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Global Warming: Alarmism Versus Denial

Sat ,19/02/2022

Fossil fuel companies knew in 1979 that carbon dioxide emissions would cause the Earth to warm, creating undesirable consequences for the Earth. By 1981, the Exxon scientist concluded that the burning of fossil fuels could be catastrophic for some of the world’s population by 2030. The choice between huge profits and the possibility of harming the Earth and its inhabitants was a tough ethical choice for Exxon’s scientists, but not so much for management. They launched a campaign to keep the truth hidden and to keep themselves from being regulated. Their main strategy was obfuscation and denial.

Evangelical Christians were some of the first to become concerned about how global warming would impact the Earth’s population, mainly the poor. Genesis 1:28 says, ” Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”  Generally, those who argue for Christian stewardship think that “dominion” means “benevolent rule”. The Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, in 2000, developed the Cornwall Doctrine. Its main goal was to address the challenges faced by indigenous communities and the poorer countries as they faced climate change.

In 2008, the Cornwall alliance was taken over by Dr. E. Calvin Beisner, a Dominionist, who interprets the scripture to mean “subdue and exploit”, an interpretation which is received quite favorable by oil companies. Beisner argues that we should take what we wish from the Earth, without regard to its effect upon the environment. As far as the catastrophic effect on some of the world’s population, Beisner assuages his conscience by claiming that efforts to limit carbon emissions are actually harming poor countries by denying them fossil fuels. Poor countries do not have the resources or the infrastructure to use fossil fuels and distributive energy sources, such as wind and solar, would be most useful to them. And, indigenous communities will be hurt the most. The way of life that has sustained them for centuries is now being disrupted by climate change.  They do not have the resources to withstand prolonged droughts or protect themselves from sea level rise or flooding.

Beisner uses religious arguments as the apparatus of justification to reach out to conservative Christians and solicit donations. There is little evidence that the money goes to the poor. Charity Navigator says, “This organization cannot be evaluated by our Encompass Rating methodology because it files Form 990-N, as allowed by the IRS for charities with less than $50,000 annual revenue.” The Cornwall Alliance is funded by dark money and there is no way to establish how much money it collects, who supports it, or how the money is used. Critics of the Cornwall Alliance have accused the organization of being a “front group for fossil fuel special interests,” citing its strong ties to the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, which in the past was funded by oil industry giants such as Exxon-Mobil and Chevron. 

Beisner uses “climate alarmist”, in a pejorative way, to describe the 99.5% of climate scientists who know that climate change is caused by man’s activity. Of course, scientists are alarmed as Beisner, and others like him, are part of a disinformation campaign to keep governments from taking action on climate change. E Calvin Beisner does not like being called a “denier”, but denying scientific evidence is his main way of dealing with those “science alarmists”. And, he uses religious arguments to bolster his position.

Beisner is quite concerned that Katharine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian, is infringing on his territory. Dr. Hayhoe is a Canadian-born climate scientist now living in Texas. She is excellent at communicating complex ideas, and her website and her recent book, Saving Us, are excellent primers on climate change, understandable to a non-specialist audience. Her explanations are not just limited to science but extend to religion, politics, and behavioral psychology. I sent a copy of her book to E. Calvin Beisner. He sent me a nice thank you for the book and said he hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet. Along with the letter were enclosed, not one, or two, or three…., but nine articles criticizing Katharine Hayhoe. The articles claim she is entangled in climate idolatry, has no business venturing into theology, is a climate alarmist, is wrong about global warming affecting the weather, and implies she could not believe in God and also man-made global warming. Beisner is sure these are true, even though he has not read her book.

Beisner likes to use religious arguments, but his views are at odds with both religion and science. Apparently, he has very little understanding of ecology. Pope Francis’s encyclical on ecology, Laudato Si, says that “climate change is real and mainly a result of human activity.” “The problem is urgent. Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years.” Beisner claims that Pope Francis was just wrong, probably news to most Catholics. Beisner’s position is even at odds with his own Presbyterian faith. The Presbyterian Church is now recommending divestment from fossil fuels and it was one of the first churches to address global warming. The Presbyterian Church first noted its “serious concern over global warming at the 1990 General Assembly, when it warned that the global atmospheric warming trend (the greenhouse effect) represents one of the most serious global environmental challenges to the health, security, and stability of human life and natural ecosystems’’.

E. Calvin Beisner is certainly right about one thing. Scientists are alarmed because they understand that we are beginning to reach a tipping point from which we will never recover. Scientific models claim we have till about 2030 to reduce our carbon emissions – or the oil companies’ early predictions of catastrophes will come true. Beisner often dismisses any predictions about the future made by scientists by claiming they are based on computer models. However, computers are the way we now store and process information and models are the way that scientists understand complex systems. And, the Cornwall Alliance serves as a good model for understanding global warming denial. 

(c) 2022 JC Moore – all rights reserved.

Is Carbon Capture and Storage a Viable Option?

Sun ,17/10/2021

The countries of the world have reached a consensus that we need to reduce our carbon emissions. One proposal to do that is to switch to a hydrogen economy. The problem is that currently about 95% of the hydrogen we use is made using fossil fuels, which is an energy-intensive process that produces more CO2. The fossil fuel companies plan to get around that is to capture the carbon produced and store it (CCS). The questions that must be answered are how to capture the carbon, where to store it, and how much it will cost.

It is possible to capture the CO2 and there are now several plants currently doing it. Much of the captured carbon is currently used to produce more fossil fuels, so there is little gain in doing it. The chart below will give you an idea of the magnitude of the problem. Currently, we are adding 35 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year. The amount of carbon currently captured is 0.006% of that, an amount so small that it could not even be seen on the chart.


If carbon capture could be scaled up to capture most of the CO2 we are emitting, then where would we store it? The most obvious solution is to store it where it came from. The carbon from coal is mostly from strip mines and open mines, and it cannot be stored there. For petroleum and methane, storing it back underground is a possibility. However, burning them combines them with oxygen – and increases the mass and volume by a factor of two or three. It would be impossible to store more than a fraction of the CO2 back underground.


Assuming we could capture the carbon and find a place to store it, what would be the cost? This would involve acquiring the land, building the thousands of CCS plants required, and providing the energy necessary for the process. That cost has been estimated to be about $5 trillion a year, at current prices, for the rest of this century. There are certainly much less expensive options available.


So there you have it, the amount of CO2 we are putting into the atmosphere is far too great to capture, there is no adequate place to store captured CO2, and the cost would be astronomical. However, the fossil fuel companies are willing to try if we subsidize their costs, fund their research, and wait 80 years. It will be painfully obvious, long before then, that CCS is unworkable. The best plan is obviously to stop putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a solution the fossil fuel companies are unwilling to accept.


The Effect of the Increasing CO2 on the Earth

Fri ,27/08/2021

Science is about using observation and reason to understand the physical world. Here are some of the latest observations showing how increasing greenhouse gases are changing the Earth.

CO2: Man is now putting about 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year. About half of it dissolves in the ocean, making them 20% more acidic, and the rest increases the concentration in the air.

 

Temperature: CO2 is one of the greenhouse gases that warm the Earth, and NASA’s graph shows how its increase is changing the Earth’s temperature:

NASA GISS Data

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The Sun: The current global warming is often wrongly attributed to an increase in intensity of the sun. The sunspot activity does not show up above the noise in the temperature record above – and the solar irradiance increased slightly until 1960 and has declined slightly since then.

Arctic Ice: Many of the changes in the Earth are subtle but this NASA picture clearly shows  how the Earth is changing:

The Arctic is Warming: This is affecting the ocean currents and the jet stream – and causing extreme weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere.

Arctic ice:  The next two graphs show quantitatively how both the extent and the volume of the Arctic ice are changing.

Antarctica: Research by Steig and by O’Donnell  show that Antarctica is warming. The warmer oceans result in more snowfall which increases the inland glacier mass, but the erosion of ice by the warmer oceans is causing an overall loss of ice mass.

Antarctic ice mass from GRACE satellite data.
Antarctic ice mass from GRACE satellite data.

Greenland: The Greenland ice sheets are also beginning to decline. Melting Greenland’s ice would cause sea levels to rise 10 feet,

Ocean Level Rise: The melting ice sheets, melting glaciers, and thermal expansion are causing the oceans to rise by about 3 mm per year which, though it seems small, amounts to an increase in ocean volume of 1190 cubic kilometers/yr.

Severe Weather: Warmer temperatures increase both the rate of evaporation and the energy and moisture in the air. This has doubled the incidence of severe weather, floods, droughts, and wildfires.

Permission Courtesy of Munich Re.
Permission Courtesy of Munich Re.

Economic Costs: Large secondary insurance companies such as Suisse Re now consider global warming a risk factor as there has been a fivefold increase in billion-dollar weather events in the last 30 years.

Droughts:  Since 1980, drought conditions have grown worse worldwide, and no one disputes the effect of droughts on food production. Here is how droughts have become worse in the Southwest United States.

Food Production: The increasing CO2, temperatures, and droughts are expected to decrease food production worldwide.

Figure-28

Extreme Temperatures: Climate scientists now have enough data and computing power to estimate the probability of extreme weather events. The figure below, from a paper by Hansen et. al., shows how the distribution of temperature has varied over the past 60 years. Extremely hot temperatures, those over 3 standard deviations from the mean,  are now over 20 times as probable as for the 1950 – 1980 period and 10 times as probable as for the 1980 – 2010 average.  That means that extreme temperatures that affected 1% of the landmass in 1980, now affect almost 10% of the landmass annually.

Note: This was posted on 08/31/2011 and updated on 04/03/2012,08/11/2012, and 02/12/2013. It was reposted on 08/27/2021.

(c) 2011  J.C. Moore

Related

Science, Global Warming, and the Ice Age MysteryDecember 31, 2010 In “Climate Change”

Is Global Warming Naturally Occurring? November 12, 2010, In “Climate Change”

Science, Climate Change, and the Greenhouse effect December 13, 2010, In “Climate Change”

Tags: Acidic OceansAntarctica iceBillion-dollar weather eventsClimate ChangeCO2droughtsextreme temperature probabilities.global WarmingGreenhouse Effectice-agesJames-HansenKeeling CurveMunich ReNASA’s temperature graphOcean level risePalmer Drought Indexpolar ice meltingSolar irradianceSunsunspot activity

The Mythical Magic Hydrogen Economy

Tue ,02/03/2021

There’s a little bit of truth to every myth, and the hydrogen economy is no different. Hydrogen fuel cells would be wonderful for the environment. They combine hydrogen with oxygen from the atmosphere to produce electricity, and they emit pure water. The hydrogen can be made by electrolysis of water, and the energy for the electrolysis can be provided by renewable energy such as solar and wind. Though hydrogen must be stored at high pressures or low temperatures, it can be transported and used to replace fossil fuels in most of their applications. Then why are the fossil fuel companies so eager to transition to a hydrogen economy? They now are applying for grants from stimulus money for research on hydrogen power. There must be more to the story and that is where magic comes in.

It would take a tremendous amount of magic to make hydrogen a viable source of energy within 30 years. Currently, 95% of commercial hydrogen is made from fossil fuels, primarily methane. Producing hydrogen from methane is energy intensive. It requires that methane be reacted with steam-heated to about 1100°C. That reaction produces hydrogen and carbon monoxide – which is then treated with additional steam at 380°C to convert the carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide. Not only is carbon dioxide produced as a byproduct, but it takes a tremendous amount of fossil fuel to heat the steam hot enough to carry out the reaction. Hydrogen produced in this way is called Brown hydrogen, because of all the fossil fuels used. You’re probably beginning to see why fossil fuel companies are so eager to transition to a hydrogen economy.

But wait. All we would need to do is capture the carbon dioxide produced in making Brown hydrogen and store it underground. Hydrogen could then be produced without adding more CO2 to the atmosphere, so it is called Blue hydrogen. Fossil fuel companies are now pursuing grants and subsidies to develop Carbon Capture and Storage Systems (CSS) to do just that. But there are a few problems. Fossil fuel companies knew as far back as 1979 (see memo below) that adding more CO2 to the atmosphere would cause global warming and damage the environment. A CSS system requires little new technology, so why did they not develop CSS then – and global warming would never have become a problem. Fossil fuel companies did not do it because it would have made their products more expensive, and demand would have gone down. And they are even less serious about developing CSS systems now. With prices dropping on renewable technologies and energy storage systems, CSS would make carbon or hydrogen fuels so expensive that it would accelerate the transmission to renewable energy and battery storage.

Though there are currently large supplies of methane available from fracking operations, using fracked methane to produce hydrogen just isn’t a good idea. The main problems associated with fracking are methane leaks and earthquakes (caused by the disposal of fracking fluids). It has been estimated that about 20% of the methane produced at the wellhead is lost through transmission losses and leaks. Because so much methane is lost during production, France has recently prohibited American fracked methane from being sold there. Though the amount of methane in the atmosphere is small, methane is 72 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. As the graph below shows, the methane concentration in the atmosphere has grown exponentially – and it now accounts for about 1/4 as much global warming as carbon dioxide.

That brings us to hydrogen produced by electrolysis, called Green hydrogen. To create the infrastructure to produce enough Green hydrogen to transition to a hydrogen economy would take more than 30 years. To get there, we would have to start now. That would require Black and Brown hydrogen to be used while we develop a CSS system, and then Blue hydrogen could be used until we have a fully operational Green hydrogen infrastructure. We would be dependent on fossil fuels for at least 30 more years, and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would certainly go up. The best carbon capture systems are trees, oceans, and soils (through regenerative agriculture). Currently, those systems have not been able to keep up. Deforestation, commercial farming, and the acidification of the oceans are exhausting those systems’ abilities to capture CO2. The environment of the Earth cannot absorb much more carbon dioxide, and we certainly can’t wait 30 years on the chance that a commercial scale CSS system will be developed.

Hydrogen is very useful for things such as welding, food processing, ammonia production, and rocket fuel – but it will never be useful to power our economy. That is because a hydrogen economy would be terribly energy inefficient. If you were to use electricity from wind to produce hydrogen, transport the hydrogen to where it is needed, and use hydrogen fuel cells to power your car, about two-thirds of the energy would be lost in the process. The electrical energy that would take you 300 miles in a battery-powered car, would only take you 100 miles in a hydrogen-powered car. There is also no infrastructure in place to conveniently transport large volumes of hydrogen. Natural gas pipelines could not be used, as hydrogen reacts with metals and makes them brittle. I contrast, transmission lines for electricity are already in place and, if upgraded to handle the larger load, they could deliver power directly to your home and your car – and do it three times more efficiently.

Finally, hydrogen is explosive. If you have ever seen a hydrogen filled balloon exploded, you are probably aware of the tremendous power of a hydrogen explosion. Hydrogen explosions are rare, but are bound to happen if hydrogen were in wide use. A hydrogen explosion occurred in an AT&T Uninterruptible Power Source battery room in 2020. The explosion blew a 400 square foot hole in the roof and collapsed walls and ceilings throughout a large portion of the 50,000 square foot building. Fortunately, the computer/data center was vacant at the time and there were no injuries.

All things considered, unless you own a fossil fuel company or believe in magic, trying to convert to a hydrogen economy is a really bad idea. 

© 2021 – J. C. Moore. All rights reserved.

Global Warming: The Rise of Methane

Mon ,15/02/2021

New

Greenhouse gases play a huge role in keeping the surface of the Earth warm. Without the greenhouse effect, the temperature of the Earth would average about -18°C, and all the water on the Earth’s surface would be ice. The average temperature of the Earth’s surface is now about 15°C and rising. The graph below shows the concentration of the main greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, and how they have changed in the last two millennia. 

Inarguably, an increase in the greenhouse gas concentrations will warm the Earth – and we are seeing that happen. The average temperature of the Earth is now 1.2°F warmer than it was in 1850. The temperature of the Earth was fairly constant over the thousand years before the industrial age, and people, plants, animals, and our agricultural practices have adapted to that temperature. What will happen as the Earth’s temperature rises? We are finding out, and the effects are alarming.

Of the greenhouse gases, water accounts for about 70% of the greenhouse effect, carbon dioxide about 20%, methane 4%, nitrous oxide 1%, and the other greenhouse gases together about 5%. Our efforts to reduce global warming have focused mostly on carbon dioxide, as its concentration has increased over 40% from our use of fossil fuels. It will take time to phase out fossil fuels and transition to the use of renewable energy. The concentration of methane has grown appreciably in the last century, from about 800 parts per billion (ppb) to over 1900 ppb and it is rising rapidly. Methane has about an eight year half-life in the atmosphere before it is converted to carbon dioxide by natural process. The methane in the atmosphere would decrease quickly if we stopped putting it there. That is important, as methane has about 72 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

The main cause of the rise in methane is commercial leaks, oil production, and fracking operations. In commercial sales, it is sometimes less expensive to ignore small leaks than to fix them. But many small leaks add up and it has been estimated that about 10% of natural gas put into pipelines is lost before it reaches the end user. Some of those problems could be fixed. Methane is also produced as a byproduct of oil production. If the amount of gas is too small to be sold commercially, it is often flared, i.e., lit like a torch. That converts it into carbon dioxide, which is less damaging to the environment. 

Fracking operations now produce a tremendous amount of natural gas for commercial use, and considerable amounts of methane escape into the atmosphere from the drilling operations and pipeline leaks. It requires effort and resources to contain the methane at the wellhead and to fix storage and transmission leaks. The EPA requires that leaks be self-reported, but often they were just ignored. Just recently, it has become possible to detect methane from GHGSat satellites. Below is a map that shows eight leaks in a 25 mi.² area in Turkmenistan, as they were seen by satellite. Estimates were that those leaks accounted for about 10,000 kg of methane a day. The methane was from fracking operations, pipeline leaks, and unlit flares.

Before satellites, most methane emissions were discovered by infrared cameras. Using them, it was found that the methane emissions from the Permian basin in Texas and New Mexico were much greater than those reported. Much of that came from unlit flares, which could easily be corrected. One accident at a gas well in Ohio is now thought to be the largest methane leak ever in the United States. Three different oil and gas facilities in Algeria were found to be leaking methane amounts equivalent to the carbon dioxide produced by a medium-size coal-fired power plant. The detection of leaks has been spotty and regulation of leaks has been difficult in the past. There is considerable economic incentive for gas companies to reduce methane emissions from leaks. However, it is expensive to send out crews to detect and repair smaller leaks, and many companies have just let them go.

The EPA expects the oil and gas industry to self-report and to repair leaks, but many companies just don’t. There are plans to deploy seven more GHGSat satellites to monitor greenhouse gas emissions. With them, it will be possible to detect and enforce the regulation of many methane leaks. It has been estimated that cutting methane emissions by 40% would have the same effect as taking 60% of the world’s coal-fired power plants off-line. And, we could easily cut methane emissions by 40% within the next decade.

(C) 2021 J.C. Moore All rights reserved.

Global Warming and the Jet Stream

Sun ,14/02/2021

The Arctic is much warmer now than it was 30 years ago. They even had 100° days in Siberia last summer. The warming Arctic has caused changes in the jet stream, which controls the Northern Hemispheres’ weather. The Rossby waves in the jet stream,  that move from west to east across the United States, (see picture), now come down further and move slower from west to east.

This means that the jet stream can sometimes pull Arctic air down from the Arctic region, called a Polar Vortex. The slower movement of the Rossby Waves causes the extreme cold to persist for longer. It is 3° today in Kansas, the windchill is -15°, and this cold spell will persist for about a week. If it is extremely cold and snowy where you live, you can thank global warming for that.

Rossby Waves of the Jet Stream

Apparatuses of Justification

Fri ,05/02/2021

In his internationally renowned work, Capital in the Twenty-First Century,  Thomas Piketty says that extreme economic inequality can only be sustained by “apparatuses of justification.”  He states, “ The existence of such “apparatuses” can hardly be disputed; the notion that wealth rightly belongs to those who possess it, no matter the means by which they acquired it or the needs of others around the world, is certainly well within the mainstream of contemporary thought, especially in North America and Europe. Ideas such as this did not, however, permeate contemporary culture on their own. They are derived, developed, and distributed by corporations, government offices, “independent” think-tanks, etc.” Two apparatuses of justification that immediately came to mind are trickle-down theory and the lies created by the Cornwall Alliance.

The trickle-down theory claims that the best way to promote economic prosperity for everyone is to give tax breaks to large corporations and those already wealthy. The idea this promotes is that they will create jobs and provide opportunities for those less well off. It was tried on a large scale in the United States under Reagan, Bush ll, and Trump. Over the years, many poor and middle class citizens have voted for politicians advocating trickle down theory. It is a flawed theory, wealth actually flows upward and pools at the top.  Meanwhile, after 40 years, they are still waiting for their share of the wealth trickle-down. The wealthy have become wealthier, the poor poorer, and the economic inequality in the United States has grown to unacceptable levels, as shown in the graph below.

After all that time, many Americans still do not realize how they have been fooled, as the chart below shows.

The Cornwall Alliance was originally started to help the poorer countries adapt to climate change. When E. Calvin Beisner took over as its spokesman, he interpreted that to mean that the Third World countries needed to use more fossil fuels. Never mind that they do not have the infrastructure or wealth to acquire and use them. Under his leadership, the Cornwall Alliance has become funded by dark money, most of which can be traced to fossil fuel companies. Who else? Beisner created the Green Dragon Monster, which he uses to represents environmentalists who want to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. He uses “climate alarmist” to represent the 99.5% of climate scientists who have shown that climate change is caused by man’s activity, and “climate doomsayer’ for those who agree with scientists that global warming is harming the Earth.

Beisner uses religious arguments to reach out to conservative Christians and solicit donations. There is little evidence that the money goes to the poor, being used mostly to pay himself to distribute his message. He interprets, “God giving man dominion over the earth ”, Genesis 1:26-28, to mean that God has given man the right to exploit nature as he pleases. Apparently, he has very little understanding of ecology. Pope Francis’s encyclical on ecology, Laudato Si, says that “climate change is real and mainly a result of human activity.” “The problem is urgent. Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years.” Beisner claims that Pope Francis was just wrong, probably news to most Catholics.

Beisner’s position is even at odds with his own Presbyterian faith. The Presbyterian Church is now recommending divestment from fossil fuels and it was one of the first churches to address global warming. The Presbyterian Church first noted its “serious concern over global warming at the 1990 General Assembly, when it warned that the global atmospheric warming trend (the greenhouse effect) represents one of the most serious global environmental challenges to the health, security, and stability of human life and natural ecosystems’’.

There are many other examples of apparatuses of justification. You may recognize them by their tendency to label their opponents with unflattering terms; by their opposition to scientific research; by their derision of mainstream religious leaders; and, by their distortion of the truth. Ask yourself, “Who profits from their message?”, and if it is a special interest group, recognize it for what it is. And above all else, vote for the political candidates opposed to those special interest groups.

© 2021 – J.C. Moore, All rights reserved.

Has Global Warming Made Hurricane Damage Worse?

Sun ,31/12/2017

Hurricanes are the most violent and destructive storms in nature. There’s a smaller, yet potentially destructive, storm raging between climate scientists and climate skeptics about the nature of hurricanes. The scientific evidence points to the fact that global warming  causes hurricanes to be more intense. Skeptics would like to convince everyone that global warming has not made any change in hurricanes, so there is no need to address global warming. Skeptics do have a point or two, but not many. Skeptics want absolute proof from the scientists, but science doesn’t work that way. The changes caused by a warming world have changed the probability of the occurrence of extreme weather events, and skeptics apparently don’t want to consider probabilities.

Skeptics say that the number of hurricanes in the Southern Atlantic is not increasing, and they’re probably right on that. Hurricanes begin as tropical storms, which occur at random depending on the weather conditions. Skeptics also say that the increasing economic damages done by hurricane is because of the increased construction along the coasts. That is partly right, but it is also right that the damage done by storm surges has increased because of increased sea level rise, which is a measurable consequence of global warming. Those who listen to the skeptics, and unwisely build in floodplains, are sure to experience more damage from storm surges.

Global warming has made the oceans much warmer, even later into the year. The water temperature must be above 82°F for a tropical storm to grow into a hurricane, and the warmer the ocean the more likely it is that the a hurricane, once formed,  will intensify. Hurricanes are much like a heat engine, they are driven by the warm air rising from the oceans much like a chimney effect. The greater the temperature difference between the ocean and the upper atmosphere, the faster the flow upward and the greater the wind speeds.

If you could slice into a hurricane, it would look something like the diagram below. It has a low pressure eye at the center, and the air drawn into it rises and circulates counterclockwise around the low pressure area, faster and faster as it nears the eye. The small red arrows show warm, moist air rising from the ocean, and forming bands of clouds around the eye. As the warm moist air produces rain, more heat is released, warming the air further and causing it to rise faster until it reaches the top of the storm. Reaching there, it has become cooler and dryer. The blue arrows show how the cool, dry air then sinks in the eye and between the bands of clouds. Remember that the bands of clouds are rotating very quickly, and the large red arrow show the rotation of the rising bands of clouds.

.                                                                                                                                                      Credit: Kelvinsong

A hurricane is much like a heat engine. It is driven by the energy from the warm oceans and the cold temperature of the atmosphere above the storm. Because of global warming, that temperature difference is greater. The upper atmosphere receives its energy from the earth below. The increasing carbon dioxide between acts as a blanket, which causes the oceans to be warmer and the upper atmosphere to be colder. As in all heat engines, the greater the temperature difference, the more power the engine has. As a hurricane passes, it leaves the oceans cooler behind it as it sucks energy from the ocean. Because of global warming, the warmth goes deeper there is a greater area of warm water,  both factors which provide more heat to the hurricane and cause it to increase in size and intensify.

The vapor pressure of water increases exponentially with temperature. In our warmer world, there is now 10 to 15% more water vapor in the rain bands moving around the hurricane. When hurricane Harvey made landfall over Houston, it could be expected that Houston would receive increased rainfall. But by chance, Harvey stalled  over Houston and continued to pull warm moist air in from the Gulf, dumping over 50 inches of rain. Sea level rise has been measured to be about 30 inches along the Gulf Coast. The extreme rainfall coupled with the sea level rise  increased the storm surge and flooded much of the lower areas of Houston. The storm’s stalling was a chance event, and the skeptics are right when they say it should not have happened, but it did. Considering the storm’s intensity, the wind damage, the sea level rise, and the extreme rainfall, climate scientists attribute about 30% of the damage in Houston to global warming.

Below is a satellite image of hurricane Irma on the right, compared in size to the smaller hurricane Andrew which struck Florida in 1992, killing 65 people, destroying 65,000 home, and doing $26 billion in damages. Andrew was the  the most destructive hurricane to hit Florida ever before, and Irma could have been much worse.  

Florida was extremely lucky that hurricane Irma, wider than the whole Peninsula, went up the western side of the Peninsula. The western side of the  Peninsula experienced very little storm surge. The winds on the leading edge of the Irma, circulating counterclockwise, blew the ocean water away from shore, leaving the ocean dry for several hundred yards out as it passed. The storm was so weakened that by the time the back of the storm made landfall, directing the water toward shore, that the storm surge was only a few feet. Had Irma gone up the east side of Florida, the storm surge at the leading edge of the hurricane could have been as much as 15 feet, completely inundating much of Miami.

There you have it. Global warming has increased the temperatures of the oceans and has increased the temperature difference between the oceans and the upper atmosphere, both factors which tend to make the hurricanes more intense. The warmer oceans put more moisture into the air, making the rainfall from the hurricanes greater, and sea level rise has increased the height of the destructive storm surges. This fall, there were five intense hurricanes which formed in the Southern Atlantic, all of them making landfall and doing extensive damage. That could just be a chance occurrence, as the skeptics claim, but it has never happened before.

(c) 2017 –  J.C. Moore

Note added on 09/01/2021. Here is a great slde show analyzing hurricanes as heat engines: https://www3.nd.edu/~its/Emanuel.pdf

Who’s Afraid of Climate Change?

Mon ,06/11/2017

What do you fear? People are moved to action by their fears. Sometimes our fears lurk at the edge of our consciousness, and then are brought into sharp focus by events. Dying oceans, polluted lakes and streams, unsafe drinking water in major cities, catastrophic hurricanes, severe drought and wildfires, and an increase in the severity of weather events, have brought environmental problems into the things Americans fear.

The annual Chapman University Survey of American Fears in 2017 provides an in-depth examination into the fears of average Americans. The survey looked at 80 fears and ranked them according to the survey responses The chart below lists America’s top 10 fears for 2017. For the first time ever, not one, but four of the top 10 fears are related to the deterioration of the environment. Pollution of natural waters, unsafe drinking water, global warming, and air pollution are now among Americans worst 10 fears.

It is not only natural disasters that occurred in 2017, but also political events . Americans had considered that the Environmental Protection Agency would protect our natural waters from pollution. However, Scott Pruitt, the current Environmental Protection Agency director, decided not to enforce major pollution laws, and fired the EPA’s entire Science Advisory Board. No advice, no research, no problem. People are beginning to realize that what you don’t know can hurt you.

The publicity surrounding the failure of the state and local government of Flint Michigan to protect the city’s residents from lead poisoning, and the subsequent discovery of lead and other toxins in our city water supplies, have made people fear that their water is not safe to drink. Almost everyone lives downstream from someone, and pollutants that find their way into our water supplies are bound to find their way into us.

Many Americans perceived the results of climate change remote and far into the future. The attribution of worsening disasters to climate change, and the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord have brought carbon emissions and air pollution into sharper focus. Pictures of severe smog in China and the data from the American Heart and the American Lung Associations about the number of deaths caused by air pollution and particulates are making people increasingly fear for their health.

Action and participation is the antidote for what fear can create, a  feeling of helplessness. Our fears should create the will for political action on climate change and pollution. Even with the failure of our government and the EPA to protect the environment, we can still do it using market forces. The best plan is the carbon fee and dividend system as proposed by the Citizens Climate Lobby. The CCL legislative proposal would set an initial fee on carbon at $15 per ton of CO2 at the source and would increase it by $10 each year until the CO2 emissions were reduced to 10% of the 1990 US levels. The carbon fees are not a tax, as they would be rebated 100% to American households. It would give every American citizen a stake in conserving energy and reducing their use of carbon fuels,  which would both cut pollution and improve the economy. Exercise the power in your citizenship, and insist your Representative support action on climate change.

Credit: Thanks to Darrel Hart, President of the Wichita CCL Chapter, for suggesting the idea and supplying some of the wording in the article.

(C) 2017 J.C. Moore

 

 

Climate Change: The Oceans Response

Mon ,22/05/2017

This guest article is a PowerPoint presentation given by Dr. Rick Cowlishaw in April at the Citizens’ Climate Education meeting in Wichita. Dr. Cowlishaw is Professor of Biology at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas. He describes how the warming oceans, altered ocean currents, sea level rise, and ocean acidification are affecting the oceans, marine life, and eventually us.

Though you may miss some things without Dr. Cowlishaw’s guidance, the slides are mostly self-explanatory. You will need a PowerPoint program to view the slides –  you may  download a free viewer here. The slides will display as set in your viewer. Please click on the link below to start the program.

Climate Change_The Oceans Response 

We greatly appreciate the work that Dr. Cowlishaw put into the presentation, and for his permission to post it here.

J.C. Moore