Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Solution to "Climate Change"

The solution to so-called "global climate change" is more development and more abundant energy for every person on the planet.

Fully developed economies, such as the U.S., have the resources necessary to address issues of pollution. Less-developed countries do not.

Private property ownership increases the incentive for mitigating and preventing pollutants in the environment due to the desire for continued use of the owned resource. State ownership or "commons" ownership does not.

Lower birth rates are closely correlated to economic well-being and education. The poorest countries have the highest birth rates and the worst records on destroying the environment -- from poaching elephants to slash-and-burn agriculture. They are focused on survival. They don't have the resources, the time or the incentive to worry about the environment.

Abundant energy is one of the keys to economic development. Another key is good government based on personal property rights and individual freedoms with a free-enterprise based economy.

If you want to fix a problem you must treat the root causes -- not merely the symptoms.

Now, release the attack....

30 comments:

E. R. Dunhill said...

Chris M,
Before the melee begins, I'd like to offer that abundance doesn't necessarily mean producing more and more energy. It can also be an outcome of resource conservative lifestyles and technologies and better methods of distribution. Abundance is a matter of having at least enough to meet demands, and can be accomplished by manipulating either side, or preferably both sides, of the equation.
Also, common property rights and responsibilities don't have to be as vague as we currently make them. They could look more like personal property rights.

Chris Crawford said...

I agree that economic progress does sometimes reduce pollution, but it also increases pollution in some areas. The best example of this is carbon emissions. The USA has the much higher carbon emissions per capita than the developing world.

While economic growth in the developing world is much to be desired, we must understand that the extension of the American lifestyle to the entire planet will establish an unsustainable situation.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

Chris C: I don't totally agree that CO2 emissions are "bad." Plants need CO2. An experiment: Place a common ivy in a pot in your living room and place an identical one in your bathroom -- assuming both get similar light and water the one in the bathroom will outperform the one in the living room. It "likes" the carbon emissions.

Why is an extension of the American lifestyle unsustainable?

Chris Crawford said...

Chris M, your comment about CO2 misses the distinction between the normal state of affairs and an altered state of affairs. After all, freshwater is absolutely necessary to the maintenance of life, but if a dam breaks and floods the town below, we don't regard that as a good thing.

An extension of the American lifestyle over the entire world would entail much greater emissions of quite a few pollutants, such as CO2. Also, consumption of many resources would increase greatly, causing their price to rise. The recent increases in oil prices are largely due to increased demand from China, India, and the rest of the developing world.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

Chris C: Maybe the real question is, what is the normal state of affairs? Has CO2 content of the air been constant throughout the history of the planet? How much is too much? Is the change of a few hundred parts per million significant? I know that based on previous comments you have made that you probably believe we have passed the tipping point already. I think we don't know where that tipping point is. Even if we have passed it, how do we know that the planet doesn't have mechanisms to flush that extra CO2 out before the whole planet collapses? What is optimum?

If you believe that the American lifestyle is "bad" and that the rest of the planet shouldn't have the opportunity to experience it, why don't you trade with someone in Soamlia for awhile and see which is best? (I'm not trying to incite here, just make a point)

A recent discussion on this blog was about progress. It sounds to me like you want us to go backward in our lifestyle. That doesn't sound like progress to me.

Where does most research into the environmental issues of the planet occur? In the highly developed countries. Where are the dollars for "fixing" what we think is broke? In the highly developed countries. Where is the technology developed and implemented that reduces harmful emissions? In the highly developed countries. Where does aid to help the poor and starving masses of the lesser developed world come from? The highly developed countries.

If you want progress, you need money, energy, freedom to pursue your goals. I would like to see the whole world pursuing progress rather than just trying to eke out a meager subsistance in environmentally degraded countries constantly on the brink of civil war. Ah, but I comment on multiple postings at once here -- sorry.

Chris Crawford said...

Chris M, there is nothing inherently good or bad about any particular climate. The problem is rapid change, not climate itself. If Alaska becomes a great place to go surfing, that's fine with me. However, if the changes happen so rapidly that humanity and the biosphere do not have enough time to handle those changes gracefully, then there's going to be a lot of suffering. Refitting all the HVAC systems on all the structures in the world is a rather expensive proposition when you can't just go through the normal process up making the change as you replace the housing stock.

And where on earth did you get the notion that "the American lifestyle is "bad" "????? I have said no such thing. My point is that the American lifestyle is unsustainable if taken up by everybody on the planet, not that it's bad. You decide whether unsustainable is good or bad.

"It sounds to me like you want us to go backward in our lifestyle. That doesn't sound like progress to me."

I'd like to complain that this is classic strawman argumentation. Rather than addressing what I actually wrote, you insert some crazy conclusions of your own and then attack those.

I agree that the developed countries are leading on many fronts. I have no problem with that. I do think that the developing nations are right to bitch about the lack of progress in the Doha round of negotiations.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

Chris C: "I'd like to complain that this is classic strawman argumentation. Rather than addressing what I actually wrote, you insert some crazy conclusions of your own and then attack those."

I think we're all guilty of that if you'll think back over some previous exchanges. We each tend to pick up on certain things that "key" with us and misconstrue, misread, or just plain miss other things that are relevant and make the items pulled out of context, relevant. Occasionally it's just plain fun to pick on things to see what kind of reaction you get. I apologize if my remarks offended.

Sometimes comments (at least my comments) are meant for a larger audience. There are only a few of us that participate regularly in the discussion but it is hoped that others will read the discussions and hopefully engage in the thought process if not the conversation.

As to suffering in the world -- there's already plenty of that. What if we all focused on that instead of "cap-and-trade" schemes, or "taxing big oil", or other such ideas being batted around to combat climate change.

As to the U.S. lifestyle being bad -- that was derived from your comment:

"I agree that economic progress does sometimes reduce pollution, but it also increases pollution in some areas. The best example of this is carbon emissions. The USA has the much higher carbon emissions per capita than the developing world.

While economic growth in the developing world is much to be desired, we must understand that the extension of the American lifestyle to the entire planet will establish an unsustainable situation."

I read that comment this way: pollution is bad, carbon emissions = pollution, American lifestyle = greater carbon emissions, therefore American lifestyle = bad. Seems like a logical conclusion from the comment.

Chris Crawford said...

Chris, there's nothing judgemental in the two statements I made. They were:

1. The USA has much higher carbon emissions per capita than the rest of the world.

2. The extension of the American lifestyle to the entire planet will establish an unsustainable situation.

These are both obvious and straightforward facts. They are not value judgements. The first is documented. I suppose I could imagine somebody in good faith rejecting the second statement, but that somebody would have a real uphill fight making their case. If you take the American lifestyle and increase its application by a factor of over 20 -- it's difficult to imagine the global economy handling that kind of strain.

Mark43 said...

Why are we afraid to get the oil we have access to. This will give us oil independence, while also debilitating our enemies financial income. While we are drilling we can build more nuclear facilities, more wind, more geothermal, more solar and cleaner coal plants. For vehicles we need to put more effort in hydrogen cell. The exhaust is H20. Drive and hydrate, everyone wins!

Chris Crawford said...

Mark, we could certainly grab the oil we have access to, but I would rather bring it online smoothly. Rushing the job will only cost more. Besides, we'll need it just as much in 20 years as in 10 years. Moreover, we shouldn't get too excited about our remaining oil reserves -- they're really not that much. They certainly won't give us anything like energy independence. I agree that we should continue to develop those resources, as well as nuclear power.

Hydrogen is often misunderstood. Every ounce of hydrogen that we use in a car has to be extracted by means of processes that ultimately cost more energy than we get out of the hydrogen. Thus, hydrogen is a carrier for energy, not a source of energy. It's sort of like a big rubber band -- it can store energy for us, but first you have to wind up the rubber band, and that takes energy.

Jim's Words Music and Science said...

Thanks for the comment at http://greenchemistry.wordpress.com/ and for the invitation.

I'm not in a combative mood at the moment. I'll just address one of your points- "Private property ownership increases the incentive for mitigating and preventing pollutants in the environment due to the desire for continued use of the owned resource. State ownership or "commons" ownership does not."

This point makes, I believe, the underlying assumption that people understand pollution, the environment, and the relationship between cause and effect that links their actions to the state of the environment. I'm afraid that most of these assumptions are rarely valid.

First, knowledge of chemistry is hardly widespread in the general population of the U.S. or anywhere else. Second, laziness is a strong demotivating force (and, in people's defense, many work very hard to survive at present, so they don't necessarily have the time or the background to understand the issues, or to act on them).

In my experience, some people are quite happy to act without regard for the environment because they can pay to have the problem dumped on another's door step, or in someone else's drinking water.

We see this across the US, where rapid supporters of nuclear power would never dream of allowing the radioactive waste to be dumped in their back yard, or even their State, and even balk at allowing the waste to be transported through their States to some final resting place (or one we hope is final, anyway).

Altruism is not a strong motivator for corporations or individuals; the damaging effects of pollution often show a significant time lag; attention spans are short and so are the tenures of CEOs; and when the details of true self-interest can't even be comprehended by those involved, many things suffer. That is why regulations are needed.

We see evidence of this all around us. Some of the largest polluters in the US are cities and towns that exist on or near rivers, lakes and streams, and where people will not vote for modern waste treatment facilities. It garners a lot more headlines to blame big companies, and they do much that deserves blame, but most people are acting and have acted exactly the opposite of your assumptions. Salmon in the Pacific Northwest are dying because the Bush administration refuses to follow Federal court orders or the Endangered species act, but the other reason why the salmon are dying is that private property owners spray pesticides on their crops without regard for the effects on Salmon, people who eat Salmon, or people who make a living from Salmon.

The environmental damage that one does may never be seen outside one's own front door, which is why it is so easy for people to ignore it or pretend it doesn't exist.

I certainly wish you were correct, but I'm afraid you aren't, at least on this point.

Best wishes, Jim

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

Jim, I don't disagree with your statements, but I believe they enforce my position rather than negate it.

In corporations, officers of the corporation do not "own" their business. They may own a tiny amount of stock, but it is not their business. Their real ownership lies in providing the highest return to stockholders. It is not something where they have a perpetual interest. Their children may inherit the stock but they likely won't inherit the job.

City governments are the same. The cities have no personal interest in their polluting activities. Some residents care enough to become active on issues that directly affect them or those about whom they care. Most merely look at the cost of their utility bill.

Farmers in the Northwest face the same issue. They have no "ownership" in the salmon, the river, or the companies that harvest the salmon. They do have ownership in their land and work in their best interests. That's the key -- working for their own interests.

We protect our interests. We protect the interests we wish to pass to our children. Economics come into play as do laziness and ignorance. We evaluate the costs of our actions relative to the value we place on the potential outcome.

The real tragedy is "common" property or our impact on other's property. In looking at our own selfish interests, we do pass costs to others because the consequences of our actions are either perceived as not affecting us personally or being irrelevant. They become irrelevant because we think, it doesn't matter what I do, my neighbor is going to be doing it anyway therefore my actions are immaterial. The result is that we do things that are irrational from a collective standpoint but rational from the individual standpoint. In various posts and comments on this blog, suggestions have been made on ways to assign costs to negative actions such as polluting a salmon stream. Ultimately, I think that we don't have the answer.

If we all were made to truly feel ownership of the resources of this planet -- strong individual AND collective property rights -- we might turn the tide. Education is critical. Regulations are necessary. Part of the impact of regulations is creating a sense of ownership through the negative impact of enforcement.

The worst part of dealing with chemicals in the environment today -- and I'm thinking Ag chemicals in general but know that it applies to others as well -- is that we ARE ignorant of the long-term effects of many of them. Some are toxic and it is quickly apparent what their effects are, but others are cumulatively persistently toxic -- we may not know their effects until the progeny of those exposed are born with deformities. Then, there is difficulty in determining the original source of the chemical that ultimately caused the deffect.

We also have the issue of weighing immediate versus long-term consequences. Abruptly eliminating some pesticides could result in a worldwide famine and massive economic displacement to workers in affected industries. The best approach might be to gradually sunset ALL suspected chemicals. That takes time -- time to develop alternative processes, products and systems.

Jim, thanks again for stopping by. Your comments are greatly appreciated.

Progressive said...

It's been an interesting conversation thus far, with both good and misguided points - both common in the climate change debate.

In stead of titling this "The Solution to Climate Change", it really should lead "solutions".

Mitigation must be focused on all sectors of the economy - transportation, electric generation, industrial, commercial, and residential. Each of these requires an individual assessment of what policies are needed, best, and economically feasible.

Also, adaptation is a policy set that hasn't had much discussion, but really my become more focused in the coming years.

So, in essence, there should be individual discussions on each mitigation sector and adaptation.

Mark43 said...

Chris C: What I am talking about is utilizing our own oil reserve to give us time to develop the technologies and techniques that will eliminate our dependence on oil (which equals less carbon emissions). I also understand that hydrogen is in the early stages of development, but with more resources and effort one day the process will yeild more energy than it took to create.
Economic progress allows us to be more responsible in the way we interact with our environment. If I was in a survival mode, you could bet that I would not be on this blog right now. I would be doing whatever it took to feed and protect my family. We are blessed to be in a position that allows us to be good stewarts while at the same time enjoy the quality of life we have come to expect.
@ e.r. dunhill, what is wrong with more energy per person if that energy was produced without hurting the world we live in? Is it wrong to give the poor countries the technology to one day live as we live, provided we gave then clean technology? I believe everyone deserves to live as comfortable a life as environmentally and responsibly possible.

E. R. Dunhill said...

Mark43,
I didn't say that there is something wrong with producing more energy per capita. I said that we can improve our energy portfolio through the demand side in addition to the supply side. More specifically, I said that we should reduce the amount of energy that we waste. This, contributes to a healthy, dignified way of life for others.

Chris Crawford said...

Mark, it takes about ten years to bring an offshore oilfield (or a North Slope oilfield) online. So even if we pull out all the stops today, we won't see any benefits for about ten years. Yes, it would be of some value, but again, anytime you pursue a project on a "rush" basis, your costs go up and your efficiency goes down. I think we should take this with all due deliberation.

And again I remind you that hydrogen is not a source of energy anymore than the outlet in your wall is a source of energy. The electrical energy from your outlet had to be generated by another source of energy. The same thing goes for hydrogen. Process improvements will mean that less energy is wasted in the conversion process, but we still have to come up with sources of energy. I'm currently reading about ethanal/methanol technologies based on biomass. It might work. I'll decide after I've finished some more research.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

Chris C: Some things to think about on ethanol.

1) The amount of arable land is limited. Biomass of any kind requires land and water to grow. This immediately puts it into competition with food production utilizing those same resources.
2) Back to the Ivy mentioned in a comment on another post (I think). If you plant an Ivy in a pot, over time you need to put additional potting soil into that pot. If you don't you will notice that the soil level in the pot keeps diminishing in proportion to the growth of the plant. Biomass used for ethanol removes the nutrient values of the soil via the plant tissues that are converted to ethanol. Even products like switchgrass and wood chips remove those nutrients from the soil. Most farming methods leave residue to be plowed back into the soil which then become food for soil microbes and worms to convert to usable nutrients for the next generation of plants. It takes many years to re-build soil that has been depleted. That is the reason for the westward migration of farmers in the 19th century and before. They depleted the soils on the east coast and had to keep moving westward to find land that had fertile value. It wasn't until we learned about fertilization and soil nutrient cycles that farmers could profitably remain on the same land for extended periods of time.
3) A cellulosic ethanol process will likely be applied to the current bi-products of corn-based ethanol production at a very early stage in the technology. This will effectively remove an important livestock feed from the marketplace. Protein is important to health. Livestock are an effective way to accumulate and to some extent, store protein for human consumption.
4) Ethanol is an inefficient way to convert sunlight to usable energy. Let's back up the chain and do what chlorophyl does -- convert sunlight to energy. It can be a biological process but doesn't necessarily have to require an additional conversion which costs efficiency and energy.
5)There are new technologies being developed that basically utilize specific strains of nitrogen-fixing bacteria that release hydrogen as a bi-product of that process. The trick is to capture that hydrogen and utilize it for fuel. The production of the H in this case is not expensive. The bacteria do it for us. The key is to fool those bacteria into releasing that H in a manner that allows us to capture it. Genetic modification of the bacteria is doing just that.
6) I believe that in 30 years we will be wondering what all the fuss about ethanol was about. It is part of a temporary bridge to a new energy economy -- but will have no lasting impact.

Mark43 said...

Chris C: I am not saying that this technology will be a source of energy. My conclusions about the usefulness of fuels cells came from article I read about technologies that produce hydrogen. An example is a technology utilized in the military to pull nitrogen out of the atmosphere to use in the suspension sytem of certain vehicles. This does use up energy but I found a vehicle which uses common materials to produce the hydrogen it needs on board. I found it on wikipedia.
"The 2001 Chrysler Natrium used its own on-board hydrogen processor. It produces hydrogen for the fuel cell by reacting sodium borohydride fuel with Borax, both of which Chrysler claimed were naturally occurring in great quantity in the United States. The hydrogen produces electric power in the fuel cell for near-silent operation and a range of 300 miles without impinging on passenger space."
All I am saying is that the carbon produced by transportaion requirements could be eliminated.

Chris Crawford said...

Chris M, the points you raise have always bothered me; what has opened my mind back up to the possibility are some interesting answers I ran across recently. These are:

1. Land use: it MIGHT be possible to raise biofuels on marginal lands that aren't profitable for food farming. But the numbers aren't in on that question yet.

2. Yes, the biofuel advocates don't seem to factor in the costs of fertilizer, which itself requires some petroleum.

3. I'm not so supportive of beef production; it takes a lot more calories of corn (4? 10?) to make one calorie of beef. I wouldn't mind seeing beef become more expensive. "Let them eat chicken!"

4. I am very much in agreement that genetic manipulation of bacteria will yield better results than biofuels will. Put vats full of water and "solar energy bacteria" in the middle of the desert, then harvest the results. Although we might end up harvesting methanol or ethanol anyway -- they're more practical for end use.

5. On the hydrogen-producing bacteria: they'd be putting out both hydrogen and oxygen. The problem is, these two gases are a bit difficult to transport and handle. It would probably require a national network of new pipelines. But then again, pipelines are far and away the most efficient means of transporting materials.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

Chris C: I'm kinda partial to beef -- it's what's for dinner!! -- and it pays my grocery bill, etc.

E. R. Dunhill said...

The Chrises,
To follow up on the relationship between feed and beef, I've generally read that it takes between 15 and 20 lbs of feed to yield one pound of beef. That figure accounts for the bits of the cow that are discarded. All of the beef that my family raised were in large part grass-fed (they didn't know they were chic; they thought they were being frugal), but the figure seems about right to me.
For completeness' sake, pork weighs in at about 12-15 lbs feed / 1 lb meat, while poultry (depending somewhat upon the type of bird) is between 4-7 lbs feed / lb meat. For fish, it's often less than 3lbs feed / 1 lb meat, in many cases, around 2 lbs.
The wide range on the poultry figure also reflects that different cultures have significantly different concepts of how much of a bird is edible. (I have an aunt who still periodically gets squeamish about chicken after a trip to Hong Kong more than 10 years ago.)

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

ERD and Chris C: The current average conversion rates are as follows:

(lbs. feed:lbs. gain)
catfish 1.1:1
poultry 1.7:1
Pork 3:1
beef 5-8:1

In beef you see a range due to the wide genetic variation. Poultry and pork are very uniform genetically because their production practices lend better to genetic selection. These ratios are for animals in a confined feeding situation which is the only relevant situation when we are talking about corn or soybeans for feed.

Grass fed beef is much more expensive to produce and will likely only occupy a niche market.

Beef. It's what's for dinner!

E. R. Dunhill said...

Chris M,
That's substantially different from what I've read from several sources. Are you describing pounds of meat or pounds of animal?

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

Pounds of gain. That would include meat, bone, water, everything.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

ERD: The amount of weight that a beef animal will gain on a daily basis varies depending on genetics, food source, age of animal, etc. On the low end it might be a gain of .4 lbs/day on grass. The feed conversion of that animal would be poor -- that depends on the water content of the forage, the protein level in the grass, other nutrients, supplementation, etc. In that case, say a 400 lb. calf would convert about 12 -14 lbs of forage on a wet matter basis to gain. That same calf, if put into a feedlot on a 14% protein ration would probably gain 3.0 or higher per day on roughly the same number of pounds of feed on a wet matter basis. The feedlot ration consists of a fairly high percentage of corn (which is where we started this in relation to ethanol). If that calf consumed 15 lbs. of ration/day and gained 3.0 lbs. his conversion would be 5:1 on a wet matter (or as fed) basis. These figures are very typical of good quality cattle (genetics again) entering a concentrated feeding program. Note the difference in conversion with grass fed. That is why it is much more expensive to raise grass-fed cattle than to feed them in a concentrated situation. Ultimately it comes down to a relative cost difference between the different feedstuffs. Formulating a ration with proper nutritional balance to maximize feed efficiency and gain while minimizing cost-of-gain is a rather interesting mathematical problem. Fortunately we have software that does that for us now. You enter in the costs of various feedstuffs available, the desired protein %, the feed values of various feedstuffs, the required net energy for maintenance of the animal, the desired net energy for gain -- and whalaa -- you get a least-cost ration formulation that hopefully maximizes the genetic potential of the animal.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

ERD: Try "Googling" -- "feed conversion beef" (leave off the quotes)

There are tons of articles on the net about it. Sometimes the terminology requires a little interpretation for those not in the industry.

Mark43 said...

Chris C: I was just reading your comment that it would take 10 years to get oil out of the ground. That happens to be the same time span President Kennedy gave to get a man on the Moon. Funny how we did that but we can't get oil a few thousand feet below the ground out. I guess space travel and exploration is simple compared to the complexities of oil drilling.

Chris Crawford said...

Mark, the problem is not a matter of technology but economics. If we were willing to pay $300 a barrel, we could probably hurl together a crash program to suck it right out of the seabed in a few years. However, if we want the oil companies to actually make some money in the process, they'll have to carry out lots of geological surveys to get the precise information they need to position their equipment for optimum production. They'll need to plan and lay pipelines on the seabed. They'll have to build deep water pump heads on the sea floor. They'll have to build the surface rigs, tow them out to sea, and position them properly. Then they'll have to begin drilling.

None of this can be done with a snap of the fingers. It's hugely expensive and if you rush the job, you can get cost overruns running into the billions, or accidents that create mammoth pollution or kill people. That's why the oil companies take it slowly. Remember, the high capital costs of such projects put them under intense pressure to get this job done as quickly as possible.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

Chris C: No, No, No!!! We've got to put massive taxes on the oil companies and take away their excess profits because they are "sticking" it to us common folks. That's the Democratic way!!!

Mark43 said...

Chris C:
Who is saying rush? If we would have started the process 10 years ago with the care and deliberation you described I believe that we would be better off today than we currently are. Let's sidebar this debate for ten years and see if we do not require oil anymore. In order to progress, there must be a commencement. If we start now eventually, hopefully not 10 years, the oil we produce will allow us to require less foreign oil. If we never start then this resource we have will be unused. How powerful do you think the terrorist would be without the financial resources their oil gives them? Drilling is a short term crutch that will give us time to get the technology and infrastructure in place to diminish our dependence on foreign oil and our impact on the environment. Is drilling the only action we need to take? Of course not, we need to be more responsible with our energy consumption. We need to nurture the development technologies that will enable us to be energy independent and environmentally safe.