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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Saturday, 18 November 2006


There is an old Roman saying, 'When men cannot change things they change words.' In our age there are countless examples of that arrant dishonesty. 'Bio-fuels' is one. It sounds good, because 'bio' means life, so it looks as if we can have our cake and eat it too: we can carry on with that abysmally crude nineteenth-century technology--the internal-combustion engine (ICE)--we can carry on getting from A to B on serial explosions, but without messing up the global environment.

Really? The test of whether something really does have human life at heart is to see if you can breathe, drink or eat the exhaust. If you survive, and healthily, you know it was good for you. If you end up sick or dead it was probably a bad idea.

What comes out the exhaust-pipe of a bio-fuelled vehicle is certainly not going to make you delirious with joie de vivre. Depending on the fuel, you may have no vivre at all. And the planet is unlikely to benefit one iota. For example, the incomplete combustion you get in ICEs gives you soot, which fouls the sky; and the particles are so fine they can pass straight through the walls of your lungs and lodge in your tissues, such as heart tissues. The label on the tank may say 'bio' but the soot is just as ruinous, not matter what the label says.

Then there is the notion that 'bio-fuel' is 'carbon-neutral.' True? No. The theory says that the next crop of the bio-fuel feedstock will remove from the atmosphere all the carbon-dioxide and carbon-monoxide produced by burning the fuel from the last crop. That assumes that it goes into the atmosphere and stays there. But it is not intelligent, it does not understand English, so it may not. It may go into the oceans. If so it will stay there for a thousand years, making them more acidic; then it will come out into the atmosphere and stooge about for an average of a century.

There is also a lag between when the fuel it burnt and when the next crop reaches maturity, and it is only at that point that could take out all the carbon produced from the previous year's mature crop. There may be some evening-out over the globe, but in that long lag there is a vast amount of carbon busy having its greenhouse effect. So the 'neutral' bit, even if it is there, is not there constantly; it goes up and down, like any feedback effect. There is no instant subtraction to blance the addition.

The blunt, inconvenient truth is that we have to stop pumping carbon into our sky, in any form. We already have far too much for optimal human life.

A major problem with adding more is that the effect is cumulative,; volcanic eruptions add yet more; and major ones add huge quantities. That means adding a huge amount on top of whatever we have put there. So the more we put there, the greater the peaks that we make through our additions, the more likely it is that anything added by Nature will take us over a climatic tipping-point, known or unknown.

Then there is the very tiny, very unimportant fact that human beings have to eat. Every square metre of land that is producing 'bio-fuels' is a square metre not producing food. But don't worry about starvation. So long as your bang-bang car can run you'll be fine. Dead behind the wheel, but still mobile, so you'll be fine. Yessir, fine. O goody! There is not way we have enough land to supply more than a fractio of the fuel we need.

On top of that, producing 'bio' fuels takes a huge amount of water. A lot is needed to grow the plant feedstock and a lot is needed to process it into whatever fuel you want.

If the process of producing the fuel involves fermentation that produces a lot of carbon-dioxide, the very gas we should not be producing. You also have to transport the feedstock and the fuel to where it is to be burnt, which consumes fuel, adding to the carbon-neutral falsehood.

Then if the fuel produced is ethanol or butynol or something else that can only be used as a blend with fossil-fuels, you will only have saved 10-20% fossil-fuel.

And having gone through all the process of getting the stuff to the pumps, you then put it through your bang-bang engine which the laws of physics in the form of the Carnot Cycle says cannot possibly be more than 33% efficient. Add to that all the losses in the mechanical linkages getting the power out to the wheels and you get only 16% where the rubber meets the road--you lost 84% of what you put in the tank. A huge effort and energy-investment for very little return.

'Bio-fuel', in short has nothing to do with life. It should be called 'morifuel' (mori means death).