Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Blue Sky Mining

 Featured image courtesy NewsFirst
“We are aware of the great difference in carbon dioxide that is emitted from biological sources and carbon dioxide emitted from fossil sources. One has sequestered rates measured in thousands of years while the other in millions of years.  Yet the cost is still the same. We would request the IPCC to address the relative costs of each. (Sri Lanka Country Statement COP21)
RANIL SENANAYAKE on 07/04/2017
We are moving into very dangerous times. The statement above, underscores the importance of differentiating between the biotic and non-biotic compounds that we add to the atmosphere. This is an observation that should have been incorporated into planning and costing responses to climate change. We should be informed of the emerging data and planning responses. We know that the mean temperature will rise, but the speed of that increase may be much more than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has computed, because they left out the most significant contributor to keeping our plants warm, water vapour. On average, water vapour accounts for about 60% of the warming effect and is the largest contributor to the Greenhouse effect. It is the natural blanket that has kept the atmosphere warm enough to sustain life. But the IPCC ignores water vapor as a contributory cause of the warming trends by assuming humans don’t change it measurably. They wrote, “Water vapour is the most abundant and important greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

However, human activities have only a small direct influence on the amount of atmospheric water vapour”. This stand is dangerous and must be questioned. They have focused on the carbon from fossil and biological fuels and in doing so, might have done the planet a great disfavour.
First, water vapour is the most important greenhouse gas it regulates and is maintained by the atmospheric temperature which limits the amount of water vapour in the air;  but if something else that causes the temperature to go up is added, the increased temperature causes more water to evaporate. Because the temperature of the surrounding atmosphere limits the maximum amount of water vapour the atmosphere can contain, the water vapour cycle has helped maintain an equilibrium of temperatures in the past.
Water vapour is a by-product of respiration in plants and animals. Its contribution to the pressure increases as its concentration increases, as the total air pressure must remain constant. The presence of water vapour in the air naturally dilutes or displaces the other components of air. Thus the output of water vapour can have a direct effect on the oxygen concentration in a local area.
Life on earth learned how to maintain gas and material flows, optimum for the evolution of biodiversity. Carbon dioxide, although essential to the process of life, was being introduced into the atmosphere by volcanic processes at disruptive levels, throughout geologic history. But the gas has not concentrated in the atmosphere, because it was sequestered by living things and put away out of circulation from the biosphere of living carbon. This store of carbon was fossilised and has been slowly accumulating over the last few 2 hundred million years.
Through these processes, which are still active today, carbon that enters the lithosphere (rocks) is removed completely from the biological cycle and becomes mineralised into pools aged hundreds of millions of years. This is why it is impossible to be carbon neutral by planting trees that live for a few hundred years at best, to make up for releasing carbon that has been locked away for millions of years.
The major exchange of carbon with the atmosphere results from photosynthesis and respiration. During the daytime in the growing season, leaves absorb sunlight and take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In the oceans the planktonic cycle operates a similar photosynthetic cycle. Both create biomass.  In parallel, plants, animals and substrate microbes consume this carbon as organic matter, transform it in the process of respiration and finally return it as carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. When conditions are too cold or too dry, photosynthesis and respiration cease along with the movement of carbon between the atmosphere and the land surface. The amounts of carbon that move from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, respiration, and back to the atmosphere are large and produce oscillations in atmospheric pressure, water vapour and carbon dioxide concentrations.

 This was the difference in value that Sri Lanka addressed in Paris, yet two years later have we yet held the IPCC or the scientific community responsible  for ignoring such a fundamentally important fact? The bureaucrats attending the meeting seem still unaware that the carbon emitting from burning fossil fuel is ‘new’ carbon, fossil carbon that has entered the atmosphere for the first time. It could be termed Newly Formed Oxides of Carbon (NFOC), this is accompanied by an equal volume of Newly Formed Water (NFW) as the fossil hydrogen atom released joins with oxygen to form water which enters into the atmosphere for the first time. These molecules, because they are chemically the same as those of living water and cycling carbon are not taxed for degrading atmospheric stability.
While fussing with the carbon cioxide emitted by burning fossil fuels, the fact that an equal volume of water vapor is emitted into the atmosphere seems to have been missed in the assumptions.  With more water vapor in the air the warming effect will increase. Which in turn reduces the percentage of the other gasses that the atmosphere holds.
A clear distinction between fossil and biotic energy and a placing of differential values on the two sources, will go a long way to expose these addicted economies and assist ‘developing nations ‘ to avoid the pitfalls.
The ‘fossil subsidy’ extended to fossil fuels, includes the cost of emitting NFOC’s and NFW, the fossil cost of steel and cement production required for the creation and operation of future ‘development’ projects, should become cost criteria for acceptance or rejection of future ‘development’ projects.  The current Government thinking of pinning our development to Oil, Gas and Coal, is dangerous and propels us into a very uncertain future.  The inability of the bureaucracy to respond to the changes is seen in the inability to advise on simple issues. The storage of drugs and medicines with a temperature threshold is a case in point.  We all know the misery that dialysis patients go through, but their medicines that were once stored in hospital stores, now require  air conditioned rooms to maintain their effectivity. With current temperatures now rising well above their temperature thresholds, such open storage will make these medicines degrade.  Who is there in the government to advise the various arms of government on such issues?
The extreme danger to us all by allowing the burning of fossil fuels as an energy source is not just the injection of fossil carbon and fossil hydrogen into the atmosphere it is the disturbing fact that it is using a diminishing resource, that all life depends on, oxygen.
Oxygen is the second most abundant substance on earth, but only four percent of it or 1.2 x 10 15   is found in the atmosphere and in living things. This component cycles through the biological system in about four thousand years. The total amount of atmospheric oxygen is maintained at about 21 % volume constantly, by the action of plants and the phytoplankton of the oceans.  All the oxygen in our atmosphere present has originated from some plant or green microorganism.
Normally, the oxygen volume is about 21.9% globally, this level of concentration is critical to all of humanity. Negative effects begin to be felt below 19%, at which point thinking and attention becomes impaired. As levels drop to 16 % there is reduced coordination, decreased ability for strenuous work, at 14% poor judgment, faulty coordination, abnormal fatigue upon exertion, emotional upset and cardiac stress, while a volume of just 10-12% results in very poor judgment and coordination, impaired respiration, heart damage, nausea, fainting and even death.
The current global concentration is about 21%, however this figure often dips to 19% over impacted areas and is down to 12%-17% over some cities.  In cities with many trees such as in Alabama, U.S.A it is 22% -19%. In cities with very low greenery and heavy urbanisation such as Mexico City it is 17% – 14%. As many will point out there is still a huge stock of oxygen in the atmosphere. But the trends are disturbing. The figure below shows the decline of oxygen concentration globally, but the disturbing bit is how closely it matches the rise in carbon dioxide concentration. This oxygen not only supports a human population that uses about 6-7 billion tons per year to breathe, but also supports all of industry, shipping, aviation and land travel and the only thing that produces oxygen are the green matter in vegetation.  We use this resource without one penny’s worth of investment in the producer of oxygen.
As previously mentioned, the term ‘fossil subsidy’ extended to fossil fuels, including the cost of emitting NFOC’s (Newly Formed Oxides of Carbon) and NFW (newly Formed Water). These new destabilising compounds that mimic natural chemicals are adding greatly to the forces that drive climate change. But the greater tragedy is that these compounds are formed by using up the natural oxygen stock of the world which if not replenished will rob the air that we will need to maintain our health.
To understand the real nature of what is being done to us, the generalised chemical formula to describe the burning of fossil fuels is very clear. So much so that it could well be termed the ‘Satanic Formula’. It reads thus:
CH4f + 2O2l à nCO2 + nH2O + energy (heat)
where f = fossil, = living, n = new to the atmosphere
Meaning that a molecule of fossil hydrocarbon, containing fossil carbon and fossil hydrogen (f) that never belonged in the atmosphere. i.e. they were never in the air, but always in the rocks, are combined with biologically derived oxygen (l) to produce, the destabilising new gasses (n) into the atmosphere, it tends to lock up the biologically derived oxygen away from living things. All these changes are created for the production of heat to drive our motors. The Poet Blake when he wrote of the  “dark Satanic Mills” of the Industrial Revolution, may not have known, but he very clearly pointed to the life destroying operation of the Satanic Formula.
Oxygen is a primary material formed through billions of years of the operation of life, it is replenished on a small scale by photosynthesis but remains a primary material. Extracting primary materials is an activity that is termed mining. “This includes extraction of any non-renewable resource such as petroleum, natural gas, or even water.”
The blueness of the sky is the result of sunlight scattered by tiny oxygen and nitrogen molecules. They scatter short-wavelength light, such as blue and violet light. As extracting primary materials is mining, will those who mine our blue skies for their profits, think a little about the effects of their mining and invest in assisting the replenishment of that oxygen, allowing us to keep our blue skies?

Applying the Satanic Formula for development is destroying everyone’s future.  Instead of mining that ancient buffer of oxygen can we not look at profiting from the supply of the ecosystem Service, oxygen in particular, as we invest in massive re-vegetation programs, to compensate for our consumption, given that oxygen is so crtitically important to human industry and human life?
Readers who enjoyed this article might find “After Sampur” and “Addressing climate change: COP 21 and Sri Lanka” enlightening reads.