Climate Change, Life, Green Energy

(You can download the above JPEG image, for easy reference.)

>>> Earth will survive Climate Change, humanity may not. <<<

<> MG,Jr. on Climate Change  <>

In response to questions like: How do we know? See:
Climate and Carbon, Consensus and Contention
4 June 2007

In response to questions like: How do we know? See “Addendum” (at bottom of):
How Dangerous is Climate Change?, How Much Time Do We Have?
5 December 2015

In response to questions like: Is it even a major threat? See:
How Dangerous is Climate Change?, How Much Time Do We Have?
5 December 2015

In response to questions like: Exactly how do we cause global warming? See:
Closing the Cycle: Energy and Climate Change
25 January 2014

Life, From the Big Bang to the Climate Change Era:
Outline History of Life and Human Evolution
29 January 2017

<>  MG,Jr. on Renewable Energy <>

Of all the articles I have ever written, the one I most wish had gotten wide attention and actually affected public thinking and action, is linked below.
Energy for Society in Balance with Nature
8 June 2015

Renewable Energy (and war and peace):
Green Energy versus The Uncivil War
18 April 2017


Green Energy versus The Uncivil War

Chris Hedges hosted the political writers Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton on his television program (yesterday, on the RT network/channel) for a discussion of the Syrian War, and its many current harmful impacts, as well as its possible grave future consequences for the Middle East, Europe, the United States, and the world. (That episode of Chris Hedges’ program is linked near the bottom.)

My reaction to that program follows.

The problem, as presented so compellingly by Chris Hedges, Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton, is of such large scope that it is difficult to see how any one nation – even the United States – could act alone to “solve it” (forever).

However, the recommendation that the U.S. stop funding destabilization groups in the Middle East (and everywhere), and that the U.S. “pull back” from or “pull out” of the Middle East, would be a very, very helpful step for the reduction of suffering in that region: for example reducing the incidence of wars and the displacements causing huge refugee streams. Such a change in US policy would also benefit the American people by freeing public money now absorbed by covert and overt militarism, to be used instead for much more domestic socialism (like Medicare-for-all, and free college for all).

However, even were such a change in US Middle East policy to occur, there would still be many evils in the region:
– authoritarian and oppressive regimes continuing to hurt the people under them,
– the export of Wahhabism from Saudi Arabia and Qatar,
– the regional Sunni-Shia proxy wars (basically, Saudi Arabia vs. Iran),
– the war by Israel against the Palestinians (who include Muslims and Christians),
– Israel’s agitation against Syria (for regime change, and to keep the Golan Heights),
– Israel’s agitation against Iran (which helps prop up Hezbollah in Lebanon),
– Israel’s agitation includes its own covert and overt military actions, as well as lobbying for the United States to make war against Israel’s designated enemies.

As an engineer without expertise on the Middle Eastern affairs, I have believed since 1973 that the best long-term plan for the U.S. to insulate itself from Middle Eastern turmoil would have been to use the U.S.’s vast fossil fuel resources (and even the nuclear ones) as a stop-gap energy source to power the building of a national solar (“green”) energy collection and distribution system.

That national green energy system would be made of many local solar energy networks interconnected into regional systems, which in turn would be interconnected into a national system. The local power sources would include:
– direct solar-collection to electrical-output arrays (solar panels),
– solar heat collection for boilers that power steam turbines cranking electric generators,
– river hydroelectric (the dams we already have),
– ocean-tidal hydroelectric,
– land-based wind-electric,
– offshore wind-electric,
– a few sites for solar-powered desalination for potable water,
– and solar-powered hydrogen recovery from water for H2-O2 fuel-cell propulsion for civilian aircraft, and road and rail transit.

Given real energy independence, the Unites States could stop funding and supporting Saudi Arabia and Israel (arming them to the teeth so extravagantly). I realize that defunding Israel would be harder to do regardless of circumstances, because of the metastasis of the Israel Lobby within the US body politic. But, if the U.S. could shut off its massive dollar streams currently paying for Middle East petroleum (and bribes to Egypt and Jordan to not annoy expansionist Israel), then many of the Middle East oppressor regimes would be weakened and likely overthrown by more popular and democratic alternatives, and the U.S. would be immune from blackmail by oil embargoes.

Also, a green national energy system for the U.S., replacing the 19th and 20th century fossil and fissile fuel system still in use, would offer a long term, sustainable and low-(no?)-pollution energy-flow for domestic consumption: it would not accelerate climate change.

Obviously, myopic greed such as by fossil and fissile fuel companies opposes such a strategy as they prefer to make private capital gains by extractive exploitation of Nature, and by setting off “pipeline wars” at public expense. The green energy vision and strategy described here is at its core socialist (it is best for the US commons), and it is also internationalist without being belligerent and interventionist, because by sharing such green energy technology internationally the U.S. would help boost the standard of living globally: the human development index (HDI) would increase everywhere, and poverty would decrease everywhere.

The Uncivil War, with Max Blumenthal & Ben Norton
16 April 2017

or, on YouTube:

Of all the articles I have ever written, the one I most wish had gotten wide attention and actually affected public thinking and action, is linked below.

Energy for Society in Balance with Nature


Energy for Society in Balance with Nature

“Solar power at 1% conversion efficiency on 2% of the land area of the United States of America would produce the total electrical energy use of the nation, 4 trillion kilowatt-hours per year (4T kWh/y).”


<> The Economic Function Of Energy <>


Economics is the consumption of energy to process matter and produce action for the maintenance and renovation of society. Just as form follows function, the right choice of an energy technology for any society is a function of its economic model and socio-economic goals. Politics is the process of determining the allocation of costs and the distribution of benefits for an economy. Therefore, the selection of the energy technologies to power a society is based on political consensus and political power.

Industrialization is a synchronized and mechanized form of economics. For example, suburbia and exurbia are industrializations of the concepts of village, town, and city. They are the stretching of human settlements into 2D space with a compensatory time contraction provided by an energy-intensive kinetic network of unitary transport vehicles.

Public debates on the influence of industrialization on the global heat balance (the average temperature of much of the biosphere), and the sensitivity of climate change to inputs of industrial waste heat and waste matter (e.g., CO2, methane, soot), are political debates on economic forms couched in terms of the relative convenience, profitability and environmental impact of different energy technologies.

Energy For Human Development

The United Nations uses an economic parameter called the Human Development Index (HDI) to characterize the typical standard of living of every nation. It is observed that affluent nations have high HDI scores (HDI ranges from 0 to 1) and a high use of electrical energy per year per person (in kilowatt-hours/year/person the range is from 0 to 30,000), while poor nations have relatively low values for both quantities. (1)

Data from 2005 include the following:

1. The range of annual per capita electrical energy use among 177 nations was between 40 kWh/year/person and 29,247 kWh/year/person. The range of HDI was from 0.281 to 0.963.

2. The United States of America ranked 10th in HDI, at 0.944, with 13,456 kWh/y/p for 4.5% of the world’s population, which produced 24.4% of the CO2 emissions from human activity.

3. The People’s Republic of China ranked 85th in HDI, at 0.755, with 1,484 kWh/y/p for 21% of the world’s population, which produced 12.1% of the CO2 emissions from human activity.

China is racing to develop, and a momentary digression is necessary on account of its rapidly changing data. Between 2004 and 2009, China’s primary energy use grew by 40%, electricity use by 70%, energy imports by a factor of three, population by 2.7%, and CO2 emissions by 44%. (2) After 2007, China’s CO2 emissions exceeded those of the United States (though per capita emission remains far below the US level). Between 2008 and 2010, world CO2 emissions rose 12.1%, US CO2 emissions by only 0.57% because of the economic slowdown during 2009, and Chinese CO2 emissions rose by 17.2%. In 2010, China’s CO2 emissions were 24.6% of the world total, and the US share was 16.4%. (3)

The United Nations calls the striving of each nation to elevate the standard of living of its population its economic development, and a fundamental part of such development is a greater availability of electrical power.

We can visualize the sequential stages of economic development as an HDI climb up an energy ladder. People who burn matter to generate heat, and have a pre-industrial society, advance their economic development by shifting to fuels of higher chemical energy content: from crop waste and dung, to wood, charcoal, kerosene, liquefied petroleum gas, and then ethanol and methanol.

The higher stages of economic development are those experienced over the last two centuries by the now highly industrialized nations. Coal was the fuel of 19th century industrialization. Oil and natural gas are the fuels of rapid mass mobility and heating, and power the hyper-animated form of industrial society we know simply as “the 20th century.” Civilian nuclear power became available near the middle of that century, and remains our most concentrated source of energy for producing electricity.

In 2005, the world average HDI was 0.741, and the world average electrical energy use was 2,465 kWh/y/p. People whose lives are characterized by the low end of the HDI scale (near 0.3) can be said to remain, for the most part, in the 18th century. Those in mid-range HDI conditions (0.5-0.6) experience 19th to early 20th century living with some sprinkles of the 21st century, perhaps occasional encounters with consumer electronics like cellular telephones, or militarized police with all too modern automatic guns. Nations with HDI near the world average (0.7-0.8) are clearly modern, though they will still experience many austerities. The plateau of affluence is defined by those nations with HDI above 0.9, and energy use above 6,000 kWh/y/p.

The different levels of economic development existing today mean that no single strategy for advancement is appropriate worldwide, even though it is clear that every national strategy for development must include an effort to improve the reliable availability of energy broadly.

Several nations in the affluence plateau, like Germany, are seeking to make a transition to a post-nuclear, post-fossil fuel economy without a loss of HDI. Energy sources being explored include: solar (photovoltaic and thermal), wind, ocean (wave and tidal), hydroelectric (river power), biomass (agriculture for fuel), and conservation, perhaps the richest though least popular source.

Nations that are industrializing now, like China, and are heavily reliant on coal and oil, could decide to skip the atomic age of mid-20th century America and Europe, and leap-frog to a post-nuclear, post-fossil fuel and ultimately high HDI economy by the middle to late 21st century. A recent report in Spiegel Online International notes: “In 2004, Germany held a 69 percent share of the global solar panel business. By 2011, it had declined to 20 percent” because “Chinese competitors offer systems of equivalent quality at significantly lower prices.” (4)

Nations that remain largely pre-industrial and struggle to meet the basic needs of their people, as outlined by the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG), (5) might conclude that duplicating the 19th and 20th century developmental path of America and Europe is just not possible today, nor conscionable since the raising of their people’s HDI cannot wait two centuries. They might decide to leap-frog from the 18th to 21st centuries, bypassing the intense industrialization of the coal through nuclear economies, and instead invest in the low capital development of many local sources of renewable energy, which would be distributed near its generation sites through low-power micro grids. Such a ubiquitous, frugal, renewable-source and essentially “gridless” power system is in contrast to the concept of a few capital-intensive technologically complex and large coal, oil and nuclear power plants feeding electricity through massive regional and long-distance transmission line systems, to eventually fan out to each particular home. Just getting enough electricity to illuminate homes (enabling reading and study at night) and to power simple machines like water pumps and refrigerators (and hand tools, and perhaps even recharge cellular telephones) everywhere in a currently low HDI nation would be a revolutionary improvement.

At this point we can pose a multitude of questions with one simple query: what are the best energy technologies to power our economy into the future?

Energy Choices For An Uncertain Future

Consider the selection of energy technologies to be: renewables (R), coal (C), oil and natural gas (O), and nuclear (N). Under renewables we group the technologies that harvest energy without resorting to burning (solar, wind, ocean, hydroelectric, geothermal and conservation), and may include some biomass schemes, like methane-generating digesters of farm, household, and municipal wastes, despite the fact that they produce a fuel for burning, which produces carbon dioxide gas. Under renewables, we exclude schemes for the industrial scale agriculture of crops intended to be processed into liquid fuels and methane; this is just the depletion of soil that could be producing food to instead fuel automobiles, farmed oil.

If we think of economic development as a process of concentrating technological complexity and capital for the purposes of improving a society’s well being, then the right fuel to power that society is one whose degree of energy concentration is compatible with the technological concentration of the society. Here, we are referring as much to E. F. Schumacher’s concept of “appropriate technology” as to the earlier description of the energy ladder. (6)

Forms Of Energy In Our Quests For Power

The appropriate choice of an energy technology for any given society will usually be some mixture of the major technologies, labeled here as R, C, O, and N. Let us identify the major attraction of each of our four technologies as follows:

R: achieve MDG, power to end poverty (social power).

C: commercial power.

O: military power.

N: political power.

Renewables can be deployed locally with little capital and are thus the first choice for moving pre-industrial people out of poverty and into the upper half of the HDI range, which corresponds to lives in humane and secure conditions that Americans and Europeans would see as elementary 20th century life.

Coal is abundant, it can fuel the great furnaces of heavy industry, and it can provide the heat to generate electricity for billions of people. This is why China burns so much coal, and why also America and Europe continue to use it. Coal is the fuel of commercial power gained through heavy industrialization, a 19th and early 20th century technique of development that is perfectly suited to countries whose typical experience of life is of a comparable time, and who have much greater ambitions.

Oil is the “liquid gold” that is refined into the fuels that make the automobile culture, the airline industry, and the highly mobile global reach of the United States military possible. The many large, heavy, complex, low-mileage, high-power vehicles of the US military could not exist without jet fuels, high-octane gasoline, diesel fuel, and fuel oil; the Air Force would be grounded, the Navy tied up at port, and the Army reduced to marching or horse-drawn wagons, since their trucks, tanks, and helicopters would be immobilized.

Civilian America could probably live quite well with only renewable energy, but it would be impossible to maintain today’s military capabilities without petroleum-based fuels. Renewables are low concentration technologies, they require large collection areas, and are completely unsuited to military mobility. If very high energy density batteries were available, perhaps the US military could maintain solar energy farms (probably all of Arizona), that constantly charged them up, to power its electrified vehicles. However, electric battery technology has not achieved anything near the energy concentration of liquid hydrocarbon fuels. Electric cars remain rare because their batteries take up more space than the gas tank, which they are far heavier than, and they provide less range before being exhausted and requiring a lengthy recharge.

Nuclear reactors can power large ships like aircraft carriers and ballistic missile submarines, as well as large static bases, but are far too cumbersome for most military tasks. Coal can be liquefied into a fuel (producing more CO2 than the extraction of crude oil and its refinement to liquid fuels) and is probably what the US military would turn to in the event that petroleum ceased being available.

The many liabilities of nuclear power are well known, and today are being highlighted by the Fukushima disaster. But, nuclear power always has one irresistible draw: it is the source of nuclear weapons. The fascination here is entirely that of political power, the belief that in possessing nuclear weapons one possesses the ability to make the ultimate threat: to obliterate an enemy. What is often forgotten is that in order to carry out the threat one needs a reliable and accurate delivery system, usually missiles. As more nations acquire nuclear weapons and missile systems, another consideration becomes the ability to survive retaliation. As purely war-fighting tools, nuclear weapons have become obsolete because Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) guided chemical high explosives conveyed by missiles and drone aircraft can destroy targets with an accuracy of meters, eliminating the need for large-area blasts to compensate for the targeting inaccuracy of unguided gravity bombs and ballistic missiles. However, possession of nuclear weapons certainly gets their keeper the attention of other nations.

A Simple Model Of Energy Choices

So, the first method we might try for prioritizing a society’s investments in energy technologies would be to rank the four types of power the decision-makers might want (political, military, commercial, to end poverty), and then by the corresponding code letters shown earlier, we arrive at a preference ranking of energy choices. We might guess at the following two examples, and then compare them to reality:

United States:
military, commercial, political, social; (O, C, N, R).

commercial, social, military, political; (C, R, O, N).

In 2009, the United States produced 37% of its energy from petroleum, 25% from natural gas, 21% from coal, 9% from nuclear power, and 8% from renewables, the bulk of which was hydroelectric. Grouping petroleum and natural gas together, these portions become: O at 62%, C at 21%, N at 9%, and R at 8%. (7)

In 2005, China produced 81% of its electricity from coal-fired plants (C), 17% was hydroelectric (R), and 2% from nuclear power (N). Petroleum is refined for the liquid fuels used for transportation. China is the world’s leading producer of renewable energy, the bulk of which is hydroelectric. With an eye to the future, China is also the largest producer of wind turbines, solar panels and solar water heaters. At the UN climate summit in 2009, China pledged to have 15% of its energy generated from solar power within a decade. (8)

An Improved Model Of Energy Choices

The previous type of analysis is too simple — we want greater insight into the politics of energy. Decision making in most countries is a blending of competitive interests, how do we account for the many possibilities of this? My response was to devise a detailed model based on the decision theory of Richard C. Jeffrey. Decision theory combines ideas from statistics, probability theory, and logic, and is the result of work by philosophers, mathematicians, economists, and logicians. (9)

The essential points of my improved model are as follows. The agent making the decisions about national investments in energy technologies is assumed to be a composite of several characters. Each of these characters represents a major constituency or interest as regards national energy policy. I considered three single-minded characters: “no nuclear,” “stop global warming,” and “maximum energy now.” The deciding agent is a weighted sum of these three characters. For example, if all three characters had equal political power, then the agent’s preferences would be an equal blending of “no nuclear,” “stop global warming,” and “max energy now.” If the portions of political power for the three characters happened to be 1/7 for “no nuclear,” 4/7 for “stop global warming,” and 2/7 for “max energy now,” then the preferences of the deciding agent would be a composite of the single-minded preferences in these same proportions. Five case studies, each with a different set of political weights, were calculated from the model and are described below.

When the deciding agent is entirely the single-minded character “stop global warming,” the ranking of investment choices is R, N, O, C (renewables, nuclear, oil and gas, coal). Clearly, this character holds off on burning as much as possible, and only reluctantly agrees to it when there is no other source of energy. Notice that a single-minded concern for global warming leads to a preference for nuclear power over combustion power.

A deciding agent that is equally split between “no nuclear” and “max energy now” (and does not care about global warming) is most likely to rank investment choices as C, O, R, N. The numerical results show that this agent is equally comfortable choosing coal or oil, so the ranking could just as easily be O, C, R, N. If this deciding agent had less of the “no nuclear” character, so that its preference ranking placed R last, then this agent would mirror the actual character the US energy mix: O, C, N, R.

A deciding agent that is equally split between “stop global warming” and “max energy now” (and does not care about avoiding nuclear) is most likely to rank investment choices as R, C, and then N and O equally. The numerical results show that the single most preferred technology is coal, but the concern over global warming boosts the incentive to invest in renewables. If this deciding agent had less “stop global warming” character, so that C was first in its ranking of investment choices, then this agent would mirror the actual character of the Chinese energy mix: C, R, N, for the generation of electricity (O is used for transportation fuels).

A deciding agent that is equally split three ways between “no nuclear,” “stop global warming,” and “max energy now” is most likely to rank investment choices as not-N, R, O, C. This agent’s first priority is to stop, end, and prevent funding for nuclear power. The next priorities are positive investments in energy sources, ranked as R, O, C.

Because of its natural preference for nuclear power, the “stop global warming” character is directly opposed to the “no nuclear” character. A deciding agent that is one part “no nuclear” and two parts “stop global warming” (and has none of the “max energy now” character) will most likely rank investment choices as R, N, O, C. This is the same ranking as that of a single-minded “stop global warming” agent. However, because there is a minor portion of the agent with the “no nuclear” character, another ranking that is nearly as probable is R, O, N, C.

While it is possible to elaborate models of this type into systems of great complexity to capture many types of opinions on energy policy and their relative political weights, and to use computers to calculate projections on the possible directions of a society’s energy politics, I think it’s better to keep the models reasonably simple and to use them as guides that help the mind organize the information from which decisions are to be drawn, and then to bring out the most important points. John von Neumann (1903-1957) said: “The purpose of computation is insight, not numbers.”

International Energy Politics

Based on what has been presented up to this point, we can propose the following as six points of probable conflict [1-6].

High HDI environmentalists, whose major concerns are the consequences of global warming (R, N, O, C), are:

[1] at odds domestically with their military and commercial sectors (O, C, N, R), which are interested in immediate power and profits,

[2] at odds with high HDI anti-capitalists, whose major concerns are political opposition to war, nuclear weapons, and nuclear power (R, O, C, N).

Low HDI economic developers, whose major concern is the immediate raising of living standards (C, R, O, N), find themselves:

[3] at odds with high HDI environmentalists on the issue of economic development (coal),

[4] they find high HDI anti-capitalists disinterested in low HDI economic development (interest is opposition to high HDI power),

[5] they find high HDI commercial sectors competitive with and thus hostile to their industrialization.

Low HDI economic developers are aware of and concerned about global warming, which is why they seek to develop R technology (C, R, O, N).

[6] They find themselves at odds with high HDI commercial sectors, who are disinterested to pay the cost of reducing their CO2 emissions (O, C, N, R), or of developing R technology suitable to low HDI conditions.

If we imagine that each of these conflicts is a simplified reflection of reality, then it is easy to see why the 2011 UN Convention on Climate Change, in Durban, South Africa, resulted in setting to 2015 the completion of an international agreement to limit carbon emissions, and waiting till 2020 for that agreement to take effect.

Now for a change of focus. Instead of trying to answer how societal choices on energy have been and will be made, we give free rein to realistic imagination and ask: what could we do to produce and use energy if there were no political barriers?

The Energy Systems Of Two Imaginary Futures

Let us sweep away all the conceptual restraints placed on the imagination by the fractious politics and societal indecision of our times, and instead visualize energy systems that are physically possible, to power economies that feed some subset of enduring human desires.

US National Solar Electricity System

Solar power at 1% conversion efficiency on 2% of the land area of the United States of America would produce the total electrical energy use of the nation, 4 trillion kilowatt-hours per year (4T kWh/y).

We could imagine a single site in the American southwest that was a square with sides 427 km (265 miles) long; or 100 sites of 43 km (26 mi) square sides; or 1000 sites of 14 km (8.4 mi) square sides. If the conversion efficiency of sunlight to electricity is increased to 10%, then only 18,232 square km (7040 sq. mi) of collection area are needed; this could be one site of 135 km (84 mi) square sides. The combined land areas of the White Sands Missile Range, Fort Hood Texas, Yuma Proving Grounds and Twentynine Palms Base is 18,435 square km (7118 sq. mi); imagine them being used to host a national (publicly owned) solar electricity system, US NSES.

The conversion efficiency of solar (photovoltaic) cells varies with type, age, and conditions, the extreme range being 2% to 43%, where efficiencies beyond about 20% are for specialized devices in research laboratories. One expects 15% to 19% efficiency of solar cells in the field. (10)

Solar-thermal systems convert sunlight to heat, and are of many different types. (11) A solar-thermal-electric system captures sunlight as heat in a transfer fluid (synthetic oil, pressurized steam, molten salt), which is used to generate steam that powers conventional turbine-generators of electricity. One such system, Nevada Solar One, nominally produces 64 MW of electricity from a collection area of 1.2 square km (300 acres), an efficiency of 5.3%. (12)

With a combination of photovoltaic and solar-thermal-electric systems, the United States could use 18,400 square km (7,100 sq. mi) of publicly owned land (converted military bases) to provide 4T kWh/y of socialized electricity, converted from sunlight with 10% efficiency (sunlight at 1000 Watts per square meter is assumed for only 25% of the time to account for nights and cloudy days).

The obvious difficulties with solar energy are nighttime, clouds, and dust on the reflectors or their glass covers. A solar power system can supply electricity steadily if it is paired with an energy storage system that is filled during daylight hours, and discharged during darkness. We could imagine half the electricity generated during daylight being stored for use at night.

The form of storage could be electrical, in batteries, or mechanical, as the spinning masses of large flywheels, or gravitational, as the pumping of water into elevated tanks or uphill reservoirs. At night, the batteries would be discharged, the flywheels spin down by rotating the shafts of electric generators, and the pumped storage recovered hydroelectrically. We can imagine the US NSES pumping water into Lake Mead (Nevada) during the day, for hydroelectric recovery at Hoover Dam during dark times.

As for the dust, it seems we will always need people to clean windows.

Carbon Neutral Free Market Economy

Americans reached a four-fold consensus: carbon emissions must be reduced drastically, it was absolutely essential that anyone be able to own a 13 mile-per-gallon two ton, four wheel drive SUV (a truck-based automobile), the US military required enough fuel to move all its vehicles all the time, and civilian nuclear power was acceptable if the reactors were well sealed, and the radioactive wastes were moved permanently offshore.

The Athabasca Oil Sands of Alberta, Canada, (13) a vast sludgy deposit of mixed crude bitumen, sand, clay, and water, with a viscosity like cold molasses, is strip mined and softened by high temperature steam into a pressurized oily slurry that is piped to US synthetic fuel plants along the Canadian border. The large amount of viscosity-reducing heat needed along the entire length of the pipeline is supplied by electric heaters, which are powered from Canadian nuclear reactors dedicated to this purpose.

The large amounts of carbon dioxide gas released by the production of synthetic gasoline is contained at the synfuels plants and piped to the National Carbon Sequestration Portal, by the Pacific Ocean at the Oregon coast. This site has large underground tanks for the temporary storage of pressurized CO2, and its own nuclear power plant, which generates the energy needed for pumping CO2 into the National Carbon Sequestration Site at the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate.

The CO2 is pumped offshore 300 km (186 mi) and down into undersea basalt below a depth of 2,700 m (8900 ft), where it reacts to form stable carbonate minerals. (14) That these accumulating carbonate deposits may lead to an acidification of the local oceanic environment, and adversely affect marine life, is not seen as likely by the designers of this scheme.

Coal is still mined in the U.S., but it is all processed into synthetic liquid fuels for civilian and military transport. Electricity is generated primarily from nuclear power, with a small portion being hydroelectric. To compensate for the loss of coal as a fuel for producing industrial process heat (blast furnaces and such) a much larger quantity of electricity is generated than in the past, to provide industrial heat electrically.

The nation’s 531 nuclear reactors (up from 104 in 2008) are now of a new modular design. When the reactor core has been used up, the control rods are fully inserted into it, the containment vessel is filled with coolant and sealed, and the entire assembly is removed for disposal; a fresh replacement is installed. The spent sealed vessels are shipped to the National Nuclear Embarkation Facility in South Carolina. These sealed vessels, called “plugs,” are carried by specialized container ships to sites along the Mid-Atlantic Bathymetric Disposal Line. This line runs along the ocean floor about 4,000 meters below the surface, parallel and to the west of the rift valley in the middle of the tectonic spreading zone known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

The plugs are unloaded through the bottom of the container ship’s hull, and guided by robotic submersibles to prepared emplacement holes, which have been drilled into the ocean floor. The rate of tectonic spreading is about 2.5 cm (1 in) a year, so the Mid-Atlantic Bathymetric Disposal Line moves west, along with the rest of North America, at a rate of 25 km (15.5 mi) every million years.

By these means, Americans are able to continue with their preference for luxury truck-like road vehicles, suburban sprawl, air travel, and a high HDI lifestyle, without increasing the carbon emissions of the nation. However, these emissions remain high on a per capita basis, and global warming continues.

Parting Thoughts And A Fantasy

Life is effort, and effort is energy in use. As a society, the types of energy we use and seek to acquire are reflections of who we are. Our political conflicts are like the squabbles of scavengers assembled around a fallen carcass on the Serengeti Plain, and they have their echoes as conflicts over national and international energy policy. Regardless of whether we choose to tear our earth apart by competitive selfishness, or to nurture it communally, we will have to do a great deal of work to maintain reliable cycles of energy use that sustain our many nations. I believe that working cooperatively releases more energy for improving the HDI for everybody.

An African Fantasy

The Sahara Solar Energy Consortium includes the countries Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Sudan, Tunisia, and Western Sahara. With technical experts from Germany and Spain, and armies of workers from the host countries, the SSEC has built many solar energy farms across the Sahara, transmitting low-cost electrical power to all of Africa, and easily paying for itself (and the African development it enables) by exporting electrical power to Europe via the undersea Trans-Mediterranean Conduit. The SSEC is the world’s leading supplier of hydrogen gas produced by the electrolysis of water. Hydrogen gas is used to power fuel cells used as back-up generators of SSEC electricity. A hydrogen fuel cell is a device that converts the heat released by oxidizing hydrogen (burning it into steam) into electricity. (15) The steam is captured for reuse, naturally.


1.  M. García, Jr., Energy For Human Development, (a series of reports from 2006),

2. “Energy Policy of The People’s Republic of China,”

3. “List of Countries by Carbon Dioxide Emissions,”

4.  Alexander Neubacher, “Solar Subsidy Sinkhole: Re-Evaluating Germany’s Blind Faith in the Sun,” Spiegel Online International, 18 January 2012,

5. “Millennium Development Goals,” United Nations,

6. “E. F. Schumacher” (1911-1977),

7. “Energy in The United States,”

8. “Renewable Energy in The People’s Republic of China,”

9.  Richard C. Jeffrey, The Logic of Decision, 1965, McGraw-Hill Book Company.

10. “Solar Cell Efficiency,”

11. “Solar Thermal Energy,”

12. “Nevada Solar One,”

13. “Oil Sands,”

14. “Carbon Sequestration,”

15. “Fuel Cell,”


Originally published at on 27 February 2012


How “The Economic Function of Energy” came to be written.

As part of my professional technical work in 2006, I devised an improved analytical fit (a curve) to the correlation between national HDI and average electrical energy use per capita, for 177 nations. My employer (Livermore Lab) hoped to use this result in grant applications seeking funds for nuclear energy research, arguing it was a social benefit (this was for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, GNEP, a program thankfully now dead). I continued in this job effort by applying the decision theory of Richard C. Jeffrey to devise simple models of how an agent (such as a government policy-making body) might rationally select what type of energy technology to invest in for the best results in raising a nation’s HDI.

Given that raising HDI was my stated goal, and not maximizing profits to a group of speculators (such as corporations), my decision theory models always pointed to renewable energy technologies as better than gas, oil and coal. It is obvious that climate change and environmental improvement or degradation have significant impacts on HDI. So, I combined my technical work on HDI curves and decision theory to justify my recommendation that my employer instead focus on the improvement of solar and renewable energy systems. This was my last project before retiring in 2007. I found much of the data quoted in “The Economic Function of Energy” during 2006-2007.

In 2007, I was urged (by two academics) to write a clear explanation of climate change science, aimed at convincing Alexander Cockburn (1941-2012), the political journalist, and the publisher-editor of Counterpunch (along with Jeffrey St. Clair), that his climate change skepticism was misplaced. That article is

Climate and Carbon, Consensus and Contention
4 June 2007

and it did not change minds one way or the other. Also, it is a very good article.

In 2011, I thought I would write a book on energy and climate change politics based on all I had learned in my investigations into

Energy for Human Development

, HDI, energy policy decision theory models, and climate change science.

In December 2011, I completed an outline for this planned book, and that outline is now published on this blog.

Closing the Cycle: Energy and Climate Change

Once I had the outline, I realized that my imagined book would be encyclopedic, which is to say impractical for me to write. I decided that the best way to make use of all that I had learned was to write reasonably-sized articles for a general readership, articles that were informative and clear without diluting the technical insights, and which provoked thought (I hoped).

“The Economic Function of Energy” is the result of that focus. It is my favorite of my essays to date, I think it is my best work of synthesis. It won’t change minds one way or the other, but I am very happy I developed to the point where I could and did produce it.



Closing The Cycle: Energy and Climate Change

Closing The Cycle: Energy and Climate Change

Manuel Garcia, Jr.
7 December 2011



Open Cycle Industrialization

– Defining Sciences of Heat in Continuous Matter
– Heat Engines, Thermodynamic Cycles and the 1st Law
– The 2nd Law, and the Heat Gradient Across a Cycle
– Waste Heat, and the Cold Point Infinite Heat Sink
– Disorganization, Irreversibility, Entropy and the 2nd Law

Chemical Thermodynamics of the Biosphere
– The Civilization-Producing Heat Engine
– Complete Heat Engine Cycle of the Biosphere
– Industrial Heat Engine Cycle

The Global Heat Balance
– Incident Solar Energy
– Conversion of Light to Heat by the Earth
– Radiated Heat Energy
– Converting Absorbed Radiation into Atmospheric Heat
– Biosphere and the Surface Temperature of the Earth
– General Equation for the Global Heat Balance
– Sources of IR Absorbing Gases in the Atmosphere
– IR Absorption Coefficient Depends on Temperature
– Defining Global Warming


Closing The Cycle: Energy and Climate Change

(Toward Naturally Stable Energy Cycles For Enduring Societies)



Global Warming is a fact. What are we going to do about it?
This article is intended to prompt responses to that question.

The plan of this article is to proceed through a sequence of topics:
– global warming is the environmental response to open cycle industrialization
– a combination of heat flow physics and chemistry produces global warming
– the politics of deciding on forms of energy between options with uncertain futures
– international energy-climate conflicts reflect disparities in levels of development.

Global closed cycle industrialization will require equalizing levels of development:
– assistance from “high” to “low,” of value comparable to reparations for colonialism
– move from “open cycle” politics to morally “closed cycle,” domestic & international
– global warming can be seen metaphorically as the entropy of economic warfare
– the inertia of self-interest will resist halting humans’ stimulation of global warming.

Open Cycle Industrialization

Industrialization concentrates energy into mechanized work to build up civilization.

Industrialization is organized as capitalism predominantly powered by fossil fuels.

Capitalism is open loop economics in either of two forms:
– “the free market,” financial speculation by massed private capital; or
– “communism,” state-directed centrally-planned economic investment.

Open loop economics is Resource, Labor, Social and Environmental exploitation:

Resource: the extraction or seizure of assets from the environment and society:
– mining, forestry, farming, herding, land seizures, water, air, public subsidies.

Labor: purchase labor at minimum cost by exploiting human survival needs:
– fragment work into small repetitive tasks, for efficiency with low-cost low-skill labor

Social: dump wastes on and shift liabilities to society, “socialize costs” as in:
– dumping wastes, instead of recycling the usable, and reprocessing the unusable
– avoiding taxes, even through buying political influence to weaken democracy
– evading regulations, increasing risks to the public, for privatized gains
– shielding owners from responsibility by legalism, corporate personhood (or state)
– bailing out corporate bankruptcies with public funds (or by nationalization).

Environmental: expect the environment to complete the industrial cycle, to:
– endlessly supply “natural resources”
– steadily maintain society that supplies labor & profits, absorbs production & costs
– have infinite capacity to disappear wastes, both material and heat; to be a sink.

The open cycle pretends to be closed by depending on the environmental sink as:
– “free”
– infinite
– unchanging.

Global warming disproves the infinite sink assumption about the environment.

The naturally stable alternative is closed cycle industrialization:
– closed loop economics
– mutually supportive resource, labor, social and environmental interactions
– full cycle responsibility coincident with cycle ownership.

“Politics is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions.”

Energy and Climate Politics
is how we make collective decisions about closed cycle industrialization.


Defining Sciences of Heat In Continuous Matter

Thermodynamics is the science of:
heat causing, and being released by, the mechanics of chemically inert matter.

Chemical thermodynamics is the science of:
heat causing, and being released by, the mechanics of chemically reactive matter.

Thermodynamics: a full tea kettle heated so boiling water spills out, and steam flies.
Chemical thermodynamics: rocket fuel and oxidizer reacting to form a jet exhaust.

Heat Engines, Thermodynamic Cycles and the 1st Law

Heat engines produce mechanical work from absorbed heat.

A heat engine has a working fluid (gas, liquid) that makes a thermodynamic cycle:
– fluid temperature and pressure increase by absorbing heat from a heat source, it
– returns heat by doing work, exerting pressure against a movable surface (motion),
– finally, it rejects unused heat to the environment (cooling) to begin a new cycle.

Cyclic change in the internal energy of the working fluid equals the difference of:
– the heat absorbed, and
– the work done plus heat lost as waste.
– This is the 1st Law of Thermodynamics.

The 2nd Law, and the Heat Gradient Across a Cycle

Spontaneously, heat flows only:
– from higher temperature zones
– to lower temperature zones.
– This is an observable effect of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.

In a thermodynamic cycle typical of industrial heat engines, the working fluid is:
– heated and compressed from an initial low temperature, low pressure state, then
– expanded as it does work, cooling to that low temperature and pressure state;
– work done (+heat lost) equals the heat flow from cycle’s high to low temperatures.

Heat engines operate in either a closed or open cycle:
– closed cycle: the same mass of fluid repeats the same thermodynamic cycle,
– open cycle: a fresh mass of fluid is used for each cycle, then expelled.

Engine efficiency and output increase with a larger cycle temperature difference:
– to release more heat, burn fuels with higher chemical potential energy,
– cool the low temperature site of the thermodynamic cycle.

Waste Heat, and the Cold Point Infinite Heat Sink

Not all the heat released from the fuel enters the working fluid:
– engine efficiency is always less than 100%, often much less,
– some of the heating is lost into the mass of the engine, and conducted away,
– some of the heating is lost with the expulsion of hot exhausts from open cycles,
– some of the heating is lost into the mass of passing external coolant streams.

Where does this waste heat “conducted away,” “exhausted,” and “cooled” go?
– to an infinite heat bath, or heat sink,
– also known as an infinite heat reservoir at constant temperature.

An infinite heat bath can:
– absorb any amount of heat from a hotter body, without a rise in temperature,
– release any amount of heat to a colder body, without a drop in temperature.

The environment is assumed to be the infinite heat sink for practical heat engines.

Global warming seems to show:
the environment is a finite heat bath to industrialization’s accumulated waste heat:
– but waste chemicals are crucially involved to produce observed global warming
– so, will show later that the environment is a finite chemical thermodynamic sink.

Disorganization, Irreversibility, Entropy and the 2nd Law

Consider a thermodynamic system with three elements:
– hot source at temperature T-hot, produced by combustion (internal or external),
– heat engine,
– infinite heat bath defining the cold point, T-cold, of the thermodynamic cycle.

In its initial state, this system is highly organized:
– only a few chemical forms of matter (fuel, air, working fluid if different), and
– potential energy is well-confined in the form of chemical bonds of fuel molecules.

System organization degrades through the thermodynamic cycle (1-4):

1. At the beginning of one cycle:
– a charge of fuel and oxidizer is injected into the engine
– the working fluid is in a cool relaxed state
– none of the chemical potential energy of the charge has been used or lost.

2. During the cycle’s transition from heat absorption to working:
– chemistry produces heat by breaking up fuel molecules into numerous species
– the working fluid is hot, compressed, in motion and agitated
– waste heat has been released to the environment.

3. At the end of performing work:
– combustion has produced many species with less total chemical potential energy
– the working fluid is too cool and expanded to produce more work in this engine
– any remaining heat in the engine walls and working fluid is lost as waste.

4. The rejection of waste heat and mass to the cold infinite sink resets the cycle:
– closed: the working fluid is cooled and expanded to initial conditions,
– open: the working fluid of warm combustion products exits, replaced by cool air.

This cycle is not perfectly reversible (5-8):

5. It is not possible to recreate the initial degree of organization of:
– chemical energy stored in a well-defined single molecular species of fuel mass,
– a charge of cool air,
– working fluid in a cool relaxed state…

6. … By “starting” with:
– the end products of combustion drawn back from the cold infinite reservoir
– through the engine operating in reverse
– by applying an equivalent amount of work to it, as was produced earlier,
– (remember the losses to waste heat)…

7. … And compressing the working fluid:
– so as to convert the work being applied into heat,
– which the working fluid is to release to the hot source point
– by a sudden and spontaneous cooling, so it returns to its initial cool relaxed state.

8. Some reversibility may be possible (work into heat), but never completely:
– some of the “organization” or “information” of the initial state is irretrievably lost
– we can never recreate the initial state by a reverse cycle given the same energy
– to reconstitute the initial state from the final products requires more energy
– a reversible cycle is one with no heat lost to waste (or work lost to friction).

Entropy is the thermodynamic property that quantifies system disorganization:
– the more disorganized the state of a system, the higher its entropy.

The increase of entropy over a cycle quantifies its degree of irreversibility:
– there is zero net entropy change over a reversible cycle.

For every thermodynamic cycle of any thermodynamic system:
– the entropy always increases,
– or at a minimum remains unchanged; it never decreases (macroscopically).
– this is the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.

One lesson in irreversibility, preserved as the memory of a famous “top egg,” is:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Chemical Thermodynamics of the Biosphere

The Civilization-Producing Heat Engine

Humanity is a Heat Engine that Digests Energy to Produce Civilization.

Parallel statements of the civilization-producing heat engine (1-6):

Natural energy is tapped to flow down the gradient of human energy use (1), degrading from its pristine state of sharply defined natural organization (2), as (primarily) fossilized storage and photosynthetic cycling (3), as it cascades through our industrial forms (4), to wash out into a stagnant and disorganized global heat sink (5). It is left to Nature to be both an infinite waste sink and infinite fuel/heat source, to absorb the waste output, and reset the cycle to its initial conditions (6).

Natural energy is tapped to flow down the gradient of human energy use (1), entropy increasing (2), from a “hot” reservoir and/or an initial state of concentrated energy/information (3), through humanity’s motor (4), exhausting to global warming, the “cold” reservoir, high entropy end of the cycle (5). It is left to Nature to be both an infinite waste sink and infinite fuel/heat source, to absorb the waste output, and reset the cycle to its initial conditions (6).

(1) Natural energy is tapped to flow down the gradient of human energy use,

– degrading from its pristine state of sharply defined natural organization
– entropy increasing,

– as (primarily) fossilized storage and photosynthetic cycling
– from a “hot” reservoir and/or an initial state of concentrated energy/information,

– as it cascades through our industrial forms
– through humanity’s motor,

– to wash out into a stagnant and disorganized global heat sink.
– exhausting to global warming, the “cold” reservoir, high entropy end of the cycle.

(6) It is left to Nature to be both an infinite waste sink and infinite fuel/heat source,
to absorb the waste output, and reset the cycle to its initial conditions.

Complete Heat Engine Cycle of the Biosphere

The Life Cycle has 2 complementary processes that are the reverse of each other:
– photosynthesis
– aerobic respiration

Photosynthesis (simplified reaction):
6CO2 + 6H2O + light (energy) -> C6H12O6 (sugar) + 6O2
carbon dioxide + water + solar energy -> sugar (food) + oxygen

Aerobic respiration (simplified reaction):
C6H12O6 (aqueous) + 6O2 (gas) -> 6CO2 (gas) + 6H2O (liquid) + energy
sugar (food) + oxygen (breath) -> carbon dioxide + water + metabolic energy

Autotrophs (self-feeding organisms)
– like plants, algae and many bacteria
– carry out photosynthesis
– producing organic compounds (food) from inorganic matter (CO2, H2O)
– by absorbing sunlight; or
– carry out geochemical synthesis
– producing organic compounds (food) from inorganic hydrogen compounds (H2S)
– by absorbing heat and, e.g., hydrogen sulfide from vents submerged in darkness.

Heterotrophs (organisms that feed on others)
– like animals, fungi and many bacteria
– carry out aerobic respiration
– releasing food energy and then storing it as adenosine triphosphate, ATP,
– while also producing organic and inorganic (CO2, H2O) wastes;
– ATP is stored metabolic energy, which can drive cellular processes like:
— biosynthesis (the formation of more complex molecules, like enzymes),
— locomotion (the movement of structures, like proteins, within cells), and
— transportation of molecules across cell membranes.

The Stable Energy Cycle of the Biosphere (the Life Cycle):
Autotrophs process inorganic matter and heterotroph waste into food and O2,
– food is solar energy captured in organic chemicals (carbon-hydrogen bonds).
Heterotrophs consume food and O2 to produce metabolic energy stored as ATP,
– waste products are CO2, H2O and organic matter.

Industrial Heat Engine Cycle

Industrial use of heat is loosely analogous to aerobic respiration by heterotrophs.

Combustion of methane (CH4) is shown here as a representative heat source:
CH4 + 2O2 + ignition -> CO2 + 2H2O + heat
– actually, create many C, H and N oxides, and nitric acid, by burning CH4 in air,
– we depend on nature (autotrophs) to reprocess industrial CO2, and supply fuel,
– there is no re-organizing/re-concentrating of waste heat: entropy only increases.

The Global Heat Balance

Incident Solar Energy

Insolation: solar constant (source)

Milankovitch Cycles (distance and local incident angle):
Describe the collective effects of changes in Earth’s movements on climate.
Gravitational interactions in the Solar System cause long-term periodic changes of:
the distance and orientation of the Earth with respect to the Sun:
Orbital Shape (eccentricity)
– change in the elliptic shape (variation from circular) of Earth’s orbit
– with an approximately 100,000 year period (cycle).
Axial tilt (obliquity)
– a 2.4 degree shift of angle between Earth’s axis and orbital plane, and a return,
– with a 41,000 year period.
– trend in the direction of the axis of rotation relative to fixed stars,
– with a 26,000 year period.

Transmission (filtration of insolation by atmosphere):
– atmosphere is transparent to visible light (radiation)
– absorption of ultra-violet (UV) in the high altitude ozone layer

Reflection (Earth’s albedo, its net reflection coefficient for visible light):
– ice sheets and snow (extent of the area has long term stability; Milankovitch cycle)
– clouds (extent of the area is highly variable over very short time; unpredictable)

– oceans and land absorb visible light (reflectivity is low)

The Conversion of Light to Heat by the Earth

– Atoms and molecules absorb incident light, and redistribute it in matter as heat.
– Matter holds heat as the agitation, rotation and vibration of molecules (& atoms).
– Motions of positive and negative parts of molecules launch electric waves.
– Wavelengths are set by molecule sizes and deflections: infrared radiation (IR).
– IR radiation is that portion of the electromagnetic spectrum we sense as heat.
– IR radiation is emitted by the surface of the Earth (land, oceans and organisms).
– Typical frequency of thermal radiation increases with the emitter temperature.
– Quantity of thermal (Black Body) emission increases with emitter temperature.

Radiated Heat Energy

Transmission through the atmosphere:
– gases made up of symmetric molecules (N2, O2) are transparent to IR radiation
– gases made up of atoms (Helium, Neon, Argon) are transparent to IR radiation

Absorption by the atmosphere (reflection is negligible):
– gases of asymmetric molecules (have positive and negative ends) absorb IR
– IR absorbing gases also emit thermal radiation characteristic of their temperature
– IR absorbing gases are: H2O, CO2, NOx (pollution) and volatile organic vapors
– trapped IR is continuously absorbed and radiated within the mass of atmosphere
– the greater the mass of IR absorbing gases, the greater the capacity to store heat.

Converting Absorbed Radiation into Atmospheric Heat

Kinetic theory of gases:
– Gases are mainly empty space with a huge number of small particles in motion.
– These particles are the atoms & molecules of gaseous elements & compounds.
– The faster a particle’s speed, the higher its kinetic energy, its energy of motion.
– The sum total of particle kinetic energy in a gas volume is its heat content.
– Temperature is defined as the ratio: [heat content in volume]/[mass in the volume].
– Temperature is a measure of the average kinetic energy of the particles.
– Moving atoms and molecules in a gas collide frequently, randomizing directions.
– Particles transfer kinetic energy by collision, from energetic to lethargic particles.
– Collision frequency is high, so most particles have comparable kinetic energy.
– Also, the high collision frequency diffuses a “hot spot” into a larger volume.

The positive & negative poles of asymmetric molecules make them IR antennas.
Received (absorbed) IR radiation can be stored:
– internally: bending and vibration of the atom-to-atom chemical bonds
– internally: rotations of the entire molecule (rolling, spinning, flipping)
– kinetically: linear motion through the space between particle collisions.

Molecules can transfer some of their internally stored energy during collisions:
– internally stored IR energy can be transferred into kinetic energy by collisions
– one species’ internal energy can be spread kinetically to all other gas species
– collisions distribute IR radiation absorbed by one species into uniform gas heat.

Adding vapors to the atmosphere that increase IR absorption will cause it to heat.

The Biosphere and the Surface Temperature of the Earth

Biosphere is from the top of the stratosphere (50 km above sea level) down to:
– about 5 km below the surface of the land (at 124°C, too hot for bacteria), and
– about 11 km below the surface of the oceans (just below the deepest ocean floor).

The heat content of this outer region of the Earth is affected by Milankovitch cycles.

Earth’s temperature increases with depth (land) at an average rate of 22.1°C/km
– but the flow of interior heat out through the Earth’s surface is negligible.

Global Warming refers to the average temperature of the atmosphere and oceans:
– assumed here: a layer of the biosphere bracketing “the elevation at sea level”
– from 20 km up, the top of the troposphere, including nearly all atmospheric mass
– to 10 meters below ground, which day/night and seasonally temperature cycles,
– and also the fluid mass of the oceans, whose currents redistribute heat energy;
– this layer’s temperature is set by the balance of solar heating and radiant cooling.

Earth’s average surface temperature during 1901-2000 was 13.9°C = 57°F.


T = average surface temperature of the Earth
H = the heat content in the surface layer (the essential layer of the biosphere)
C = the heat capacity of the mass of the surface layer (average material property)
ΔH = a change in the heat content of the biosphere layer (a gain or loss)

The relation of heat content to temperature is:

H = C•T

When a quantity of heat ΔH is added to the surface layer then:

H(new) = H(old) + ΔH

T(new) = T(old) + (ΔH)/C

When, in the above:
ΔH is positive, heat was added, and the new temperature is higher,
ΔH is negative, heat was lost, and the new temperature is lower.

General Equation for the Global Heat Balance

Global warming is determined by the balance of solar heating and radiant cooling.

The general equation for this global heat balance is:

ΔH = S•(1-A) – Q•(1-F)

ΔH = change in the heat content of the biosphere/surface layer
S = incident solar energy (light reaching the top of the atmosphere)
A = albedo: reflection coefficient of the Earth (0 < A < 1)
Q = radiated heat energy (infrared emitted by Earth’s surface)
F = IR absorption coefficient of the atmosphere (0 < F < 1).

A (albedo), F (IR absorption), Q (thermal emission) depend on Earth’s temperature.

Change in Biosphere Heat Content =
(Incident Solar Energy) • (1-Albedo) +
– (Radiated Heat Energy) • (1 – IR absorption coefficient of the atmosphere)

Heat flow from Earth’s interior to the surface is negligible, equal to about S/10,000.

During a period of stable climate:
ΔH = 0, incoming (light energy) and outgoing (heat energy) flows balance.
Q•(1-F) = S•(1-A), thermal emission into space = solar irradiation at Earth’s surface.

For an interval during which climate changes:
ΔH ≠ 0, incoming (light energy) and outgoing (heat energy) flows are not balanced.
Q•(1-F) > S•(1-A), thermal flux to space > solar irradiation if the Earth is cooling
Q•(1-F) < S•(1-A), thermal flux to space < solar irradiation if the Earth is heating.

Sources of IR absorbing gases in the atmosphere

Aerobic respiration
Terrestrial emission of organic plumes from:
– volcanic and geothermal venting
– methane outgassing caused by rising temperature (tundras and oceans)
Industrial emission of organic plumes from:
– chemical, mining and manufacturing facilities
– concentrations of agricultural and livestock activities
Air pollution from combustion-derived heat energy for industrialized civilization.

IR absorption coefficient depends on temperature

Evaporation of liquid H2O, and organic vapor plumes increase with temperature:
– cloud dynamics and distribution is the most contentious aspect of climate models
– terrestrial outgassing of IR absorbing gases increases with Earth’s temperature.
Hotter wetter eras may also be cloudier with both higher albedo and IR retention,
– compensating effects, which slow rate of heating.
Colder drier, large ice sheet eras may have higher albedo and lower IR retention,
– mutually amplifying effects, which accelerate rate of cooling.

Defining Global Warming

“The environment” is the 20-31 km thick surface-of-the-Earth layer of the biosphere.

Global warming shows that:
– the environment is not an infinite chemical thermodynamic sink,
– it cannot endlessly absorb waste heat and IR absorbing chemicals isothermally.

Global warming is:
– the increase of entropy in the environment.
– the degradation of organization of the environment.


The above is the outline of the physical science half of my never-to-be-finished book on the politics of climate change. Some of the energy-use policies and technologies that could be implemented in response to climate change were described in my article

The Economic Function Of Energy
27 February 2012

“The Economic Function Of Energy” covers the topics listed as the third and fourth lines itemized in the preface (at the start).

The last four lines itemized in the preface are discussed in a haphazard fashion in several of my articles posted on the Internet (see or, most recently in “AGW And Malthusian End Times.”

I think that today everybody understands that Anthropogenic Global Warming will not be addressed, nor resource and energy conservation practiced, until capitalism is rejected globally, and that humanity will never reject fossil-fueled capitalism.


Black Gold, Maximum Entropy

Peak Oil is dead, long live fracking, my climate change is gonna’ come, Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutant. A meditative rant on our scheduled progression from black gold delirium to becalmed oblivion is cited. Oil shale, tar sands, and unconventional fossil fuels are linked to climate change by anthropogenic global warming, which is undamped by human restraint in the forms of energy efficiency, energy conservation and relinquishing the combustion of hydrocarbons for civilization’s heat energy. Death is preferable to change, adaptation is unthinkable, and the inevitable consequences are anticipated as tolerable by denial. All our elaborations will melt into a rising tide of entropy.

Black Gold, Maximum Entropy
21 October 2013


A Green National Energetics

In his State of the Union Address yesterday, President Obama spoke about climate change and energy. My response to the President’s call for action follows, it was written nine years ago. Below, first Obama then MG,jr.

[Comments on Climate Change and Energy, from: President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union Address as delivered on 12 February 2013 (the 204th birthday of Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln)].

(OBAMA): Today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy. After years of talking about it, we’re finally poised to control our own energy future. We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years. (APPLAUSE)

We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar, with tens of thousands of good, American jobs to show for it. We produce more natural gas than ever before, and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it. And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen. But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. (APPLAUSE) Now… (APPLAUSE)

Now, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods, all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science and act before it’s too late. (APPLAUSE)

Now, the good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct… (APPLAUSE)

I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

Now, four years ago, other countries dominated the clean-energy market and the jobs that came with it. And we’ve begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year. Let’s drive down costs even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.

Now, in the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that. That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits. (APPLAUSE)

That’s got to be part of an all-of-the-above plan. But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and our water.

In fact, much of our newfound energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together. So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good.

If a nonpartisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we. Let’s take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we’ve put up with for far too long.

I’m also issuing a new goal for America: Let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next 20 years. (APPLAUSE)

We’ll work with the states to do it. Those states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make that happen.

America’s energy sector is just one part of an aging infrastructure badly in need of repair. Ask any CEO where they’d rather locate and hire, a country with deteriorating roads and bridges or one with high-speed rail and Internet, high-tech schools, self- healing power grids.

The CEO of Siemens America — a company that brought hundreds of new jobs to North Carolina — has said that if we upgrade our infrastructure, they’ll bring even more jobs. And that’s the attitude of a lot of companies all around the world. And I know you want these job-creating projects in your district; I’ve seen all those ribbon- cuttings. (LAUGHTER)

So, tonight, I propose a “Fix-It-First” program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country. (APPLAUSE)

And to make sure taxpayers don’t shoulder the whole burden, I’m also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children. (APPLAUSE)

Let’s prove there’s no better place to do business than here in the United States of America, and let’s start right away. We can get this done.


[from: Thirsty Invaders, Chasing Heat, 19 July 2004]

A Green National Energetics

What follows is my own first draft of a program to carry the United States through a transition to a post-petroleum world. Such a plan is essential, regardless of the degree of climate change we actually experience, because oil depletion is a certainty. Any serious public effort to devise a “national energetics” plan would naturally continue as an effort to devise a Green response to climate change. The many failings and gaps of my program will become evident to those who put any thought to it. This is good, we need many people thinking of the many ways we can help the transition to occur in a socially responsible way. Walter Cronkite states the fundamental point very clearly: “Make Global Warming An Issue.”

What kind of program would transform our society to best confront the compound challenge presented by an aging population, world oil depletion, and possible abrupt climate change, simultaneously?

Consider the following ideas, to spark discussion.

1. Tax gasoline and volumetric capacity (cc., cubic in.) of internal combustion engines.

2. Tax CO2 emissions. Sign the Kyoto Protocols — as a start — and move to regulate industry further on CO2 emission, as well as other pollutants and greenhouse gases.

3. Tax industries to fund the costs of removing and reversing the types of pollution they emit (don’t bother asking them to clean up, just have them pay — in advance — for being messy).

4. Regulate prices of many energy commodities (so the taxes on polluter slobs cannot be passed on).

5. Regulate and re-regulate the power industry and utilities. These are public functions, and public interest supersedes investor greed. Nationalization of this sector would be ideal (as with health care). My life is more important than your money.

6. Provide public funding for new research into alternative power schemes for public mass transportation in particular, and provide incentives for privately financed research as well. Keep the results of publicly funded research in the public domain — a general principle. One example of new thinking on transportation: expand rail (electric) and intra-urban light rail (trolleys) as regional networks, nationally. It is true that combustion at power plants fuels such networks, but these plants can be sited appropriately, and designed to capture and de-tox the effluents, so that pollution is dealt with at the source, and the source is secure and well-controlled. Also, large combustion-to-electricity plants (usually coal-fired) can be designed to take advantage of economy-of-scale (efficiency). Yes, also research Green personal transport (e.g., electric and fuel cell cars).

7. Ensure the wide use of solar photo-voltaic and solar water-heating for residential and municipal facilities; probably amplified with gas-heating for winter/dark conditions. Revise building codes and zoning regulations to require some Green self-generation of energy, and self-recycling of materials, for new structures. Push for energy self-sufficient, self-recycling architecture.

8. Employ wind generation where practical; this is a localized resource.

9. Convert agriculture to non-chemical (and non-petroleum!) use; and farm in smaller multi-crop units instead of massive single crop agribusiness layouts (which are easy prey to pests and major freezes, demand the use of pesticides, and who wants food monopolized?). The need is to reduce the dependence of food production on petroleum, and to enhance the natural robustness of the varieties grown.

10. Move away from such an emphasis on beef production. Too much grain is used for fattening beef. Tax cholesterol.

11. Move away from agricultural subsidies, especially where they keep supporting chemical farming. Too much grain is being produced for wasteful purposes: beef fattening and tax-dollar wasting gasohol.

12. Clearly, major conservation of gasoline, petroleum, water, and forests (for CO2 reprocessing) is essential.

13. Build mass transit to European and Japanese standards (speed, comfort, safety, modernity, extensiveness, reliability).

14. Everything on this list means applying public resources (taxes) to public benefit, instead of to wasteful corporate subsidies (as with nuclear power), which are private profit without social benefit. A fair, uniform-treatment, loophole-free tax structure would be most helpful for national financing (e.g., repeal Proposition 13 in California).

15. Reduce the US military to a defensive force, eliminating many high-petroleum use operations and pieces of equipment. This is combined with reining in our military from many far-flung posts around the world and ending the practice of ceaseless interventions.

16. Apply modern technology (e.g., plasma-torch pyrolysis) to recycle the nation’s garbage and to reprocess existing garbage and toxic dump sites. Power is generated from this (buried hydrocarbons); with sufficiently large plants, the garbage can be reprocessed to benign and elemental forms, and net electricity generated: power from garbage. Plants might be $1B investments each, so this must be a public investment. “Private” investors are too small-minded to do it right, and wait long enough to get paid off (maybe a decade or more, like the Golden Gate Bridge).

17. Packaging should be regulated as a pre-pollutant and oil consumption. This will ensure a significant improvement from retail plastic waste production to enviro-packaging.

18. Cars and durable goods generally should be taxed/regulated for end-of-use disassembly/recycling. The Norwegian “Think” electric car is built this way now, it is 100% recycle-able as-built (what I have called “self-recycling”).

19. The entire “move” to alternative energy, as a complex of technological projects, economic and tax policies, and shift in social patterns must become a national priority integrating the political and economic life of the country — the move from oil to the society powered by “new” sources. This cannot be done in a chaotic, or ad hoc “free market” way. The Japanese MITI model is useful here. This is a PLANNED ECONOMY. It would be based on domestic rather than imperialistic means. A major part of this move would be the creating of new jobs, occupations and careers for the American public; jobs including “technical” ones for the majority of educational levels (at/below high school).

20. Finally, we need clean government to be able to coordinate a national move from an oil-based economy. Ideally, we would convert our government to a clean one first (no corporate money in politics; hell, no corporations at all anymore), and then we could use it to convert the country into the post-21st century society it is to become. Rather than fight or thwart the rest of the world’s energy drive, we have to control and then transform our own.

21. Alternatively, we could drive off the cliff of myopic greed (the status quo), crash into the end-of-oil, have the easily expected civil wars, foreign wars, and social collapse, then wait for the survivors to possibly create a clean government (unless they proceed with the status quo, which by then will be of the war-lord/slavery variety). This late 21st century government could try to rebuild a republic with some degree of social equity and technological advancement. It seems such a shame to have to go through the Armageddon/revolution/collapse first, but probably inevitable if we remain wedded to our stupidity.

If we glide along with our present social inertia, history will record our society as one of stupidity in the service of greed. “Unable to change their patterns of thought in response to a change in natural conditions, they perished.”

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