Earth on Fire: The Overheating Planet

Earth on Fire: The Overheating Planet

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The reason some popular posts are tagged ‘no title’ is not because they have no title—they all do—but because the old Blogger embedded the title at the top of text, and the new software does not see that. You can see the titles in capitals at the start of each snippet. (It would be nice if Blogger introduced an upgrade program that could fix this little problem.)

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Friday, 3 February 2006


In President Bush's State of the Nation address he said, 'Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. Here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology.

'Since 2001, we have spent nearly $10bn to develop cleaner, cheaper, more reliable alternative energy sources--and we are on the threshold of incredible advances. So tonight, I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative--a 22% increase in clean-energy research at the Department of Energy, to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas.

'This country can move beyond a petroleum-based economy and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past

'To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants; revolutionary solar and wind technologies; and clean, safe nuclear energy. We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen.

'We will also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn but from wood chips, stalks, or switch grass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years. Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75% of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025.

'By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment--move beyond a petroleum-based economy--and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.'

Paragraph one, so far so good. Paragraph two throws more money at the problem, as if not enough were the cause of the US addiction to oil and more money will fix it. Paragraph three, echoed in the last paragraph, is also fine as far as it goes, but it is in the how that the thing comes unglued. There is no such thing as a 'zero-emission coal-fired plant.' Never in the history of the universe has it been possible to oxidise carbon without getting an oxide of carbon, and the notion that you stuf it all down a hole in the ground and make everything OK is baloney. The earth is not geologically stable, and the carbon-dioxide has no half-life: it stays just as damaging for ever. So it is a disaster waiting down there. But even if it were safe, there is no way that we can stuff all our industrial carbon-dioxide down holes in the ground, even if we could capture it all. And stuffing carbon-dioxide down there means stuffing two atoms of oxygen down there for every atom of carbon, which should worry oxygen-breathing creatures, because it would slowly reduce the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere... Doh!

'Clean, safe nuclear energy', says President Bush. There's a double-whammy oxymoron. Since when were aeons of radioactivity safe? Or clean? Perhaps he means that the radiation kills bugs. Would he want a 'clean, safe' nuclear power-station next to his Texas ranch?

Solar- and wind-technologies are available now: there is no need to wait for some American 'revolutionary' version. Just start using them.

Ditto the better batteries and the hydrogen fuel-cells. They are there now, and the best ones are not American. All they have to do is start using the things. If they wanted to they could change over their whole country in a decade at very most.

Then the bio-fuel thing gets a plug. But burning stuff is burning stuff, no matter what you are burning. We have to stop burning stuff, no matter whether it died yesterday or hundreds of millions of years ago. The idea that it is OK if you keep growing more stuff to burn, and growing it uses the smoke from the previous lot is flawed logic. There is a gap between the burning and the re-growing, and energy has to be used in turning it into fuel, which means it is not, as is claimed, carbon-neutral. It is carbon-negative. Less so than other carbon, but still negative.

And what is the stated goal of spending all that money? 'To replace more than 75% of our oil from the Middle East by 2025.' 2025! They are aiming, they say, to take twenty years to cut a big chunk of their oil-consumption from the Middle East. So they are not going all out to stop using the black stuff. Dumb. Very, very dumb. In twenty years' time the amount of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere will be at least 40-50ppm higher than the 380ppm we have now, and the scientific consensus reached in London over a year ago was there is 'no safe increase.' America has to learn to read.

President Bushsays America is going to lead the world. Obviously to an even worse global climate than we have now. O goody! If that is leadership, America, keep it. Only fools would follow.

Therefore the energy chunk of President Bush's speech is just another iteration of the same, tired old American pretence and self-deception, the notion that billions and many years have to be spent before the necessary technological solutions will be there (and the billions have to be American, of course). They ignore the fact that the technology is there now. All that is needed is the will to change to it. Use the billions to subsidise a programme of hugely accelerated production of solar-cells and fuel-cells. Stop thinking that America has all the answers. It certainly doesn't have the best fuel-cells. Solar-cells, yes (Sunpower Corporation's). So put them together. Right now. And let the Middle East oil stay in the ground; stop pumping it into the sky.

But the very next day after his speech, what had seemed to be just another hot-air iteration was revealed to be even worse. Mercury News reported: 'One day after President Bush vowed to reduce America's dependence on Middle East oil by cutting imports from there 75 percent by 2025, his energy secretary and national economic adviser said Wednesday that the president didn't mean it literally.

'What the President meant, they said in a conference call with reporters, was that alternative fuels could displace an amount of oil imports equivalent to most of what America is expected to import from the Middle East in 2025.

'But America still would import oil from the Middle East, because that's where the greatest oil supplies are.'

'Bush vowed to fund research into better batteries for hybrid vehicles and more production of the alternative fuel ethanol, setting a lofty goal of replacing "more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025."

'He pledged to "move beyond a petroleum-based economy and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past."

'Not exactly, though, it turns out.

'"This was purely an example," Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said.

'He said the broad goal was to displace foreign oil imports, from anywhere, with domestic alternatives. He acknowledged that oil is a freely traded commodity bought and sold globally by private firms. Consequently, it would be very difficult to reduce imports from any single region, especially the most oil-rich region on Earth.

'Asked why the President used the words "the Middle East" when he didn't really mean them, one administration official said Bush wanted to dramatise the issue in a way that "every American sitting out there listening to the speech understands." The official spoke only on condition of anonymity because he feared that his remarks might get him in trouble.'

American business as usual. Dollars first. The planet and human life second.