The world leadersʼ G8/G20 meeting recently in Italy agreed that global average temperatures should not rise more than 2 C above pre-industrial levels by 2050. Also world carbon emissions should be cut 50% by 2050 to prevent dangerous climate changes and atmospheric CO2 equivalent should stabilize at no more than 450 ppm. Could you give us your views on these limits?
The United Nations climate science panel faces new controversy for wrongly linking global warming to an increase in the number and severity of natural disasters such as hurricane and floods, as reported recently on January 24, 2010 (www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article7000063.ece). Governments attribute the extreme climate changes to climate change as a result of warming due to increased greenhouse gases. Are the extreme events, such as recent severe winter freezes over parts of Europe and North America just random weather events, and not related to climate change?
Thermodynamic laws (Thermodynamics of climate change; Lucarini, Fraedrich and Lunkelt; Atmos.Chem.Phys.Discuss.,10,3699-3715,2010) are the foundation of all physical and chemical changes involving heat and movement, with perilous consequences for humanity if misjudged. Last weekʼs extreme freezing weather and snowstorms in the UK and Europe has been attributed to melting of Arctic sea ice from warming, leading to increased atmospheric pressure and the southward movement of cold air (Vladimir Petoukhov and Stefan Rahmstorf; Potsdam Institute, Journal of Geophysical Research), clearly identifying for the first time the mechanism of thermodynamic climate change causing bitterly cold, harsh weather. Locally, torrential rainfall has waterlogged half of Queensland and worse is still to come, with the damage bill expected to exceed $1 billion (heraldsun.com.au).
Sequestering (tying up) atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) as wood, and in crop products is certainly feasible. Photosynthesis could be the only feasible way to quickly and economically reduce high levels of greenhouse CO2 in the air.
An inaugural meeting last week in Sydney, the Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate (Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea and United States) discussed economic development in relation to strategies to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide causing global warming. Total replacement of fossil fuels for electricity generation is still decades away, and new technology to reduce CO2 emissions from industry, transport and agriculture around the globe, or to sequester it underground, would apparently cost trillions of dollars, and would take decades to implement. Efforts at reducing emissions of CO2 should therefore be bolstered by improving the atmospheric CO2 fixation process in wood and in soils.
Do we have time or the will to turn back the tide of CO2 causing global warming and the extreme climatic effects? This is difficult to answer, as global warming does not trigger immediate, effective action from nations, as it would if a huge meteor was on a collision course with earth in, say, two years from now. In fact, there are three groups of people with different views. One group is convinced of global warming taking place with serious effects on the climate and our future and calling for action; one group is blaming it on natural causes or that the problem has been exaggerated or that too little is known about it to justify any action. The biggest group is silent, but can sense the climatic changes occurring, with increasing concern.
Joseph Fourier, in 1824, discovered the greenhouse effect. Because of their chemical structure, atmospheric CO2 (the main greenhouse gas), nitrous oxide, water vapour, methane etc. are able to absorb infra red radiation emitted by the earth, and this acts as a warm blanket over the earth. The greenhouse effect is important however because without it the earth’s average temperature would be about 35 C colder. The problem is that the blanket is getting too thick and we could be smothered!
Over the past 150 years, industrial, human and animal activities has led to a steep rise of CO2 in the air from 280 ppm to 360 ppm, a fact without dispute. Additionally, scientists report that-
Global temperatures have risen 0.4 C to 0.8 C in the last 100 years.
The G8 Academies of Science recently confirmed that the temperature rise is attributable to human activities.
CO2 is now 30% higher than pre-industrial times; is increasing by about 0.4% each year and this rate could rise.
Temperature records of the past 1000 years confirm that the 20th century is probably the warmest period in that time.
Scientists estimate that by the year 2100 average temperatures around the globe could increase by 1.5C to 5.8 C and that the sea level could rise by half a metre or more.
Countries in the southernmost regions of the globe, where there is more ocean water to absorb the heat could fare better than those in the northern regions of the globe where there is a greater land mass.
Eight of the ten warmest years have occurred in the last decade since 1860.
A United Nations Environmental Program study warns that crop yields could fall as much as a third in some crucial parts of the planet as a result of climate change.
2004 and 2005 has been the costliest years ever for extreme weather events.
An increase of 30% from the dynamic equilibrium concentration of CO2 in the air within a relatively short time is certainly a cause for alarm, as it has taken millions of years for the main components of air- nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide to stabilise. This stability created environmental conditions under which all life evolved. An increase in heat could mean profound changes to the environment and inhabitants. Scientists are worried that sea temperatures are rising, and its effect on plankton activity, the viability of corals on reefs, and the melting of ice in the artic and antarctic regions are concerns. The biggest concern is the possible melting of the permafrost in Alaska, Canada and Russia, which could release huge amounts of CO2 that could amplify global warming. They worry that we are under-estimating the rate of global temperature increase, and that this could become irreversible economically if left too late, affecting life on the planet.
In answer to your question on whether it is feasible for trees and plants to reduce CO2 levels in air, the answer lies in improving photosynthesis and water-use efficiency. Photosynthesis was the means by which ancestral plants synthesised carbohydrates, which in time, under high pressure, became hydrocarbons or the fossil fuels, which we burn for energy thereby releasing the stored carbon.
Photosynthesis takes place in the chlorophyll portions (green pigment) of all plants; in algae, phytoplankton and in some types of bacteria. It is crucial for converting solar energy into chemically bound energy for all life on earth. The overall photosynthesis reaction is:
Carbon dioxide + Water = Carbohydrate + Oxygen
6CO2 + 6H2O = C6 H12 O6 + 6O2
Each leaf in the plant is a collector of solar radiation and CO2 for photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is a two-stage biochemical process consisting of the light dependent photo phosphorylation process followed by the second, light independent, process where the high energy carrier molecules of ATP and NADPH, formed in the first process, are used to form the C-C bonds of carbohydrate (glucose). Carbohydrates are the initial source of chemically bound energy, which all living organisms use for life processes.
Cellular respiration for the regeneration of energy as ATP occurs in the mitochondria of cells. Stored carbohydrates from photosynthesis are reassembled; oxygen is consumed and CO2 is generated and energy is released for metabolic processes. In a series of complicated steps, glucose reacts with soluble nitrogen compounds from the soil or nodules (in legumes) to form the all-important amino acids and proteins. Glucose is also a precursor for starch, oil, cellulose, etc.
The reaction conditions under which photosynthesis occurs are the concentrations of reactants and products, temperature, and catalysis by minerals and trace elements. To have a winnable chance at reducing CO2 greenhouse gas, we would want the conditions to favour us; that is, conditions which promote the photosynthesis reaction by forming glucose, which later becomes cellulose in wood.
The increased carbon dioxide concentration in the air pushes photosynthesis in the forward direction (law of mass action), as does an increase in temperature (to a certain point) due to global warming. Minerals and trace elements such as calcium, magnesium, iron and manganese act as catalysts in enzymes, promoting photosynthesis, and is an area in which we can improve photosynthesis.
Cellular respiration in mitochondria of cells releases energy from stored carbohydrates, and cooler temperatures promote this reaction. This is an area where global warming becomes a real concern. However, large efficiency gains for photosynthesis by catalysis with minerals and trace elements should easily offset yield losses from temperature effects. Reported yield losses in rice, maize, wheat and soybeans from increased temperatures could have been made worse by undetected and untreated nutrient deficiencies.
We should ensure that there are no deficiencies of trace elements and minerals present in the fertilisers we use, either as liquid and foliar fertilisers or as granules. Many fertilisers produced today around the world are unbalanced and are in need of calcium, magnesium, potassium and trace elements. Use of balanced fertilisers improves the optimum functioning of physiological and metabolic processes within the plant; leads to water-use efficiency and an ability to withstand environmental stress such as drought or frost. Plants deficient in nutrients cannot make full use of water from rain, and CO2, for photosynthesis for the production of carbohydrates (sugar, oil, starch, cellulose etc.) even if available in sufficient quantities. Water and CO2 are the main reactants in photosynthesis, so the lack of water in plant tissues, as a result of nutritional deficiencies, is a large impediment for plants leading to poor harvests around the globe.
Reducing greenhouse gas by increasing ground cover by trees and forests means a better global management of carbon dioxide and water. Because carbon dioxide and water together form the carbohydrate food, they should be considered as nutrients in the same way as nitrogen is considered to be a nutrient.
Driving the photosynthesis reaction forward in cellular physiology are other important nutrients. These are nitrogen for proteins and enzymes, phosphorus for ATP, and potassium as pH buffers in cellular fluids. Magnesium is the central atom for chlorophyll, calcium for enzymes, sulphur for proteins and trace elements such as iron, manganese, zinc, molybdenum, boron etc as reaction promoters (catalysts) in complex enzymes.
Fortunately too, there is no global shortage of any of the above nutrients. The rise in the price of oil may be a concern however for the production of nitrogen fertiliser. The answer then could be to rely on growing more legume plants, as they are able to fix atmospheric nitrogen in the nodules. Fortunately again, legumes are a very large family (see Legumes) so we can grow them both as crops and as trees in forests.
Utilising each leaf in a crop or tree as a solar collector and a chemical factory for reclaiming emitted carbon dioxide, an indestructible, oxidised soot which threatens us, yet paradoxically a major component of food, could lead to the greening of our planet and cool comfortable climates. Each person, wherever they are, should resolve to grow at least one tree each year to pay for the clean air trees provide. Governments could resolve to grow suitable trees and forests on all public-owned vacant land. A vital step to save our planet and way of life is urgent action by Governments through all methods to reduce global warming and climate change.
Scientific understanding and unanimity takes time to develop, and more time is needed for recommendations to be accepted and implemented. Herein lies the problem of global warming. How much time do we have left, before runaway warming occurs, to convince decision-makers to act urgently?
Decision-makers may have been lulled into thinking that an average global temperature rise of 0.4C to 0.8C in the last 100 years is not a serious problem, as most people would. They might think too that projected average temperature increases of 1.5C to 5.8C by 2100 (up to 94 years away) could give others plenty of time to act if needed in the future. Reported temperature and greenhouse gas increases alone may not be sufficient indicators at the moment to convince them, and the public in general, of the dangers we face. The climatic changes occurring may be the result of a gradual accumulation of extra heat energy absorbed by the planet due to greenhouse gases. The amount of the heat absorbed might not be easily measured or even indicated by the increased temperatures.
The measurements are needed; however, a conceptual view of the changes occurring, from a chemical viewpoint, may be helpful. During acid-base titrations of buffered solutions, for example, chemists employ suitable pH indicators to indicate that the neutralisation, equivalence, or end-point is about to be reached. As the addition proceeds initially, little or no change is observed, until fairly sharp, rapid, exponential change occurs close to the end-point. The question is, how far away are we from a sudden and probably irreversible rise of global temperatures? Are the earth’s deep oceans, ice and the evaporation of water, acting as buffers hiding changes in heat absorption? We certainly need to know this.
During the titration and mixing which takes place, localised changes to the solution are indicated as coloured ‘hot spots’ by the indicator, and these increase in intensity and magnitude as the end-point nears, warning the chemist to slow down addition. In a global context, rapid melting of the permafrosts as heat builds up, thereby releasing billions of tons of methane and carbon dioxide in a relatively short time, are serious concerns. Are the extreme climatic events of late, such as powerful hurricanes, strong winds, lightning, extremely heavy rainfall, droughts, frosts and heavy snowfalls indicating large local changes in the heat balance before spreading globally?
Reported declining agricultural yields as a result of increased night-time temperatures is another indicator of global warming. The blanket of greenhouse gases hampers the radiative heat loss into space from the planet at night. Plants, like humans and animals, need cooling relief at night for physiological systems to operate optimally (see above: carbon dioxide and water management). Every ppm rise in the concentrations of greenhouse gases is an indicator of warming. Each ppm rise is equivalent to billions of tons of gas released to the atmosphere (see: Wikipedia, the free on-line encyclopedia). At the ‘tipping point’, which might be indicated by unremitting high global night-time temperatures, action to reduce the billions of tons of greenhouse gases then would probably be futile.
In fact, logic itself should convince decision-makers of global warming occurring and its outcome. There is no doubt today that:
We have been pouring greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at extremely high amounts for the past 100 years, and in increasing amounts daily.
Measurements of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere confirm this increase.
Greenhouse gases, without doubt, act to trap heat on the planet.
Evidence of global warming is occurring everywhere.
Scientists are unanimous that global warming is due to human activities, and have admitted that projections of global warming have probably been underestimated, with serious implications for our future.
At present, addition of greenhouse gases carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide to the atmosphere from sources far exceeds mitigation by oceans, forests, soils and crops; indicated by a rapid rise of the gases.
There has been no slowdown in deforestation and burning activities.
Increased populations and increased economic activity of developed and developing countries can only lead to huge increases in greenhouse gases.
If changes to renewable, sustainable systems are implemented globally, there will be huge net benefits to the economies and security of people.
Technological change is slow and expensive, and will not speed up unless mandatory, achievable targets are set together with incentives for change.
Global warming, and its catastrophic effects on people, can be stopped and reversed only with the full and swift cooperation of the governments of all nations.
Global warming and climate change is an extremely complex matter, and from the debate among scientists there does not appear to be any one, single solution to solve the problem. Only a careful and logical approach using a combination of technological solutions could solve the problem.
Global warming is related to the production of carbon dioxide when fossil fuels are burned for energy. The use of fossil fuels for electricity, transport, fertilisers, plastics etc. has underpinned global economic progress since the industrial revolution. Annual carbon emissions are around 6 billion tons and increasing. This amounts to approximately 1 ton per annum for each inhabitant. Technologically, limitless power (CO2-free) from controlled nuclear fusion process is the answer, and is now about two to three decades away. All nations should contribute to speed up its development.
Before fusion power becomes available, a combination of technologies can be used to buy us critical time. The time for debate on global warming should soon be over, and the time for leading action by governments has come. Individual or voluntary action is useful, but the crisis is such that decision-makers and scientists of governments would need to coordinate the overall strategies. The overall strategy by nations could be to first slow down the daily rise of CO2 in the atmosphere; to bring it to a stop, and then to reverse it. We need to reverse it because current levels of 381 ppm/v of CO2, rising fast, are already causing severe problems. The immediate concerns are:
Melting of permafrost and release of trapped methane and CO2 to atmosphere.
Acidification and warming of oceans leading to lowered mitigation of emitted CO2 increasing atmospheric levels of CO2 and negative effects on corals and marine life.
Melting of ice at artic and antarctic; the Greenland ice shelf and glaciers. Loss of the ice cover could lead to increased heat absorption by the planet due to decreased reflectance of solar radiation.
Costly events such as frequent high-category hurricanes, floods and heatwaves.
Lower yields of agricultural crops as reported due to nightime warming.
Loss of biological diversity; increased extinctions and disease causing conditions.
Ways of reducing the level of emissions is therefore a high priority and are being extensively introduced globally. These include nuclear (controlled fission) power stations, solar and wind power, hybrids for cars etc. Eventually, fusion power could replace power from controlled nuclear fusion.
Fast rising CO2 shows that emissions have swamped mitigation processes, so unless mitigation methods are enacted soon precious time will be lost and irreversible change could set in. The world’s oceans are responsible for mitigation of the largest portion of emitted CO2; 50% of all emitted CO2 since the industrial revolution has been absorbed. This absorption (as carbonic acid) has increased hydrogen ion concentrations in seawater by around 30%, lowering pH from 8.2 to 8.1, and in some locations even lower by 0.2 to 0.3 units. Increasing acidity and warming can lead to reduced absorption by seawater, raising CO2 levels. The carbonate-bicarbonate chemistries are complex but has been extensively studied; however the volumes to mitigate are huge (an understatement). Scientists are working on this problem, but we may be able to contribute to mitigation of CO2 through limestone addition to seawater as aragonite and/or calcite. Calcium carbonate is more soluble in colder, higher-pressure conditions than warm surface conditions. Increasing soluble calcium carbonate could help marine organisms now under stress (eg, corals in reefs) by reducing acidity. Scientists from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, USA, have recommended that limestone should be used to absorb CO2 emitted by power plants and cement factories, and that this would be a cheaper and more effective procedure than sequestering CO2 underground.
The ecological, and climate systems of our globe are dominated by the oceans, so changes in the physical and chemical conditions of oceans (temperature and pH) should be prevented irrespective of costs.
Rejuvenating established forest canopies and forest soils around the world, by CO2 absorption enhancement through photosynthesis holds the greatest promise in rapidly mitigating greenhouse gas as forests contain conditions conducive to plant growth. The closed organic nutrient cycle of forests is however not 100% effective, so over time there would be losses of nutrients through leaching, burning, and export of forest products. Application of balanced minerals and trace elements with aircraft would promote substantially increased absorption of atmospheric CO2; there are reports of up to 20% increase in CO2 fixation in forests from CO2 enhancement alone by scientists from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, USA.
Improving pastureland fertility around the globe should provide a very significant reduction of emitted carbon dioxide, as carbon can be locked away in soils. Microbes and nutrients can provide the driving force for increasing the carbon content of pastures and agricultural soils.
Ethanol (flexi-fuel) produced from high-starch crops and biodiesel from canola and sunflower can be stored as future strategic reserves, lowering current emissions. Fossil fuels are irreplaceable materials for fertilisers, plastics, resins, paints, etc. and should be valued as such and not burnt.
When governments meet to decide on action and on apportioning costs, economic formulas could be derived, taking into account GDP, population, length of coastline, land area etc, to determine contributions to the effort of lowering CO2 levels in the atmosphere. If the contributions are seen to be fair and equitable, mitigation of global warming would be a success.
The conference at Bali, Indonesia was attended by representatives of 190 nations, all hoping for a solution to solve the urgent problem of global warming. The conference set some broad objectives on Dec. 15, 2007 for a new pact to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires at the end of 2012; these being:
Recognition of dangerous climate changes on the way as a result of emissions caused by humans. Targets for developed nations’ CO2 emissions by 2020 were discussed; however the conference failed to endorse any such targets.
Negotiators to meet again before the next UN conference in 2008 at Poznan, Poland to discuss implementation of emission targets. Developed countries to consider binding reductions while developing countries should consider moves to control the growth of emissions.
Richer countries to work towards transferring climate-friendly technologies to poorer nations, and to help them to adapt to global warming effects, such as building of sea walls to prevent flooding from sea-level rise.
Reducing deforestation in developing countries by considering provision of financial incentives as compensation for preserving forests.
A late 2009 deadline was set for a treaty to be signed at Copenhagen, Denmark that will come into effect in 2012.
The U.S.A has proposed an earlier conference of advanced nations to be held shortly in Hawaii.
The climate conference succeeded because the world’s policymakers agreed with scientists that our planet and it’s inhabitants are facing dire perils, and developing nations showed a new willingness to participate in action on global warming. Technically, the conference can be seen to have run into problems that could have been avoided by groundwork and preparation before the conference began. The main sticking point for most developed nations was that if they agreed to emission cuts of 25 to 40% by 2020, developing nations should also commit to a share in cutting emissions. As commitments for contributions and efforts from both developed and developing nations were not negotiated and agreed in advance, real progress to reduce emissions were not achieved.
Losing time is a luxury we can no longer afford as climate change is advancing rapidly as emissions increase; global emissions of CO2 are now approximately 70 million tonnes each day. Contrast this to reported CO2 emission savings of one million tonnes a year from the sale of one million popular hybrid cars and we can appreciate the scale of the problem.
Every tonne of CO2 emitted now will have to be removed from the atmosphere eventually if we need to return to safer levels of CO2 for climate stability. Reducing current levels of CO2 in the atmosphere to a safer level is a far greater challenge than just reducing emissions, and we have not even started on the latter goal. In fact global emissions have increased significantly since the commencement of the Kyoto Protocol a decade ago. Global reforestation is a major solution to the major problem of elevated CO2 levels; reforestation and regeneration of forests can be achieved quickly before climates deteriorate. Global investments in renewable energies and an end to deforestation are needed. Most of all, nations need to agree soon to begin an urgent course of action. Waiting for the Kyoto Protocol to expire in 2012 before commencing global action on the new pact will cost five years of lost time, or, at least, an extra 127 billion tonnes of CO2 in the atmosphere to remove. Time is critical; the clock is ticking loudly.
Recently, I assisted a colleague to assemble a rather complex home entertainment system consisting of five speakers, a subwoofer, an amplifier, a DVD player, a plasma-TV, and several remote controls. Our aim was to put the whole hi-fi system together to perform as it should. A thoughtfully designed DIY circuit diagram showed us where the colour-coded cords fitted into the different bits plus instructions on how to fine-tune the system. There was a road map provided before we started, helping us to succeed in our objective. Thus, for the next conference on climate change to succeed, commitments given in precedence to the conference, by both developed and developing nations to contribute financially and commit to real emission targets are needed.
A system to estimate and assign a global climate-repair contributory index (GCRCI) for each participating nation is feasible before the next conference. The index could be based on a nation’s historical CO2 emissions, current CO2 emissions, and the current financial status of the nation (GDP etc.) to contribute to emission cuts. The proposed Solar and Clean Energy Initiative of the State of California, U.S.A, could be a useful model. The Initiative requires all utilities to generate 20% of their power from renewable sources by 2010, increasing to 40% by 2020 and 50% by 2025, allowing for a phased reduction of fossil fuel use with minimum impact to economies.
Once mediated, agreed and established, the global climate-repair contributory index can be used also to calculate the percentage of each nation’s contributions into a global climate fund to pay for the costs of transferring renewable energy technologies, improved agricultural management systems and financial assistance to countries in need.
The global warming problem is adding to other complex problems such as food shortages, a clear sign that the world is not responding quickly in a way that would lead to a solution. We are at a junction in time where choosing the road to take is critical for success as we are running out of time.
Imagine for a moment some people in a small boat a kilometer or two from the shore, and the boat has sprung a serious leak. Some of the people in the boat cannot swim. What should they do? Should they set up a committee to discuss repairs to the boat or should they begin to bail out the water while rowing for shore? Obviously time is critical here. The reaction of the world’s Nations to the crisis has been more like discussions about sharing the cost of repairs to the boat, rather than concerted action for survival. We cannot stop CO2 emissions altogether, but we can reduce it to a safe level, much like the in-flight emergency which faced the crew of Apollo 13 launched on April 11, 1970.
Commander James Lovell, Command Module pilot John “Jack” Swigert, and Lunar Module pilot Fred Haise could not of course stop exhaling the CO2 which was building up to dangerous levels in their small Command Module. Instead, with advice from engineers on Earth, they built a device from spare CO2-absorbing canisters to remove the increasing CO2 and survived. Apollo 13 splashed down safely on April 17, 1970 and the voyage was termed “ A Successful Failure” as the crew survived although Project Apollo failed to accomplish its task. It is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, but we have to begin, in order to get to our destination. With global warming and climate change, failing to embark on serious action or choosing the wrong road would lead to unimaginable catastrophe for all. Earth is no different to a space capsule with its own life support systems, and Earth is in need of urgent rescue.
As I have discussed earlier on this website, reducing excessive CO2 in the atmosphere to a safer 350 ppm level is possible with the help from trees and microbes in soils for increasing carbon sequestration. Recently, James Hansen, scientist in charge of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and his co-researchers has warned us, based on recent science (source: theage.com.au/news/world; April 8, 2008), that the world is on a trajectory to disaster and needs a significant course correction, from 385.7 ppm now to a safer level of 350 ppm. They wrote that the European Union and its International Partners must urgently rethink targets for CO2 because of the scale of the problem and that higher targets of 450 – 550 ppm would guarantee a disaster for the world as a result of higher temperatures than those expected. They proposed reforestation as a solution, together with increasing carbon storage in soils and moves to renewable energies whilst cutting emissions.
Surprisingly, with regard to global warming, there are few warnings from our astronomers that reversion of the world to its earlier, unstable formative state should not be unexpected as a result of runaway global warming. The planets, stars and galaxies obey strict physical and chemical laws, as seen by the preponderance of hot, unfriendly, uninhabitable planets where enormous wild storms occur around the clock. The relatively mild climates of Earth as experienced now has been forged over millions of years by biology under the influence of the major forces of nature; heat, light, air, water, nutrients and microbes. It is these forces that we will need to harness and conserve as trees and renewable energies, to return to the safer 350 ppm CO2 level still within our grasp. With further delay and a rapid rise of CO2 to higher levels, we could lose this lifeline opportunity and ability to reduce CO2 levels. As each ppm of CO2 is equivalent to 2.2 billion tons of carbon and we are emitting approximately 70 million tons of CO2 a day, the need to remove CO2 becomes more acute with each passing day.
Much of the forested areas in the world has been removed over time for agricultural crops and developments, or has undergone extensive logging. Growing trees globally to absorb CO2 in order to reach the safe 350 ppm level before CO2 levels soar to unrecoverable levels would need nothing short of a massive change in thinking by policymakers. As in the earlier analogy, everyone on Earth, young and old, poor and rich, are in the same boat that has sprung a serious leak. However, like Commander Lovell and co-pilots who searched Apollo for materials to build the “mailbox” device that saved them, we can turn the CO2 problem into a success if we react soon.
Our main resource around the world are the many millions of miles of sealed and unsealed roads, close to land which can be used for growing small, compact, neatly arranged plantations on acceptable soils not yet exhausted. Spreading the thousands of small mini plantations around the world would reduce the risks of fire and damage from droughts or storms. Trees cool the soil underneath to increase carbon sequestration, reduces soil degradation and improves water conservation. Roads and accompanying infrastructure are needed to water, fertilize and care for the trees to achieve rapid growth, as well as being vital for harvesting and transport. Native, deep-rooted trees for carbon storage, suited to the local climate and soils together with immunity to pests should be chosen. The trees will buy us the critical time until we can reduce emissions to safe levels.
To help pay for the considerable cost of growing trees, a tax on carbon emissions could be coupled with incentives for trading on the open stock market. CO2 emitters who invest in renewable energy generation and who support climate-related stocks on the stock exchange should be entitled to a sizeable refund of the levied carbon tax, as an annual tax refund. Governments could begin this process unilaterally before embarking on the global agreement from 2012 to slow emissions, which could take too long to have immediate effect on rising CO2 levels. An authoritative world organization could eventually monitor shared efforts. Based on an agreed Global Climate-Repair Contributory Index (discussed earlier), a climate fund for nations needing financial assistance for establishing tree plantations together with assistance for renewable energy, agricultural productivity, food transport, water harvesting and climate mitigation could be negotiated between Nations.
The original concept that the four forces of nature; fire, air, water, and earth affects life on earth, and is responsible for changes between good and bad, is not new. It has been handed down to us through the ages by the wise men of earlier times. Nutrients and microbes as other forces of nature were not well understood in ancient times, but as agriculture progressed there was intuitive knowledge that they existed. This conceptual knowledge handed down helped earlier scientists to make vital breakthroughs in medicine and science, enabling us to possess the incredible amount of knowledge that exists today. The “crystal of life” model is a modern version of the biosphere which affects all cell-based life on Earth.
I should emphasize that a conceptual model is sometimes far removed from a functioning, living entity. A model is a pattern or construction meant to represent or imitate something that is known to behave in a certain way, for example computer assisted climate models which climate scientists use successfully. A working model is often, though not always, able to measure and calculate mathematically possible future events, explain certain observed phenomena, or to predict possible outcomes. The quantitative predictions are only as good as the model used and nothing important can be overlooked or the model will fail. A perfect model does not exist, but nevertheless they are needed for making intelligent decisions for action.
The model of the cell surrounded by the six forces of nature is logical and intuitive, with the cell as the basic living structure of life surrounded by the forces of the biosphere with which it interacts closely to live and survive; and upon which it depends for protection against adverse forces. The six forces on the three axes, x, y and z surrounding the cell are in three complementary balanced pairs of heat and light, air and water, nutrients and microbes, with equal power and influence. The cell interacts with the forces biologically, physically and chemically, with photons and thermal energy from the Sun, and with electrons from matter for all other interactions with air, water, nutrients and microbes. There is a positional or spatial relationship between the six forces themselves and with the centrally located cell in the model. Intuitively, the assignments on the axes are for light and heat to be (+z -z), air and water (+x -x), nutrients and microbes (+y -y) respectively. The cell itself is considered to be at the origin of the three Cartesian coordinates and thought then to be perfectly cocooned and protected by the forces assuming the highly stable eight-sided octahedral structure. A stable octahedral structure which allows central coordination through a delocalized and free flow of electrons can be seen in biologically important coordinated complexes such as hemoglobin, chlorophyll a, and vitamin B12, with iron, magnesium and cobalt at central active sites.
To picture this model in your mind, place a round plum (representing the cell) on a flat table with four round oranges representing air, water, nutrients and microbes surrounding it, forming a X pattern on a level plane. Place another orange perpendicular and directly above the central plum (representing light) and one perpendicularly directly below the plum (representing heat) and we have the complete model of the cell and biosphere. The distance of each force from the cell affects the interactive magnitude of each force on the cell; the intensity increasing or decreasing as it draws closer or away from the cell, along each axis, respectively. There is then an optimum distance of each force from the cell which influences interaction with the cell and reinforces immunity of the cell to adverse forces. At the optimum interactive distance, cell immunity is at a maximum and disease is at a minimum. The three-dimensional dynamic model shows that all the forces have links to the cell’s receptors (sensors), and in turn are linked to each other to form a defensive shield around the cell. Cellular receptors in a living cell are composed of proteins, glycoproteins and lipoproteins. Their synthesis, structure, function and movements are coded in the centrally located DNA of cells.
Removal of any force breaks links with the cell and the exposed cell cannot then survive in the environment (e.g. water is removed by drought; nutrients are removed with soil degradation). Removal of beneficial microbes such as symbiotic nitrogen-fixing Cyanobacteria (as in thermal coral reef bleaching) and Rhizobia leguminosarum in legume plants is fatal for the dependent cell. There is a diversity of beneficial microbes which protects the cell from a diversity of pathogens and pests, as well as possession by the cell itself of a diverse range of chemical, biological and physical defenses (see also Immunology).
Diversity and balance is then the key to life, and this is indeed true for cell-nutrient interactions. Declining nutrient status of crops is leading to sharp declines in the quality and availability of food. Malnutrition in humans, animals and plants lowers immunities to disease, and lowered immunities and defenses in host cells can rapidly increase the spread and virulence of pathogenic microbes. Nutrition is incredibly important in all cellular functions, and there is a crucial need for increased recognition of its importance in fighting disease.
There is a vital element of time in the cell-environmental forces model. Equilibrium and balance in life processes are only achieved after millions of years of exposure to the environment. Increasing heat rapidly in a short time without time to adjust will be catastrophic for every living cell. In the model, as the force of heat moves closer and intensifies on the cell, the surrounding four forces (air, water, nutrients and microbes) recede along their x and y axes as their links with the cell weaken. Along the x axis, less water in the cell disrupts vital physiological and defense systems, and photosynthesis for chemical energy synthesis is reduced as less air can enter the cell with stomatal cells closed. Along the y axis, cell links with beneficial microbes are weakened and nutrient uptake is reduced from less water and energy levels. The overall effect of excess heat on the cell weakens the cell’s immune and nutritional system, reducing its ability to withstand environmental stress (e.g. heat, frosts, drought) and ability to fend off disease-causing microbes and pests.
Global warming is therefore a particularly horrendous problem facing humans and all other living beings on Earth today. Carbon stands out among elements as possessing a major influence on all life forms on Earth through its unique roles in chemical, physical and biological life processes. Stability of human societies are at high risk from the multitude of problems which would come together from global environmental decay. Atmospheric CO2, which sustains life on Earth through the photosynthesis process with solar energy and water in the cell, has paradoxically, the power to cause death through the greenhouse effect, a source of continuous warnings from worried scientists. We need to cool down our planet soon, and the only way we can do this is to reverse the current high level of CO2 in the atmosphere. Microbes in the soil, photosynthesis by trees and algae can be made to absorb the excess CO2 and quickly bring it down to levels which can sustain life and not destroy it. Our problem now is essentially that of poor carbon dioxide, energy, water and nutrition management, which we have the ability to fix.
It has taken mankind years of hard-won civilization and combined efforts to arrive at our present position of knowledge, intelligence and awareness of our surroundings. We must call a short intermission to our petty differences between people and between Nations, and face the common enemy of global warming to secure our future. We must start soon to control CO2 and other greenhouse gases to survive. Our journey together cannot be delayed any longer and must begin soon. Posted April 28, 2009.
The year 2050 is 41 years away. People were hoping for global commitments to 2020 if we are to avoid disaster, and were extremely disappointed at commitments given by global leaders seeing that the Copenhagen climate pact is only months away (see also BBC NEWS /Europe/; World powers accept warming limit; Thursday 9 July, 2009 online). We are beginning to feel the sharp, urgent tugs of the climate under-current. There is little doubt in most scientistsʼ minds that there is a dangerous waterfall around the corner awaiting humanity. Accordingly, they are using whatever powers they have to persuade world leaders to act quickly.
Scientists will readily admit that the science of climate change is exceedingly complex, and that there exists large uncertainties about it which makes any optimistic predictions risky. For example, the global warming physics (see also Reto Knutti & Gabriele C. Hegeri; Nature Geoscience 1, 735-743 October 2008 online) and climate sensitivity, the trajectory of warming effects in relation to increasing CO2 and other greenhouse gases, is still uncertain and could be underestimated (see also Dana L. Royer, Robert A. Berner & Jeffrey Park; Nature 446, 530-532, 29 March 2007 online). Scientists have used past climate data in their quantitative modeling of climate sensitivity because they do not yet have enough recent data to determine the trajectory. Some leading scientists are beginning to feel quite uneasy about this situation, and fear that we are on a headlong, short-term (not long-term) course to calamity.
Let me explain why. First of all we are in uncharted waters because humanity is experiencing climate change for the first time, and the question I asked in an earlier posting was.. are we on a linear, sigmoid or logarithmic pathway? The worst of these would be the sigmoid or ʻSʼ shaped pathway as it involves a rapid, exponential section, after which it resumes a slower course. The sigmoid course starts off as a long, slow and idyllic course (as for the unaware fishermen before the waterfall) until it changes to a rapidly ascending course without much warning. The slow buildup and effects of CO2 since pre-industrial times, and high emissions now (approximately 70 million metric tons CO2 a day) could very likely follow a dangerous course. This was probably on Charles David Keelingʼs mind when he initiated monthly measurements of CO2 at Mauna Loa in Hawaii and the South Pole in 1958. The CO2 level then was 315 ppm and is now around 389.4 ppm representing approximately 25.5 billion metric tons CO2 emitted into the atmosphere each year. There are now over 100 CO2 monitoring stations in 66 countries and all report the same rising trend. Compared to the diameter of the Earth, the atmosphere is only a thin veneer surrounding our Earth.
Given that there is so much uncertainty about global warming, we must carefully weigh up our options for action based on evidence and cognition. We know that -
• The climate sensitivity and warming pathway is still uncertain and extremely risky.
• The physics of the warming process at a global level is large, and this frightens climate scientists as they do not know what is already in the pipeline (accumulated heat).
• Severity of climate change effects to date are alarming.
• Life processes are very fragile and life is heavily dependent on the biosphere (see my posting above).
• Failure to act early could be fatal for humanity so the stakes are very high.
There could be a view among policy makers that a rise of 0.8 C in average global temperatures since pre-industrial times to the present has taken a long time (which it has, as it would in a sigmoid curve) and therefore to reach a rise of 2 C should also take a long time, for example to 2050, giving us plenty of time to act against warming. This view would be safe only if we know that global conditions between now and when we reach 2 C (with an upper 450 ppm CO2 level) would sustain life as we know it; but this is still unknown. The near-term climate change effects already evident from a 0.8 C average rise makes this assumption unreasonably optimistic.
Some of the climate ʻtugsʼ portending disaster are:
• Arctic ice melt.
Some scientists have reported that we could be ice-free within a decade. This huge melting of arctic ice gives an indication of the enormous mount of heat behind global warming, and what is in store in the short-term. Arctic ice melt could be the first domino of serious climate change, and its momentum could in turn set off other climate dominoes such as the thawing of the permafrost and release methane and CO2 in uncontrollable quantities.
• Maximum temperatures during heat waves.
Average global increases in temperature due to global warming appears low, but there is growing evidence that we are experiencing unusually high maximum temperatures during heat waves. Heat waves last year in Australia, which caused rail lines in Melbourne to twist and bend was most unusual. Fruit in some orchards, on the side facing the sun were cooked, and the fruit was unfit for sale. The temperature maximums reached 46.5 C, much higher than the usual 40 - 42 C. It would be cause for deep concern if maximum heat wave temperatures keep rising, and would be especially so if there is a proportional relationship between maximum temperatures reached and CO2 levels. If we are assuming that we can survive 450 ppm CO2 equivalent, a proportional increase from 389.4 ppm now would make 46.5 C into 53 C when we get to 450 ppm. Life exists within a narrow temperature range, and to adapt to very high temperatures during heat waves would be very difficult. Hopefully there are good meteorological reasons why this cannot happen, but the recent climate history has been one of unprecedented surprises.
• Forest fires.
As the climate warms, and as experienced in Australia with the disastrous forest fires and huge loss of life last Summer, forests become tinder-dry and burn fiercely. The amount of calories locked into wood, say, in 500 acres of forest, becomes devastating when released in a fire.
• Strength of cyclones
The diameter of cyclones and destructive strength of storms around the world appears to be increasing.
• Wild swings in the climate equilibrium.
Farmers are frustrated in their ability to respond to unreliable climate and climate surprises. Food production around the world relies on stable climates, and climates around the world are increasingly fragile. Coupled with rapidly increasing world population, increasing costs of production and unpredictable changes between droughts, intense rain, floods, heat-waves, glacial melts and snow storms, famine is probable within a decade or two. The recent decision in Italy by the G8 and G20 to spend more on agriculture, irrigation and food production is a major step forward.
Policy makers should be concentrating on global survival in the near-term to 2020 rather than in the longer term to 2050. Near-term problems could easily turn into insoluble problems as world-wide panic sets in. There is misplaced optimism by some people that there is no cause for alarm or quick action now as the world can easily adapt to dangerous climate change only when the crisis becomes patently obvious to everyone. The physics, chemistry and biology behind global warming, driven by natureʼs forces can be unforgiving and cruel to those unprepared. Copenhagen cannot fail. Business leaders and shareholders who have a stake in fossil fuels, which we know we cannot immediately abandon, should soak up the CO2 emitted by investing in global reforestation, for which they would obtain credits.
If we can survive beyond 2050, we would have shown an ability to map out our own, human destiny. Very soon our numbers will be too large for our small planet Earth and its unique creatures, products and resources. The universe and its infinite resources should be our reward. Posted July 17, 2009.
There has been a large number of meetings on climate change and global warming between nations in the past 5 years, and a solution seems as elusive as ever. Most nations are reluctant to agree to legally binding caps on emissions of CO2 as this could reduce their production of energy for economic growth and could increase costs for their citizens. By their continued attendance at the meetings and spirited participation, there is no doubt that each nation sees climate change and global warming as a fundamental problem for humanity which has to be solved soon. Scientists have advised that global emissions must peak by 2015 if we are to have any chance of limiting average global temperature increase to 2 C in order to avoid dangerous climate changes occurring.
From above, it can be concluded that most nations are willing to spend their money to avert dangerous climate change, provided they do not have to comply with legally binding caps on emissions. If the money to be spent is their own and spent at their discretion in their own country towards CO2 mitigation (e.g. renewable energy and forestry), this should not then be a problem for any nation. The principle of pooling resources to help undeveloped nations pay for adapting to climate change, improving technology and CO2 mitigation through a climate fund has been agreed at the Bali climate conference, so this also should not be a problem for nations.
Under the guidance of the United Nations, nations could, before the Copenhagen meeting:
• Calculate how much money nations needs to spend each year on CO2 mitigation (renewable energy and forestry) so that emissions can peak in 2015 and decline soon after.
• Calculate how much money nations contribute each year to undeveloped nations for climate adaptation, technology improvement and CO2 mitigation.
• Based on historical and current CO2 emissions of each nation, agree to a CO2 mitigation expenditure and climate fund expenditure for each nation.
For example, if the global CO2 mitigation cost is calculated to be X billion dollars a year, and the climate fund is calculated to be Y billion dollars a year, a nation that has been assigned a 5% expenditure would spend at least 0.05 X billion dollars each year of their own money on CO2 mitigation in their own country and contribute 0.05 Y billion dollars each year to the climate fund for undeveloped nations. Nations could agree to make up any shortfall in their minimum agreed annual CO2 mitigation expenditure each year by paying an amount equal to the shortfall into the climate fund. Posted August 24, 2009.
The severe icy weather this winter were a result of Arctic winds mixed with cold and dry easterly winds from Russia displacing relatively mild south-westerly winds from the Atlantic. There is a natural tendency to use cold and freezing weather events as points against warming concerns, but this is understandable as climate scientists need to explain more clearly in lay terms why climate change is happening. This is not to say that every extreme weather event can be linked to climate change...far from it, but what is changing is the frequency and extent of the severe changes encompassing intense rain, severe flooding, severe and long lasting drought, powerful storms, devastating hail, heat waves and extensive snow storms. One word describes all that is happening, and may indeed explain it - change.
Measurements of CO2 around the world (one of the main greenhouse gases besides water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and CFCs) are now at 388 parts per million, up from 270 parts per million at the start of the industrial revolution. That is a startling 118 parts per million change, or about a 43% change in CO2 alone. The current CO2 levels exceed the geological record maxima of approximately 300 parts per million from ice core data, which has varied over the past 800,000 years from a low of 180 parts per million to the pre-industrial level of 270 parts per million. Relatively then, current CO2 levels are very high, and the increased levels are there from human-related emissions; the Earth has warmed by about an average of 0.8 C, scientists agree. What does this increase of 43% CO2, or 43% change do to climates?
Earthʼs surface reflects about 28% of incoming sunlight radiation. Without greenhouse gases which traps some of the radiation, Earthʼs mean surface temperature would be about -18 C; instead it is about +14 C, so the Earth is warmer by about 32 degrees C because of the greenhouse gases. Scientists have shown that carbon dioxide itself contributes 9 - 26% of the greenhouse effect, so a 43% increase in the proportion of this greenhouse gas is a very considerable change which happened in a relatively short time.
Climate of a particular part of the globe is the general prevailing weather conditions over a long period, e.g, the zones of Earth with hot or cold climates. The overall climate regulates the local weather which itself swings freely from a mean or average state ( a point of equilibrium) to a maximum extent, not unlike the amplitude in a pendulum. A stable climate is therefore largely predictable and regulated, although at times extreme weather events do occur. This is the climate humans have largely enjoyed, until the past few decades when the frequency of extreme climate events has increased. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases govern the amount of heat retained by the Earth. The change in CO2 levels, in terms of geological time, is a very rapid change. It is like giving a pendulum clock a sharp knock on one side, which precipitates wild, uneven swings of the pendulum. These wild and erratic swings in global weather are unlikely to stop as we are still emitting CO2 and other greenhouse gases in increasing amounts. The danger is that tipping points may be exceeded which initiates runaway climatic change. If we can now stop adding CO2 and other gases into the atmosphere, the climate will eventually stabilize, but Earthʼs mean temperature will be higher by a few degrees, though how much higher is not yet certain. Scientists are still uncertain of the climate sensitivity to increased greenhouse gases, and have warned that we should not exceed warming by 2 C to prevent dangerous climatic changes from being initiated. The recent Copenhagen Accord by some governments has endorsed this warning, and it is to be hoped that governments around the world will soon begin to act to limit climate change to a safe level. The rise in Earthʼs temperature is not evenly distributed; some areas such as the Arctic are experiencing increased changes in temperature compared to elsewhere. Increasing carbon dioxide is making oceans more acidic; and of particular concern to scientists, reducing the uptake of this greenhouse gas.
We can explain the extreme climatic events as thermodynamic changes, or as changes to the equilibrium state of climate. A state of equilibrium is a state in which opposing forces or influences are balanced. Considerable change in value of one or more of the opposing forces are likely to unsettle the equilibrium. Thermodynamics and equilibria involving temperature, pressure and gases are well understood by chemists, chemical engineers and physicists. The first law of thermodynamics state that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, but can be converted from one form into another. A severe snowstorm somewhere can therefore be caused by increased warming elsewhere. The second law of thermodynamics says that all natural processes occur in such a way as to result in an increase in entropy, or disorder. It is saying that when changes take place in nature, there will be more disorganization than there was to begin with. So we can expect erratic and severe changes to climates to continue; its here to stay for a long time.
The risks of climate change to humanity, though, is that tipping points can be breached which triggers other tipping points, escalating the changes into irreversible changes. The longer we wait before we act on climate change mitigation, the less time we will have to save our climates before permanent disorder takes hold. Posted: January 26, 2010.
Thermodynamic laws (Thermodynamics of climate change; Lucarini, Fraedrich and Lunkelt; Atmos.Chem.Phys.Discuss.,10,3699-3715,2010) are the foundation of all physical and chemical changes involving heat and movement, with perilous consequences for humanity if misjudged. Last weekʼs extreme freezing weather and snowstorms in the UK and Europe has been attributed to melting of Arctic sea ice from warming, leading to increased atmospheric pressure and the southward movement of cold air (Vladimir Petoukhov and Stefan Rahmstorf; Potsdam Institute, Journal of Geophysical Research), clearly identifying for the first time the mechanism of thermodynamic climate change causing bitterly cold, harsh weather. Locally, torrential rainfall has waterlogged half of Queensland and worse is still to come, with the damage bill expected to exceed $1 billion (heraldsun.com.au).
Annual global emissions of carbon dioxide are now around 30 billion tons and increasing, excluding other greenhouse gases (sources: CDIAC and The Climate Change Performance Index, Results 2011). Governments who participated at the recent UNFCCC Cancun Mexico climate conference could advocate a tax on each ton of carbon dioxide emitted, the tax rate set very low to enable initiation. The tax collected should be used solely for mitigation and adaptation to climate change. Time is critical as thermodynamic climate change leading to extreme weather is a serious development. The tax on carbon dioxide could be increased as global warming and climate change becomes more transparent. Posted: December 27, 2010.
Not being a scientist, can you explain to me in simple terms why excess CO2 and “thermodynamic change” causes extreme climate events, and how we can stop it?
Thermodynamics is a complex subject replete with hundreds of mathematical equations which scientists and engineers use to solve problems involving heat and mechanical energy (work). For example, to understand and improve the efficiency of a chemical process we use chemical thermodynamics, or for an engineering process (e.g., reverse- cycle air conditioner) we use chemical and physical thermodynamics.
Think of the steam locomotive which opened up the west coast of USA to trade, or to the steam engine that started off the industrial revolution in England, Europe and the USA. In a steam locomotive, the necessary ingredient to make it move (work!), is the temperature at which water is converted to live steam energy by the combustion of coal under a boiler. Now according to classical thermodynamics, this conversion of steam energy to work done is never 100% efficient, and some energy is always wasted (as explained by the thermodynamic laws). Scientists and engineers use the thermodynamic equations to minimize the energy lost in industrial processes, thereby improving efficiency.
Climate change, unfortunately, has all the water and energy components of a steam locomotive; 70% of our earth is covered with oceans and water, our sun is the source of heat, and the greenhouse effect of CO2 and other GH gases act as a boiler retaining heat. The extra heat retained by the globe, as CO2 emissions increase, is added to heat in the oceans, some on land and the atmosphere. Changes in global climates and occurrence of extreme weather as a result of increasing global heat is explained by climate change scientists and meteorologists, who use mathematical models of atmospheric thermodynamics.
In 1950, my father, a mechanical engineer, had completed an introductory course in thermodynamics and was awarded a trophy for completing the course; a model steam locomotive secured a few millimeters above the tracks. As children we watched in awe as he lit up the ethanol burners under the boiler, and waited impatiently for the wheels to move. He explained to us that all the fuss and steam before it moved was part and parcel of the system (chaos, disorder, entropy!). It was an unforgettable sight to see the mighty steam pistons move the steel wheels of the locomotive at a hurried pace.
We are now observing the prequel, or prelude, of a climate change locomotive heating up in its early stages; with increasing frequencies of extreme weather occurring as storms, hurricanes, floods, wind, hail etc. On a global scale, unhindered climate change would be terrifying. We must, and can, reduce atmospheric CO2 to a safe 350 ppm level. Renewing the billions of acres of forests and moving to renewable energies can help us do this quickly. Posted: June 11, 2012.
How do you view increasing greenhouse CO2 levels in relation to agriculture and trade?
A report on global warming by the interdisciplinary panel of climate scientists of the United Nations (IPCC), on 2 February 2007, placed green house gas increases in the atmosphere as the very likely, unequivocal cause of global climate changes. They viewed currently high levels of CO2, (384.9 ppm in Feb. 2007), as a serious burden for the planet. Scientists also recognise that global warming and climate change are capable of setting in motion irreversible, self-sustaining environmental events culminating in intolerable heat waves, droughts, fires, famines, storms, floods and sea level rises around the globe. A second report by the IPCC on the impacts of warming on the globe is due in April. The problem of global warming is unprecedented in the history of our civilisation and will be a severe test of our will to survive. As we have learnt from ecology, given time, only the fittest survive.
Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is being captured as a carbon resource to replace dwindling fossil fuel reserves as renewable biomass to ethanol. Additionally, increased management efforts for carbon sequestration in forests and pasture soils are occurring. Legume plants and carbon-fixing microbes can muster bountiful atmospheric nitrogen (78.0% by volume) to tie up misbehaving carbon dioxide (0.0385% by volume) as biomass. Improved financial efforts for trading in carbon reduction are needed.
Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, calculated as carbon, is at 105 parts per million by volume (384.9x12/44). Each ppm equivalent of carbon dioxide has been calculated to equal 2.20 billion tonnes carbon in the atmosphere (source: Energy Balance: Chris Rhodes; Carbon in the sky). His calculations show that we are currently emitting approximately 3.3 ppm CO2 each year and that around 40% of this, 1.3 ppm, are captured by the biosphere. The net CO2 emission is now approximately 2.0 ppm each year.
To prevent the increasing possibility of runaway global heating, we should resolve to reverse, within the next two decades, current levels of CO2 to a safer level. Levels of GHG in 1990’s held reasonably steady at around 354 ppm. The difference of 30.9ppm CO2 from today’s level, equivalent to 8.4 ppm as carbon, shows that 67.9 billion tonnes carbon need to be sequestered as soil and plant carbon. Additionally, removal of approximately 26 ppm CO2 from emissions to 2020 gives a total of 57.2 billion tonnes of carbon, or 9.6 billion tonnes carbon per year to be removed globally by 2020. CO2 emission reductions through clean coal technology for power generation, biofuels for cars together with a move to other renewable energy sources (solar, wind, wave, tidal) and increases in nuclear power generation would assist this effort. If not left too late, modern agricultural technology should be able to shoulder the huge challenge of carbon sequestration in soils and plants.
So-called ‘net benefits’ arising from warming trends for some countries would only be short-term, as the whole globe would heat up over time. The problem is therefore global and needs a global effort. Rich countries, which can presently afford to make carbon dioxide reductions, should take the lead. In the absence of the unprecedented effort to remove excess CO2, levels at 2020 would be, at least, around 411 ppm. To start carbon-reversing efforts in 2020, in the midst of unruly droughts and shortages of water, plus higher emissions, could become economically and technologically difficult in a degraded environment. We could be in an onerous position of not being able to return to lower, safer levels of CO2. The exact ‘point of no return’ is as yet uncertain, and that is what makes early action compelling.
Some scientists are however not so optimistic at reducing CO2 levels quickly, and consider that at best we should aim to keep the level of CO2 in the atmosphere static at current levels. The net annual increase of CO2 is around 2 ppm, so to stabilise CO2, the equivalent of 4.4 billion tonnes carbon needs to be reduced through sequestration and emissions reduction each year. If we can exceed this level of removal each year, CO2 levels could be slowly reversed to safer levels provided that current levels are, even now, not too high for climate stability.
Spirited, vibrant share-markets for market-driven trading in carbon, renewable energies, and carbon sequestration projects, are needed. Increasing economic activity by trading in carbon and new technologies would also improve global adjustment to declining crude oil reserves.
Under an amendment to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol, countries that ratified the protocol engage in emissions trading in CO2. Developing countries including China and India, together emitting high levels of greenhouse gases, were exempt from meeting emission standards. If the market-driven concept of Kyoto can be “tweaked” to make it a fairer system, countries including America and Australia will probably participate. We can then start serious trading in carbon-reduction technologies and projects to lower CO2 to safer levels, enjoy cool micro and global climates, and anticipate a secure, forward-looking world for our children.
The Kyoto Protocol aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions below 5% compared to 1990’s levels, now viewed by many participating countries in the European Union to be grossly inadequate to stabilise CO2 emissions and address climate change. The Kyoto Protocol is also seen by many to be too complex to administer and seen to lack transparency, with risks of failing. Among its perceived problems are:
Large administration costs.
Difficult to monitor actual emissions or reductions based on estimates, and difficult to implement or enforce compliance.
Difficult to get accurate measures of performance for the money spent, ie. actual amounts of CO2 reduced per dollar spent.
Money allocated for carbon reduction elsewhere could be spent on unrelated projects.
As the problem is global, the Protocol should also have been relevant for undeveloped countries.
As its name suggests, a protocol is a draft of terms signed by parties as basis of an agreement relying mainly on diplomatic etiquette and decorum for implementation, rather than strict compliance. Thus some countries can take advantage of the many loopholes in the wording of the protocol to claim exemption from pledges made; for example, possession of forested areas claimed to compensate for increased GHG emissions
The open share-market, in contrast to a protocol, is a proven economic instrument rewarding companies, which exemplify leadership, initiative, enterprise and discipline. It has its own formal government regulated checks and balances, allowing the public to monitor progress by raising and lowering company share-price based on profitability and performance. The price of carbon and emissions limits can be set by individual nations, and companies and utilities can then buy shares to offset their emissions. A section of the stock exchange dealing in carbon and renewable energy, instituted in each country along established rules would allow investors to take part in a resourceful, vigorous and profitable system geared towards reducing excessive global carbon dioxide.
A virtual global thermometric reading on how well the world is succeeding in slowing and reversing the upward rise of CO2 will be given by keeping a close watch on monthly data of CO2 levels at monitoring points on the globe provided generously by NOAA/ESRL/GMD DATA.
Is global warming true or false?
Scientists working on stopping global warming would be happy if they were proven wrong and global warming stops suddenly. Most scientists would breathe a sigh of relief; hop into their SUV (if they have one) and go for a long drive in the country with family to celebrate. Global warming science is solidly based on a known and studied physico-chemical effect - the absorption of infrared energy by carbon dioxide. As an example, if we heat some water to boiling in a saucepan long enough it soon disappears- it has absorbed the heat energy and has evaporated. We know what has happened, so there is no need to question this effect. Global warming on the other hand involves increasing CO2 levels and global climate changes because of it, making it a very complex problem needing quick action.
Action on global warming, by changing old energy technologies, will prepare the world for the time when crude oil runs out. This action can be justified, even if warming is caused by some other effect not yet discovered (this is very unlikely). Doing nothing now would be a dangerous route to take.
Carbon dioxide, the main gas molecule causing global warming (there are lesser amounts of other more potent greenhouse gases) has the property of absorbing infrared (IR) radiation; the heat radiated by a hot body, for example, from a hot plate after cooking. After being heated by the sun during the day, our earth loses some of its heat at night by radiating it as infrared radiation back into outer space. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere waylays this radiation and absorbs it, preventing some heat to escape thereby increasing the warming. Think of your head as an atom of carbon, and your two fists as atoms of oxygen. The CO2 molecule, shaped O=C=O sustains rapid upwards scissoring, or sideways stretching motions by absorbing IR radiation. It can gather kinetic energy and collide more often with other molecules of CO2 and absorb more IR energy. So if we increase the concentration of CO2 molecules by burning fossil fuels, less heat escapes the earth. We can confirm this effect by measurement in a laboratory with a sealed test tube containing CO2, and one without CO2. The test tube containing a high enough amount of CO2 can prevent passage of IR radiation through the tube. Chemists and physicists routinely use this property of absorbing IR radiation to identify organic compounds containing carbon-oxygen bonds in their structures, using an IR spectrometer.
The amount of heat retained globally is then a function of the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. As the CO2 increases, the globe gets hotter – it is as simple as that. Scientists are not yet sure of the global warming pathway. Are we on a linear, logarithmic or sigmoid pathway of increasing temperature in relation to increasing CO2?
One sees on TV solutions to global warming; for example, stationary orbits of mirrors in space between the sun and earth to reflect some solar radiation away from earth, or spraying water droplets upwards from ships in oceans to form heat-reflecting clouds. These costly solutions will not help if the amount of CO2 remains the same or increases. The only permanent solution to global warming is to return quickly to past levels of CO2, which we know are safe because the climate was stable then. It is urgent that we make valiant efforts to return to these levels, before the energy hill behind us becomes too steep to climb. We cannot afford to risk higher levels of 500 to 600 ppm CO2 as some suggest because each ppm of CO2 is equivalent to 2.2 billion tonnes of carbon. If we reach 500 ppm and find we need to return to 350 ppm levels for climate stability, that is 330 billion tonnes (330,000,000,000 tonnes) of carbon we will need to remove from the atmosphere – a superhuman task perhaps.
A draft UN report by the IPCC “Mitigation of Climate Change” is due for release at Bangkok on May 4. According to the pre-release draft “The most stringent scenario costing 3% of GDP, would limit greenhouse gas to 445 – 535 ppm by 2030, inside a range likely to bring a 2 – 2.4 degree C (3.6 – 4.4 degree F) rise” Source: Planet Ark, 11 April, 2007; Environment News. Limiting greenhouse gas at the higher level of 535 ppm assumes that the biosphere can tolerate the estimated average temperature rise of 2.4 degree C. For how long can human beings tolerate and live under the changed conditions if the biosphere breaks down at these limits?
What would be the GDP costs to reverse CO2 levels to 1990 levels by 2020 – 2030, and what does the world need to do to achieve this? If we cover most suitable land on the continents with forests by 2020 – 2030 with a crash program, what would be the estimated global GDP cost, and the estimated CO2 levels then in 2020 and 2030? If the answer is positive, is it possible for the world’s politicians to reach agreement for this action, and how soon?
At the moment CO2 in the atmosphere is around 384 ppm, and the globe is visibly changing physically and chemically. Polar melting continues, droughts are spreading, floods and storms are increasing, sea water is warming and acidity is increasing. Many scientists are now of the opinion that we have a window of only 10 to 15 years to act to save the planet. Let us hope there is much more time. We cannot let CO2 beat us. Big nitrogen at 78.0% by volume and the vast family of legumes will help turn the tide by growing biomass cheaply. Carbon can be sequestered under forest soils, and dry wood burnt with maximum efficiency can partly replace fossil fuels as a carbon-neutral heat source. Crude oil can then be saved for producing fertilisers and chemicals. Renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, together with atomic energy must come to the rescue quickly. It will take a long time to convert engine technologies of the millions (billions?) of cars, motorbikes, boats, planes and ships, and to run them on carbon-neutral biofuels.
Carbon trading could start soon in all countries. Those who do not participate in the vigorous international carbon and new technologies markets could be economically disadvantaged. Resource-rich, cash-poor nations with low sovereign risk should benefit the most.
On the recent good news front, scientists have shown that forest trees provided with improved nutrition increased growth by 21 percent compared to nil controls. When CO2 levels were increased from ambient by blowing CO2 around the trees, plus balanced fertiliser added, growth was increased by 47 percent over controls (Source: University of Michigan and US Dept. of Energy; US Forest Service; Science Daily- Anne Arbor; Soil fertility limits forests’ capacity to absorb excess CO2.). “The debate over how much CO2 trees will absorb should consider the limitations of soil fertility or other key resources in low supply” - Source. Key nutrient resources often in low supply for forest trees, compared to applied NPK, are soil amendments containing calcium and magnesium (eg. dolomite), sulphur (gypsum) and trace elements such as zinc, iron, manganese, copper, boron, molybdenum, cobalt, etc., together with sodium, chloride, iodine, selenium etc. from sea salt.
Why is biomass important? How can we grow biomass more efficiently?
When biomass is grown as an energy conversion crop or as food, carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is captured. Agricultural crops, forest residues, grasses and algae, are important feedstocks for the biomass industry. More efficient ways to increase quantities of biomass at harvest are needed, and to improve water and fertiliser-use efficiencies for growing biomass.
Liquid fuels derived from thermal processing of coal and biomass (US Department of Energy; Office of Science, Brookhaven National Laboratory; Meyer Steinberg, Hydrocarb Process) are now undergoing rapid development. Today’s biomass uses include conversion to biodiesel, ethanol, hydrogen, biomass power, industrial process energy and to chemicals (ref: US Department of Energy; Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy). Biomass grown intensively worldwide offers our best hope of sequestering high atmospheric CO2 rapidly and to reverse present day levels of CO2 to lower levels, perhaps to 1960’s levels of CO2 (see: USE OF NOAA/ESRL/GMD DATA). The monthly variations of CO2 levels in the atmosphere throughout the year gives an indication of the amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere; the levels being significantly lower when crops and trees are actively growing and capturing CO2. A massive increase in planting of biomass globally should drive down CO2 levels quickly.
Reducing fossil-based emissions of CO2 to the atmosphere by quickly updating technology and growing biomass energy extensively to reverse CO2 levels to safer levels, are global imperatives. There are extraordinary similarities between global warming and the Titanic tragedy. Had the Titanic (a technological marvel of that time) been travelling more carefully in dangerous waters, and had it reversed its engines a minute or two earlier, it could have just missed the iceberg and saved the lives of its passengers.
Legume plants and trees are grown for forage eg. Gliricidia sepium (FAO, Agriculture Department; T.R. Preston; Integrated Farming Systems for the Wet Tropics) and Leucaena diversifolia and L. trichandra; (University of Hohenheim and CIAT; Field characterisation of the forage tree legumes; Katrin Zofel et al; Tropentag 2006, Bonn, Germany). Four months after transplanting seedlings of Leucaena into the field, plant height and width were up to 2.3m and 2.4m respectively. Plants indicated good vigour and absence of pests and diseases (Zofel et al). Tree legumes occupy favourable and promising positions for growing biomass efficiently and cheaply. Nitrogen fertiliser is an expensive input in agriculture and forestry, making the atmospheric source of nitrogen through biological fixation increasingly attractive (see: Nutrition Management: Legumes).
Enzymatic processes for conversion of biomass to fuel ethanol prefer sources with high levels of sugars, starch and cellulose with lower protein nitrogen. Non-legume biomass sources for enzymatic ethanol production are sugar cane, corn grain and stover, wheat, sugar beet, cassava, potato, etc. A large amount of information on the benefits of growing legume and non-legume crops and trees for biomass is available on the web.
With climate change and droughts spreading around the world, there is an urgent need to establish new forests quickly and to maintain their rapid growth. Fertilisers applied at establishment and at intervals thereafter as liquid fertilisers should provide the answer. Soils suitable for growing new forests usually have ample supplies of potassium, calcium and magnesium for longer-term growth. However during the early and vital establishment phase, providing the plant with ample NPK nutrients, secondary and trace elements would improve root growth allowing the plant to access water at depth and dramatically shorten the time from planting to harvest. Applying fertiliser is therefore a valuable investment, which reduces the overall cost and provides high returns. Importantly, with less reliable rainfall and drought occurring, nutrients from fertilisers improves physiological water-use efficiency for the production of biomass. Nutrients are the driving force in photosynthesis for combining water and CO2 to produce sugar, protein and cellulose. Inadequate nutrients would mean increased crop stress and lost opportunities for utilisation of water and increased growth after each rainfall.
Non-leguminous plants and trees need substantial amounts of nitrogen for growth, and N is often applied as DAP for forest plants. However applying DAP alone lacks sulphur. Radiata pine (Pinus radiata) has been shown to benefit from the application of superphosphate fertiliser in the establishment stage. Growth and production of wood was improved, and there was an increase of organic matter and litter by the end of the rotation (source: Department of Primary Industries, Victoria, Australia: Bruce Sonogan, The Use of Fertiliser in Farm Forestry). Response of Tasmanian blue gum (E. globulus) was also best with a combination of deep ripping, fertiliser at establishment and weed control.
During planting, in preparation for future applications of liquid fertiliser, two 25mm diameter PVC tubes, one of 500mm length and the other of 700mm length, with some horizontal slots cut in, can be buried vertically near each tree, with about 200mm of the tubes above the soil surface. Liquid fertiliser containing nitrogen, phosphorus and trace elements applied to root depth have been found to be more effective than surface application. This is probably due to avoiding loss of surface-applied nitrogen due to rain (heavy in the tropics) or avoiding loss as volatile ammonia. Applying liquid fertiliser to cooler depths increases interception by feeder roots and avoids fixation of nutrients, particularly phosphorus and trace elements on surface organic matter and clay. Tests over several years on fruit trees fed liquid fertiliser by this method have not shown up any agronomic problems. Growth and productivity was improved compared to controls, perhaps due also in part to better penetration of oxygen to roots. A mobile application tank for liquid fertiliser, an electric pump, and delivery hose with a shut-off valve would be needed for periodical application to spur growth of the trees.
Blended fertiliser is placed below the trees and separated from the roots with a layer of soil to prevent burn. For legume trees, a fertiliser blend (legume biomass blend) consisting of granulated single superphosphate, potassium sulphate chips, dolomite or magnesite, together with a small amount of sea salt to supply sodium, chloride and trace elements can be used. A suitable liquid fertiliser containing phosphate, sulphur and trace elements (minus N) is applied periodically when needed for legumes after planting by filling up the PVC tubes.
For non-legume trees such as Radiata pine or gum trees, a suitable blended mix for quick establishment (non-legume biomass blend) can be produced, composed of granulated DAP, granulated single superphosphate, potassium sulphate chips, magnesium sulphate, and a small amount of sea salt. Try different ratios of the ingredients to give the best results. A guide can be obtained by comparing nutrient levels of legumes versus non-legumes and calculation from grain analysis values (see: Nutrition Management: Legumes). Non-legumes usually need less of the minerals than legumes but substantial nitrogen and sulphur is needed for continuous growth. Apply suitable Western Fertiliser Technology’s liquid fertilisers (eg. Super Energy, Super Liquid NPK and Rich Green) for NPK and trace elements periodically, or apply liquid fertilisers foliar with aircraft for very large areas (see Products page for more information).
An important consideration in the use of fertilisers for growing biomass is to achieve an ideal balance of the nutrients according to the desired C/N ratio of the product. The C/N ratio of the feedstock is an important consideration during processing of biomass. Once the balance in nutrients is achieved, application rates are important. Increasing the application rates of fertiliser for developing countries in the tropics, where inadequate levels of fertiliser are often used, would greatly increase quantities of biomass at harvest. Crops for biomass should be chosen which are adapted to the best use of rain, eg. crops with deeper root systems for interception of water and nutrients recycling, and those that are adapted to the local ecological conditions of climate and soil.
Photosynthesis - Nature's solution to Climate Change
Climate change and global warming is caused by emissions of excess carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere from fossil fuel combustion, at the rate of approximately 80 million tons each and every day. CO2 levels in the atmosphere has increased from pre-industrial level of 280 ppm to 400 ppm as of May 2013, causing global climate chaos from the greenhouse process which heats up the atmosphere, oceans and lands.
Photosynthesis is the process in green plants, algae and cyanobacteria by which simple carbohydrates are first synthesized from CO2 and water, catalyzed by nutrients. Chlorophyll a, a highly complex organic compound, is used to absorb the energy needed for synthesis, provided by energetic photons from the sun. The photosynthesis process then releases oxygen as a byproduct which we breathe. Simple carbohydrates are converted to complex carbohydrates, proteins, nucleic acids, oils and fats, which are our food.
Connect the two processes, and achieve understanding and realization of the solution to climate change; that is, remove the excess CO2 to a safer level of 350 ppm with the help of nature's own building process, photosynthesis. Just 50 ppm of CO2 needs to be removed by photosynthesis and safely sequestered as wood and soil carbon before we change fossil energy based systems to 100% renewable energy. Look around you... There are so many empty spaces waiting where trees can be planted (fruit trees too for food!). Empty spaces are in the gardens, on roofs, on roadsides, in parks, on idle lands and pastures, national parks and in logged forests. Earth is a big, big place with empty spaces... We must restore, rejuvenate and grow trees with care, sunlight, water and nutrients. Re-green the whole world, cool the climates quickly to prevent unbearable heat waves, wildfires, storms, sea level rise and ocean acidification before it is too late.
Make Jan van Helmont, Joseph Priestley, Antoine Lavoisier, Joseph Black, Jan Ingenhousz, Jean Senebier, Nicholas-Theodore de Saussure, Cornelis Van Niel, Robert Hill, Samuel Ruben, Martin Kamen, Melvin Calvin, Andrew Benson, James Bassham, Rudolph A. Marcus, Otto Heinrich Warburg, Dean Burk, Louis N.M. Duysens, Jan Amesz and many other scientists who discovered and contributed to the understanding of photosynthesis, proud of our generation. Posted July 25, 2013.
September 2013 IPCC report
The latest United Nations (UNFCCC) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientific report has confirmed that global warming and climate change is the result (95% certainty) of human actions which has increased CO2 and other greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to 400 ppm CO2, or 455 ppm CO2-equivalent. The detailed IPCC account on the present and future impacts due to high CO2 levels are indeed alarming. The report concludes that unless immediate action is taken by global governments and businesses, there is going to be catastrophic, irreversible changes severely impacting millions of people around the globe, such as heat waves, droughts, large forest fires, increased ocean acidity, melting glaciers, massive floods, storms and sea level rises inundating coastlines. Two more IPCC reports are due early next year.
Surprisingly, those who could benefit most from the IPCC report could be the giant global fossil fuel business organizations who have the resources and access to capital investments needed to change direction, and reduce the dire impacts of increased atmospheric CO2 levels on their own operations. They could soon be moving quickly to implement the investments and infrastructure needed in solar and wind energy generation and transmission, planting trees and reducing high CO2 levels to sustainable levels through photosynthesis uptake by forests, crops and soil microorganisms as soil carbon. Posted September 29, 2013
Can chemistry help to solve the global warming and climate change problem?
Chemistry and chemical thermodynamics has augmented understanding of complex classical, physical and atmospheric thermodynamics; all vital for predicting the course of changes taking place in global climates which will determine our future. Far-reaching decisions to prevent dangerous climate change need to be made soon by heads of governments, assisted by scientists from academies of sciences to secure our safety. Environmental indications recently are that we have entered uncharted territories of climate change and consequence. Frequency and physical momentum of extreme weather is accelerating as excess CO2 and other GH gases accumulate in the atmosphere.
Chemical thermodynamics involving chemicals and gases such as water, carbon dioxide, methane, chlorofluorocarbons etc., deals with heat and energy movements (mechanical and chemical). Reaction mechanisms in organic chemistry emphasize prediction and outcome of reactions. Within the boundary of the reaction coordinate and physical thermodynamics, chemical thermodynamics explains direction of reversible and irreversible reactions, stability or instability of structural and electronic states of chemicals including transitory intermediates, energy of activation needed for a reaction or process to occur, stable and unstable thermodynamic states, and spontaneity of a reaction or process calculated from changes in Gibbs free energy and enthalpy. Posted July 5, 2012.
The framework of chemical thermodynamics (changes in energy governed by the reaction coordinate and physical thermodynamics, as discussed above) can be used to explain the rapid changes now taking place in earth's climate. Climate changes are being driven by global increase in atmospheric heat which is then partly transferred to the oceans.
There are three main players causing global warming, these being the sun, carbon dioxide (CO2) and ice (mainly in the arctic, antarctic and glaciers) . As a general rule in an equilibrium reaction, a steady increase in the concentration of one of the participants, as is occurring now from increased CO2 emissions, would cause a more-or-less steady, linear increase in the heat retained by the globe; as most climate models predict. However, this linear increase in heat will not hold if there is a catalytic effect operating which in effect lowers the energy of activation (Ea) for further energy and physical changes in ice, water and vapor to take place. The forward reaction (left hand side of the equilibrium) is increased because there is a material that readily absorbs the retained atmospheric heat, and that is ice. Ice undergoes a phase change from solid to liquid by absorbing 334 kj/kg of thermal energy (its hidden latent heat) without any change in temperature; further significant heat is absorbed by water (2260 kj/kg) on changing from liquid to vapor (latent heat of vaporization). This considerable absorbed heat is then released later as thermal heat to the atmosphere (enthalpy heat of condensation) when the vapor condenses back to water as rain. Atmospheric heat and the melting of ice is then increased in a vicious cycle, including other feedbacks. Changes in the enthalpy of the system is accompanied by changes in the entropy of the system resulting in chaotic changes to climates globally, as is now occurring. It is time the United Nations Security Council intervened to save lives and our known habitats on earth. Posted January 8, 2014.
Can chemistry provide solutions to stop extreme climate changes leading to frequent heatwaves, wildfires, droughts, typhoons and floods?
An honest answer to your question is yes, we do have the chemistry and related technologies to provide solutions to stop the extreme changes in global climates, but globally united action is urgently needed. Almost all of the heat generated by the excessive level of atmospheric carbon dioxide is transferred to the oceans; cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons (named according to origin) draw heat energy from warm ocean water in the tropics and transports it towards the poles. The biggest danger facing us is catastrophic loss of sea ice in the arctic region (discussed above) and ingress of warm ocean water from adjacent oceans which would cause release of large quantities of trapped methane. If this happens, stopping global warming would be impossible.
The solutions to climate change is complex, and widespread adoption of renewable energies such as solar, wind and geothermal is increasing; but the answers still lie in understanding the past and present causes of our present predicament. Urgent action now by governments globally is needed to solve the crisis of extreme climate changes happening now.
That extreme climate changes is caused by increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, 400 ppm now and increasing rapidly, together with other potent greenhouse gases, is now fully accepted by all governments. Carbon dioxide began to accumulate in excess from ideal levels (around 270 ppm) with the beginnings of the agricultural (16th century to present) and industrial revolutions (18th century to present). To grow crops as well as build cities, towns and villages for increasing populations, large areas of pristine forest were cut down and burnt in all continents and islands; more intensive clearing of forests took place in countries where populations were larger. Fertile, high- carbon soils were selected to grow crops, followed by later development of modern fertilizers based on superphosphate, potash and industrially fixed nitrogen which increased the pressures on high-carbon soils.
Carbon dioxide increasingly was released from deforestation making way for croplands, and from burning of biomass for energy. Tillage of fertile soils for crops led to soils increasingly impoverished in carbon and mineral nutrients. To date, this problem has not improved, and in fact has increased globally leading to desertification in some countries. Improvements in the compounding of fertilisers (nitrogen, phosphate, potash) and agronomic advances (better seeds, improved machinery) led to increased yields of crops but to impoverishment of trace elements in soils . The industrial revolution markedly increased standards of living for people, but its disadvantage has been further increasing of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by burning of fossil fuels coal, oil and gas for energy.
Scientists have now begun to focus on the ability of soils to sequester the excess CO2, a much safer and cheaper route than transport and burial of CO2 deep underground. The ability of soils to sequester carbon has declined markedly together with their fertility, causing yields of crops to plateau for important staples such as rice, wheat, peas and other legumes. Focussing only on microbes which sequester carbon in soils is not the solution. Under Publications and in Nutrition Management on this website, I wrote that all life is centrally surrounded and influenced by the six forces of the environment - heat and light, air and water, nutrients and microbes. Microbes and nutrients are complimentary forces; the centrally located cell in the model being dependent on the interactions and functions of microbes and nutrients for sustaining life. Farmers have limited influence on the other four forces of the environment - heat and light, air and water to improve yields of crops.
Assuming normal microbial diversities, and optimum pH maintained in soils with dolomite and liquid lime, we need to examine what has changed in the nutrient regimes of fertilisers for crops and trees. There has been a major shift away from superphosphate to high analysis, purified phosphate and nitrogen compound fertilisers such as DAP, MAP, phosphoric acid and urea, with it a reduced input for crops of trace and ultra-trace elements found naturally in superphosphate from ocean-sourced phosphate ores. Leaching of trace elements as soluble nitrate salts, from high inputs of nitrogen increased.
One reason for cleanup of phosphate ores by the production of phosphoric acid was to reduce high levels of the undesirable elements cadmium and fluoride found in most rock phosphates. Microbes depend heavily on nutrients including trace elements for their life processes and functions (as we do). Trace elements, both major (iron, copper, manganese, zinc, boron) and the ultra-trace elements (molybdenum, cobalt, nickel, selenium, iodide, bromide, vanadium, lithium etc.) are needed by microbes for their physiological functions as well as providing a very important environmental function - biological decomposition of waste organic matter to safely sequester carbon as complex fulvic and humic acids, thereby improving fertility of soils. The importance of the trace and ultra-trace elements in human nutrition too has been amply researched and reported by scientist Forrest Nielsen and other renowned colleagues (discussed elsewhere on this website).
Difficulties experienced by farmers in producing quality silage points to the problem of the natural microbial decomposition process being affected by lack of trace and, especially, the ultra-trace elements needed for the production of microbial enzymes. Imbalance of the nutrients encourages a proliferation of undesirable bacteria and fungi which, instead of producing desirable lactic and citric acid from proteins and carbohydrates, produces acrid, rancid butyric acid. Butyric acid and other products such as acetone and methane from impaired decomposition and fermentation (in ruminants too) are oxidized with the release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, a process organic chemists call "decarboxylation". Global production of grains amounts to millions of tons annually, and waste organic matter from agriculture and forestry would, globally, be in the billions of tons. If sequestration by microbes of waste carbon to stable soil carbon is hindered by lack of trace and ultra-trace elements in soils, it could be a hidden problem of CO2 emissions adding significantly to CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. Scientists acknowledge that the carbon cycle is highly complex, making it difficult to accurately attribute CO2 emissions to sources.
Modern chemical analysis of harvested grains have shown an increasing trend to deficiencies of trace elements, which points to depleted reserves in soils. We need to improve the availability to farmers of improved fertilisers containing trace elements. An intrinsic problem with recognition and rectification could be the extremely low levels of the ultra-trace elements compared to the major trace elements. Computing from grain analysis, inputs of iron, copper, manganese, zinc, boron (major trace elements) are usually around 120 grams,16 grams, 240 grams, 120 grams and 22 grams respectively for a targeted yield of 4 tons of wheat per hectare, whilst for the ultra-trace elements extremely low amounts of 0.2 to 1 gram per hectare of each element are needed. This poses problems for analysis, even with modern analytical instruments such as ICP-MS. Evenly dispersing these extremely low levels of the ultra-trace elements in, for example, 100 kilograms of granulated DAP or MAP fertiliser would be a formidable challenge, whilst liquid fertilisers can keep them in solution for even dispersal. Fortunately, the high cost of the ultra-trace elements (technical grade) are offset by the very small amounts needed per hectare.
Well known high-profile scientists James Hansen, Bill McKibben and others have urged governments to urgently reduce atmospheric CO2 to a much safer level of 350 ppm to shift the warming equilibrium back to 1980 levels of CO2, as analyzed then by Charles David Keeling. We must heed their calls. Posted August 7, 2014.
Thermodynamics is a difficult, mathematically rigorous science that involves energy changes and energy movements which are almost always counterintuitive and difficult to understand. This means that there are many unanticipated climate surprises in store due to increasing cumulative CO2 emissions of 90 million tons daily, and a CO2 level of 400 ppm or 470 ppm CO2 equivalent. Global ambition to reduce emissions to net-zero by 2050, still 36 years from now, may be insufficient. Scientists might have to announce, long before the full manifestations of extreme changes has occurred, that climate change has become impossible to stop due to the accumulated heat in the oceans. A few days ago, typhoon Hagupit (Ruby) became the seventh Western Pacific cyclone to reach super typhoon status in 2014. This is an ominous warning! Policy-makers should urgently consult the world's top scientists specializing in thermodynamics about the current status and near-term thermodynamic direction of warming. Some scientists have urged a united Global Carbon Tax as an urgent remedy, among others, to shift CO2 quickly to safer, lower levels. Posted December 6, 2014.
The framework of chemical thermodynamics has been used in the January 8, 2014 posting above to explain the catalytic role ice plays in global climate change and warming in unison with the greenhouse gases. This is a clear example of thermodynamics being a highly counterintuitive science, as it would be naturally assumed that ice only possess a cooling function. Past thermodynamic calculations of climate sensitivity has, unfortunately, omitted the role of polar ice and glaciers in climate dynamics. Recently, (online manuscript 15 NOV 2014 12:23 AM EST), research published in the Geophysical Research Letters by researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Pasadena, U.S.A; the University of California at Irvine, USA; LEGOS Observatoire Midi- Pymes, Toulouse, France; Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, Utrecht, Netherlands and the School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, UK, has reported massive loss of ice volume in the Amundsen Sea Embayment, West Antarctica, equivalent to Mount Everest every two years (83 gigatons/year). Ice melt has tripled in the past 10 years, and is accelerating each year. A strong global response to this crisis at Lima, Peru COP20 today and in Paris COP21 in 2015 is critically important to reverse the high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, thereby stabilizing extreme climate and rising sea levels. Posted December 7, 2014.
Daily Net-Zero emissions of CO2
Scientists are unanimous that global warming is increasing at a far more rapid pace than anticipated a few years ago. A record early start of typhoons in 2015 sees Maysak as another super typhoon of category 5 in the Pacific heading towards the Philippines. Since 2014, there has been 10 super typhoons in the Pacific, in addition to 16 other lower category typhoons and storms.
Super typhoons, 2014 - 2015 (March) Neoguri July 2 - July 11 Rammasun July 9 - July 20 Halong July 27 - Aug. 11 Genevieve Aug. 7 - Aug. 14 Phanfone Sept. 28 - Oct. 14 Vong Fong Oct. 2 - Oct. 14 Nuri Oct. 20 - Nov. 6 Hagupit Nov. 30 - Dec. 12 ----------- Pam March 7 - March 19 Maysak March 27 -
That they are occurring earlier in close succession, large and intense, is simply due to CO2 obeying the chemical law of mass action. The law of mass action says that forward rates of reaction in a system at dynamic equilibrium will increase if the mass of a reactant (or reactants) increases. CO2 is an acidic, reactive gas, reacting with water to cause rising ocean acidity, as well as actively hindering the passage of infrared radiation from Earth to space, causing warming of oceans which increases the strength of typhoons and melting of polar ice . The mass of CO2 in the global atmospheric system is now increasing daily at approximately 96 million metric tons, or approximately 4 million metric tons every hour.
Ecosystems are deteriorating. Scientists and policymakers should move quickly to secure ecosystems, as 'back-up' systems are not available. Scientists warn "there is no planet B". Removing all CO2 emitted daily from the atmosphere by extensive production of biomass and food during the next two decades, employing plants (legumes and non-legumes), trees, green vegetation, microbes, and algae to sequester carbon is achievable. Determined attempts to test and deploy industrial capture of CO2 from power stations followed by deep burial underground has not progressed well because of safety, liability and economic issues (investment of trillions of dollars with little or no return).
Advanced civilization prides itself on its technological prowess, so while there is still time, countries should be using technology to secure a future for human beings by preserving ecosystems. Indeed, most citizens expect that to happen soon; that technology will come to the rescue. Extensive growing of biomass globally to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere should buy critical time during the next 2 decades, until renewable energies are established. However to achieve this massive undertaking of daily net-zero emissions, the world needs massive cooperation between governments and large corporate bodies to finance and deploy agricultural removal of CO2. Keeping CO2 concentration levels almost static (now at 400 ppm) should prevent global average temperatures exceeding the 2 degrees centigrade limit. Climate scientist Dr. James Hansen warns that it would be "game over!" if we exceed 2 degrees of warming, and that we should instead aim for a lower, safer limit. Serious action to lower CO2 levels has to begin immediately, he said.
The current high levels of CO2 itself will help drive growth of biomass, capturing the CO2 emitted daily in each country with the help of modern agricultural technology. Governments and large corporate organizations can achieve this task with resolute support from the United Nations Security Council whose task is, unequivocally, to help nations in crisis. Posted April 1, 2015.
Evidence-based action on climate change
To move forward on stopping global warming, climate change evidence at the UNFCCC, COP 21 meeting in Paris should be based on evidence and modern data whenever possible.
Evidence of global warming in the past two decades has been:
Evidence of warming has been backed up by modern chemical analysis of atmospheric CO2 which shows:
- Melting of Arctic and Antarctic ice
- Severe, long lasting droughts
- Deadly heat waves
- Increase in ocean temperatures
- Large, intense typhoons
- Large wildfires with fatalities
- Multiple tornadoes
- Extreme flooding
- Extremely cold weather from changing wind patterns in the Northern Hemisphere, etc.
Climate change indicators:
- Increasing annual levels of CO2 since 1958, initiated by Charles David Keeling at Mauna Loa and confirmed elsewhere on the globe.
- Annual mean rate of growth in CO2, representing the sum of all CO2 added to the atmosphere from fossil fuels use, deforestation, burning of biomass, and removed from the atmosphere by human activities and natural processes has increased to 2 ppm/year (source: NOAA - ESRL), representing 96 million metric tons/day of CO2 emissions.
- Average growth rates of CO2 in ppm during each decade (source: NOAA-ESRL) has been:
1960 - 1970 0.86 1970 - 1980 1.28 1980 - 1990 1.60 1990 - 2000 1.55 2000 - 2010 1.93 2006 - 2015 2.15
Published data (NOAA -ESRL) shows decreasing and increasing trends in average monthly levels depending partly on agricultural activities and season in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres as seen in the sawtooth pattern of the Keeling Curve. For 2013 and 2014 decreases in CO2 levels (ppm) from May to September are quite large, promising the use of agriculture and forestry to reduce CO2 to safer levels and increasing food security.
- Approximate CO2 level at the start of the industrial revolution was 280 ppm. Modern accurate chemical analysis for CO2 and other gases were not available then.
- The world is now warmer by an average of 0.85 C (1.4 F) compared to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in 1760 to 1800.
Accurate global measurements of CO2 then were not available until global CO2 measurements commenced in 1958.
Climate sensitivity calculations based on a doubling of CO2 levels needs accurate data.
- The 2 degree C average warming limit was adopted at the Copenhagen meeting in 2009.
Leading scientists acknowledge large uncertainties in the climate models used for proposing the warming limit (see Publications, this website).
Dangerous climate changes due to heatwaves, wildfires and intense typhoons have increased globally since 2009. Linking warming to increasing greenhouse gas levels and increasing oceanic temperatures, rather than a less reliable terrestrial warming limit of 2 degree C should be safer and promote CO2 reductions in countries.
CO2 decreasing May 2013 399.76 June 398.54 July 397.20 August 395.15 September 393.51 CO2 increasing October 393.66 November 395.11 December 396.81 January 2014 397.80 February 397.91 March 399.58 April 401.23 May 401.78 CO2 decreasing June 401.15 July 399.50 August 397.01 September 395.26
The overall trend of CO2 levels is increasing, with a net increase now of 2 ppm each year. There is an urgent need for governments, helped by corporate organisations and scientists to decrease CO2 levels in the atmosphere through extensive global climate action aiming for net zero CO2 emissions. Posted June 8, 2015.
Net-Zero CO2 emissions discussed at Paris Climate Summit, 2015
The large seasonal effect of forestry and agriculture on CO2 levels can be seen above between May 2013 (399.76 ppm) and September 2013 (393.51 ppm), where there is a difference of 6 ppm CO2. Since global net CO2 levels are increasing annually by around 2 ppm CO2 and causing climate change, reducing CO2 levels by a further 2 ppm between May and September each year - by ending deforestation with financial incentives; decreased emissions by use of solar and wind; improved forestry and agriculture, can plateau CO2 levels at the current 400 ppm level, i.e. net-zero. Posted December 27, 2015.
Monitoring of atmospheric CO2
The physics behind climate change is unbelievably large, and humans may be in danger of underestimating its power. To control dangerous climate change, reductions of CO2 emissions to lower levels is all humans can do, but that takes time. Missing the opportunity to decarbonize quickly, and give us a fighting chance to stop the goliath of global warming, would be unthinkable in the context of catastrophic human suffering.
Our present danger is in the increasing ocean temperatures which closely correlates with increased land temperatures (heatwaves) and coral bleaching events; melting permafrost in the Arctic unleashing stored methane and carbon dioxide in unmanageable quantities. Slow global action on climate change is extremely worrisome, as action to lower carbon dioxide can be achieved with current technologies at negligible cost to economies, and would in fact advance economies and environments from clean, renewable energies. Australia for example, being blessed with sunshine and wind power could use and export this energy to other countries.
Action on climate change should be based on closely monitoring atmospheric levels of CO2, accurately analyzed and reported by NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) USA. The reported monthly average global CO2 levels, which vary seasonally with an increasing trend, are critically useful for scientists and policy makers. Scientists have, acknowledging limitations in climate models, estimated 450 ppm CO2 as the approximate upper boundary of the 2C warming limit agreed by governments in Copenhagen, 2009. If current average annual levels of CO2 at around 401 ppm includes the warming effect from other greenhouse gases, the CO2 equivalent might already exceed 450 ppm. It would be extremely useful then if CO2 levels were reported each month by NOAA-ESRL as both CO2 ppm and CO2 ppm equivalent to inform contribution from other greenhouse gases. Posted June 18, 2015.
Time for Climate Action
An alarming increase in the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at 481 ppm CO2- equivalent, if all other greenhouse gases are included was announced recently by NOAA's Earth Science Research Laboratory. Specifically, explanation by NOAA-ESRL that CO2- equivalent should be viewed as the dial on an electric blanket; once set higher, it is only a matter of time (a certainty) that global temperatures will rise correspondingly. Temperature rise with rise in total greenhouse gas levels and increased radiative forcing as a certainty (Annual Greenhouse Gas Index, AGGI, from NOAA-ESRL) rather than as probabilities adds a new urgency to the problem of cumulative emissions. CO2-equivalent of 481 ppm in 2014 (higher for 2015) means warming is now set to pass the agreed average warming limit of 2C. 2014 and 2015 are appearing as very hot years on record.
Feasible ways to prevent dangerous climate changes of heatwaves, storms and floods increasing in severity is to first reduce annual global emissions to net-zero levels, and to actively remove CO2 to lower levels through planting trees en masse, increasing food and biomass production with agriculture. Time has now become critical.
Recent heatwaves in India and Pakistan causing record fatalities, with temperatures touching 50C means that action to cool hot climates elsewhere too is urgent. 51C - 53C temperatures in cities could become reality within decades and would certainly lead to a crisis. This calls for massive, timely global action at the Paris COP 21 meeting for:
The good news from climate scientists are that global leaders still have time to prevent catastrophic runaway warming, but united action is now critical. Posted June 30, 2015.
- Energy infrastructures changed to renewables quickly.
- A global carbon tax on CO2 emissions to suit developed and developing nations.
- Affordable electric vehicles powered by new-generation batteries.
- Tax incentives for changing to renewable energies.
- Planting of native trees by all governments (care, protection and locations on GPS).
- Regular public viewing of CO2-equivalent levels and AGGI.