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Pollution, Carbon and Global Warming

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Is there a connection?

Perhaps the most frightening of all the problems facing our planet is that of the effects of pollution on our environment.  Of all the living beings on the planet, man has had the most effect in the smallest amount of time, and changed the environment of the planet more to suit him than any other creature that has ever existed.

There are people who loudly proclaim that global warming is the greatest threat the planet has ever faced, while others say it is a myth, or a simple, cyclical change that the planet has experienced for millions of years.   The reality is that the global warming cycle changed AGAIN around the year 2000, and the earth has been cooling a little since then. 

There are also people who scream out that carbon dioxide is killing the planet, causing a litany of problems, including global warming, which has now become global cooling.  The reality there is that the planet is a living organism and just like us, needs carbon dioxide as a component of the atmosphere it breathes.  The earth is a carbon based ecosystem - we are carbon based life forms! 

Whilst carbon dioxide levels are high, they are not the highest they have been and these levels are also out of step with the global warming/cooling cycle, the methane gas influence and the weather changes.  The actual amounts are a tiny percentage of the complete atmospheric makeup though, and are really only trace elements in the big picture of the components of the earth’s atmosphere.  However, there are changes and we cannot deny them.  There have ALWAYS been changes; that is the nature of our planet!

Whilst we have had ice ages and warm climates come and go, the suggestion is that climate change, at the rate it is happening, has never occurred at this rate, in the history of the planet.  However, as science progresses, we are finding the truth that the climate change phenomena has been an ongoing cycle with periods of from hundreds to thousands of years, with terms such as "the little ice age", and "receding ice packs" in European history accepted fact.  Even in Robin Hood’s time, he lived in a forest in Central England where now he would freeze to death about 150 nights per year without shelter!

The worst predictions of some years ago, such as the demise of the glaciers and ice packs, are supposedly happening 50% faster than the most dire predictions.  Within 40 years, on this basis, there would be no ice on the planet!  IF TRUE! 

That would have a number of catastrophic effects, IF TRUE.  Firstly, changes in the salinity of the ocean and the sea levels, and the food distribution within the oceans.  That would mean widespread inundation of coastal areas, some areas of the ocean made virtually lifeless, barren wastelands, devoid of aquatic life, and resulting starvation of many of the marine species in those food chains dependant on the life previously found in those soon to be barren areas. 

However, as recently as January 2010, the IPCC predictions of the Himalayan Glaciers being thawed and gone by 2035 were totally discredited, along with the peer review process at the same time.  That prediction turned out to be the result of a phonecall to an Indian Scientist a long time ago, then misquoting him, reporting it in a newspaper, which the IPCC picked up and took on as a policy platform.  The original scientist has now totally refuted the argument, as if the mountains were not already making them look silly.  There appears to be little, if any, evidence of the Himalayan glaciers thawing!

The second aspect of this is the effect it would have on ocean currents.  These are the engines of much of the climate and weather on our planet.  The change in the ice packs would affect the major ocean currents, which affect the weather and temperature for example, along the eastern seaboard of Australia and North America, and the resultant rainfall patterns.

On a larger scale, IF the Gulf Stream current in the Atlantic Ocean stopped flowing, which the changes in salinity are predicted to cause, the further predictions are that a new ice age could occur within decades, because the moderating effect of the ocean currents on the global climate will have ceased. 

However, Dr. Duncan Wingham has been collecting satellite data for years, and arriving at startling conclusions. Early last year at a European Union Space Conference in Brussels, for example, Dr. Wingham revealed that data from a European Space Agency satellite showed Antarctic thinning was no more common than thickening, and concluded that the spectacular collapse of the ice shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula was much more likely to have followed natural ocean current fluctuations than global warming.

"The Antarctic Peninsula is exceptional because it juts out so far north," Dr. Wingham told the press at the time. As well, scientists have been drawn to the peninsula because it is relatively accessible and its climate is 'comparitively' moderate, allowing it to be more easily studied than the harsh interior of the continent. Because many scientists have been preoccupied with what was, in effect, the tip of the iceberg, they missed the mass of evidence that lay beneath the surface.

"One cannot be certain, because packets of heat in the atmosphere do not come conveniently labelled 'the contribution of anthropogenic warming,' " Dr. Wingham elaborated, but the evidence is "not favourable to the notion that we are seeing the results of global warming".

Last summer, Dr. Wingham and three colleagues published an article in the journal of the Royal Society that casts further doubt on the notion that global warming is adversely affecting Antarctica. By studying satellite data from 1992 to 2003 that surveyed 85% of the East Antarctic ice sheet and 51% of the West Antarctic ice sheet (72% of the ice sheet covering the entire land mass), they discovered that the Antarctic ice sheet is growing at the rate of 5 millimetres per year (plus or minus 1 mm per year). That makes Antarctica a sink, not a source, of ocean water. According to their best estimates, Antarctica will "lower [authors' italics] global sea levels by 0.08 mm" per year.  This confirms other data in a survey that showed sea levels over the last 60 years have actually fallen slightly, according to the levels recorded around numerous Pacific Ocean Islands.

Duncan Wingham was educated at Leeds and Bath Universities where he gained a B.Sc. and PhD. in Physics. He was appointed to a chair in the Department of Space and Climate Physics in 1996, and to head of the Department of Earth Sciences in October, 2005. Prof. Wingham is a member of the National Environmental Research Council's Science and Technology Board and Earth Observation Experts Group. He is a director of the NERC Centre for Polar Observation & Modelling and principal scientist of the European Space Agency CryoSat Satellite Mission, the first ESA Earth Sciences satellite selected through open, scientific competition. 

Duncan Wingham is NOT a member of the IPCC team, as his findings and evidence conflict with their theories and projections and eliminates the need for funding the research they say is needed to validate their findings.  However, when research is done that does NOT support them, they typically ignore, bury or discredit that research!

In a news item this week, a scientist with the National Snow and Ice Centre, in Boulder, Colorado, USA said there was likelihood that the North Pole may have NO ICE this year for a period during the northern summer. 

However, satellite photos and studies have shown that the northern ice pack actually increased in size and thickness and the northern hemisphere winter was one of the most severe in recent history!  Most of Lake Erie for example, was a sheet of ice!  That is way below the Arctic ice cap that was of so much concern to the other scientists!

As recently as 2009, research revealed that the Gulf Stream, source of much postulating about salinity and flow rates, has revealed that the flow rates vary enormously from one period of the year to another, for reasons still not understood.  However, the different flow rates have been charted for years, and a natural variation in flow rates and speeds has now been demonstrated.  This is nothing to do with being the effect of climate change or global warming, and more likely to effect weather changes around the immediate on-land vicinity!

What we do know is that weather patterns and climate are changing.  Areas of higher rainfall historically, are experiencing lower rainfall totals, whilst different areas of the same country where lower rainfall was the norm, now get much higher rainfalls.  Droughts in some areas are more severe, more widespread and last longer.   Species are dying and habitats are disappearing because the climate is changing from region to region around the globe.  It has been doing this for thousands of years..

We also know that the incredible development of infrastructure in China and the Sub-Continent will continue for decades, with the resultant huge need for the ongoing minerals and resources that Australia digs up and sells overseas.  China opens at least one coal fired power station each week, and a new airport every fortnight.  With 30,000 kilometres of motorways opened in the last decade and at least as much planned for the next few years, growth, progress and the pollution it creates is guaranteed to continue.  India is where China was, infrastructure wise, more than a decade ago – she is only just starting to move!  This is a trend that will continue for quite some years yet, and the demand for energy, steel and mineral resources will continue with it.  Even with the global financial crisis, China’s internal demand is such that its billion plus people demand a huge amount of our natural and mineral resources, just to feed and clothe themselves and to travel around their large country.  India is in the same situation.

What can we, in Australia, do?  A country with a population of only a little over 20 million people, on a percentage basis, we hardly count as a component of the global pollution contributions.  However, we are world leaders in creativity and ingenuity, and we have a huge proportion of the world’s global mineral resources, many of which will contribute to pollution in the coming decades.

We can lead by example in a number of ways.  The first change we could make is to monitor our own need to use coal in our currently coal fired power stations and find more efficient coal burning methods. We can fast track geothermal power, from the enormous geothermal resources we are sitting on.  Much more research is needed but if commercially viable, without needing government subsidies, this has huge potential.  With a bank of geothermal power stations sitting atop the hot rocks only a couple of kilometres underneath Central Australia, we could demonstrate the viability of this alternative form of energy generation.  We can also test and demonstrate the viability in Australia of the newer, smaller and much more efficient and safe nuclear power plants that new technology now allows us to build.

We are a large island, surrounded by oceans with massive waves and tidal and current flows.  Australia also has some highly advanced wave power generation technology that can harness the unlimited and inexhaustible power of those waves and provide huge supplementary power generation capacity to our power grid.  This is worthy of research.

We have massive river flows in the highly populated areas of the tropical northern and sub-tropical eastern Australia, especially in the Northern Rivers region of NSW, but right along the east coast, this opportunity exists.  Power generation turbines placed in those rivers could be permanently submerged and provide continuous hydroelectric power into our electricity grid, with no reliance on coal, sunshine or wind. 

We have huge amounts of sunshine in Australia and in some remote outback locations, we have experimental solar generating plants providing power to local communities.  If this can be made commercially viable, it could reduce the reliance on diesel fuel being trucked in over huge distances.

In a relatively short period of time, it is possible that alternative energy generation may provide a proportion of the electricity used in the Australian Power Grid.  It can never produce baseload power, but it can take off some of the load, especially in remote regions.

More importantly, all these technologies could be exported to most continents around the world, and we are currently at the forefront of many of these technologies.  With only a little more governmental encouragement, we could be world-leaders and create whole new industries, each of which gives Australia a new industry and somewhere else, power where they may not have been able to receive it from the cheaper, coal generated electrical power supplies.

We have a further polluter, the motorcar. Car buyers need encouragement in whatever practical way possible so that they can at least choose clean burning cars, such as the newer high speed diesel engine cars.  Technology has come a long way since the smoky old diesel truck engines we knew.  Modern, especially turbo charged petrol engines are also clean burning and car makers need encouragement to deliver fuel efficient, clean burning car engines.

Politically, this philosophy creates enormous problems for the energy industries as they are now.  Making it even worse, is that the USA powerbrokers including the Bush family and many others, derive much of their wealth from oil and energy.  However, with the global financial crisis, countries are finding, much to the dismay of the oil producing countries, that they can exist with far less oil than they previously consumed!  This is causing enormous financial crises in some of the countries totally dependent on oil exports for their GDP income.

Similarly, the coal industry has enormous wealth and investment tied into it, and the vested interests of big oil and coal carry enormous political power and weight.  However, whether they like it or not, the balance of power is moving, away from coal and oil.  In perhaps as little as two decades, the wealth on this planet will be in where the available water lies and who has control of it, and where food can be grown – the owners of arable, fertile land will be the new power brokers.  Should there be the opportunity for large landholdings with abundant water, these will be the equivalent of our current oilfields and coal seams.

With the escalating costs of coal and oil in their raw forms, the cost of the energy ultimately produced is so high that previously uneconomic sources of energy become viable.  Solar energy and photovoltaic power generation have been practical but very expensive energy sources for decades.  However, with oil at up to $150 per barrel in 2008 and back to under $80 in 2010 but as low as $40 in 2009, astute major investors and governments can see the payoff to investing in these alternative energy sources; the rewards would be enormous.  Now that oil is around $100 a barrel, many are surprised that the demand has not risen.  But, there has been a paradigm shift in thinking, as there was in the oil shortage crisis of the mid 1970s, when it was feared that oil would run out in 30 years.  We no longer use as much oil, even in only a year, demand has fallen incredibly!

We also have the global pollution problem of what to do about plastic bags.  It is inconceivable that this problem has not been resolved, especially as we already have a viable alternative solution, right now!  All we need to do is legislate that all plastic bags be manufactured to BIODEGRADABLE (breakdown in sunlight or exposed environmental conditions) specifications now – which we can already do, and make the current non biodegradable bags illegal to manufacture within 12 months.  There have been a whole raft of excuses why this cannot be done, but as they are already available through some supermarkets, it is patently obvious that they are a viable alternative and a solution to the problem now.

What can governments in Australia do? 

1.       Immediately clamp down on the REAL polluters in Australia, industry and other sources of chemical liquid, solid and gaseous pollutants which are currently being released into the atmosphere and our rivers and soils.

2.       Invest in research into alternative energy generation in Australia and export that technology to the world. Supplement our energy supplies from geothermal energy, nuclear and water driven energy sources within a decade.  We have the technology now.

3.       While we still export coal to countries where alternative energy sources are not as viable, ensure that we export clean coal technology with the bulk coal, to reduce any impact on the environment when it is finally used.

4.       Export other supplementary technology such as forestry expertise to countries such as Indonesia, so that they don’t have to slash and burn their forests, with the resultant soot contributing to the soot levels in the skies, and reducing the pressure on global forest resources.

5.       Encourage manufacturers to develop and commercialise more fuel efficient vehicles, and provide incentive for car buyers to convert their fleets to the newer and more fuel efficient alternatives.

6.       Outlaw the production of regular non-biodegradable plastic shopping bags within twelve (12) months, and legislate for the production of biodegradable plastic shopping bags to begin immediately.

Whilst Australia does not contribute greatly to the volume of pollution on the planet, we contribute enormously to the leadership vacuum that exists.  Our leadership in this area could greatly influence those swinging voters in the energy and pollution field, thereby keeping our environment clean and pure and where we have polluted it, encourage and initiate the reclamation of any polluted areas of the environment.


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