Energy Blues 18

I was reading an article by David Aaronovitch in which he argued that the recent floods in the UK were a blip and we certainly should not waste money on flood defences. I am not going to provide a link to the fat thug – google it if you must.

It caused me to ponder the curious link between climate change denial and support for the War in Iraq. High profile climate change deniers like Aaronovitch and barking Melanie Phillips are a major part of the hardcore rump of those who still support the Iraq War. (Adam Bolton on Sky News assured us this morning “The Surge is starting to work”. He was of course saying that from the safety of a Washington street. I should like to see Adam stand in a Baghdad street outside the Green Zone and tell us that). But to return to my tenuous thread of thought, why are climate change deniers particularly keen on the Iraq war? There is a common factor in hydrocarbons, but the two don’t link together in an irresistible way.

Climate change is especially on my mind at the moment as I am trying to help Ghana with power generation. Ghana’s marvellous hydroelectric system – the Akosombo Dam and Volta Lake – has been suffering long term decline through dwindling rainfall, that now threatens to become long term catastrophic, and to undermine one of Africa’s best developed and managed economies. In searching for solutions I discover that very similar factors are now causing major problems to established hydro schemes in both Turkey and Tajikistan, and presumably elsewhere too. I do not merely believe in man-made climate change, I believe it is impacting at a rate far quicker than we have generally appreciated.

18 thoughts on “Energy Blues

  • peacewisher

    You may not have been in the UK at the time, Craig, but Aaronovitch was very big in The Guardian back in 2003. He may have been one of the reasons that newspaper decided to rally behind Blair and become "prowar", despite its clearly antiwar readership.

    I was particularly offended to hear that this man was then awarded "journalist of the year" or some such.

  • andy cyan

    One can ignore the hydrocarbon link or acknowledge it as present. It is not only apparent in the shared beliefs "prowar near oil reserves" and "climate science denial" -of heavily publicised commentators and powerful global movements, it is also apparent as the ultimate resource which +would+ link the policies of power which we see, warring and wanting everything. Why then wouldnt it be gaurded at the center of all profitable endevour? An emergent wisdom from the commercial gamesuch as an invisible hand? Or just not the most effective way to look at things, some may say.

    Ghana is surely a solar rich country, with a coast. Forget expensive solar voltaics and get cracking building relatively unsophisticated solar desalination and electrical generation plants. Tell 'em to pay no patents and knock the things up out of old carroofs and steam engines if ye have te.

    ..Or trying to be realistic, i read of the dams "the potential power out has been raised from 564 MW to 768 MW, or about 22 times the 1959 power generating capacity of the country" history/akosombo_dam.php

    A 1970s tech, experimental water boiling californian power plant "solar one" produced 10MW utilising just 72 acres of desert with about 2000 20by20 foot sun tracking mirrors. This suggests 7200 acres containing 200,000 tracking mirrors and ~50 heating stations, 20 basic turbines and a few hundred miles of seawater piping, would about duplicate the electrical output of the dam, while supplying a possibly useful amount of fresh water around the driest places in increasingly difficult times.

    There's a jist from this bloggies imagination for ya, dont bother to set me straight if im in cuckoo land, just good luck with your proper research. I dunno how you fit it all in!

  • Tonys Akiller

    Craig. The energy output from the sun is so massive that just a small variation in its output is going to have severe ramifications to us down here. The Sun's been playing up for a few years now and the sunspot cycles are said to have been quite strong recently. Sun sniffs – we catch cold kind of thing.

    I draw no comfort saying it, because I do not want to give the appalling oil companies and their murderous associates any excuse to let them carry on as normal, but it would be daft to chase an apparition. Man is polluting the earth. No question and the extent of the pollution is incredibly serious, but man's role – let me rephrase that – the US and Europe's role impact – for they are the greatest polluters, in global warming is insignificant in comparison.

    On BBC radio 4 22-June-07, Ruth Lea Director of the Centre of Policy Studies said man made pollution is just 2% of the global total (true? I don't know). Also she said 8000 years ago the earth had a hot patch. The outburst from the audience was very telling. I've not heard them so boisterous when mass murder in Afghanistan or Iraq is 'discussed' (increasingly rarely these days) I feel their hatred of the energy companies blinds people to what may be the reality or at least to a very real 'sun's to blame' possibility.

    But the thing people are shifting to away from coal and oil/gas fired – Nuclear power is INSAMELY WORSE.

  • Tonys Akiller

    One other point. Why do developing nations need so much power? Other than for use in schools, homes, hospitals and farms, where is most of this energy going to go? On industries that pollute the country, forcing millions into 9-5 lifestyles and worst of all these industries are more likely than not going to owned (if not wholly then substantially) by foreigners.

    When the west enters the second dark age, it will be countries like non-"developed" African countries that will be the jewel in a crown. What is the extent that Ghanaians, Angolans or Sudanese etc. actually want this industrialised life? Have they been allowed to think anything else?

  • Craig

    My own view is that it would be astonishing if extracting all the world's hydrocarbons and burning them did not have any effect.

    I can't agree with your idyllic post-industrial vision, Tony. I would like Africans to be able to access intenet in their homes like you and me.

  • andy cyan

    Regarding the quote 'man made pollution 2% per cent of total'

    Here are IPCC charts

    Claiming since preindustrial levels, CO2 has increased from 280 to 360 ppm (22% increase)

    Nitrous Oxide: 270 to 310 ppm (15% increase)

    Methane: 750 ppb to ~1500+ (~100% increase)

    Sulphate aerosols found in ice: ~50 to ~175 (~250% indicated increase)

    If Ruth Lea made that comment, ive no idea What she was refering to or meant by it as it utterly flattened by this data.

    iirc those are the four most significant green house forcing pollutants, our exposure to other to toxic chemicals like lead and mercury

    is supposed to be many times preindustrial levels. There are also pollutants present now which didnt really exist in preindustrial times, like DDT & PCBs.

    I agree with the possibility of a post-industrial idyll though.

    About a third of UK energy consumption is for "transport" which will mostly consist of maintaining roads and driving cars, often sitting in traffic jams. This sector has the potential to be slashed while improving quality of life.

    Computers neednt be a big resource cost. A shining project is the hundred dollar laptop – low cost, extremely low power consumption, built to last, creates its own wifi network. Coming to millions of third world children soon…

    Perhaps a digression -Ghana is not on the list yet, it really should be.

  • Tonys Akiller


    It seems like my post didn't shine through that I would like to see impoverished Africans (and not just limited to Africa) enjoy the garnish of what we have in the industrialized countries (lets face it. Who wouldn't?) but I was asking, does it really to cost them their traditional lifestyles? It would be great if they could surf the net and so on but do they really want a situation where at 7:30 the parents drop the kids off at a nursery, then don't see each other until 5:30, spend 30 mins in a traffic jam. Pick the kids up and plonk them in front of a TV, eat TV dinners, and if there lucky, spend a couple of hours with them for the rest of the day, then feel so drained they put the kids to bed and repeat the cycle 5 days a week? One day to wake up and feel regret at not being a part of their children's lives having already grown up?

    People like myself are able to enjoy spending parts of daily life doing activities so much related to doing activities of bare survival because ultimately, it's Africans and those like them that are paying the price for it. That's the honest truth. I don't like it, but it's my conclusion. Not only are 1 billion people who earn less than $1 a day paying for it, but so is the earth in terms of pollution. Its not fair and isn't sustainable, but the rate of consequence for having this industrialized condition (most prominent in the west) is increasingly going to be felt, and will have to collapse one day I feel, as the injustice comes to an end. Certainly this will happen if today's national or trading block model of global economics continues.

    The only idyllic quality was as a result of countries NOT going through the industrialization process. If they did, then they too will experience tremendous social unrest when the oil finally starts to run out {try powering a farm plough on solar panels!} like I predict Europe to suffer.

    To Andy: Thanks for providing some data. Certainly it's more credible than the simple words I quoted Ruth Lea as saying ('stats' which were always precariously pointing towards the dustbin) but here is an example of what I feel the 'its all mans fault' brigade might do or say, and it uses the data from those charts. Between 1580 and 1670 there was a 100% increase in sulphate aerosols (approx 20mg and 42mg). the people of that time should be ashamed of them selves! And look at the green dots on the sulphate graph. It gives the impression to a quick viewer that the US and Europe produces most of the peak when in fact you have to read off the equivalent level from a different scale. That is very naughty! OK. The industrial revolution spikes certainly looks worrying, but ALL charts can be made to look that way. Man is polluting the earth yes, but what about the suns effect? How much damage is mans pollution actually doing? Yes Katrina and flooding etc make us think we can see the effects now, and perhaps we are, but what about hot spots in the past (cant remember the scientific name for them) – those periods are NEVER addressed and they should be.

    Is it better to be safe than sorry? Yes of course. And also a more even spread of CO2 producing activities is absolutely morally justified (cap the US and Europe today, I say) but the case still isn't definitive.

    I watched a documentary a month or so back, and it addressed Gore's lecture on global warming. Gore said the temperature followed CO2 concentration, but the documentary said actually the CO2 was following the temperature shift!! The temp being consequential on the sun. So the sun determines the CO2. It made a lot of sense, and it also explains the last hot period. That and the fact the sun has an immense influence on the planet makes me think mans activities are not that relevant. Additionally, the natural CO2 sinks are rarely factored in among those who blame man for global warming. That's why I'm hesitant on the overall issue.

    Interesting discussion this.

  • andy cyan

    Sulphate particles cause acid rain and environmental damage/sickness, but are actualy anti-greenhouse. They reflect heat away from the earth, it seems as though they counteracted pro-greenhouse emissions during the middle of the 20th century. Their reduction towards the end combined with continued pro-greenhouse emissions correlates with the kick in temperatures observed in recent decades.

    "ALL charts can be made to look that way." Scientic enquiry becomes impossible with such an attitude. Charts visualy represent data, the data defines their appearance, unless you can't read them properly or they are ficticious.

    Changes in solar output are an ideal point to attack athropogenic global warming theories with, because sun output does change, is significant and sunshine is an accessible factor in the minds of people whom are turned off a subject by talk of chemical gas formulas and more complex heat cycles.

    Less interested and informed onlookers on a subject like to choose between "this factor" and "that factor" Like "security" or "war", "atmosphere" or "sun". The more informed you get, the more factors you find and how they link together. The informed consensus concludes, basically that solar output changes are significant in affecting climate yet not as significant as current human induced atmospheric change.

  • andy cyan

    em, sorry 'TaK. Im right behind alot of your last post, just got into hacking out the climate science. Gonna take a break, feel like im flooding this board a bit. Speak later and,

    *lets hear from more readers*

  • Tonys Akiller

    Andy. Thanks for the continuation. It was my understanding that sulphates are salts of a weak acid – hydrogensulphates. Therefore their conjugate base (the sulphate) is strong and so sulphates actually form basic solutions. (they pull protons off water to make hydrogensulphate). I'd guess therefore that it's questionable that sulphates cause acid rain, but sulphur dioxide and trioxide do form acids; being weak and strong respectively.

    As for sulphates being reflectors of IR. ummmm.. I can visualise various modes of vibration which would hence absorb IR, so I'm not so sure about that, but you may be right.

    "Scientific enquiry becomes impossible with such an attitude." I get the point, but charts MUST be read with care and due attention and are easy to manipulate. So often as a student, attention was brought to the manipulation of graphs. It is possible to make data fit a graph. There are a number of things I'd like to see to increase my confidence in those graphs. Who acquired the data? Do they have any energy ties? What is the raw data and sampling method? Where was it analysed. Who commissioned it? This data should also be presented. The data given doesn't cover the previous 'hot spot' that Ruth Lea mentioned, the one featured in that documentary I watched.

    I can well imagine that what initially appears to be a strange situation where the oil companies are made to look bad is only to stop other countries from being able to develop fossil fuel economies. They would be pressured into adopting the nightmare of nuclear energy. India and the US have recent treaties on this, but busses don't have portable nuclear reactors, and you cant fertilize a field with I 131, so the western oil companies, can hog the oil to themselves for longer as well as making a packet from selling/leasing nuclear technology. Egypt a few months back said it considering seriously going nuclear. China I read, wanted to build something like 50 to 500 nuclear reactors.!!!

    So sell the idea that hydrocarbons are killing the planet (and forget about the sun), but keep using the hydrocarbons (as Bush ignnores Kyoto and will eventually buy up the stupid carbon quotas – if the worthless dollar holds out that long) then you can sell your nuclear tech and still have enough hydrocarbons to power your military machine to grab any other oil that comes available in the near futire – Central Asia (!) and Africa. It fits.

    I am not just pointing at the sun because I don't have the mental capacity to discuss physical science – far from it. I am highly confident in this field. I do not believe the comparisons between the sun and to that of man. I've certainly never seen any on my travels. Could you drop me a link or two, or give some idea as to where you came across this? Thanks.

    Yes, more commentators please.

  • andy cyan

    TaK, to find about the link between sulphates and acid rain, all you have to do is google 'sulphates acid rain' and get stuck in. Your language sounds expert, but:

    "As for sulphates being reflectors of IR. ummmm.. I can visualise various modes of vibration which would hence absorb IR, so I'm not so sure about that, but you may be right."

    -Come on now, visualising vibration modes is not how to verify a supposed absorbtion spectrum. This is basic reference stuff.

    I dont credit this kind of discussion, you are firing off questions now which just demonstrate your disinterest and unfamiliarity with the research.

    Get to grips with the IPCCs wealth of material if you want to discredit it, enough of the generalities.

  • Tonys Akiller

    Actually, if you must know, I was thinking of the sulphate asymmetric stretch which would force a change in dipole moment and therefore would absorb IR. Or the other 'way': look at the point group and consider what point it can transpose into. The same point group transformations are ALWAYS IR active once one is found to be active as far as I know.

    Googling sulphates and acid rain yields a glut of pages referencing molecules by generically called sulphates. You specifically stated sulphates which I understood to be a dianion, an oxo anon which is basic. Quickly looking up the pKa of HSO4- is about 2. so is about 500 times stronger than the weak acid ethanoic acid. Its conjugate base is therefore 500 times stronger than that of ethanoic acid. Sulphates are a basic. I stand by what I said.

    OK perhaps you meant hydrogen sulphates or hydrogen sulphites. That is the correct and accurate way to describe the acidic sulphur compounds from industrial pollution.

    I'm not asking questions to divert, sorry if I gave that impression. It would be good to address each one in turn. I raised them simply because I strongly feel they are relevant to the whole issue. Its a near compulsion within the scientific community to lay bare its findings. ALL scientific data with anything attention that is.

    You are not correct in saying I am disinterested. I wouldn't engage so much if that were the case. I will read up on the source that you kindly presented in time. Thanks.

  • andy cyan

    Tak, if you want to learn about the link between Sulphates and acid rain, just google "sulphates acid rain" and get stuck in. Your language is sounding expert but:

    "As for sulphates being reflectors of IR. ummmm.. I can visualise various modes of vibration which would hence absorb IR, so I'm not so sure about that, but you may be right."

    -Come on now, visualising vibration modes is not how to verify a supposed absorbtion spectrum. To be as clever as you mean to sound, just consult a reference you trust. Im not a librarian but know its the IPCCs position that sulphates are negative forcing, simply by the act of having read some of their material, you want to claim they are wrong then show it, stop casting aspersions.

    And we are Skipping past Ruth Lea's inexplicable 2% pollution quote now, and ive got to tackle some 'hot spot' comment as well.

    You have me feeling a bit frustrated, thanks all the same.

  • andy cyan

    sheesh, i reworded that last reply a few times each time it didnt seem to post, i hope they arent all going to pour in now :[

  • andy cyan


    "Actually, if you must know, I was thinking of the sulphate asymmetric stretch…."

    "Googling sulphates and acid rain yields a glut of pages referencing molecules by generically called sulphates. You specifically stated sulphates which I understood to be a dianion…."

    Well stick to the terms meaning in the context of the preceeding discussion, not whatever amazing specialisation comes to your own mind. In the context of this discussion, the sulphates refered to, where the kind labelled "sulphate aerosols" in the IPCC graphic i referred you to, in response to the 2% pollution quote, which you then responded "Between 1580 and 1670 there was a 100% increase in sulphate aerosols (approx 20mg and 42mg). the people of that time should be ashamed of them selves! …" I pointed out after, that the sulphate (aerosols) which we +had+ both at that time mentioned, were in fact believed to be negative forcing. Your replies revealed you were both unaware of that IPCC conclusion and skeptical of it, then your defence retreats into esoteric terminology which it would take a specialist to decypher.

    You may or may not be a specialist, but youve demonstrated a serious lack of knowledge of the material you are attacking, with unresearched questions and unformulated uncertainties.

  • andy cyan

    Sorry, to be blunt there TaK but put yourself in my shoes, the IPCCs case appears to be extensive to me and plentifuly dcumented online -for you. You clearly dont need me to paraphrase it for you, it might be interesting to hear your thoughts about it once youve actually got to grips with it.

    best wishes'

  • Tonys Akiller

    Some fair points and some not so fair points. Just want to pick up on one for now: becasue you are using the term sulphate generally, your statement "sulphate particles cause acid rain" contains a contradiction. It is therefore sensible to specify which sulphate you are talking about and therefore try to decuce if its the same sulphate as the one in sulphate aerosols (again generic description), especially as you claim they reflect heat back into space and their concentration is reported to have changed. It seems like the IPCC is forming the entire strength of your arguement. I will read it but after doing so, will you be in a position to discuss its scientific merits?

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