This is a guest post by Rik van Hemmen. Rik is the President and Senior Partner at Martin, Ottaway, van Hemmen & Dolan, Inc. His Areas of specialization include maritime and forensic engineering, human factors, vehicle design and operations, and environmental systems engineering and economic.
Concern over global warming is valid. Global warming almost certainly will result in instabilities that, at best, will be less than convenient, and, at worst, devastating. However, as an engineer, I am frustrated that we tend to confuse causes, effects and solutions of global warming. Causes, effect and solutions are all related and rationally engaging those issues is called problem solving. From an engineering point of view, almost always, and if it can be achieved, a problem can be most effectively solved by removing the cause. And the cause of global warming is simple: We are unnecessarily destabilizing our Earth by releasing way too much CO2 into the atmosphere. It seems to me that everybody is prognosticating as to what the effects of that may be, but no matter what may happen, the solution is always the same.
The solution is to remove the cause. Stop adding CO2 to the atmosphere by burning carbon fuels.
Meanwhile, we are spending more time talking about the effects than the cause and by doing that we are getting ourselves stuck in our own “the sky is falling” red herrings and arguments and lose sight of the solution. The truth is that we can talk about effects, but predicting effects is very complicated, and therefore open to pointless debate.
From an engineering point of view (not a human point of view, which is not quite the same thing), those potential effects are not always a terribly big deal. Global warming is not good, but global warming effects can often be dealt with by throwing money and engineering resources at them. These effects may not be the end of humanity but will rarely be pleasant. Global warming will result in further human migrations, in efforts to further irrigate and air condition certain parts of the globe and other presently unforeseen effects, all of which will cost money and energy to solve. Some may argue the Yukon basin may become wonderful farm land with excellent growing seasons and excellent CO2 levels to promote growth, but why would we ruin our present farmland and spend money to move it to untouched nature?
Due to rising sea levels, we may have to do a lot of Dutch style polder construction and more of humanity will be afloat. Having lived below sea level for a good part of my life, that simply is more business for large scale engineering companies. And we know what it costs to float large groups of humans since we can build 3000 passenger ships as easily as we build apartment complexes.
But do we want to involve ourselves in such projects and do we want our kids to have to pay for them? Absolutely not. There could be much more serious effects that will cost more money to solve than exists in the world and by focusing on the cause rather than the effects, we will spend our money much more efficiently.
And here is where the rubber hits the road. No matter what will happen, pumping CO2 into the atmosphere is wasteful even if we can engineer our way out of the negative effects. Most of all, from an engineering point of view, the use of carbon based fuels is totally unnecessary and at some stage (probably a couple of hundred years from now) we need to give up on carbon based fuels anyway, because we will have run out. Undoubtedly at that stage, we really will have discovered what a mess we made of things. We will have spent tons of money on remedial efforts and will still have to find the money to develop a sustainable energy approach.
We are addicted by convenience to carbon fuels, but at Martin & Ottaway we have been looking at fuel and energy issues for decades and there are actually sufficient renewable energy resources, approaches and technologies to power the Earth. That is an amazing statement and it was far from certain even 10 years ago, but, today, it can be safely stated that with a combination of all sustainable energy resources, and clever and elegant engineering, we can sustainably power the world and live well doing it.
That may not be obvious to everyone, but once you dig in, it becomes readily apparent that the path to sustainable energy exists and all we have to do is commit to it. Those of you who do not believe me should do their own research or contact us and we will point the way.
As such, let’s save our collective breath (which actually reduces CO2 emissions) and research dollars, and stop trying to predict and argue about what increased levels of CO2 will do and simply commit to getting rid of carbon based fuels.
Best of all, that approach does not only save our Earth, it also shows tremendous promise for the common good of all Earth’s inhabitants and it will be one of the best investments we have ever made.
If we elevate all of Earth’s 9 billion citizens to western standards of living by using sustainable energy, there will be vast swaths of the world that do not have to suffer the effects of carbon based fuel pollution first, and, instead, can take advantage of sustainable energy right away.
Really, instead of looking at a dark future, we are standing on the edge of a beautiful future. All we have to do is commit to it. Don’t worry about how we do it, simply commit to continually reducing CO2 emissions every day. It is the CO2 stupid; push and push and push to reduce it, and the solutions will almost magically fall in place.
Most of all, don’t believe the nay sayers. Show me a nay sayer and I will show you somebody who is beholden to carbon based fuels, either through their wallet or through their addiction. People in those positions will simply refuse to use a rational approach in arriving at their arguments.
Most of all, the door is wide open for anybody with the imagination and willpower to profit from a switch to sustainable energies, instead of perpetually supporting the wasteful and freeloading carbon players.
Life is throwing us a nice bone, let’s pick it up and enjoy it. There is a great carbonless energy future out there.
So, what will we do with all that remaining buried carbon? Nothing, we just let it sit, and meanwhile let Earth slowly absorb as much CO2 as we think is appropriate. Someday, maybe 100, 200 or 10,000 years from now, we will notice that Earth is going into a bit of a cooling cycle. That is actually scarier than global warming and then we may decide to burn a bit of carbon to turn up Earth’s heat a little. Carbon in the ground is an insurance policy, too much carbon in the air is resources wasted.
A note about the illustration: These are a selection of thumbnails of art created by Mary Mattingly. To me, they show a future. I am not sure what type of future, but they give me pause to realize that we create our own future.