Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Big Heat

the planet earth with a temperatureThere has been a lot of debate about “Climate Change” and “Global Warming”. There is no dispute that CO2 levels in the Earth’s atmosphere are currently at a high. There is no dispute that high CO2 correlates to higher global temperatures. What is in dispute is whether there is a causal relationship and if so, which way round it is and whether it is anthropogenic [man-made].

Most of us are not climate scientists, so what do we make of it all? Do we meekly accept the word of the establishment or object that the case is not proven? Or do we apply some reason, a bit of thought, to test for ourselves whether there is any credibility in the notion. A thought experiment, if you like.

Let’s start with O level Physics. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can be converted from one form to another. Energy is all around us, everywhere. The trouble is that it is so dispersed that the effort required to gather it all up into an exploitable form would require more energy input than we would get as an output. Fortunately, nature comes to our rescue.

Natural processes harness the Sun’s energy through photosynthesis and the nutrients in the soil and produce plants. Plants are stores of energy. Insects and animals [including humans] feed off those stores by eating them. Animals eat other animals and the energy is transferred from one to another. That’s how we survive. No food chain, no humans, period. Plants are also fuel. Wood can be burnt to produce heat to keep us warm.

But not all animals and plants get eaten. Sometimes the energy they contain is trapped and over millions of years is turned into what we call fossil fuels - coal, oil, or natural gas. These fuels are what we have been merrily burning now for around 200 years as if there is no tomorrow. The burning of these fuels produces heat energy. Lots of heat. A car engine gets hot and is cooled by the movement of air through it – the heat is transferred to the air. Nuclear power stations get incredibly hot and need vast amounts of cool water – that heat is transferred to the water and pumped into rivers. We are releasing vast stores of potential energy, built up over millions of years, and turning it into heat energy.

Now, back to O level Physics. Energy cannot be created or destroyed. That heat does not go away. It gets dissipated into our atmosphere. It gets spread out over a wide area and becomes so thin that we don’t notice it’s there. Until that is, it starts to build up, slowly but surely. Why else do you suppose that the temperature in cities is always higher than the surrounding rural areas?

If you put a group of humans into a closed system and ask them to exercise they will give off heat and the temperature inside that closed system will rise. The planet Earth is not a closed system, it does radiate heat back out into space, so the question then arises; can the mechanism by which it does so handle the extra heat we are producing? There are a lot more of us now and per head we are producing a lot more heat than did our ancestors.

This is a serious question. Because even if we stop using fossil fuels [which we will, when they become uneconomic to extract] and convert to renewables like wind, wave and solar, we will still be converting other forms of energy into heat energy.

Discuss.

13 comments:

  1. In 2006, Professor J Lovelock (one of the instigators of warmist alarmism) predicted that by the end of the 21st century, climate change would have been responsible for billions of deaths, and that the only habitable places left on Earth would be the Polar regions.

    In Sept 07, he told the World Nuclear Association that even though temperatures might rise by a further 5 degrees, nature and humanity would learn to adjust, and the Earth was in NO danger.

    In 2007, US researchers have no shown that serious droughts have become rarer than they were a century ago (see website CO2Science.org).

    In 2007, a fundamental flaw was discovered in the way James Hansen of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies had calculated surface temperatures - Hansen is a principal ally of Al Gore. The GISS had to publish a new graph showing that the hottest year of the 20th century was not 1998 but 1934.

    The latest satellite figures from the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration show that global temperatures have flattened out below 1998 levels, and last summer's figures have been lower than in 1983, despite a continuing rise in CO2.

    Whilst a very tiny percentage of Polar ice has melted, a vast percentage is thicker than ever.

    One of the reasons for increased bread prices is that agricultural land is being given over to biofuel production.

    When oil reaches a tipping point of scarcity+cost, it will become economic to develop other means of engine power for transport.

    AND FINALLY - I refer you to the paper from the Institute for Mathematical Physics, Braunschweig, Germany (July 07), who state 'the atmospheric greenhouse effect essentially describes a fictitious mechanism ... according to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics such a planetary machine can never exist'
    (http://icecap.us/images/uploads/falsification_of_CO2.pdf)

    Will that do for starters?

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  2. I never did that type of physics, (I only did optics at university) but I did study pure maths for quite a few years.
    Now, has this study thought of the energy emitted by the sun? This energy does find its way to us, it is part of the equation. So, the problem is not restricted to the earth, it also involves the sun and perhaps more.
    The problem of global warming is complex and us, human beings, are most probably part of it. Can our behaviour be altered to change the fate of the planet? I don't know. Would the planet be better of without mankind? Most probably! I would say that doing one's best and keeping one's conscience as clear as possible is the only option. Controlling forcibly billions of people might be possible but, what a challenge!
    annesevant

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  3. Judith
    I know all that. Scientists disagree with each other. Nothing new there, they take great delight in pointing out each other’s mistakes. And I have read the report you refer to and passed it on to some “Type As” for comment – no conclusive reply. Here’s another one:
    http://www.iea.org.uk/files/upld-book403pdf?.pdf

    The problem is that I, like most people, do not have the knowledge to make a judgement as to who is right, if any of them. What worries me is that these intelligent people have a knack of overlooking the bleedin obvious, or the simple clue, until a 5 year old walks in and points it out.

    What I am questioning here is whether the debate is centred on the symptoms rather than the cause and that the underlying problem has either not been recognised or perhaps not stated because it is politically unacceptable.

    For simple me, it is the weather maps after the news every night. Whatever the season, whatever the weather the temperature for Central London is ALWAYS higher than the surrounding areas. It’s because there are lots of people with lots of heating, lights, computers, TVs, cookers, dishwashers, kettles, cars, buses, trains, etc etc etc. If we are affecting local temperature, then we are affecting global temperature. That is the only logical and rational conclusion I can come to. And here’s the rub. It doesn’t matter where the fuel comes from.

    I think that most, if not all, Type As would agree with you that biofuels are a fools paradise and that there are already emerging technologies for alternative energy sources. One other consideration to factor in is that scarcity encourages efficiency and reduces waste.

    I also think that most, but not all, Type As would agree that the planet is NOT in danger. It will survive and so will “life” whoever is right or wrong. Nature will adapt. The question is can we?

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  4. Yes Anne, the Sun is the key point. The energy it transfers to this planet is relatively constant over time. Much of it has been locked up in fossil fuels for millions of years. We have released a large chunk of it in the blink of an eye in planetary terms.
    All actions have consequences, but mostly they are unforeseen.
    Pint of Guinness?

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  5. A nice comment, Barkingside 21!
    Since you broke a thread yourself, referring to my drinking habits!, have you more information relating to a new development of the allotment sale strategy? There is a posting by Cllr Bond(on the redi) which might mean a new approach to the strategy. Do you know anything?
    annesevant

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  6. Nope. We need to know who will be sitting on this working party and what the process is, ie who will they be consulting with?
    I'm sure Cllr Bond will let us know in due course.

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  7. Your point about London always being warmer could also be down to the fact that the SE of England is usually warmer and sits in a relatively benign basin - it would be interesting to know the relative figures for the Liverpool and Manchester micro-climate areas for instance.

    What happens to the heat generated by volcanoes (not just at times of final eruption) or the ancient hot geysers in Iceland (or indeed the ancient hot geysers in Barkingside!).

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  8. Yes Judith, but that doesn't explain why the surrounding countryside of the SE is cooler. My understanding is that all major cities are a couple of degrees warmer than the surrounding area.

    There are lots of natural processes that produce heat energy. But mostly they are long term geological processes, and from our time perspective are relatively constant. When a volcano erupts it emits large amounts of heat, but it also emits ash and soot into the atmosphere which blocks out the sun, so there is some compensatory effect.

    When I put fresh shreddings and grass cuttings onto my compost and cover it up, it gets really hot. This heat, so i am told, is the combined body heat of the millions of microbes doing their stuff. Presumably they get their energy from that stored in the plant material. I like to think of a compost heap as a mini City.

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  9. As there are millions of microbes in your compost heap/mini city, have you imposed a Congestion Zone?

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  10. Yes. I was making far too much of the stuff and storage became a problem. What with cousin George and my son bringing over their garden waste and an occasional bag from Tajinder’s bunnies. Plus mixing it with horse manure from Aldborough Farm. My son’s 2006 Christmas present was a home made compost bin and I am now organised at a sustainable level.

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  11. B21 says: "I was making far too much of the stuff"

    You can never have too much compost, surely?

    The sustainable Council Parks Dept would barter it (in exchange for money off Council Tax, ho ho).

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  12. Dear Barkingside 21. Are you sure you are still within the guidelines distinguishing between a composting hobby and industrial recycling?
    annesevant

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  13. Forgive me if I'm telling you what is already widely known, but horse manure used to be available on a dig it out yourself basis from the PDSA at Woodford Bridge, don't know if it still is.

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