The Climate Debate

Getting back to basics, and closer to reality… on Climate!

There’s a new religion, out there, a World-wide community of “True Believers”, supported by a new ideology and a mass of propaganda.  Their manifesto has effectively (and insidiously) been spread throughout the World, and is now widely accepted through all sections of society – from politicians and corporate leaders, to the media, schools and the general population. 

And they’re intent upon destroying any opposition to their sacred beliefs, branding any non-believers as being blind to the “new reality”, and as being both “sceptics” and “deniers”.  They assert that “the science is settled”, and that their claimed “truth” is unquestionable and undeniable.  

Does anyone sense the danger presented by such a cohort of one-eyed despots?  Let’s attempt, at great risk, a reasoned critique of the claims and the evidence – a process which brands us only as “critics”, who, by definition, could also be referred to as sceptics – but never as deniers.

Let’s first assert two other realities (undeniable ‘truths’, if you like):  Scepticism is healthy – it is founded in the need to ask questions, in order for us to learn.  Science is never “settled– present “truths” are nothing more than assumptions based on present knowledge, and will always be conditional upon the search for, the questioning and the discovery of, new knowledge.  

And let’s consider, first of all, some of the fundamentals:

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and Anthropogenic Climate Change

At the most fundamental level is the claim that Carbon emissions (which present in our atmosphere as carbon dioxide – CO2), resulting from burning fossil fuels, are the cause of climate change, and that they must be stopped absolutely.  

The Earth’s atmosphere is about 78% Nitrogen, 21% Oxygen and less than 0.9% Argon.  All other gases known to man, including CO2, are described as being “trace gases”, which together comprise less than 0.02% of the atmosphere.

There are some very obvious questions for the so-called “eminent climate scientists” and their strident followers – the “Green” lobby in particular:

  1. Given that trace gases such as COare such a miniscule proportion of the atmosphere, what magical qualities do they have which gives them the power to change the Earth’s climate?
  2. If COis harmful to our environment, why has our planet been experiencing significant “greening” over the past 27 years (as recently reported by NASA, following a report of extensive collaborative research undertaken, across all continents, which has recently been published in Nature Climate Change), and why would we view this as being harmful?
  3. Given that all plants depend on atmospheric COfor life and for the production of Oxygen (through the process of photosynthesis), where will the significant reduction and ultimate removal of atmospheric COleave us? Just like Mars, or worse?
  4. Why is COrated as a harmful “greenhouse gas”, when over 80% of the “greenhouse effect” is caused by moisture in our atmosphere (as either vapour or clouds)? 
  5. If we are pumping more gas into the atmosphere, then the atmosphere must be expanding and/or pressurising, or the other gases must be reducing (disappearing somewhere, somehow).  Where is the evidence of this?  Or, is there simply a natural balance being maintained, as defined by Conservation Theory (the first law of thermodynamics)?
  6. Given the abundant evidence that the Earth’s climate has always been subject to cycles of change and, in Australia’s case, that our continent is gradually moving northeast towards the equator (at about 7cm every year), are we now to believe that we have become more powerful than the forces of nature, and that we can turn climate change around?
  7. Contrary to the educational themes taught to generations of students (until recent times), how has the Sun now suddenly become a negligible influence on our climate?

These are the fundamental, and undeniable, questions which must inform our response to the “Anthropogenic Climate Change” claims which are driving the global bandwagon – the new religion.

Additionally, and as the regularly emerging evidence confirms, we need to be exceedingly wary of the machinery which underpins the “evidence” which is being used to fuel the fire – in particular, the various forms of computer modelling which have been developed and adopted by numerous groups.

We need to remember that such modelling is a human construct, and that it is fallible.  We all know that data and statistics can be manipulated in myriad ways, and in particular for the purpose of deriving a desired result.  We are right to treat these constructs with absolute scepticism.

Evidence that climate data and modelling has been manipulated inappropriately – either mistakenly or intentionally – has become public knowledge, but the rage is maintained despite these admissions.  The usual response is to stridently assert that “the science is settled” and that the “fact” of anthropogenic climate change cannot be denied.

In very recent weeks, we have learned that a number of “eminent climate scientists” have withdrawn from the field, citing their concerns and dissatisfaction with the direction being taken by, and the manufactured propaganda which is a key feature of, the climate change lobby.  

Tellingly, some of these scientists were the founding members of the early “climate science” groups which first brought their nascent concerns to the public arena.  They are clearly disillusioned with the manner in which their early concerns have been interpreted, manipulated and used by others.

The “science” of climate change definitely isn’t “settled”, it is certainly not an “undeniable truth”, and we are all very right to be sceptical.

Clean Energy Technologies 

Strident proponents of so-called “renewable energy” (namely solar and wind power), claim that they are both 100% “Clean Energy” solutions.  Such claims do not stand rigorous examination, particularly in light of the evidence:

  1. An essential element in the production of solar panels is silica, which arguably ranks far above asbestos in terms of the impact on human health and deaths.  We know that thousands die every year as a direct consequence of silica mining and processing, and that the human toll is not limited to the mining and processing workers, but extends to their families and nearby communities.
  2. The process of converting silica into glass requires large furnaces which consume large quantities of electrical energy.  Such plants must operate on a 24/7 basis, and energy supplies of this magnitude must be provided by very large base-load power generators (typically coal-fuelled or nuclear).
  3. Transporting solar panels to markets requires the use of various forms of transport which burn fossil fuels in internal combustion engines (electric trains are in the same category as item 2 above, in requiring 24/7 base load power).  
  4. We know that internal combustion engines remain the most inefficient forms of energy conversion (modern power stations are far more efficient), and that vehicle emissions comprise of particulates and carbon monoxide (CO), both of which are known to be a far greater hazard to human health.
  5. Wind turbines are manufactured from plastics and composite fibre materials (derived from petroleum products), or aluminium and steel.  All of these materials are created from large drilling or mining, smelting, processing and production processes, all of which require large quantities of electrical power 24/7, and then require the use of heavy transport to reach markets.
  6. Both solar installations and wind turbines require electrical energy when they are not generating their own supply.  This ‘stand-by’ power must be supplied either from the electricity grid, or from batteries. They also require energy from the grid for initial excitation and synchronisation, before they can begin generating and supplying power to the grid.
  7. Batteries are produced from elements which, like solar panels and wind turbines, must be extracted from the Earth and then processed, manufactured and transported to markets.  These elements pose a serious risk to human life and the environment.  Just like the other materials, batteries must be safely disposed of (or recycled, if possible, and at significant cost), once their relatively short lives have expired.

So, what really is “clean, green and renewable” about any of these energy sources and, to add another popular buzzword to the mix, what really is “sustainable” about their promotion, adoption and use?

Clean Coal

The term, “clean coal”, is being used to describe ‘modern’ coal-fuelled power plant technology, and is somewhat a misnomer (and some pundits are using the term "HELE", an acronym of High Efficiency Low Emissions" technology).  Firstly, the combustion of solid fuels (such as coal or biomass), will always produce a quantity of ash and dust.  Secondly, we have been operating clean burning coal-fuelled power stations for at least the last 30+ years – it’s certainly not a “new” or emerging prospect.  

I know this to be a fact because, during my 43-year career in the power generation sector, I have been directly engaged in the operation of both old and new power plants of all types. Even before the emergence of environmental regulations, and at oil, coal or biomass-fuelled power plants, having a “clean stack” (no visible smoke), was a badge of honour to which all operators were trained and encouraged to aspire.

And, in the case of coal-fuelled power plants, this has almost always been achieved despite burning the poorest quality coal that could be procured, as the best coal has always been reserved for domestic use or export.  A clean stack was a “badge of honour”, and a standard which existed long before there was any legislated need to do so, and was never to be blackened by shoddy operating practices.

This is why the Green lobby and large sections of the media are forced to use images of very old power stations and factories (long-ago decommissioned and dismantled), spewing thick black smoke from their stacks.  People, let’s be clear:  THESE PLACES DON’T EXIST ANY MORE (at least not in the First World countries).

Or, if they’re not showing images of now non-existent power plants and factories, they insist on images of white steam plumes emanating from cooling towers – condensation which is cleaner than the atmosphere into which it is being absorbed – to promote their claims of “old and dirty” technology polluting today’s atmosphere!  

In an earlier era (and not so long ago), these images of large cooling towers and their attendant clouds of steam were also used by the anti-nuclear lobby to instil fear and loathing into an otherwise unknowing population – insinuating that every cooling tower was a nuclear power plant, and that the steam was radioactive emissions escaping into the atmosphere.  Oh, give me a break!

While the technology to support clean combustion continues to advance – including technologies which involve the re-burning of waste products, and coal gasification – I am concerned that we no longer train operators to the levels which support the goal of clean emissions. 

Over at least the past decade, I have found that many modern operators have very little or no understanding of combustion tuning, or of how it is achieved (and many corporations like it this way, because they’re not paying for either training or skilled personnel, or for advanced technology).  

Further, we export coal to countries where training, skill and cleanliness are sacrificed on the altar of energy demand and profit – just look at what is spewing out of power plant stacks in SE Asia, China, India, Eastern Europe and South America, for instance.

We can’t be held responsible for what happens anywhere else, except to collectively lobby heavily for significant change in the way that negligent regimes operate and manage their power stations and factories, and how they burn the cheap fuels which we export to them.  

In fact, the supply of fossil fuels to such countries should be conditional and contingent upon the customer meeting appropriate standards – especially including properly configured, tuned, operated and maintained thermal power plant. 

The strongest argument against large fossil-fuelled power plants – in fact, any process involving combustion – is not the emissions or ash products which we are now recycling, or COwhich is recycled by our plant life, but is most emphatically the consumption of vast quantities of Oxygen to support the combustion process.

We are consuming millions of cubic metres of Oxygen, every second, in order to burn combustible fuels – whether that’s in power plants and factories, or in all forms of motorised transport (vessels, vehicles and aircraft – and we need to include electric vehicles in this cohort, for obvious reasons).

If the Green lobby were genuine in their pursuit of a sustainable environment, they would be strongly focussed on saving and restoring our forests – the “Lungs of our Earth”, and our primary source of Oxygen. They are absolutely barking up the wrong tree with their singular, one-eyed and misdirected focus on emissions, and on COin particular.

Funding a renewable energy industry through measures such as a “Carbon Tax” or a “Carbon Market” (or “Emissions Reduction” plans, as another of several varieties of the same thing), heavily bolstered by consumer levies and taxpayer funds, is absolutely not the answer.

Nuclear Energy

Here we have a fossil-fuel which does not require combustion and which, therefore, does not consume Oxygen or produce emissions.  

Most importantly, the latest generation of nuclear power plants are capable of re-using spent fuel from earlier generations of nuclear power plants, and thereby effectively reducing the energy content of fuel rods to close to zero (not to mention also greatly reducing the difficulties of waste storage). 

Even more exciting is the recent development of small-scale nuclear power generators, including examples which are completely self-contained and automated.  This provides a real opportunity for distributed and localised power generation, without the need for expensive and potentially unreliable and insecure long-distance transmission networks.

Accordingly, nuclear energy is the best available option for base-load power generation and, I firmly believe, remains an option which we must adopt.  Sixty countries and 448 nuclear power plants, with another 59 presently under construction and 538 either planned or proposed, all points to widespread evidence of rational thinking and planning around the World.

However, for nuclear power to be acceptable to the community, there are some vitally important conditions which must first be assured:  Public faith in the comprehensive regulatory framework encompassing the design, manufacture, construction, operation, maintenance, management and eventual dismantling of such plants, together with continuous and rigorous independent oversight of regulatory compliance.

While it is doubtful that nuclear power would be cheaper than our low-cost coal-fuelled power stations (initially, at least), the option clearly offers a number of vitally important environmental and long-term economic and community benefits. 

Emerging Alternatives

Some commentators are claiming that, rather than new coal, gas or nuclear power plants, we should be adopting alternatives such as large-scale battery storage and Hydrogen-fuelled gas turbines, fusion energy, and etcetera.  While it’s all very well (and a good thing), to be keeping an eye open to the future, this doesn’t solve any of our present or even near-term issues.

Remember that batteries do not themselves have energy to give, unless they are first energised from another source, and then can only deliver their stored and available energy for a very short time (and over a very short life-span).

Remember, too, that Hydrogen must itself be generated – separated from the water molecule (H2O), using large quantities of electricity – before it can be applied to uses which involve the process of combustion (and that means even more Oxygen being removed from our steadily depleting source in the atmosphere).

Most of these alternatives are under development – they’re experimental, or still only theoretical possibilities in some cases – and, in most cases, they remain unviable at the present time.  Large-scale battery storage is being widely promoted, despite the evidence that this technology is arguably a far less desirable product than other readily available energy sources.

Power generated from enhanced geothermal systems (deep-well, hot rock reservoirs), has been proven to be an excellent and truly renewable energy source, but the specific geological sites are few and far between (and are often not close to existing transmission networks).  Nevertheless, there are regions where this resource would be a viable and beneficial alternative.

Pumped-storage hydro is another existing technology which is being widely promoted for expansion, but is just another option which cannot survive without other base-load power supplies, and the availability of existing transmission networks, not to forget the massive funding and length of time required to build them.  

Our Realistic Options

We simply can’t dodge the absolute need for base-load sources, nor can we conveniently ignore the truly dirty footprints of many of the so-called “clean energy” options (including solar, wind and battery technologies).

We also can’t ignore the simple reality that solar PV, wind power generators and battery storage systems, have relatively very short life-spans.   This will be a very disappointing reality for both investors and consumers (but not for politicians, whose life-cycle is often even shorter, and for whom the long-term view is simply not of concern).

Wind farm life expectancy also may reduce calculated environmental benefits and increase the total investment needed to achieve environmental goals.  A December 2012 report, published by the UK-based Renewable Energy Foundation and written by Gordon Hughes of the University of Edinburgh, scrutinised wind farm lifecycle emission benefits.  

The foundation in the past has criticised the UK government’s Renewables Obligation policy, saying the subsidy distorts markets as well as the generation mix, and this is a familiar story in many countries.

After allowing for variations in wind speed and site characteristics, the average load factor of wind farms declines as they age, probably due to wear and tear.  By 10 years of age, the contribution of an average UK wind farm to meeting electricity demand was said to have fallen by as much as one-third.  

The report said this performance decline means that it is “rarely economic to operate wind farms for more than 12 to 15 years.”  Investors who expect a return on their investment over 20 to 25 years "will be disappointed,” the report said.

The normalised load factor for UK onshore wind farms was found to decline from a peak of about 24% at age one, to 15% at age 10, and 11% at age 15.  The decline in the normalised load factor for Danish onshore wind farms showed a fall from a peak of 22% to just 18% at age 15.  For offshore Danish wind farms, the normalised load factor was shown to fall from 39% at the start of commercial operation, to just 15% at age 10.

Adjusted for age and wind availability, the overall performance of wind farms in the UK has “deteriorated markedly” since the beginning of the century, the report found, and concluded that “few wind farms will operate for more than 12 to 15 years”.

Industry observers have also found room to question the claimed environmental benefits of wind energy. For example, two researchers, Warren Katzenstein and Jay Apt of Carnegie Mellon University, wrote in 2009 that life-cycle assessments of renewable energy projects often failed to account for emissions from backup and cycling fossil-fired generation sources.

In releasing the report, the Renewable Energy Foundation said that policymakers who were expecting wind farms built before 2010 to contribute toward COtargets in 2020 or later, “must allow for the likelihood that the total investment required to meet these targets will be much larger” than previous forecasts suggested.

(The findings of this study were reported by David Wagman, executive editor of POWER magazine).

Nor can we ignore the fact that, in the present circumstances, coal remains the cheapest source of base-load power (especially when it’s the low-grade product which we presently use), while other sources remain costly and, ultimately, uneconomic for our industries, and cruelly unaffordable for large sections of our community.

It is patently wrong to penalise our cheapest and most reliable sources of base load power (and to effectively force them out of existence), with the sole purpose of funding costly and unreliable alternatives.  Neither the community nor our manufacturing industries can afford such gross and unrewarding largess.

It is also gross hypocrisy for a country such as Australia – which, not so long ago was a World leader in the provision of reliable and low-cost power to its people, industry and economy – to now be enforcing the closure of its reliable and low-cost power generation assets, and to be exporting its abundant coal and gas resources to countries which do not have or value the same low pollution standards.

Consequently, Australians are now paying some of the World’s highest prices for electricity, and industries are closing (with the consequent loss of jobs – by the thousands), solely to afford politicians and the Green lobby the opportunity to grandstand on the World stage as being leaders in the misguided effort to reduce carbon emissions. In the meantime, the coal and gas exports are being used by others to create emissions which far exceed what Australia itself produces.  Where is the benefit in this madness?

Beyond this focus on the present debate around climate change, one of the most disappointing observations, in my experience, is that misinformation is being propagated throughout society, and most especially in our schools.  

As noted at the beginning, the reach of the Green lobby knows no bounds, and has become insidious. I sincerely hope that, one day, the Green lobby will become truly – and honestly – green.  That won’t happen without a complete change of focus and direction – and genuine, well-founded and well-reasoned action, with constructive and productive outcomes – on their part.

A good place to start would be a focus on saving the pitiful remnants of our forests, and reforestation to replace what has been destroyed.  We also need to focus on population growth which is clearly and frighteningly out of control, and on ridding our planet of nuclear weapons.  

Along with adaptation to climate change, these are the things which we can control – and we must, sooner rather than later.

We – the wider community – desperately need to engage in an honest, well-informed and balanced debate concerning both climate change and our energy future, or be doomed to a new “Dark Age”.  

Yes, climate change is real, and it has been since the birth of our planet.  Nothing in that regard has changed with the advent and advancement of the human race, so why do we think that we can change anything but our own behaviour and circumstances. 

What we need to focus on is not how we think that we can change the climate, but how we must adapt to an ever-changing climate.  We don’t have a climate change crisis, a deforestation crisis, a population crisis, or a nuclear weapons crisis – we have a “belief” and a “policy” crisis, and an “action” crisis!

Scepticism, and exercising the true scientific method is, well… just plain healthy.

Let’s make the most of our Forum, and lead the way, and be proud to be labelled as critics and sceptics, whatever the topic.

M. Cogitari

 

[The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and are not necessarily shared by the Forum].

 

Note:  This is the first of three parts (so far), of a conversation canvassing the Climate, Energy and Policy debates as distinct but closely related parts.

If you would like to join the conversation, please use the “Contact the Forum” option below.  Sensible and meaningful contributions are welcome – whether affirmative or critical – and will be published as an addendum to the featured article (using only the author’s first name, of course).

 

 

Responses from Readers…

Responses which make a constructive contribution to the discussion, and/or that provide further relevant and meaningful information, have been added below.  

The Forum also thanks the many readers who have simply acknowledged and appreciated the article, and who have not been included here.

 

From: "Bob" Subject: RE: Answer to our questions on electricity generation Date: 26 June 2018 at 16:37AEST

Your article highlights my ignorance of fossil fuel generation, I discovered after reading your website twenty minutes ago, and there are so many who also do not know this. I am writing an email to a list and groups of friends with a link to your website.  

Thank you Bob, and we are very happy to be of assistance.  This was precisely the purpose of starting the conversation. Regards, MC.

 

From: "Bob" Subject: RE: Answer to our questions on electricity generation Date: 26 June 2018 at 15:58AEST

As an observer, with I hope common sense, the NEG and power generation ambitions without gas/coal is a bummer.  I am not an environmentalist and believe that HELE with gas/coal power is the only stop-gap for the globe until fusion is available, 50-75 years from now.  That is why the northern hemisphere is going for it, and Australia must replace ageing coal generation plants in the next couple of decades.

 

Yes Bob, I concur with your sentiments, to some extent.  As I have noted in my articles, HELE is no more than a modern marketing buzzword, as we’ve had new power stations (over the last 25-30 years), which have exactly the same credentials.  

In the earlier decades, we simply didn’t have ‘marketing departments’ associated with corporatised or privatised power stations (why would we, when electricity supply was classed as being an essential service?).  Just take a look at some of the later power stations in your region - you’ll only see vapour from cooling towers, and a slight heat haze from the stack.

I would also note that there are regions which also have modern power plants which are intrinsically HELE, but which are operated and maintained so badly that they look like 19th Century polluters.  It’s very ugly, and absolutely unnecessary, but they won’t change because it’s expedient to meet their massive energy demand. 

This demonstrates the point that we need more than just so-called HELE power plants, and that we should also demand that they are operated and maintained properly.  No power station will be HELE if this is not assured.  Regards, MC.

 

From: "Bob" Subject: RE: Answer to our questions on electricity generation Date: 26 June 2018 at 14:15AEST

I have for nearly two decades written and spoken about solar and wind power generation being unsuitable for Australia because of the size and distribution of the population.  Also that what may be suitable for home and small business is not necessarily adequate for commercial and industrial activity. 

I have been on many discovery voyages to broaden my knowledge, but today (Tuesday 26/06), I was advised of a website that will fill in some of the blank spaces and looked at https://energen.com.au/

The site has many links and covers topics which are alternatives to fossil fuel use, but I have looked over the horizon at Fusion Power that I believe will, by the end of this century, be in Europe and North America and maybe here in Ozland.

I am also a believer that Fusion will replace nuclear, fossil and other alternative electricity generation, although hydro will thrive in suitable locations and will continue.

 

Yes Bob, you may be right about the prospect of fusion power, and I have also been watching its development closely.  As noted in my articles, fusion power may well be one of the future options, but it is certainly not going to help us today, or in the near future.

Our fight, today, is multi-facetted:  We must rein in and refocus the climate change lobby (and, specifically, the claims re carbon reduction), we must demand valid solutions to our present energy insecurity, we must demand the removal of all subsidies for the renewable industry, and we must demand the removal of funding for most of the bureaucratic agencies which are associated with the climate change and renewable energy sectors (including the Paris Climate Agreement).  

Until we win these battles, we cannot expect cost relief and energy security.  Regards, MC.