Saturday, 4 February 2012

Global warming, Chaisson, Kistler, the Human Condition

I fell over the name Eric Chaisson, an American professor, by accident during my browsing of the Internet. He is probably best known, if at all, for his book “Seven ages of the Cosmos”, for which he got the Walter P. Kistler prize in recognition of his “increasing the knowledge and understanding of the public regarding subjects that will shape the future of our species”. Mr Chaisson is consequently a man of standing, whose opinions are worth considering.

David Archer and Richard Calvin, both recipients of the Kistler Book prize, are worth Googling as well in respect of Climate Change.

What really hit me was his thermo-physical calculation of the human impact on the Earth’s temperature.

No – nothing to do with the CO2 foot-print in the first place, surprisingly enough (or perhaps not), as the green-house gas slip remains an arguable contributor to global warming.
Chaisson calculates a forecasted rise in the global temperature purely through looking at the way we humans manage our generation and use of energy in the broadest sense. His ideas have apparently been published in several academic articles, but until now no one has wanted or been able to contradict him.

In short, it goes like this:

The Earth receives 120,000 Terra Watts (TW) energy from the sun.
Of these approximately 50,000 TW are reflected by the atmosphere.

In order to preserve a constant temperature overall the Earth therefore has to radiate 70,000 TW. This calculation looks at the Earth as a closed system, something we probably all can agree on, as nothing may appear more lonely and isolated than our rock, as it floats through the Universe. The 70,000 TW are used by this closed system to maintain every single process you can imagine on the Globe.

Apparently we dissipate energy ourselves to the tune of ca. 20 TW, which the Earth of course also has to get rid of in order to maintain the global "temperature".
Compared to 70,000 TW this is obviously negligible.

The 20 TW stem from human activity in all it’s forms: Coal-fired plants, air-conditioning, TV-sets, hand torches, manufacturing, TV transmissions, heating the kettle for tea – you name it, as long as they are generated by energy sources “tied up” in the Earth, e.g. oil, gas, coal.
I understand that there is general agreement about these numbers – wherever they come from!

However, as the Earth’s population presently consists of many more poor than rich people, there is a huge potential for increasing the 20 TW substantially, as technology, wealth and distribution accelerates. The energy presently spent by rock stars, celebrities, politicians, bankers and BBC Project Managers and weather forecasters (at £ 1/2mill salaries) through a consuming lifestyle is clearly set to rise dramatically in the future, as everyone else are able to jump on the gravy train --- in the first place from the BRIC countries.

Right now everyone is diverted into concentrating their attention on CO2 slip and arguing pro et con about the AGW-religion (Anthropogenic Global Warming).
If Chaisson is right, we are looking at the score board instead of looking at the game. No one else is spending time comparing the impact of the human presence on Earth from an energy consumption point of view. Chaisson’s calculations deal with an estimated increase from 20 TW to a potential 5000 TW in the year 2300, based on both an increase in the Earth’s population and a massive rise in general consumption, as we all get rich.

My good friend Peter Hougaard, another thermo-physical rebel, maintains, that the idea of an average temperature is a load of gobbledygook – and he’s right, so let us explain the potential temperature rise as “retention within a closed system of a lot of Kilo Joule that we also need to get rid of” instead.

There’s no doubt, that the effect will be dramatic, as the Earth will have to reset the energy-balance, now radiating 75,000 TW, processing a higher energy balance than before the human presence.

If – and it is a moot point –  green-house gasses can be considered a cause of “Global Warming” (sorry Peter), we could be talking about a completely unpredictable threat to life as we know it in a few geological seconds from now: around the year 2300 AD.
Just 200 years from now.
Nothing compared to our few geological miliseconds of existence on Earth.

Is there no light at the end of the tunnel then – other than another train?

Yes there is, Chaisson says, if (from an energy perspective) we use only what we receive, i.e. the 70,000 TW that we have for free from the sun.
Out with latent resources, such as oil, gas, coal and even nuclear fuel! (there's bad news)
Use only Sun-generated energy sources, including wind and hydro energy, that essentially are Sun-generated too.

If you consider this impossible, you should sell your stamp collection, stop collecting antiques and forget about CO2 and Methane, as something else, and much more threatening, is on the prowl.
Start enjoying life now and prepare for a very different future for your children’s, children’s children etc.
Even without AGW from green house gasses "change it is a'coming!"

We clearly need to think TOTALLY out of the box – before it is too late.

Mind you, Peter - the Ocean-level is rising; you will know if you live on Tuvalu.
The coral reeefs are eroding and dying, because of increased CO2 content in the oceans, i.e. higher level of acidity measured over the last 50 years.
And the polar caps are melting, so something is afoot.
But is it Anthropogenic?

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