Intro to energy and the environment
This article is the first in a series on the environmental challenges that societies face today. It will do its best to explain to everyone interested in energy and the environment that we are facing? Why are we facing an environmental crisis due to our environmentally toxic fuel choices? What are we doing to improve our energy methods, therefore, the environment’s health? And what will we do if we are to prevail and retrofit our environment and get rid of these ecological toxins & comply with SDG-13?
I have been writing scientific reports for the past 15 years as a water resources engineer and have put this aside. Still, the complexity of the readings I’ve done for the past five years involving energy and the environment bothers me enough to engage in this endeavor.
An easier reading experience
Along these lines, curated pictures and diagrams. You don’t have to pick up a dictionary, do a Google search, or type Wikipedia. I already did that for you to concentrate and have as much fun as I am having now. Every section ends with a bold explanation. So, buckle up, grab a mug of coffee because this will be instructional but entertaining nonetheless.
To easily keep track and follow along chronologically. We will divide the subject into a timeline. So,
- WHAT DID HAPPEN TO THE ENVIRONMENT? – BIG BANG! – 1760(INDUSTRIAL AGE)
- WHAT DID WE DO TO THE ENVIRONMENT? -1780 – 2015 (IPCC PARIS AGREEMENT)
- WHAT DID WE DO TO IMPROVE OUR ENERGY SOURCES AND THE ENVIRONMENT? 2015 – 2020 (PRESENT DAY)
- WHAT WILL WE DO TO IMPROVE OUR ENVIRONMENT! PRESENT DAY- FUTURE
Is it cause and effect, or is it a by-product? Correlation or causation? One, or the other, the issue caught the attention of scholars and politicians at the same rate and deserved the attention of us all.
This and more is what we discuss every day, how we can implement difficult but prudent global environmental policy practices in light of the economic and technical challenges that affect most countries.
What is a dogmatic belief is very seldom a pragmatic practice. The fashion that sells well but works, “sometimes” or “somewhere” is not good enough.
Intro to Climate Change
Climate change is not the end of the world. Of course, it is not! It is the end of the environment, at least as we know it. Maybe you think that we can nuke abnormal hurricane storms out of the sky also.
Hugo, Andrew, Georges, Irma, and María all passed over my head. It all started in 1988, the last one was in 2017, and it was not fun. The last time I stayed without power for eight months. In 30 years, I assure you that these storms have increased in intensity and precipitation significantly!
I currently live in Puerto Rico but studied at the University of Miami and later did my master’s in water resources back in San Juan, Puerto Rico. That is how these storms all passed over my head.
Climate Change affects us all, and whoever tries to tell you that has some experience or in-depth knowledge on the subject is lying to you most disrespectfully.
Our Heroes vs. Scientists
It is not America raising money for Africa as they did during the ’80s with the We Are the World song, no, of course not! Social media has humanized our heroes! Celebrities and politicians share in social media more than the average person does. They have no other way to do it but have the resources and spare time to go on social media and show us their true colors; they cry, laugh, and make mistakes just as all of us do and the people know that they are just human beings. For this reason, we find that celebrities and politicians do not influence what people believe or refuse to. The fact is that they are playing a dangerous game.
Scientists, on the other hand, are telling you the truth. The problem is that the truth is hideous and painful to bear. Like the recognized but scrutinized Penn State’s professor, Michael Mann, says:
The danger lies in the little changes that we cannot predict or are uncertain.
Dr. Michael Mann
In other words; The fact that a hurricane exists is not the problem; the uncertainty of its path or landing area is! This is a straightforward but deceptively important quote. That little decimal change in barometric pressure at your location could dictate that you will live without power for the next six months or something worse. That centesimal change in the ocean’s water temperature could determine if your house will flood or not!
Most humans have this ludicrous illusion that nature takes care of itself. That does not even classify as an idea! Yes, if we were not the primordial species on the face of the Earth, maybe then it made some sense. We are nature, we are energy, and we are the environment! We do not walk a path through this life, but we are this life! Only GOD knows what happens after.
Global Water Scarcity
At this pace, one out of every five developing countries will face a scarcity of potable water in less than 15 years. Excessive agriculture is public enemy #1; pollution is #2. We have enough food resources. The fact that we do not adequately distribute it is another issue. However, it is OK because one will last only three days without water and it will not hurt that much!
Sea-level Rise & Fresh Water Supply
A few months ago, I overheard a conversation between two gentlemen. At this time, one was telling the other that there was absolutely no issue with our global water resources because the sea level was rising. Yes, it is, and it is related to global warming and climate change. What else is new? But if there is one thing that I am sure is that we know far more about our water resources, the hydrologic cycle, and our water footprint than all we know about climate change, the carbon cycle, and our carbon footprint, and that is a good thing! Hell yeah, it is!
There is a direct relationship between sea-level-rise and freshwater supply. It is elementary because the amount of water in the atmosphere in its three stable phases, solid, liquid, and vapor, is finite. Rain does not come all the way up from heaven! Neither can you make it in a lab with two teaspoons of hydrogen and one of oxygen and “wallah,” we have three teaspoons of water. It is much more complicated than that.
Hydrogen gas, known in the early 16th century as the “water-maker” gas because you can ignite hydrogen into an explosion when exposed to atmospheric pressure and a temperature of 500 C and create water vapor.
You can accomplish this with a match and create a bang, but it is perilous. Yet, a few Geo-engineers involved in climate action are working today on projects among those lines.
In other words, our future and that of energy and the environment is not in the hands of those that deny the scientific proof and evidence of a thermometer reading time series; those are the narcissist, neither in the hands of those that try to gain political advantage from an environmental catastrophe. Those are the hypocrite. And there is nothing that we can do about the ignorant. Remember that we fear what we don’t know and abuse what we do in our human condition!
What did happen to the environment?
If we understand that 90% of Earth history passed by the time humans started walking the face of Earth. Only then are we capable of accepting the fact that it is not entirely our fault? Yes, we have accelerated the rate of global warming at an exponential rate. But we have to understand that the Earth has entered states of inhabitable climate a few times.
You can summarize the concept of deep time, imagining that the History of this planet is as long as your arm, and if you file one nail, you get rid of human history. But the History of climate does no follow that rule. Climate history is as long as your extended arm also! It has existed for billions of years, changed, wipe out entire species, and changed again. These are not theories. They are what gives the science of geology its invaluable importance in exposing the truth of happenings before we wrote any documents or hieroglyphs. History is not a high school punishment!
We study our history to make sense of our present and prepare for our future!
DJ VAGNETTI, MeCE PE
From the Arctic to The Antarctic
Antarctica: The Frozen Continent
Although the Arctic region is of great importance as an indicator of climate change, its counterpart, the Antarctic area, attracts geologists worldwide. The reason is that the Arctic is a mass of ice, and the Antarctic is a continent. Fourteen kilometers of ice cover a landmass twice the size of Australia. Its remote location made it hard for explorers and geologists to get there, and many died in the process. We did not explore it until 1901.
It has been the mecca of geologists ever since. Geologists continually drill it, looking for answers for the last 60 years and counting. The ice cover and remote location from human activity give the area invaluable archaeological and geological value. It is like a new crime scene. It is a blueprint of Earth’s History free from human disturbance but an indicator of climate action and the damage human activity has caused to the environment. The global pattern of ocean currents ends at the Frozen Continent, yielding enormous value to its findings.
It has volcanoes, and a mountain range divides it. There are sedimentary formations that are billions of years old. Volcanic ashes, ancient fossils of prehistoric life forms, dinosaurs, leaves, pollen, snow, ice with bubbles of oxygen, and its composition establishes an excellent timeline and evidence of many ecological toxins. These give rise to a whole new school of thought known as paleo-climate.
FIGURE 1: PALEOCLIMATE SOURCES AND INDICATORS
Who cares about paleoclimate?
If we know something about weather and climate is that it is challenging to predict. It was not until a decade ago that we could not trust the weather report very much. In the best-case scenario, the news gave us a probability of occurrence. And what do we do when the probability of occurrence is a 50% chance of rain? Does that mean bringing an umbrella half of the time! It was a toss-up prediction more than a science.
The good old weather report
I remember mainstream media used to make fun of the weather guy some 15 years ago, and this was not a lack of scientific knowledge. It was a void in technology and the need for computing power. I say void in technology and not of computing because the same microprocessors of 20 years ago had the potential of running just as fast as today. However, the cooling mechanisms could not keep up, and today they still cannot. We made some advancements in recruiting the power of graphics processors, but that is a topic for another blog.
What is paleoclimate?
We need to know what happened throughout Earth’s climate history to predict how it behaves and behaves in the future. The only added unknown to the equation is human behavior. And paleoclimate is nothing more than studying past climatic conditions using the above proxies and indicators instead of thermometers and rain gauges.
The paleoclimatic battlefields are Earth’s three continental glaciers; The Arctic, Greenland, and the Antarctic continent.
Climate & Weather
We can agree that climate is just a collection of characteristic behaviors that the atmosphere in its entirety expresses over some time in a particular area. If we agree that is true, then the same can change. On the other hand, the weather is an instantaneous snapshot of environmental expressions to a collection of atmospheric variables. If we agree that to be the truth, then the same cannot change.
At the moment it turns, it is just another weather event with a distinct response. Weather is not a regional characteristic but a fact. Another fact is that although they’re still much-hardheaded skepticism regarding global warming. Climate change is real and is the greatest threat that humanity has ever posed in modern history.
You can model today’s climatic conditions of the past with high levels of confidence and certainty. Let’s start by recognizing that climate change is just an effect; global warming is the phenomenon that causes the climate to change in unpredictable and dangerous ways. If we say that we can detect climate change is happening right now. We must also be able to explain how specific findings in the Earth’s geological archives occurred.
It is not the first time that this planet has experienced climate change. Earth’s climate did change to inhabitable levels at least two times in its history. These periods are the first and second ice ages. How can this planet exist as a frozen ball and then relatively ice-free under virtually the same sun radiation exposure? It is “The multiple Steady States.” phenomenon. It is a system that can exhibit more than one climatic stable state for the same given set of parameters.
Climatic models reveal that under today’s solar output, the Earth could be under a stable state at today’s average temperature of about 15º C and -35º C or 59º F and -31º F, respectively. It all depends if the Earth is coming out of a frozen state or going into a frozen state. Look at Figure 2.
FIGURE 2: ONE DIMENSIONAL ENERGY BALANCE MODEL (EBM)
- 1Snowball Earth, solar constant 40% less than today’s (Common Point)
- 2Snowball Earth, it is hard for Earth to come out of a frozen state. The white ice and snow’s albedo effect reflects too much sunlight and is too much to overcome. (Common Point)
- 3Ice starts to melt very quickly without change to the solar constant. (heating or coming out of a frozen state)
- 4Ice free Earth (common path)
- 5Ice free Earth(common way)
- 6Critical Point- the albedo effect increases very rapidly, and the temperature of the Earth drops very quickly without significant change to the solar constant. (cooling bath or going into a frozen state)
And How is this possible???
This is only possible because it is hard for the Earth to come out of a frozen state and melt the thick ice as the albedo is too high. The sun’s most short wave radiation is reflected as longwave radiation by the white surfaces of ice and snow. In the cooling phase, the ocean’s dark surfaces absorb most of the energy dissipates into the deep, colder waters. One of the best water qualities is its heat capacity or its energy to raise its temperature.
What Figure 2 is trying to tell us is that it is only possible for Earth to be going into an Ice Age given today’s temperature, as shown by the upper black dot in the graph. This is consonant with what the scientific community agrees on. That under normal circumstances, we are heading into an ice age, and anthropogenic activity changes the course of that.
The greenhouse effect: an energy balance and natural effect of the environment
The Sun emits shortwave radiation. And this radiation is invisible to the gases in the troposphere (just like the glass in a greenhouse). The Earth tries to cool off by sending heat energy in the form of longwave radiation. In this form of radiation, the gases can see (just like a greenhouse glass holding some heat). That means that the Earth has to produce even more of that outgoing heat energy to cool off enough to balance the Sun’s heating. And that causes the temperature of the Earth’s surface to rise.
The Importance of the greenhouse effect
The greenhouse effect is natural, and we need it for life to be comfortable. However, if the gases increase in concentration, this effect increases accordingly, and so does climate action.
In the stratosphere, the temperature increases with height, as shown in Figure 4. But climate action has reversed that pattern in the upper atmosphere because less heat escapes into space. This drop in temperature in the stratosphere, where temperature naturally increases with height, is a direct measurement of climate action.
FIGURE 3: Greenhouse effect
FIG 4: Atmospheric temperature profile under normal conditions
FIGURE 5: Energy Budget Balance
Climate Change Indicators
The concept of radiative forcing is relatively straightforward. Energy is continuously flowing into the atmosphere in sunlight that always shines on half of the Earth’s surface. Some of this sunlight (about 30 percent) reflects into outer space, and the planet absorbs the rest. If you subtract the energy coming in minus the heat going out, you will get a positive number. That means that there is a deficit of energy going back to space. To balance that, Earth reacts by getting hot.
It is as if you have a kettle full of water, which is at room temperature. That means everything is at equilibrium, and nothing will change except as small random variations. But light a fire under that kettle, and suddenly there will be more energy flowing into that water than radiating out. The water is going to start getting hotter.
Why we need radiative forcing measurements?
In short, radiative forcing is a direct measure of how the Earth’s energy budget is out of balance. We can measure this imbalance with incredible precision at the boundary between the higher and lower atmosphere.
For all practical purposes, where weather and climate are concerned, this boundary marks the atmosphere’s top. While the concept is simple, the analysis required to figure out the actual value of this number for the Earth right now is much more complicated and confusing. Many different factors affect this balancing act, and each has its level of uncertainty and difficulties in being precisely measured.
And the individual contributions to radiative forcing cannot be added together to get the total because some of the factors overlap. For example, some different greenhouse gases absorb and emit at the same infrared wavelengths of radiation, so their combined warming effect is less than the sum of its parts.
Radiative forcing is a direct measure of the impact of recent human activities. It includes not just greenhouse gases added to the air but also the effect of deforestation. Which changes the reflectivity of the surface is having on changing the planet’s climate.
The uncertainties of radiative forcings
Although all of the factors that influence radiative forcing have uncertainties associated with them, one factor overwhelmingly affects the uncertainty: aerosols’ effects (tiny airborne particles) in the atmosphere. That’s because these effects are highly complex and often contradictory. For example, bright aerosols (like sulfates from coal-burning) are a cooling mechanism. In contrast, dark aerosols (like black carbon from diesel exhausts) lead to warming. Also, adding sulfate aerosols to clouds leads to smaller but more abundant droplets that increase cloud reflectivity, thus cooling the planet.
FIGURE 6: Radiative Forcing IPCC REPORT
These are processes that either amplify or reduce the effects of global warming. These processes work much like a domino effect. For example,
The albedo feedback.
As the polar ice melts, there is less albedo effect as there is a lot less white surface to reflect the incoming shortwave radiation to space. So the less radiation reflected, the more that is absorbed by the dark ocean surface. That amplifies the effect of global warming, and more ice melts by the ocean as a result. This effect contributes to less albedo, and so on. This effect is positive feedback.
The warmer the atmosphere gets, the more moisture than the air can hold. This fact can create more clouds. Now, clouds can reflect on a third of the incoming radiation. This effect is negative feedback. But water vapor is also a potent greenhouse gas, and the more in the atmosphere enhances the greenhouse effect. This effect is positive feedback.
The climate models show that precipitation will increase due to an increase in water vapor, but it will also decrease in some other places.
Vegetation will increase in some places due to the increase in precipitation. These plants will consume carbon dioxide and contribute to a negative feedback effect.
The carbon cycle
What we know is that we put a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. These concentrations have increased rapidly since the Industrial revolution. At the rate at which we alter the natural carbon cycle. Where are we going to deposit the excess? Whether it is in the deep ocean floor or on the Earth’s surface, the natural systems may not be able to accept and process the load. Carbon may accumulate a lot faster, causing potential and unheard of massive releases into the atmosphere.
Methane and the permafrost
For example, we know we are warming up the permafrost, and we know that there is a lot of methane trapped in the permafrost. Methane is a lot more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but it is part of the carbon cycle as it eventually decays into carbon dioxide. We don’t know with much certainty the actual effect of that happening, but uncertainty is not our friend here, and we do not adapt well to rapid changes.
The importance of climate change indicators may not sound trivial now. Still, they are provided because these will be the instruments and variables used by modeling and public policy to attend to these issues, regulate emissions, and get us closer to SDG-13.
Anthropogenic Carbon dioxide and Climate Change: a lot more than global warming
Humans produce 9 billion tons of carbon or 36 billion tons of carbon dioxide by burning fossil fuels. Yes, and it is not the amount but the rate at which humans increasingly do this causes alarm. Here are the facts of CO2 emissions;
- Four hundred billion tons of ice in the three significant glaciers are melting yearly.
- CO2 adds 2.5 watts/sq.meter to the temperature of the Earth.
- Methane concentration in the atmosphere is increasing more rapidly than carbon dioxide. It is listed here because although methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, most decays to carbon dioxide eventually.
- C02 is responsible for about an increase of 1 C per century
- The ocean is about 30% more acid.
- The decade between 2004 and 2014 was the warmest on record…
- 2016 was the warmest year ever
- From 2000-2014 – EARTH warmed at a rate of 0.116 C per decade
- From 1950 to 1999, EARTH warmed at a rate of 0.113 C per decade.
- During the Cretaceous period, Earth had four times the amount of carbon dioxide than today, but the sea covered ore-third of the planet.
- Yes, sea level is not 75 to 100 feet higher like during the above period, but that is related to what we explained before in Figure 2 that it takes a lot of energy to melt all the ice that has been accumulated for millions of years.
- Tundra ice is melting rapidly in Alaska and Northern Canada and starting to release methane.
- Droughts have doubled since 1960
Extreme weather & droughts
During the past several years, we’ve seen the strongest storm globally ever recorded. That was hurricane Patricia in the North Pacific. During that period, we also noticed the strongest storm ever in the southern hemisphere was hurricane Winston that made landfall on Fiji. And in the open Atlantic, that was Irma. There is a trend towards more extreme, more intense hurricanes.
Relationship of temperature and weather
Scientists have estimated that we see an overall increase of about seven percent in those storms’ maximum wind speeds for each degree Celsius warming of ocean surface temperatures. Now the destructive potential of a hurricane goes as the third power of the wind speed, which translates to a 23% increase in destructive potential. So it’s probably not a coincidence that we have seen a trend towards more intense, more violent storms as ocean surface temperatures have warmed. There has been disagreement among scientists on whether the number of storms would increase as a direct effect of global warming.
But there has been a relative unanimous consensus that, as the ocean’s temperature increases, these storms’ power will increase probably not linearly but exponentially. As the atmosphere gains moisture, warm air’s capacity to hold more water vapor is no secret. And this would translate into more intense precipitation at the global level. Those regions that get higher precipitation extremes would also experience more prolonged periods of droughts as the atmosphere can hold more water. Only when conditions favor or are conductive towards precipitation will they experience extreme events rather than the usual rainfall.
Figure 7: Average temperatures of Earth (red are actual thermometer readings)
Fig 8: Carbon dioxide readings since 1960
Figure 9: Temperature records
What did we do to the environment?
Energy: an everlasting need
Planet Earth is about 4.6 billion years old. Life to exist took about another million more and complex vegetation about one more. How do we know this? Well, all forms of iron newer than about 2.5 billion years ago were found in an oxidized state, and who created that available oxygen in the atmosphere? Plants through photosynthesis. For most of Earth’s history, life was just in the ocean. Those animals died and got buried, pressured, and heated into what we use today as petroleum oil, a fossil fuel, and we’ll get back to oil later. Before oil was exploited, we had a cheaper, more convenient, and dirtier toxic environmental fuel.
Heat: the enemy of efficiency
Whenever we use the term “heat” regarding energy, we refer to the loss of energy in the form of thermal heat. It is a means to describe energy loss when trying to convert energy from one state to another. The First Law of Thermodynamics defines the conservation of energy in a system. Therefore, heat equals energy losses. The Second Law of Thermodynamics deals with the efficiency of a system. It establishes that efficiency is directly proportional to the difference in temperature between the supplying and receiving reservoirs. And it has nothing to do with the work output of the source.
If this is a little confusing, just remember that energy is neither created nor destroyed, and efficiency is the percent of the energy converted to another form minus the heat loss. It is solely a function of the difference in temperature between the input source and the output recipient.
We introduce these principles in the discussion because global warming and pollution are highly dependent on our energy sources’ inefficiencies.
Coal: a love/hate relationship; an ecological toxin
About 450 million years ago, plants developed vascular tubing that allowed them to live on land. And an explosion of plant life was covering virtually the entire landscape forming forests and swamps as geography dictated. Land-forming events buried these swamps with many plants, which today we use as coal, another toxic environmental fuel. So, to the question, what the hell did we do to the environment? We must first understand that every living civilization that has walked the face of the earth had the same issue that we have today. The point is the need for energy.
The first wave of the Industrial Revolution (1760)
Early human civilizations depended on photosynthesis and biomass. The only bad thing about those methods is that they were not nearly efficient or abundant as those we employed when the demand was picked up during the first wave of the industrial revolution in 1760. The revolution would have never started if it was not for coal. Coal provides 28% of the world’s total energy today. It gives about 40% of the world’s electricity. It has the highest energy density per volume, it was abundant, and it burns quickly and under control. So, what’s not to like about this toxic environmental fuel?
Our scientists and engineers of the time got so engaged in how they could exploit the ecological toxin that they forgot if they should in the first place.
DJ VAGNETTI, MeCE PE
Coal is dirty from the digging and transportation to the burning. It releases more carbon dioxide than any other form of energy. It is by far the most significant environmental toxin known to humanity. But, it meant easy cash and a simple solution to a very complex problem. The first steam engine was a pump to dewater coal mines for more accessible coal digging. At that time, the first wave of the industrial revolution was well on its way, with coal being the primary energy source.
Coal is like junk food, it’s cheap, ready, and available everywhere, but bad for you in the long run.
Dr. MICHAEL E. WYSESSION
Petroleum: a seductive and convenient, oil, harmful power to the ecosystem
Petroleum is an elementary complex. It is just hydrogen and carbon combined in different ratios into what we know as hydrocarbons. In its purest form, oil is methane, a toxic environmental fuel greenhouse gas. We are going to use the terms oil and petroleum interchangeably. Hydrocarbons are used extensively for non-energetic purposes because their chemical and physical properties change significantly depending on the size of the molecule it forms. It is just hydrogen and carbon at different ratios covering a vast array of uses that go from surgical and textile to oil, natural gas, diesel, and gasoline.
The second wave of the Industrial Revolution (1870)
Earlier, we said that coal propelled the first wave of the industrial revolution. Petroleum did not drive the second wave of the industrial revolution. The revolution was petroleum in all its forms! We know that most oil rigs are off-shore, and the oil process was similar to coal. Well, dead single-celled plankton got buried in the ocean floor for millions of years. Kilometers of sediments provided the pressure. And the Earth’s core provided the temperature for amazing things to happen.
By 1870 we knew what we needed to do to that oil to turn it into whatever we liked or wanted it to be. And that is the answer to what the hell did we do wrong to the environment? It is also why oil is still the Earth’s common currency even though recognized as one of Earth’s ecological toxins.
A share of the oil pie
But if the ocean once covered most of the Earth’s surface, why is it not available everywhere we decide to drill? And yes, it is, but not in the amounts that we would like. It is all spread out over a vast area. Only were tectonic plates collided to form chevrons in the surface of the ocean’s bottom; you will find these vast ocean mountains filled with oil.
And these are not very well distributed across the Earth. Only a handful of lucky countries got a share of the oil pie. Petroleum has dictated many trends in politics. And some argue that the Germans would have prevailed in World War II if they had more oil at their disposal. Today America has only one genuine interest in the Middle East, and that is petroleum. The rest is just a theatrical illusion or show. 🙂
Natural Gas: a more civilized oil form of energy for the environment
The three abundant fossil fuels are coal, oil, and natural gas. The latest found the same way, and in the same place, oil is. Gas is the oil that had more time for nature to refine until converted to a gaseous state. Gas has taken a significant role in house heating because it is easy to deliver via traditional conduits. And it accepted part of the electrical grid in place of coal. However, it still powers 40%, a considerable amount, of the planet’s electrical grid.
Shale Oil & Gas
Natural gas is presently available in considerably large amounts in bizarre forms. These are shale deposits that never got the opportunity of being entirely refined by nature. They are shallow oil sands that got degraded by bacteria that have eaten good light oil. These reserves are in the USA and China. What determines the feasibility of undertaking and utilizing these resources is the demand or the price of the oil barrel at that present time.
That means that if the oil is expensive enough, engaging in those endeavors is a viable solution. The most common method employed to extract unconventional natural gas from shales or rocks is fracking or hydraulic fracturing. It created an enormous environmental controversial debate in the USA. It consists of pumping a pressurized mixture of undisclosed chemical fluids into the rock layer and letting the trapped gas escape.
The fossil fuels energy environmental catastrophe
For millennials, humans have walked through this Earth in harmony with nature. For some reason, we decided to bring back to our lives what nature had carefully selected for extinction millennials before we rose to be the human race. Again our scientists were so preoccupied with what they could do with it that they forgot if they should in the first place. There is either a hefty price to pay for that or make huge amends with the environment. Only our efforts and commitment to climate action and fulfilling SDG-13 will decide our fate.
It is not about the damage, but how fast, indeed!
Since the Middle Paleolithic 200,000 years ago, Modern humans are known to exist, maybe more. In 240 years, we were capable of putting that in jeopardy. Excuse me, but there is no coincidence here; in 0.12% of our existence, we virtually destroyed our habitat. The fact that the use of fossil fuels was a mistake could not be more evident. Yes, we built beautiful things with it, but was it worth it? Let us review what we are doing to the environment and then make our own decision.
Coal Pollution, the worst toxic environmental fuel ever used.
As we said before, coal is the nastiest of fossil fuels, and indeed it is! The damages are not just those of combustion. That is just the icing on the cake. Still, it goes from exploration, mining, drilling, excavations, coal washing, and finally dealing with the leftover waste. The mine collapses that have killed tens of thousands, lung diseases such as the black lung. Those are just for those directly involved, but the coal problem is one of the whole community and region where there is an activity.
Coal in the atmosphere
Releases of coal dust to the atmosphere mixed with heavy metals such as mercury, selenium, and arsenic are hazardous. People who live near coal mining sites are prone to higher than average pulmonary diseases, hypertension, and kidney diseases. Mines exposed sometimes burn for centuries.
Coal combustion, a disaster form of power for the ecosystem.
The combustion of coal expels various amounts of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, ozone, nitrous oxide, sulfur oxide, and heavy metals such as mercury and lead. About 50% of all US toxic air pollution comes from electricity generation, mostly from coal. These cause lung cancer, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and infant mortality. The levels of the concentration of these diseases are well known to be much higher near activities.
In the US, we control these pollutants by electric precipitation. Still, in most countries in development, that is not the case. In China, whether you believe it or not, they sell aluminum cans with pressurized air in the streets, and the people buy these! In China, 20 million tons of coal burn underground each year. In the USA, 100 fires burn at any given moment, which is right now in 2020! Underground fires release much methane into the atmosphere, which is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Acid mine drainage
At the surface level, the rainwater mixes with carbon dioxide. It causes an enormous wash load of coal dust combined with high levels of sulfur. It converts into a runoff of sulfuric acid that pollutes rivers, lakes and finally percolates into aquifers and drinking water. That is called acid mine drainage, and it is incredibly toxic and lethal. In summary, it is an absolute mess, and we have not dealt yet with the combustion!
Oil pollution, another ecological toxin
This problem is very limited to accidental spills. Still, the problem with oil is that it sits on top of the water creating an “impermeable” blanket that causes many environmental issues.
It prevents the constant exchange and diffusion of oxygen into the water surface, causing plants and animals to suffocate. Some large oil spills take decades for the ecosystem to recover to its full potential.
Oil & Gas Combustion, a more refined ecological toxin.
The combustion of petroleum in the form of gasoline and diesel brings in different pollutants. Varying concentrations primarily by vehicles and is responsible for at least 70% of the carbon monoxide pollution, 40% of nitrous oxide, 33% of carbon dioxide, and 25% of all toxic metals released into the atmosphere. The pollutants of the combustion of natural gas like methane are carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.
These are in lower concentrations than those released by coal or petroleum-based fuels. But since natural gas use has increased significantly in the past few decades, pollution is still a considerable concern. The problem of burning natural gases like methane comes with the quality control of these.
The amount of air and heat in the combustion dictate what type of reaction will occur, making regulations a lot harder to enforce. The amount of air in the burning mixture decides whether you produce carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, or carbon soot. It is the reason why your car has to be inspected for proper emissions every year!
The environmental Magna Carta – NEPA
Every president of the United States does at least one thing right. We have to wait until 2021 and see, but president Richard Nixon did, and he hit a grand slam walk-off homer with this one. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was signed in 1969, and the Environmental Protection Agency was created as part of the process through an executive order and said;
The US government is not structured to make a coordinated attack on the pollutants that debase the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land that grows our food. Pulling together into one agency a variety of research, monitoring, standard-setting, and enforcement activities now scattered through several departments and agencies.
President Richard Nixon, 1969
Before this, the Clean Air Act was well into Law books, but there was no enforcement mechanism! Then the extension of the Clean Air Act was bundled with these and in 1970 finally passed the House and Senate into law and said;
I think that 1970 will be known as the year of the beginning, in which we really began to move on the problems of clean air and clean water and open spaces for the future generations of America.
President Richard Nixon, 1970
The 1970 Clean Air Act identified six criteria pollutants:
- 2Ground level ozone
- 3Carbon monoxide
- 4Sulfur dioxide
- 5Nitrous oxide
These were expanded in 1977 to more than a hundred pollutants, and the results for America’s environmental health were outstanding. Acid lakes and streams cease to exist. To have a picture of the extraordinary impact of this legislation. let’s look at some measured improvements between 1970 and 2015;
- U.S. POPULATION GREW 55%
- Energy consumption up 45%
- vehicle miles are driven up 170%
- *The emissions of the criteria pollutants listed above have gone down 69%
Public policy, regulations, and enforcement carry a hefty cost and the reason that violations are so heavily punished 🙂
*A 2011 study calculated that between 1990 and 2020, the Clean Air Act amendments will amount to $2 trillion in direct financial economics savings.
This is mainly due to fewer health costs, more production as there are fewer sick days, and health insurance savings. Workforce performance is much more productive when the workers are healthier and happier! So the benefits gained squash those of implementation in the long run.
It is a real shame that not everyone sees it that way or cannot look into the future by sacrificing or investing a little in the present. There is an analogy in my particular field of work written on the EPA Storm Water Pollution & Prevention Plan or SWPPP that says that it is a lot easier to prevent erosion at the source than to mitigate sedimentation downstream.
What did we do for energy and the environment?
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
In 2015 the United Nations established 17 goals to be achieved by the year 2030. These are referred to as SDG’s or Sustainable Development Goals, and these are:
- NO POVERTY
- ZERO HUNGER
- GOOD HEALTH & WELLBEING
- QUALITY EDUCATION
- GENDER EQUALITY
- CLEAN WATER & SANITATION
- AFFORDABLE & CLEAN ENERGY
- DECENT WORK & ECONOMIC GROWTH
- INDUSTRY INNOVATION & INFRASTRUCTURE
- REDUCING INEQUALITY
- SUSTAINABLE CITIES & COMMUNITIES
- RESPONSIBLE CONSUMPTION & PRODUCTION
- CLIMATE ACTION, SDG-13
- LIFE BELOW WATER
- LIFE ON LAND
- PEACE, JUSTICE & STRONG INSTITUTIONS
- PARTNERSHIPS FOR THE GOALS
This BLOG will try to address ALL SDGs. Here we started with SDG-13, CLIMATE ACTION, and will be updating the same annually. And if anyone wants to develop some content in any of the other goals and post an article on this site, you are welcome to contact [email protected], and we’ll help you achieve that.
SDG-13: Climate action
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts by regulating emissions and promoting developments in renewable energy.
The Paris Agreement (2015) COP21
In May 2015, a report concluded that only a very ambitious climate deal in Paris in 2015 could enable countries to reach sustainable development goals and targets. The report also states that tackling climate change will only be possible if the SDGs are met. Further, economic development and climate change are inextricably linked, particularly around poverty, gender equality, and energy. The UN encourages the public sector to take the initiative to minimize negative impacts on the environment and achieve SDG-13.
This renewed emphasis on climate change mitigation was made possible by the partial Sino-American convergence developed in 2015-2016, notably at the UN COP21 summit (Paris) and the next G20 conference (Hangzhou).
At a 2017 UN Press Briefing, Global CEO Alliance (GCEOA) Chairman James Donovan described the Asia-Pacific region, which is a region particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, as needing more public and private partnerships (PPPs) to successfully implement its sustainable development initiatives in our quest of climate action.
In 2018, the International Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change, published a special report, “Global Warming of 1.5°C”. It outlined the impacts of a 1.5 °C global temperature rise above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways and highlighted the possibility of avoiding several such consequences by enforcing climate action and limiting global warming to 1.5 °C to 2 °C, or more.
A push for net-zero involves a lot of climate action.
The report mentioned that this would require global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching “net zero” around 2050, through “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. This special report was subsequently discussed at COP 24. Despite being requested by countries at the COP 21, the report was not accepted by four countries – the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Kuwait, which only wanted to “note” it, thereby postponing the resolution to the next SBSTA session in 2019.
2019 COP25 Madrid, Spain
The 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP25, is the 25th United Nations Climate Change Conference. It was held in Madrid, Spain, from 2 to 13 December 2019 under the Chilean government’s presidency.
The conference incorporates the 25th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the 15th meeting of the Kyoto Protocol (CMP15), and the parties’ second meeting, the Paris Agreement, and discuss SDG-13.
A no-show in Brazil
The conference was planned to be held in Brazil in November 2019. A year before the scheduled start, newly-elected President Jair Bolsonaro withdrew the offer to host the event, citing economic reasons. Then Chile stepped up and became the new host, but social unrest in the lead-up to the meeting forced it in late October 2019 to withdraw from hosting. Then by mutual agreement between the UN, Chile, and Spain, the latter became the new host.
The Amazon Forest COP
Various climate activists had set out from Europe to South America by sailboat before the decision had been taken to relocate COP25 to Madrid. In mid-November, some of these activists joined an alternative conference, the “Forest COP.” The gathering took place near the center of the Amazon jungle, in Terra do Meio. The Forest COP was attended by indigenous leaders, scientists & academics such as Eduardo Góes Neves, and activists such as Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. After the Forest COP, a follow-on event, “Amazônia Centro do Mundo” (Amazon: the center of the world), took place on 17 November in nearby Altamira.
The last part of the Paris regime that remains to be resolved is Article 6. This article describes rules for a carbon market and other forms of international cooperation. In the COP24 conference, no agreement could be reached on this topic. Multiple politically tricky decisions have to be made for this article.
Harmful emissions could be traded under the Kyoto Protocol to offset emissions by developed countries. Many of these dangerous emission projects would have happened anyway without the Kyoto Protocol’s extra incentive so that this mechanism was described as ‘hot air.’ International trading of carbon can make overall emission cuts cheaper. If negotiations about this fail, it will come up again in 2020’s COP26.
According to scientists, talks focused on some of the rules for implementing the 2015 Paris agreement. Still, the overriding issue of how fast the world needs to cut greenhouse gas emissions has received little official attention. Urgent UN talks on tackling the climate emergency are still not addressing the crisis’s accurate scale, one of the world’s leading climate scientists has warned.
Negotiations concluded on 15 December 2019, two days after the stated deadline.
The great news of the conference was:
- Greenland’s ice sheet is melting seven times faster than in the 1990s.
- Oxygen in the oceans is decreasing.
- A quarter of the world’s population is at risk of water supply problems as mountain glaciers, snow-packs, and alpine lakes are run down by global heating and rising demand.
The results of the conference were disappointing at a time when climate action and concrete measures are considered urgent. The director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, who has attended climate negotiations since 1991, stated that;
I have never seen before the almost total disconnect between what the science requires and what the climate negotiations are delivering in terms of meaningful action.
Greenpeace executive director summarized the prevalent opinion:
Climate blockers like Brazil and Saudi Arabia, enabled by irresponsibly weak Chilean leadership, peddled carbon deals and steamrolled scientists and civil society.
The decisions about the carbon market and emissions cut were delayed until the next climate conference in Glasgow. United States, Russia, India, China, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia were the primary opponents. On the other side, the European Union reached an agreement about “The European Green New Deal” that should lower its emissions to zero by 2050. Also, many commitments were made by countries, cities, businesses, and international coalitions.
For example, the Climate Ambitious Coalition contains now “73 countries committed to net zero emissions by 2050, as well as a further 1214 actors (regions, cities, businesses, investors) who have pledged the same goal”.
What will we do for energy and the environment!
We need to keep in mind that climate science is virtually new, and the circumstances do not give us much time for philosophical developments, thesis, hypothesis, and theory approvals. We have to define concepts on the run. That is why we identified the climate change indicators because they will yield a common ground for climate science modelers, policy legislators, and enforcers.
RPCC, the new tool for modeling and policymakers for SDG-13
The IPCC came up with the 4 RCPs or Representative Concentration Pathways. These are four scenarios and are just four prefix values of radiative forcings by the year 2100. RCP8.5, RCP6, RCP4.5, and RCP2.6, so the suffix number is radiative forcing in watts per sq. meter.
Figure 10: CO2-eq is the effect of all greenhouse gases represented as carbon dioxide equivalents
“The name “representative concentration pathways” was chosen to emphasize the rationale behind their use. RCPs are referred to as pathways in order to emphasize that their primary purpose is to provide time-dependent projections of atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations. In addition, the term pathway is meant to emphasize that it is not only a specific long-term concentration or radiative forcing outcome, such as a stabilization level, that is of interest, but also the trajectory that is taken over time to reach that outcome. They are representative in that they are one of several different scenarios that have similar radiative forcing and emissions characteristics”
Different climate change magnitude scenarios establish four thresholds of potential risks and physical damage to the environment and living organisms.
These scenarios reflect a range of policies from strong mitigation, RCP 2.6 aimed at keeping warming below dangerous 2 degrees Celsius warming relative to the pre-industrial period, to approximately business as usual RCP8.5, which leads to 4 to 5 degrees Celsius, 7 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit warming of the planet by 2100.
Dr. Michael Mann
Geo-engineering, drastic measures of power for the ecosystem
There are two ways to address and mitigate climate change, implement climate action, and fulfill SDG-13.
- AFFORDABLE & CLEAN ENERGY, SDG-7
Geo-engineering-1 Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CSS)
There are various forms of CSS. In essence, the most cost-effective way of carbon capture is directly at the source. Coal-based energy generation facilities use this technology, and it captures some of the carbon with negatively charged metal plates at the exhaust or the source of carbon dioxide. It adds to the costs of carbon-producing electricity, which is already competing with other renewable energy sources.
I don’t think that it is a bad thing. Don’t they tax cigarettes because it harms you? Well, then put a price tag on producing energy with coal. It might be one of the last resources that we exploit. I hope it doesn’t get there, but it is possible and the right thing to do!
There is also carbon sequestration in the open atmosphere. They are like giant artificial trees, but they are more efficient. They take the air out of the atmosphere and suck all the carbon dioxide out of it. The price of this is outrageous and prohibitive, but an extreme measure if nature calls for it. It is the best Geo-engineering idea to date to achieve SDG-13.
The most significant concern with CSS is that you need to bury it very deep and ensure that these disposal sites are appropriate. They held it for millions of years, so why not now??? You may want to hold on to it and release it when the next glacier approaches 🙂
Geo-engineering-2 Solar Radiation Management
Solar radiation management consists of mimicking a volcanic eruption’s effects and releasing sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere. These reflect shortwave radiation into space by reflecting the Sun’s radiation. In theory, these practices would mitigate all anthropogenic global warming. Still, modeling has shown some flaws apart from all the unknowns associated with such a drastic measure to achieve climate action.
In modeling, it has shown that some regions will cool off while others get hotter. It has also demonstrated the potential for severe localized droughts.
We would also likely worsen the acid rain problem and ozone depletion through these sulfur particles’ chemical influence in the stratosphere. It underscores the principle of unintended consequences that accompany most geoengineering ideas.
Geo-engineering-3 Iron fertilization
This idea pretends to release iron nutrients into the surface of the ocean and, because this is a limiting nutrient, would promote biological activities and algae growth at the surface where these algae would consume CO2 and get eaten by larger organisms that would die and sink to the ocean floor with all the excess carbon buried with it. Tests have been done to see if this mechanism is viable, and it turns out that, by and large, those tests reveal some fundamental problems with this approach.
One of which is that when the oceans are fertilized, at least on a regional basis. However, there is some increase in algae productivity. The carbon simply cycles through the upper ocean more rapidly. It doesn’t get deposited on the ocean floor. So it’s unclear that there would be any net export of carbon out of the atmosphere into the ocean and down to the deep sea, and it would be expensive to implement at a large scale.
It is a desperate measure to achieve SDG-13, but who knows if necessary.