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Mitigating Global Warming While Boosting the World Economy – Reasons to Believe

As I noted in last week’s Today’s New Reason to Believe1 and explained in an article posted last January,2 marine temperature proxy measurements leave no doubt that global warming over the past 75 years is real. The global mean temperature is now 1.10°C above the preindustrial level.

Many books have been written on how to rectify global warming and climate instability by eliminating the burning of vegetation and fossil fuels and relying instead on wind turbines and solar power generation for our energy needs.3 These proposals all involve draconian economic sacrifices that, in light of human nature, will be impossible to enforce or will delay effective enforcement to a point where it’s too late to adequately address global warming and climate instability.

Scientists have proposed several geoengineering projects to partly block out the Sun’s heat as a means to compensate for heat from greenhouse gas emissions arising from fossil fuel burning. In last week’s article, I explained why geoengineering costs and risks far outweigh geoengineering benefits. Furthermore, the compensation doesn’t even work. Yet, there are solutions that will work.

Geoengineering Can’t Compensate for Greenhouse Gas Emissions
None of the geoengineering proposals do anything to alter the direct effects of greenhouse gas emissions on cloud cover. A team of atmospheric physicists used high-resolution simulations of stratocumulus clouds to show that clouds get thinner as atmospheric greenhouse gases increase.4 This thinning occurs even when global warming is minimal or fully mitigated.

Where ongoing greenhouse gas emissions continue and the geoengineering to compensate for their rise is sustained for more than a century, the cloud breakup can become nearly total. This cloud breakup can trigger a rapid 3–5°C global warming, an effect likely much greater than any cooling from geoengineering. This additional warming would melt much of the polar winter ice cap and lead to the rapid onset of the next ice age.

It’s now clear that allowing greenhouse gas emissions to rise at their current rates while compensating for the resultant temperature rise with one or more geoengineering projects is not a workable option. However, global warming is not the only detrimental consequence of increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

Nonthermal Greenhouse Gas Emission Risks
At the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions, it won’t be long before Earth’s oceans, lakes, and rivers become so acidified that they’ll suffer severe drops in fish stocks. If atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are allowed to reach 950 parts per million, these severe drops become extinction events. Many species of marine corals, echinoderms, mollusks, crustaceans, and fish will disappear.5 Beginning at 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, animal respiration starts to be hindered, and it’s severely hindered above 900 parts per million. The atmospheric carbon dioxide level on November 18, 2020, was already at 417.55 parts per million and rising.6

Regardless of what one thinks about links between greenhouse gases and global warming and geoengineering and other strategies for curbing global warming, it’s critical for the sake of human and animal life that the atmospheric carbon dioxide level not be permitted to rise much above its present level. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has set a goal of not allowing the global mean temperature to rise more than 1.5°C above the preindustrial level. It also needs to set a goal of not allowing the atmospheric carbon dioxide level to rise above a scientifically determined dangerous-for-animals-and-humans level. From what I’ve read, that maximum allowable level is likely not greater than 500 parts per million.

To Ban or Not to Ban Fossil Fuels
Many climatologists and political activists view the current situation as so dire that they call for an immediate ban on the burning of all fossil fuels. Being aware that wind and solar power generation is still far from producing the energy currently obtained from the burning of fossil fuels, they also call for a dramatic reduction in energy consumption to be enforced by taxes, penalties, and government regulation.

Forcing people to do what is counter to their individual well-being and best interests ignores an important biblical principle: humans are fallen and they tend to behave in selfish ways. Therefore, attempts to force people to do what is counter to their desires inevitably leads to black markets, pushbacks, workarounds, bribes, and delays. Such predictable reactions will delay effective responses to global warming and climate change. In fact, they could delay effective response beyond the tipping points—the points of no return to normalcy.

Kerosene
A far more reasonable response to fossil fuels that fits better with human nature is to be selective about fossil fuel use. One suggestion I made in my book Weathering Climate Change was to give kerosene to people living on the edge of the Sahara Desert in return for their commitment to cease stripping vegetation from the desert’s edge (for use as cooking fuel) and to help replant the Sahara Desert.7 The kerosene would be cheaper, less labor intensive, and certainly healthier than the stripped vegetation. Replanting the Sahara Desert would produce an income source for Saharan peoples. The planted vegetation would remove significant quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while increasing Saharan precipitation levels.

Natural Gas
Another wise use of fossil fuels for climate stability would be to replace all coal burning with the burning of natural gas. Natural gas is cheaper, easier to transport, and more abundant than coal. Most importantly, its burning emits slightly less than half the carbon dioxide to the atmosphere as does coal burning. No other global warming mitigation proposal yields a near-immediate 50% drop in greenhouse gas emissions.

There are other important reasons for substituting natural gas for coal. Coal burning emits toxic aerosols, black carbon soot, and other particulates. Natural gas burning produces none of these hazardous emissions. Replacing coal with natural gas would result in an immediate drop in the respiratory ailments that now plague much of the populations of India and China.8 It would also halt the rapid warming of the Canadian north and Siberia. Black carbon soot from coal burning in south and central Asia is transported by winds and deposited on the snow and ice in northern Canada and Siberia, where it hastens the melting of snow and ice and causes more of the Sun’s heat to be absorbed by Canadian and Siberian soils and rocks.9   

Reducing Fossil Fuel Use While Boosting the Economy
As noted last week, painting urban surfaces with highly reflective colors would lower the global mean temperature by as much 0.07°C. A bigger benefit is that cities would experience 10–100 times as much cooling. Residents, workers, and machines in these cities would need much less air conditioning. Less air conditioning translates into less fossil fuel burning.

Cool Clothing
It takes a lot of fossil fuel burning to air condition and heat buildings, homes, and vehicles. Recently, a team of scientists invented and produced clothing that can cool or heat the wearer.10 The potential now exists to cool or heat individual people and their animals and machines instead of their buildings, homes, and vehicles. The cost and fossil fuel savings would be substantial.

Crash-Proof Vehicles
Technology already exists to install radars, cameras, and computers in vehicles to make them crash-proof. Two decades ago, I rode in such a car and experienced that it was impossible for the car to hit another vehicle, a curb, a post, a pedestrian, or an animal. I was impressed, too, that the entire system cost less than one operational airbag. The elimination of traffic accidents, collision repairs, and vehicular injuries and deaths would yield big economic benefits, increase traffic flow, and reduce both fossil fuel usage and driving times.

Driverless Vehicles
Technology is within reach to not only make vehicles crash-proof but also driverless. The new generation of GPS satellites will allow the positioning of vehicles to be within a few centimeters or less. Software is close to fruition that would enable a computer-camera system to detect and respond to objects, both moving and still, as well or better than any human.

If all vehicles were crash-proof and driverless, both the density and velocity of vehicles on roads and highways could be increased. Again, there would be huge savings in money, labor, and fossil fuel use.

To Ban or Not to Ban Nuclear Energy
For more than 60 years, thousands of plasma physicists around the world have been working feverishly to achieve power generation through nuclear fusion. Nuclear fusion is the Sun’s energy source. Controlled nuclear fusion reactors hold the promise of providing humanity with near-limitless energy. However, after spending billions of dollars and millions of research hours, nuclear fusion research teams have yet to find a proven way to generate usable energy from nuclear fusion reactors.

Meanwhile, for the past 60 years physicists and political leaders have been sitting on thorium nuclear fission reactors. Such a reactor was built at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the 1960s (see figure) and has proven effective for safely generating electricity. Yes, there is strong public reaction to nuclear fission power generation. This negative reaction is justifiable in the context of uranium-based nuclear fission reactors. However, such a reaction is misguided for thorium nuclear reactors.

Figure: Thorium Nuclear Reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Oak Ridge, TN)
Credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Unlike uranium nuclear reactors, meltdowns are impossible and it’s nearly impossible to manufacture nuclear weapons from the operation of thorium nuclear reactors. Compared to uranium nuclear reactors, thorium nuclear reactors generate a thousand times less radioactive wastes. Uranium nuclear reactors generate radioactive wastes that remain dangerous for 50,000 years. The radioactive wastes from thorium nuclear reactors remain dangerous for only 50–200 years. Workers mining thorium or managing thorium nuclear reactors need not wear special clothing and are at no greater risk of radiation exposure than the rest of the human population.

Thorium power generation has huge cost advantages over uranium power generation. It’s three times more abundant in Earth’s crust than uranium. One ton of thorium delivers as much energy as 200 tons of uranium or 3,500,000 tons of coal. And there’s no need for all the safety protocols, inspections, and regulations that drive up the cost of uranium power generation.  

There is enough thorium that can be easily mined and processed to provide 100% of the world’s energy needs for at least the next 1,000 years. While it’s yet to be determined whether large or small thorium nuclear reactors provide the cheapest power, thorium nuclear power reactors could potentially deliver energy at a price lower than any currently existing source.

Healthier Diet and Other Economy-Boosting Solutions for a Healthier Planet
Two weeks ago, I wrote an article where I explained how transferring some of our protein consumption from land-based animals to seafoods would improve human health and boost the world economy while reducing greenhouse gas.11 In Weathering Climate Change, I described other dietary changes that likewise would improve human health, lower the cost of food, and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.12 In the same book I described almost forty different economy-boosting solutions for lowering the global mean temperature and restoring climate stability.

It’s more than a stroke of luck that Earth possesses 630 times as much thorium as the calculated average for other rocky material in our Milky Way Galaxy. If the world’s nations were to decide tomorrow to pursue, full-bore, thorium nuclear power generation, physicists Ralph Moir and Edward Teller calculated that large-scale thorium nuclear energy production—usable by many nations—could be set up within a decade.13 Replacing coal with natural gas for energy production, shrinking the Sahara and Gobi Deserts, instituting healthier, cost-saving diets, and pursuing other economy-boosting, greenhouse-gas-reducing initiatives would buy the time needed to scale up thorium nuclear power generation while avoiding the dire consequences of global warming and climate change. Many of these changes would benefit people living in developing countries.

For Our Benefit and the Benefit of All Other Life
In Genesis 1 God assigned humans the responsibility to manage Earth’s resources for their benefit and the benefit of the rest of Earth’s life. This mandate is built on the principle that God has designed Earth and its resources so that humans would never need to make the hard choice between what is good for us and what is good for Earth and its life. The implied promise is that there will be win-win solutions.

God never stated that those solutions would be easy to find or to implement. He did give us, however, the intellectual and physical means to discover and implement win-win solutions to problems we face in managing Earth’s resources for the benefit of all life. When we lack the wisdom and/or the humility to find the needed solutions, that’s the time to ask for help—God’s help. To paraphrase Hebrews 11:6, anyone who comes to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him and his answers to problems humans face.

Endnotes

  1. Hugh Ross, “Can Geoengineering Cool Our Planet?Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), Reasons to Believe, December 5, 2022.
  2. Hugh Ross, “More Evidence for Extreme Climate Stability,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), Reasons to Believe, January 31, 2022.
  3. The best-known such book is by former Vice President Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do about It (New York: Rodale Books, 2006).
  4. Tapio Schneider, Colleen M. Kaul, and Kyle G. Pressel, “Solar Geoengineering May Not Prevent Strong Warming from Direct Effects on CO2 on Stratocumulus Cloud Cover,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 117, no. 48 (December 1, 2020): 30179–85, doi:10.1073/pnas.2003730117.
  5. Astrid C. Wittmann and Hans-O. Pörtner, “Sensitivities of Extant Animal Taxa to Ocean Acidification,” Nature Climate Change 3 (August 25, 2013): 995–1001, doi:10.1038/nclimate1982; Hugh Ross, “Complex Life’s Narrow Requirements for Atmospheric Gases,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog) Reasons to Believe, July 1, 2019.
  6. CO2-Earth, DailyCO2, accessed November 18, 2022, https://www.co2.earth/daily-co2.
  7. Hugh Ross, Weathering Climate Change: A Fresh Approach (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2020), 213–14.
  8. Shubha Verma et al., “Black Carbon Health Impacts in the Indo-Gangetic Plain: Exposures, Risks, and Mitigation,” Science Advances 8, no. 31 (August 5, 2022): id. eabo4093, doi:10.1126/sciadv.abo4093.
  9. Patrik Winiger et al., “Siberian Arctic Carbon Sources Constrained by Model and Observation,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 114, no. 7 (February 14, 2017): E1054–E1061, doi:10.1073/pnas.1613401114; P. Winiger et al., “Source Apportionment of Circum-Arctic Atmospheric Black Carbon from Isotopes and Modeling,” Science Advances 5, no. 2 (February 13, 2019): eaau8052, doi:10.1126/sciadv.aau8052; J. Backman, L. Schmeisser, and E. Asmi, “Asian Emissions Explain Much of the Arctic Black Carbon Events,” Geophysical Research Letters 48, no. 5 (March 16, 2021): id. e2020GL091913, doi:10.1029/2020GL091913.
  10. Sahngki Hong et al., “Wearable Thermoelectrics for Personalized Thermoregulation,” Science Advances 5, no. 5 (May 17, 2019): id. eaaw0536, doi:10.1126/sciadv.aaw0536; Motahareh Mokhtari Yazdi and Mohammad Sheikzadeh, “Personal Cooling Garments: A Review,” Journal of the Textile Institute 105, no. 12 (March 17, 2014): 1231–50, doi:10.1080/00405000.2014.895088.
  11. Hugh Ross, “Seafood Consumption, Climate Stability, and Human Health,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), Reasons to Believe, November 28, 2022.
  12. Ross, Weathering Climate Change, 208–209.
  13. Ralph W. Moir and Edward Teller, “Thorium-Fueled Underground Power Plant Based on Molten Salt Technology,” Nuclear Technology 151, no. 3 (September 2005): 334–40, doi:10.13182/NT05-A3655.

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