Sunday, 28 May 2017

Flawed features in saving the planet

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I don’t really consider myself to be an environmentalist though from time to time I have endeavoured to reduce my carbon footprint, but with little actual success.

I have owned three hybrid cars, but eventually realised that the fuel savings were never going to overcome the extra cost of the technology. Disregarding this experience I then covered a large portion of the roof of our home with photovoltaic solar panels to generate electricity and substantially lower our power account. Given that I have passed the milestone of three score years and ten I should have realised that once again the technology was unlikely to produce a positive financial outcome until well after I had gone (hopefully) to a higher plane.

I thought about this the other day when I read about the resourcefulness involved in building wind towers to generate electricity. A two megawatt wind turbine weighs about 250 tonnes including the tower, nacelle, rotor and blades. It takes about half a tonne of coal to make a tonne of steel. Add another 25 tonnes of coal for making the cement and so you end up using 150 tonnes of coal per turbine.

And so it requires enormous quantities of coal, the number one bogey in the environmentalists list of hobgoblins, to make “clean green” wind power.

Another problem is the wind itself. It’s a fluctuating stream of low-energy density. The modern world stopped using it for mission-critical transport and mechanical power long ago for a very good reason: it’s totally unreliable.

Meanwhile out of sight and out of mind is the dirty pollution forged in Inner Mongolia by the mining of the rare-earth metals vital for the magnets in the turbines. This process apparently generates toxic and radioactive waste on an epic scale which is why the phrase “clean energy” is preposterous.

And so well-prescribed efforts to create carbon-neutral gadgetry appear to be falling short of the gadget makers best intentions.

That leads us to the Paris climate treaty which New Zealand is a signatory to, but is falling short of meeting its promised reductions in carbon emissions.

Danish climate-change scientist Bjorn Lomborg reckons the whole process is flawed anyway. His computer modelling has found that if all the promises made by the U.S., China, the EU and the rest of the world were implemented, and then sustained to the end of the century, it would only reduce the rise in global temperature by 0.17 C in the year 2100.

“Current climate change promises will do little to stabilise the climate and their impact will be undetectable for years,” Lomborg says “and this invisible achievement would come at a staggering cost, somewhere between $1 trillion and $2 trillion a year. Paying $100 trillion for no recognisable advantage is not a good deal.”

Lomborg wants Trump to can the Paris agreement, which he emphatically judges to be a feel-good gesture that distracts attention from aggressive research into low-emitting, cost-efficient technologies which is the only realistic way to reduce fossil fuel consumption.

My cogent advice for Mr Lomborg’s researchers however would be to look beyond wind towers, hybrid cars and solar panels.

I live in New Hampshire. We’re in favour of global warming. Eleven hundred more feet of sea level rises? I’ve got a beachfront property. You tell us up there ‘By the end of the century New York City could be under water’ and we say, ‘your point is?’ - P. J. O’Rourke


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