Article in Economics / Macroeconomics
It is now certain. Atmospheric pollution is accelerating. Global temperatures are rising. Climate changes are being observed more frequently. The repair of climate related damages is becoming very expensive. World governments are refusing to act. During the last three centuries, a dramatic in
 
 
 
<p>MEMO TO:</p>

Is Climate Change Reversal Thinkable?

Developing nations are consuming more and more energy. Atmospheric pollution is growing. Global temperatures are rising. Climate changes are being observed more frequently. The repair of climate related damages is becoming increasingly expensive.

More and more institutions and people are beginning to recognize that the efforts of the last two decades of slowing climate changes have been futile. Incontrovertible evidence is revealing that past concepts for rescuing Earth from irreversible warming are failing.

Effective, quick acting countermeasures remain unrecognized. World leaders and world citizens must realize that viable solutions must be tested, must be advanced to economic maturity, and must be implemented.

The concepts of adaptation and mitigation, which have been promoted during the last two decades excessively, are short term fixes at best. Increasing energy efficiency cannot slow energy consumption appreciably; it can only result in a temporary and minor delay in the long term rise of global temperatures. Making energy more expensive by imposing carbon taxes on people, who must go to work and who have trouble paying their bills, will slow growth of world economies and will send many people back into poverty.

All these hypothetical solutions, which are being discussed endlessly, have never accomplished anything. Most importantly, they have not slowed the compounding accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Instead, greenhouse gas emissions have accelerated greatly. It is time to realize that the dangerous overheating of planet Earth is real and is accelerating.

Governments have spent billions of dollars on searching for unreachable planets, which show traces of life. But the same governments refuse to fund efforts for positively excluding the risk of lethal overheating on Earth.

World economies cannot function and cannot grow without affordable, plentiful, sustainable, and secure energy supplies. World economies must remain strong and must continue their growth. Only strong economies will have the resources for saving Earth from overheating.

Any measures, which will slow economic growth, will indeed slow energy consumption but will almost certainly lead to recessions, too.

The world is at a fork in the road. Will it be “business as usual” or can world governments get together and commit to the reversal of climate changes and to the creation of a new, worldwide, carbon-neutral energy supply system?

Evidence shows that advancing technologies facilitate rapid economic growth. Fossil fuels were the only energy supplies, which were available in the past for “fueling” the resulting economic advances.

It is time to wake up and begin to realize that fossil fuel utilization cannot be tolerated much longer. New energy sources must be used. Only energy flows from the Sun and nuclear fuels stored on Earth are available now and in the foreseeable future. Energy conversion technologies have facilitated economic growth in the past by converting fossil fuels. In the future, world economies can grow only by using more energy.

This energy must become available by learning how to convert these two, only available, alternate energy resources. The world will self-destroy, if these new energy conversion technologies cannot be developed in time.

Two types of energy supplies must remain available, plentiful, affordable, and sustainable. These two presently irreplaceable energies are electricity and engine fuels.

Everybody seems to understand that world economies cannot grow without uninterruptible and affordable access to electricity. Less widely understood is the identically uninterruptible and affordable access to conventional engine fuels.

Nobody denies that airplanes must use storable engine fuels with high energy content for crossing oceans. Ships happen to need very similar fuels, too. And only technically challenged individuals can imagine industries, construction activities, agricultural production, and individual transportation without the uninterrupted and widespread use of combustion engines.

Efforts for developing alternate devices for generating mechanical energy have been attempted for more than a century. Actual progress has been slow. Nevertheless, huge improvements in performance, reliability, costs, and energy efficiency have been made.

Believing that conventional combustion engines can be replaced by electric motors or by mobile fuel cells has to wait until giant advances in energy conversion technologies have been made. No such new technology concepts have been identified yet.

Electricity must be produced by a variety of new energy conversion technologies, which use two energy sources exclusively; inexhaustible energy flows from the Sun and virtually inexhaustible nuclear fuels, which Nature has stored on Earth.

Food production can and must continue as presently practiced, but will need carbon-neutral engine fuels and large amounts of electricity for fertilizer production.

Intense, expertly planned, and well managed development efforts can develop the critically needed energy conversion technologies, which are based exclusively on carbon neutral energy sources. There seem to be no scientific or technological obstacles.

All imagined obstructions to recreating a more hospitable and life supporting environment, which was experienced only half a century ago, are made by ill-informed or self-serving individuals and institutions.

What actions must be carried out for rescuing the one and inimitable planet with the only known intelligent life in the Universe?

The answer to this question has hopefully been made in the foregoing remarks; world economies need a new energy supply system, which is based on plentiful, affordable, sustainable and secure amounts of energies in the form of food, petroleum substitutes, and electricity. All energy consumption must be restricted exclusively on carbon-neutral energy sources.

The most difficult question remains: how can we get back to regional climates, which were enjoyed during the 1960s?

It was stated earlier, that there seem to be no scientific or technological barriers, which cannot be conquered.

So, why are we waiting?

There is a very simple answer. Too many very powerful and very rich individuals and institutions do not want to allow any changes to existing energy supply systems. These people do not want to take any chances of seeing a temporary dip in their excessive profits from traditional energy supply businesses.

But does it really make sense to let a small number of individuals dictate the concepts for a future energy supply system, which is based on the unpreventable emission of huge amounts of heat absorbing gases into the atmosphere of planet Earth?

Seven billion people and their future offspring will have to suffer increasingly as planet Earth continues to be heated to higher and higher temperatures. Countermeasures to adapt to and mitigate resulting climate changes will become vastly more expensive than the switching to a carbon-neutral energy supply system.

It seems still be possible to change the failing fossil fuel based energy system to the alternative system, which is based on carbon-neutral energy sources, without the exorbitant costs of adaptation and mitigation to climate changes.

Instead, the governments of the world’s most technically and economically advanced countries must get together and agree on a clear win-win solution for all countries. The agreement must provide support for an approach, which is realistic and will begin to show results very soon. Ideally, instead of having an arms race, the most economically and technologically advanced countries must agree to find, develop, and advance the missing energy conversion technologies, which Planet Earth needs so badly.

There is only one hopefully temporary caveat; a reversal of the escalating melting of polar ice and of land based glaciers must most likely be delayed for a few decades.

Only seven advanced or novel energy conversion technologies are needed for returning Earth climates to an earlier time. One such technology, the temporary generation of electricity with very high thermal efficiency and greatly reduced carbon dioxide emissions, has already matured to being technologically preferable and economically competitive. However, this technology can only be a temporary crutch. This technology still emits carbon dioxide, which must be tolerated temporarily.

Three other of the six remaining technologies are already in use but must be advanced further. The final three energy conversion technologies are mostly new and are still waiting to be advanced and perfected.

It seems that the invention process should be relatively easy because the final targets of each of the needed inventions can be defined precisely.

What remains difficult to overcome is the institutional bias, individual greed, and calcification of government and industry institutions.

Six well defined energy conversion technologies must still be advanced to the point, at which investors should and will commit funding.

One salient point of energy technology development is frequently overlooked in climate change related reports. Development times for energy and thermal processes are virtually always three to five times longer than most other technology developments. One of the reasons is the time it takes for building a succession of “breadboards” or pilot plants.

Our presently employed economic evaluation processes are not applicable to energy technologies either. This is not unusual. Defense and military developments often take even longer than major energy developments.

Rarely does anybody complain about this fact of economics. In addition, anybody, who would dare to demand that major military development efforts should be paid for by investors, should be open for publication, and its intellectual property should be shared freely with your fiercest competitors would be called insane deservedly.

Why do some people insist on dealing with energy technology in this obviously irrational fashion?

The slowly progressing developments of the three already applied energy technologies can be understood better when considering the corny conventions, under which their developers have to operate.

Concepts for converting energy emitted by the Sun are plentiful. Several shortcomings remain and are advancing only slowly. Conversion of thermal radiation into direct current has been promoted heavily and equipment costs have been reduced substantially. Converting Sun energy into heat and using the heat for powering heat engine processes is another promising avenue and has been supported.

The innate low thermal efficiency of heat engines and the lack of suited cooling media make it still difficult to generate electricity at costs, which are comparable to those of coal fired power plants.

The major shortcoming of converting energy flows from the Sun is the intermittent nature of available energy flows and the sorely missing availability of storing very large amounts of electric energy.

Storage of huge amounts of energy is the second energy technology, which needs major advancements. More powerful concepts for large scale storage of mechanical and electric energy are still missing. Extrapolation of existing technologies is still questionable, too. Nevertheless, ideas for energy storage technologies are needed sorely and new ideas should receive favorable support.

The third, much applied technology is nuclear power generation. At the most critical time this technology has failed shockingly. Of all the six, critically needed energy technologies, this is however the one technology, which was held back and forced into the wrong direction by inept individuals and institutions.

This is a crying shame! Of all the available energy conversion technologies, nuclear power generation could have become and can still reemerge as the savior of degenerating Earth climates and environments. Instead, it has become the target of misdirected environmental activists and it’s still surviving promises were severely undermined by adverse publicity by media, environmentalists, and prominent politicians.

Nevertheless, it is virtually impossible to prevent the lethal overheating of Earth without the continuing production of electricity in those nuclear plants, which were built without too many egregious safety compromises, which were made by supervising agencies.

The need of world economies for inherently safe nuclear reactors will not disappear. New or correctly designed nuclear reactor concepts are waiting for final development. However, before an inherently safe nuclear reactor can be advanced and built, entirely new supervisory agencies must be instituted, too. Past compromises of these prior agencies with industry, politicians, and government officials have created the unacceptable liabilities of nuclear power plant installations, which the world is now confronted with. The same holds true for the licensing of unacceptable nuclear waste disposal techniques.

After reviewing the unappealing state of already applied energy conversion technologies, it is time to review the three still critically missing technologies.

These three technologies share the distinction of being invisible for most people. There is one exception. Many efforts have been made for developing fossil fuel substitutes from biomass. The connection between biomass and fossil fuels is rather obvious. Coal deposits often show the skeletons of fish, reptiles, and insects. In fact, these ancient remnants are called fossils.

In Europe, ill-informed politicians have outlawed the conversion of biomass into fossil fuel substitutes because they reacted emotionally to the ill-advised support of ethanol from corn by the US government. The forced consumption of ethanol fuel by US citizens led to a tripling of corn prices in the US and resulted in skyrocketing food prices in many of the world’s poorest countries. Unfortunately, two wrongs by two of the world’s most powerful assemblies still don’t make one right.

Biomass is grown annually in huge amounts on Earth. Nevertheless, the concern about rising food prices is well taken. When the value of biomass for fuel substitute production is compared to the price of bulk agricultural foods, food production loses by a very large margin.

Therefore, the outlawing of growing biomass for fuel conversion on traditional food production acreage makes sense and may have to be imposed until an oversupply of inexpensive energy can be realized by means, which do not use biomass. Finding such inexpensive energy sources will almost certainly not be feasible during the next several decades.

A detailed analysis of harvesting yields of biomass with high energy content leads however to the conclusion that high energy biomass can be produced in the tropics and in a part of the subtropics. What is needed are freshwater and new agricultural techniques for producing biomass on a continual basis during the entire calendar year. Biomass with high energy yields may provide an amount of energy, which can be converted into as much as 700 barrels of petroleum substitute per hectare per year (700 bbl/ha-yr). With such a yield only a small percentage of the world’s surface area will be able to replace the entire annual petroleum consumption of recent years. Waste heat from the process of converting biomass to petroleum substitute can supply the energy for making freshwater from seawater.

This substitute production process, which converts all the energy in biomass into a petroleum substitute and a small amount of waste heat, must still be invented. Chemical engineering techniques have advanced hugely and will almost certainly facilitate the production of a petroleum substitute with high chemical conversion efficiency from high yield biomass. However, the needed development expenses will be very high and funding agencies do not like projects with high costs, long development times, and using high risk ideas. Nevertheless, because Nature has already demonstrated the large-scale production of petroleum repeatedly in the past, the chance of failure is slim. Nevertheless, bureaucrats like their jobs and avoid risks.

This brings us to the most difficult and most urgently needed, seventh and final new energy conversion technology. This most urgently needed technology is the removal and safe storage of atmospheric carbon. Futile attempts at removing carbon dioxide have been made in the past. However, they were at a scale, which was highly inadequate for the job at hand.

A large scale process for removing excessive carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is still not openly promoted. This process is however, the one critical process, which will make it possible to return the Earth’s regional climates to their previous conditions in the late 1960s.

Are there any options for such history changing processes? The answer is a resounding yes. However, the efforts, which must be pursued, will be huge. Any individual, who tries to tackle this existential challenge, can compare himself to the overly greedy king Sisyphus, the figure of Greek mythology, who was condemned by Greek gods to roll stones uphill only to see them fall back forever.

Human inventiveness has solved many seemingly invincible problems before. Only human lust for power and excessive greed can stall human spirits temporarily.

It is time again, for pushing inept, greedy, and power-hungry individuals and institutions aside and let inventors and concerned citizens show their prowess.

Humanity must refuse to commit suicide by letting Earth overheat!


 
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About the Author 

Klaus H Hemsath
Dr. Hemsath received his Dr.-Ing degree for his research into the thermal radiation of large industrial flames. He advanced to VP of Corpora

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