Daily Wisdom

June 06, 2009

AGW And The Green™ Fallacy

First it was man-made or Anthropogenic Global Warming™ (AGW). But then, when warming apparently peaked in 1998 and global temperatures began to flat-line or even decrease, the term "global-warming" fell out of favor. The new buzzword became Climate Change™. It's hard to say "global-warming" with a straight face when there isn't much of it going on, and when the number of skeptics is increasing daily. Climate Change™ is a much better term because it can mean so many different things to so many different people. It is a deceptive phrase, as it can cover a multitude of scenarios besides global-warming (even though most still use Climate Change™ as a synonym for AGW™). As such, it is not unusual to hear the occasional brave (or "foolhardy") soul suggest that cooling is caused by (or is a part of) Climate Change™.

Now however, the new buzzword is Green™. We have Green™ chemicals, and Green™ packaging, and Green™ technologies, and Green™ industries. Everyone is trying to cash-in on the Green™ fad. Companies are looking at their marketing strategies to find ways they can claim that their company or their product is Green™. The term Green™ of course, implies that whatever has been labelled as such is good for the environment (or perhaps, "not nearly as bad" for the environment as the competition).

I had to laugh at a recent TV commercial pushing "clean" energy technology. In the commercial (with wind turbines spinning in the background), an old leathery-skinned southwesterner talks first about saving "God's Green Earth" and then in the next breath suggests that we can use electric vehicles to roam all over "Hell's Half-Acre". This commercial provides us with some interesting food for thought...

First of all, which is it: "God's Green Earth" or "Hell's Half-Acre"? Second, the southwest desert shooting location depicts no greenery whatsoever, so it looks a lot closer to "Hell's Half-Acre" than to "God's Green Earth". Is the desert southwest supposed to represent my ideal of paradise? Third, am I supposed to infer that widespread implementation of "clean energy" will convert "God's Green Earth" into "Hell's Half-Acre"? Or did I get that part wrong? And finally, if I use "clean energy", will I start to look like that guy in the commercial? Inquiring minds need to know.

As with any marketing program or sales campaign, there is usually more "hype" than "truth" to the claims that are being made about 'green products' or 'green energy'. In the words of the old Latin adage: "Caveat Emptor", or "Let the buyer beware". Clearly, the consumers of ancient Rome were routinely conned; enough so to coin a phrase about it. We are no less free of such marketing scams today, despite the truth-in-advertising laws. The Green™ marketing campaign is just that: a scam.

First of all, those who push Green™ energy (ie, from renewable sources) don't like to admit that such energy: a) is intermittent and low-yield, b) requires vast land usage, c) requires massive infrastructure investments, and d) poses alternative environmental threats. Solar panels are no good when the sun doesn't shine, so the power shuts off at dusk. Wind turbines are no good when the wind doesn't blow, so the power shuts off on windless days. And there is no known method for storing energy from renewable sources, so if you don't need it while it is being generated, it just goes to waste.

Solar panels and wind turbines don't generate much electricity, so you need lots of them to do anything useful. This means huge arrays of solar panels or vast wind farms that occupy thousands of acres to do anything meaningful. Since many of these solar arrays or wind farms are in remote areas, they require huge infrastructure investments to get the power from where it is generated to where it can be used. Infrastructure requires maintenance. Maintenance requires money. And we don't seem to have enough money to maintain our existing infrastructure, let alone huge new investments.

Because wind farms and solar arrays occupy vast stretches of land, they infringe on wildlife in the areas where they are installed. Wind turbines kill birds flying through the area. Wind turbines produce noise that nearby residents complain about. Wind farms are not particularly attractive. Cape Cod residents recently denied permission for a wind farm to be installed in their area because of its visual impact. If wind farms and solar arrays are installed in remote areas, then a significant portion of the electricity they generate will be wasted due to line losses. The wasted electricity is lost as heat, which some consider to be another form of pollution.

Solar panels and wind turbines don't last forever. They too require maintenance. They require occasional change-out, and/or replacement of critical components. If the solar panels, wind turbines, and the supporting infrastructure are made in factories using conventional energy sources, then those devices are by default, installed with their own carbon footprint before they generate the first watt of electricity. The contractors who install and maintain these wind farms and solar arrays in remote areas must travel there, typically using conventional energy sources.

When all is said and done, renewable energy sources can never fully replace conventional energy sources. And there are significant costs associated with renewable energy sources that make them economically unattractive. The energy they produce is far from being "free". If such energy was competitive with conventional sources, it would have been installed by now in a big way. If investments in such energy sources can only be obtained using government funding, then what happens when the funding dries up?

Second, the vast majority of those who make Green™ claims about their company or product, are doing so in the context of public opinion, and not necessarily on the basis of sound scientific facts. While some companies are no doubt truly "green" on the basis of having eliminated "real" toxic chemicals from their products or processes, others are just jumping on the Green™ bandwagon. Many are claiming that they are Green™ because they have reduced their carbon footprint, or because they have installed some renewable energy sources like solar panels, etc.

But the fact of the matter is that carbon dioxide is NOT a pollutant, and reducing carbon dioxide emissions does NOT make the planet "greener". Rather, just the opposite. Carbon dioxide is plant food. It is a well-known fact that carbon dioxide is an essential nutrient in green plant growth, and it is a primary environmental factor in greenhouse operations. CO2 enrichment of 2, 3 or 4 times natural atmospheric concentration will cause plants to grow faster and improve plant quality.

Plants must absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) in combination with water, soil nutrients and sunlight to produce the sugars vital for growth. A shortage of any of these requirements will retard the growing process. Currently, there are approximately 387 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere. when this level is increased to over 1000 ppm, results are increased plant growth and better plant quality.

Horticulturalists use CO2 generators to achieve such increased carbon dioxide levels in their greenhouses. According to one manufacturer, use of carbon dioxide is one of the easiest ways to accelerate plant growth. Plants grown with supplemental CO2 can produce up to 40% more flowers or fruit. According to another manufacturer, a CO2 generator can safely provide up to 1500 ppm of CO2. Called "CO2 Enrichment" or "Air Fertilization", increasing the levels of CO2 is what produces real "greening" of the world.

Nighttime levels of CO2 in a typical greenhouse (without CO2 enrichment) can range from 400 to 500 ppm due to plant "respiration". Shortly after sunrise, this CO2 level will drop to normal atmospheric conditions (300-400 ppm) due to the plants using the early light to start photosynthesis. After 3 to 4 hours of early morning sunlight, the CO2 level can drop to around l00 to 150 ppm, at which point plant growth is practically stopped. In other words, if by some process or device AGW alarmists were able to cut CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere from 387 parts per million to the 100-150 ppm range, then life on this planet as we know it would cease to exist because all plant growth would essentially stop.

According to a 2001 article at the Cato Institute, Patrick J. Michaels said that global warming and higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have produced "a greener, more fruitful planet". He points to a famous 1992 video, "The Greening of Planet Earth," which was produced by the 'Greening Earth Society' in Washington, DC. In the video, several "big-name scientists" were willing to appear and argue that carbon dioxide will enhance global plant growth by directly stimulating plants and by warming the coldest air of winter, which was sure to lengthen the growing season for plants.

The video's creators and the scientists who thus theorized have been vindicated. In 2001, Liming Zhou and five co-authors published a paper demonstrating a profound greening of the planet poleward of latitude 40º, or north of a circle passing through New York City. Using a satellite designed to measure changes in vegetation, they found that since 1981, plant life has been growing "more vigorously", and that the growing season lengthened as much as 18 days per year in Eurasia, and 12 days per year in North America.

The net effect of this study then, is that it tells us just the opposite of what the AGW alarmists have been saying. Increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have made the planet more Green™, and not less so. Global-warming has resulted in longer growing seasons, which means that each year the planet is Green™-er longer. Longer growing seasons and increased levels of CO2 have made the planet more conducive to agricultural production. Michaels points out that in 1972, near the bottom of the mid-century cooling period, Russians were so short of food that they purchased just about every kernel of American grain. By the end of the crop year 1972, world grain reserves stood at a stunningly low 19 days. Since we warmed up, those fears have become a thing of the past.

Last year, or seven years after Liming Zhou's work, it was reported that the trend has continued, and the Earth's biosphere is booming. Steven Running of the University of Montana and Ramakrishna Nemani of NASA are scientists involved in analyzing the NASA satellite data. They found that over a period of almost two decades, the Earth as a whole became more bountiful by a whopping 6.2%. About 25% of the Earth’s vegetated landmass -- almost 110 million square kilometers -- enjoyed significant increases and only 7% showed significant declines.

So when you see those ads for Green™ this or Green™ that, don't believe them. As President Reagan would say, "Trust, but verify." If the ad touts its product or company as being Green™ by way of reduced energy consumption or use of alternative energy sources, then it's "false advertising". They are doing nothing to Green™ the planet at all.


At 6/07/2009 11:21 AM , Blogger Beerme said...

Yes, words matter!

At 6/07/2009 4:00 PM , Blogger Pat'sRick© said...

You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time. Some people will cling to their belief in AGW or Climate Change in spite of the evidence. Of course, you must admit, Climate Change is a lot esier to sell. The climate changes all the time.

At 6/07/2009 4:01 PM , Blogger Pat'sRick© said...

"easier" not "esier"
What is that blue button for again?

At 6/07/2009 4:12 PM , Blogger Hawkeye® said...

Yes, words matter... but apparently science doesn't matter. D'OH!

(:D) Best regards...

At 6/07/2009 4:14 PM , Blogger Hawkeye® said...

Hey! Good to hear from ya! Hope all is well. And that blue button? Don't trust it... I think it's really for the ejector seat.

(:D) Best regards...

At 6/08/2009 1:26 AM , Blogger camojack said...

Of course, I'm "on the same page" as you on this subject. However, I must take issue with the following statement: "there is no known method for storing energy from renewable sources, so if you don't need it while it is being generated, it just goes to waste."

I am planning (Lord willing, of course) to rely heavily on solar power when I retire to the Big Island. Anyway, the standard setup for those systems incorporates a bank o' batteries; this can be utilized on a large scale as well as a smaller one...

At 6/08/2009 7:33 AM , Blogger Hawkeye® said...

OK. You got me there. For small residential systems, I guess batteries could be used, but I'd hate to see the "bank o' batteries" you'd need for a large multi-megawatt system.

(:D) Best regards...

At 6/08/2009 7:40 PM , Anonymous Heirborn Ranger said...

I liked your blog today - thanks. I'm glad that I'm over 70. That means that when the tax is levied on individuals for all the Carbon Dioxide they exhale I won't have to pay it for as long as the younger folks. Of course I won't pay it anyway and neither will a few million others. I'm doing my part by buying Carbon Debits. Details.

Waxless Fred

At 6/09/2009 9:40 PM , Blogger Elroy said...

Oh Hawkeye®, you silly sausage! Don't you know who changed 'Global Warming' into 'Climate Change'? The Republican Party! That's right! That insidious little piece of spin was brought to them by FOX's good ol' Frank Luntz when he wrote to GWB in 2002 '“Climate chanpe’’ is less frightening than “global warming;

'As one focus group participant noted, climate change “sounds like you’re going fkom Pittsburgh to Fort Lauderdale.” While global warming has catastrophic connotations attached to it, climate change suggests a more controllable and less emotional challenge.'

There! You see? It wasn't those sneaky leftists trying to to dupe Joe Sixpack and get one past y'all, the stalwarts of decency and common sense – it was the stalwarts of common sense and decency trying to pull a fast one on Johnny Public, and would have if it wasn't for those meddling leftists! Deceptive? Yup! Thanks, Frank!

And Hawkeye®, for all his numberizing, has got the wrong end of the stick – the GW is not about people breathing too much, its about all sorts of stuff.

Go have a poke about here: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn11462-climate-change-a-guide-for-the-perplexed.html Hawkeye® – less Fred Singer and more peer reviewed science!

Hawkeye is still living in 1971 – solar, wing and thermal are now all quite capable of supplying base load power. Sorry to burst yer bubble bub, but there it is, and for all Hawkeye®'s squawking about the costs of solar and wind, he does so without ever mentioning the financial and environmental costs of conventional energy generation – coal is not free, power stations do not spontaneously erupt and the grid is does not mend itself, and let's not even go near the costs of nuclear.

Another colossal waste of money is the search for carbon sequestration technology – the smoke can't be buried for ever. Madness. But it keeps the mining lobby happy and makes it look like something is being done until it is too late to do anything.

The thing about the costs of wind and solar is that they will come down as they become more used and accessible – it happened to mobile phones and PCs, and will happen to alternative power generation. It's called 'Economy of scale' and happens all the time. Ask Wal*Mart.

And if Camojack is planning on self-sufficiency he might like to check this out: http://www.solardecathlon.org/

It's an international competition for solar houses held in the National Mall, Washington DC, every two years – houses are judged by ten criteria and must be completely self-sufficient, as well as being able to power up an electric car.

And can you guess where many of the previous winners come from? That's right – Northern Europe! Countries famous for being both dark and cold! Germany! Denmark! Norway!

At 6/09/2009 9:40 PM , Blogger Elroy said...

Maybe what really upsets Hawkeye® is the threat alternative energy poses to the entrenched power of the mining and power generation industries, because if the world went down the path that Camojack favors then power generation would be decentralized down to the local level.

Gone will be the mining companies profits and, if we all follow the path of Germany, gone will be the power companies profits as every house gets paid for feeding into the grid! Win win! And it gets rid of a lot that power loss that Hawkeye® bemoans!

And think of what mass-market solar generation could do for the world's poor! Right across the third world, people could have basic electricity services! No more burning dung! A few panels, and viola!

Of course, this would not please the corporate sector as it could mean less people leaving the countryside to find work in the slave-labour camps known as 'factories' as opposed to staying on the land with a modicum of 21st century convenience.

However, Hawkeye® is correct in one aspect of his rant – there are a lot of unscrupulous corporations attaching the word Green™ to their endeavors, so I'm glad to see him eventually realize that the rampaging corporate behemoth that runs the world is capable of duplicity – there's hope for him yet.

What is not correct is that that appropriation of Green™ by the rapacious capitalist class is the fault of leftie environmentalists – they have been exposing this, what they term 'Greenwash', for years, so its good to see the right pick up on it, albeit for the wrong reasons.

So, in the end, the debate over CO2 becomes superfluous because, whether or not AGW is real, the fewer mountain tops removed for coal, the less general pollution pumped into the atmosphere and the less people are chained to power generation monopolies the better. Bring it on!

In closing, it is interesting to see such a committed Christian rely so heavily on hard science. How come such rationality is sent to the wall when questions of the Earth's creation are raised?




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