‘Clean Energy and Water Technologies’ is a blog, to create awareness, about clean technologies on water and energy, two fundamental factors, that determines human life on earth. The blog will post articles, opinions, suggestions, and recent developments on such technologies, their sources, and their applications, to suit individuals, business and industries
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Friday, June 6, 2014
The science and politics of carbon and climate change
President Obama seized his ‘moment of truth’ when he announced his decision to cut carbon emission by 30% by 2030 in USA. His decision may not be popular in USA and in many parts of the world but it is the right decision. He was able to address to some extent ‘ the ínconvenient truth’ that has been nagging him during his second term in office. He introduced his decision through EPA (Environmental protection authority) effectively bypassing congress. In fact the whole purpose of creating EPA was to address the environmental issues but it failed in many ways and rest of the world followed such failures time and again. This has resulted in an accumulated carbon both in the atmosphere and in the sea in an unprecedented scale causing disease and environmental degradation world-wide.
Air pollution is costing the world's most advanced economies plus India and China $3.5 trillion per year in lives lost and ill health, with a significant amount of the burden stemming from vehicle tailpipes, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
In the 34 OECD member states, the monetary impact of death and illness due to outdoor air pollution was $1.7 trillion in 2010. Research suggests that motorized on-road transport accounts for about 50 percent of that cost. In China, the total cost of outdoor air pollution was an estimated $1.4 trillion in 2010. In India, the OECD calculated the toll at $500 billion.
The costs were calculated based on survey data of how much people are willing to pay in order to avoid premature death due to ailments caused by air pollution. The methodology assigns a cost to the risks of emissions that decision makers can use in weighing public policy decisions.
In addition to the health cost the environmental degradation due to carbon pollution includes global warming resulting in mass extinction of species, causing mega bush fires that are wiping out forests including rain forests, creating new bugs that are resistant to antibiotics, increasing sea level that erodes coastal cities and submerge remote islands in pacific displacing millions of people as refugees, acidifies oceans with massive extinction of species including fish stock. Such degradation is nothing but suicidal.
When a food or drug is introduced in the market it is subject to scrutiny by FDA (Food and drugs authority), but when it comes to environmental clearance to set up a coal-fired power plant or to set up a seawater desalination plant it is relatively easier to get such clearance from EPA. When power plants emitted gaseous emissions initially EPA was able to limit the emissions of oxides of nitrogen, sulphur, phosphorous, soot and particulate matter , other organics including mercury and arsenics except carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide has been accepted as part of the air we breathe in; otherwise no power plant could have been approved because bulk of the emissions are only carbon dioxide. Had EPA acted timely in sixties or even in seventies to curb CO2 emissions an alternative energy would have emerged by this time.
Industries and economics were high in the political agenda and the environment was overlooked. Many drugs were introduced during this period to cure diseases that were actually caused by environmental pollution such as carbon dioxide. Both power industries and drug industries grew side by side without realizing the fact that environment is degraded slowly which causes chronic diseases.
Australia is the largest consumers of power in terms of per capita consumption in the world and yet the new Government in Australia is pushing a bill in the parliament to repel Carbon tax introduced by previous Government. They are also planning to raise revenue up to $ 26 billion for medical research over a period of time. On one hand politicians want to freely allow unabated carbon emissions into the atmosphere and on the other hand they want to introduce new drugs that can cure diseases actually caused by such pollutions. It is an anomalous situation created by politics of climate change. Unfortunately carbon pollution has turned into an energy related issue and attracted political attention world-wide. The high cost of cleaning carbon pollution has turned many politicians into skeptics of science on carbon pollution and climate change.
“More than 170 nations have agreed on the need to limit fossil fuel emissions to avoid dangerous human-made climate change, as formalized in the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change .However, the stark reality is that global emissions have accelerated (Fig. 1) and new efforts are underway to massively expand fossil fuel extraction by drilling to increasing ocean depths and into the Arctic, squeezing oil from tar sands and tar shale, hydro-fracking to expand extraction of natural gas, developing exploitation of methane hydrates, and mining of coal via mountaintop removal and mechanized long wall mining. The growth rate of fossil fuel emissions increased from 1.5%/year during 1980–2000 to 3%/year in 2000–2012, mainly because of increased coal use.” (Ref : 1)
The coal usage continues to grow especially in Asia due to expanding population and industrial growth and demand for low cost energy. USA is expected to achieve energy independence by 2015 which means more fossil fuels are in the pipeline. India and China are planning more coal fired power plants in the coming decade. Australia is planning for massive expansion of coal and LNG and Coal seam methane gas for exports. Fracturing and hydrocracking of shale deposits are adding to the fuel.
Countries are more concerned with economic growth than the consequences of climate change. Despite recent warning from NASA that the depleting arctic glaciers have reached a ‘point of no return’ and the predicted sea level rise up to 10 feet is irreversible, there is a little reaction from countries across the globe.
There is a clear evidence that shows GHG emission will continue to increase in the future in spite of growing renewable energy projects because renewable solar panels, wind turbines and batteries will require additional power from fossil fuels. It is critically important to reduce carbon emission with great urgency by substituting fossil energy with renewable energy. For example, concentrated solar power (CSP) can be used instead of large scale PV solar to reduce carbon footprint.
Solar energy is the origin of all other energy sources on the planet earth and solar energy will be the solution for a clean energy of the future. But how fast solar energy can be deployed commercially in a short span of time is a big issue. The increasing growth of fossil fuel production dwarfs the growth of renewable energy exposing the planet to catastrophic climate change. The GHG emission can be contained only by an aggressive reduction of CO2 emission into the atmosphere as well as by drastic reduction of fossil fuel production. This is possible only by using renewable Hydrogen. The cost of renewable hydrogen is high but this is the price one has to pay to clean up the carbon pollution before the climate is changed irreversibly. The obvious method to reduce carbon emissions is to tax carbon in such a way that it will no longer be economically viable to emit carbon to generate power or to transport. Paying carbon tax will be cheaper than paying for diseases and environmental degradation and natural disasters. Clean environment is the key for the survival of our planet and life on earth and one cannot put a price on such a life.
Ref 1: Citation: Hansen J, Kharecha P, Sato M, Masson-Delmotte V, Ackerman F,et al (2013) Assessing ‘‘Dangerous Climate Change’’: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature. PLoS ONE 8(12): e81648. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0081648