits were eliminated, causing the demise of most of that industry. Companies were selling tax credits, not products. The market would have driven a slower and more sustainable growth with a lasting effect.
Widespread ignorance of the whole energy issue has driven a lot of poor policy decisions, including decisions made by corporations. In the early 1970s it was widely believed that oil would be gone in 30 years. Forty years later we are wondering where to put all the excess being produced. The first mistake is that oil is not a fossil fuel. It is hard to believe that people still fall for that nonsense. As Thomas Gold said decades ago, it is a result of the action of the deep hot biosphere on the methane that has been present from the formation of the solar system and earth. There is more hydrocarbon fuel available than man will ever need or use. It is just a matter of developing the technology to harvest it. After decades of evidence this should be obvious but the media keeps the masses ignorant.
And the military industrial complex needs to have war and oil is a good excuse. The damage done to the earth and mankind by the perceived importance of oil is huge, depressing to think about and a lot worse than that. Nuclear power could help solve the carbon "problem" as well as the general pollution problem but the technology was based on what would be most useful to create bombs so it turned out to be dangerous and polluting. Other nuclear technologies have been proposed but somehow do not seem to get off the ground. LENR is one and we know the history there. A true breakthrough in new energy, leading to significant commercialization, would truly revolutionize the operation of the whole world—if it was allowed to.
Climate has changed since the earth was formed and will continue to change. People can adapt to most of this if they just get to work instead of just talking in circles about it. Ten thousand years ago ice covered much of what is now the developed world. Six thousand years ago the Sahara Desert area was green. Humans had nothing to do with these subsequent changes and adapted as required. The Dutch held back the sea when they needed to or rather because they wanted to because when they started, the population of the earth was a fraction of what it is now and they could have moved.
It is easy to attract large crowds to a popular cause, right or wrong, but very difficult to get even a small fraction as many people to actually do anything constructive about it. It is easy to follow mindlessly but very hard to tackle the real science and engineering that will make the difference. It is much harder even than that, to do original work in a regime of science that is not understood and even ridiculed by conventional thinking that will not produce the results that are required. The people that attempt that are among the most important in the world.