A new study of the Asian Monsoon record has shed light on Earth's changing climate over the past six-hundred and forty millennia. Drawn from an exhaustive and painstaking examination of the relative proportions of the oxygen isotopes 16O and 18O in stalagmites, records from Chinese caves characterize changes in both the Asian monsoon and global climate. This record supports the idea that the 100,000-year glacial/interglacial cycle is an average of discrete numbers of precession cycles. Further more, changes in insolation, the amount of energy received from the Sun, triggers deglaciations and shorter term millennial events. No evidence supporting the upstart theory that CO2 controls climate change is reported.
It is Earth Day today, a chance for all tree huggers, green activists and other self absorbed eco-types to feel good about themselves by disparaging their neighbors. There was a time when environmental issues were rightfully at the top of people's concerns—the skies above our cities were brown and noxious, our rivers and streams poisoned with pollution, lead was accumulating in the environment and our children. The problem is, though most major problems have been addressed, the bureaucracy that was created to fix the environment cannot help but look for new problems that demand solutions, even if the problems are slight and the solutions draconian. Chief among these new problems is “carbon pollution” by which the eco-enforcers mean CO2 emissions. The tragedy of Earth Day is that governments spend billions of dollars on meaningless efforts to curb carbon dioxide while billions live in poverty and squaller around the world.
Gas prices, oil sands, fracking and the Canadian pipeline have all thrust energy back into the headlines. Politicians posture, eco-alarmists protest and those global warming fanatics continue to predict the end of the world as we know it. If you are tired of the hype and disinformation, if you really want to understand energy—where it comes from, how it works and how much of it the world has—then you need a copy of The Energy Gap. In this follow-on to The Resilient Earth, Hoffman and Simmons address the world's energy questions with the same wit and erudition displayed in their previous work. Even better, in honor of April 15th, tax day in the US, you can now download a copy of The Energy Gap for free from Amazon.
One of the best kept secrets regarding alternative energy sources is based on an element most people have never heard of—thorium. Named after the Norse god of thunder, Thor, thorium is a fertile (not fissile) fuel that can power safe nuclear reactors to provide almost unlimited amounts of emissions free power. At the same time, such reactors can also burn up existing stockpiles of nuclear waste. For various political reasons thorium has not found support in countries like the US, but now a Norwegian company is making the switch from uranium to thorium, running one of its power reactors for a four year test to prove the viability of this true source of clean alternative energy. Norway, like the US and many other countries, have abundant supplies of this element—perhaps it is time to actually solve the world's energy problems for the foreseeable future, without all the expensive solar cells and bird killing wind turbines.
The last interglacial period (LIG)—the Eemian—is commonly believed by scientists to have been warmer than the current Holocene interglacial. Along with that balmier climate there is evidence that sea levels were significantly higher than today. Previous studies have pegged Eemian sea levels at 4 to 6m higher than today. Recently, a new investigation raises that estimate, reporting that ancient sea levels peaked between 6.6 and 9.4 m (~20 to 30 feet). Modern day accounts of flooding in low lying coastal areas and tropical islands abound, with ominous suggestions of links to global warming. How high the oceans will rise is a topic of debate for IPCC members, the news media and assorted climate alarmists, but they are asking the wrong question. Instead, they should ask why are sea levels so low?
Green advocates and climate change alarmists alike insist that the world shift to using only non-polluting, renewable energy sources, and the sooner the better. What is seldom mentioned is the enormous cost of retooling the world's energy infrastructure to use intermittent, unreliable wind and solar energy. A recent two part paper, appearing in Energy Policy, makes a reasonable attempt at stating the requirements to fix humanity's fossil fuel addiction and go all green. The analysis found that, to provide roughly 84% of the world's energy needs in 2030, would require around 4 million 5 MW wind turbines and 90,000 300 MW solar power plants, with the remaining 16% coming from solar photovoltaic rooftop systems, geothermal, tidal, wave and hydroelectric sources. Some quick back-of-the-envelope calculations show why the world economy cannot afford to go totally green.
One of the arguments used by critics of nuclear power is that there is not enough uranium to power a nuclear world for an extended time. The energy hungry world would just be trading looming oil shortages for uranium shortages, they claim. As with most anti-nuclear scare-mongering these charges are totally bogus. MIT has just released a major report on the nuclear fuel cycle that finds uranium supplies will not limit the expansion of nuclear power in the US or around the world for the foreseeable future. It suggests that nuclear power, even using today’s reactor technology with the wasteful once-through fuel cycle, can play a significant part in satisfying the world's future energy needs.
For those who believe in anthropogenic global warming, carbon dioxide is public enemy number one. They warn that CO2 must be avoided at all costs or Earth will heat up uncontrollably causing all sorts of ecological havoc. One proposal for avoiding global warming is the sequestration of CO2 by trapping it at combustion sites or extracting it directly from the air. Supposedly, such sequestration could help avoid a large rise in atmospheric CO2 from the use of fossil fuels, avoiding the hellish fate that surely awaits mankind otherwise. Referred to as carbon capture and storage (CCS), the coal industry has seized on sequestration as a way to get greens off their backs and stay in business. However, it is not clear how effective different types of sequestration and associated leakage are in the long term, or what their consequences might be. A recent paper takes a critical look at the sequestration option.
American politicians are falling over themselves to enact new energy legislation before the Gulf oil leak gets plugged. The sad fact is, the US is dragging its feet on the one proven source of reliable, emissions free power: nuclear energy. With some environmentalists likening the oil disaster to Three Mile Island—the nuclear accident that destroyed the US atomic energy industry—the Obama administration has given nuclear power little more than lip service in recent months. Now comes news that a New Mexico-based company that is doing pioneering work in miniature atomic power plants has signed a deal to manufacture small, modular nuclear reactors in China. Political indecision and agitation by green activists is once again conspiring to turn the US into a second rate technological nation.
Having reported that scientists did not find CO2 responsible for a change in the duration of ice age glacial periods 700,00 years ago, another new report takes a look at the conditions around the last interglacial warm period and our own Holocene warming. Using corals from the south seas paradise of Tahiti to track sea-level changes, researchers probed the mechanisms driving Earth's climate between glacial and interglacial states. Almost as an after thought they added that there is no longer any doubt: changes in sea-level drive changes in CO2, not the other way around.