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A Proposed Agenda Revision For The COP26 Climate Summit

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The Conference of the Parties 26 (COP26) is soon to kick off in Scotland with the headline “Uniting the World to Tackle Climate Change”.

Rather than being another failed attempt at achieving the 2015 Paris Agreement emission reduction targets, perhaps COP26 should be about “Uniting The World To Protect The Environment.” I have presumptuously prepared an Agenda.

1) Clean Up the Air by Removing Particulates and Poisons

Coal and diesel produce ultra-small particulates that hang in the air (aerosols) and cause a multitude of problems in our lungs. Over four million deaths per year (7.6% of all global deaths) are attributable to this particulate matter.

Burning coal can additionally release sulfur dioxide (leading to sulfurous or London smog), mercury (26% of global mercury emissions), arsenic, chromium, and lead.

Rather than eliminating coal, developing nations should be challenged to remove the particulates and poisons released in the combustion of coal.

Diesel fuel emits nitrous oxides (leading to photochemical or Los Angeles smog that aggravates asthma sufferers) and black plumes of unburnt carbon particles. Those vehicles can be switched over to compressed natural gas with largely off-the-shelf equipment.

Both of these ideas, even if partially successful, would save lives and keep the economies of developing nations growing.

2) Preserve Habitats by Reducing Life-Cycle Physical Footprints of Energy Generation

An easy way to protect ecosystems is to not dig them up. That seems obvious but many green energy generation technologies triple-dip on ecosystems with massive physical footprints. The first dip is mining, the second dip is infrastructure, and the third dip is non-recyclable toxic waste.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently estimated that to meet the goal to halve U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2035, the world will need to increase rare earth mining from today’s levels by seven times to 42 times, depending on the rare earth mineral.

Additionally, Mark Mills, a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, has calculated that it takes at least 10 times the conventional materials (such as concrete, steel, and glass) to build wind, solar, and hydropower machines as it takes to build a natural gas electrical generator of the same output.

All these rare earth and conventional materials start in mines that run on hydrocarbon power, and IEA data shows that in some cases the mine emissions alone may offset the emission reductions achieved by the end products.

Switching to green energy technologies will cause a global mining boom, much of it in the developing world, with potentially many unintended environmental consequences.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IREA) has produced an estimate of the physical footprint of the project infrastructure for various power sources in the U.S. The comparisons below use nuclear power as the base with the smallest footprint.

To obtain the same amount of electrical power consistently, these are the infrastructure areas needed for the following sources (the adjustments in brackets are mine):

  • Natural gas = 10 times greater than nuclear
  • Coal = 82 times greater
  • Hydro = 169 times greater
  • Wind = 382 times greater (includes the area between towers and 34% time online)
  • Solar = 536 times greater (includes 28% time online)

Switching to green energy technologies takes up a lot more infrastructure area that disturbs natural habitats.

The IREA also estimates that by 2050 solar panel garbage will be double the amount of all of today’s global plastic waste. On top of this are the plastic blades on wind turbines that cannot be recycled. Natural gas electricity generators last twice as long as solar or wind and are recyclable.

Solar, wind, and batteries have massive mining, operating, and disposal footprints on ecosystems. Natural gas has a very low footprint in each of the three phases. Nuclear power creates the least area of ecosystem and habitat disturbance. Yet we are shutting down nuclear and natural gas to build solar and wind power.

3) Buy Things Built to Last

In the 1960s and 1970s, the life expectancy of a family car was about 100,000 miles, and now the same brand of car reaches twice that mileage. Cars, however, are an exception in today’s world.

For example, in our cabin, we have a circa 1950 Norge refrigerator that still works, but in our house, we have to replace the refrigerator about every seven years.

Our new energy-efficient appliances have probably used up to 10 times the steel, copper, manufacturing, and transportation energy than the trusty Norge that dims the lights when the compressor kicks in. Furthermore, there is a lot of plastic in the newer machines that won’t get recycled.

The 70-year-old Norge has had a much smaller life cycle environmental impact because it has lasted longer, yet the newer fridge comes with a big sticker boasting its energy efficiency that will help save the environment.

That sticker should rate the products on their total life cycle environmental impact from material sourcing, manufacturing, in-service operation, and ultimate disposal/recycling.

4) Improve Extreme Weather Preparedness

The COP26 crowd is happy to declare that if all nations meet their emission reduction targets, we will avoid increases in extreme weather events. Except the jury is still out as to what drives extreme weather events and it is doubtful their frequency is increasing.

The polar vortex and heat dome extreme weather events are the result of waviness in the jet stream, which are naturally occurring Rossby waves (they even occur on the planet Venus).

These can be escalated into extreme weather by the naturally occurring El Nino and La Nina events, plus other things we don’t yet understand.

Since North America and Europe can be greatly affected by the northern jet stream, we should devote some efforts to understanding all the factors that result in a polar vortex and heat dome to help predict the resulting floods, droughts, wildfires, and ice storms.

5) Be Pragmatic About the Global Future of Oil and Natural Gas

Attempts to shut down the oil and gas industry have resulted in nothing more than shifting production to places where environmental practices are not transparent.

Global production is returning to pre-pandemic levels and is forecasted to continue to grow. Those who desire the shutting down of the global oil and gas industry should recall the sage advice of Sheik Yamani, the venerable Saudi oil minister who transformed the geopolitics of oil in the 1970s.

He predicted, “The Stone Age did not end for lack of stone, and the Oil Age will end long before the world runs out of oil.”

A corollary might be that the Stone Age did not end because of a tax on stone either, but rather ended because of a technological advance that replaced stone.

The world does not yet have an affordable and reliable substitute for hydrocarbons, and we should be realistic about that. In the meantime, environmentally responsible oil and gas producers should not be penalized for the benefit of those who are not.

COP26 will probably not discuss any of the above but will proceed as they have since 1995 with more exponential hyperbole on the existential threat of carbon dioxide, more solemn virtue signaling to meet impossible emission reduction targets using ecology killing green energy, and of course an invitation to attend COP 27.

Maybe the agenda for 2022 should be simplified to “What’s the point of the COP?”


Ron Barmby (www.ronaldbarmby.ca) is a Professional Engineer with a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree, whose 40+ year career in the energy sector has taken him to over 40 countries on five continents. He recently published “Sunlight on Climate Change: A Heretic’s Guide to Global Climate Hysteria” to explain in understandable terms the science of how both natural and human-caused global warming work.

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