R. Jerry Adams, Ph.D., Evaluation and Development Institute (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Myth #1: We Don't Know Who to Believe on Climate Change. Incorrect. Politicians and commentators in the media have disagreed on what scientists are saying about climate change. Some say that we are experiencing normal variations in climate and some are saying that we are facing a catastrophe unless we reduce our use of fossil fuels.
How do we know if there is a real problem with the climate? Why don't we just wait and see if things start getting terrible? "Why fix it if it isn't broken?" The answer is easy… if we want an objective answer.
Meteorologists study the weather and make forecasts for a week or so into the future. If they agree that a monster hurricane is approaching, we ignore them at our peril. We have no way of steering or stopping a hurricane so we need to leave the area the storm will hit. "Believing" the meteorologists has no room in the discussion. We know that we could lose our lives if we ignore them, inconvenient as it may be to leave our homes.
Climatologists, in contrast, study long-term global weather patterns covering more than 30 years into the past and future. As recently as 60 years ago climatologists did not know how much carbon dioxide was increasing in the air each year, whether the oceans were rising, whether deep oceans were warming, or whether humans were creating catastrophic climate change. Now they do know.
No leading climatology scientist is saying we are fine for the future and the future looks good as we continue our pattern of burning fossil fuels. On the contrary, climatologists agree that we are facing catastrophic climate change.
Myth #2: The worst consequences of climate disruption will be melting polar ice, harsher storms, climate changes that will kill some species of animals, and more frequent flooding in some coastal areas and islands due to slowly rising ocean levels. Incorrect.
The worst consequence of climate disruption is likely to be release of massive amounts of methane from deep oceans due to warming of deep ocean water. Deep ocean water is warming due to excessive carbon dioxide in the air. Paleontology records from millions of years past show that life on earth has been destroyed several times before. Sudden release of massive amounts of methane could be an extinction level event (ELE). Enough methane is frozen in deep ocean water to kill us if suddenly released.
Myth #3: If we seriously disrupt the climate's balance, we can work hard and restore it. Unlikely.
Records from paleontology suggest that climate balance is delicate and has repeatedly been disrupted. Once disrupted, it takes hundreds of thousands of years for climate to recover the balance that supports life as it does now.
Think of a spinning pot of wet clay on a potter's wheel. Imagine the spinning pot as a metaphor for climate balance. We put some pressure against the side of the spinning pot with our hand. The pot starts to wobble from the side pressure and the pot gets out of balance. Even if we remove our hand, the wobble still gets greater and greater until the pot collapses. Think of the hand as excessive carbon dioxide. A skilled potter may be able to save the pot from a slight wobble by putting counter-pressure on the side of the pot. Think of the potter as reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the air.
If we are in a "slight wobble" in the balance of climate now, then to solve the situation we have to counter-balance the excessive carbon dioxide in the air with reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. More specifically, counter-balancing means returning carbon dioxide concentration in the air to pre-industrial levels, about 285 ppm. Right now we are near 400 ppm.
Like a spinning pot, once climate is seriously out of balance, it can quickly spiral out of control and collapse.
Myth #4: If we continue to increase our use of fossil fuels, but more slowly, we will prevent climate disruption. Wishful thinking.
The goal of increasing the rate of using fossil fuels, but more slowly, has been chosen because it is what we think we can achieve. The goal is unrelated to any scientific information or historical information on avoiding climate disruption.
No environmental group or government agency is recommending that we return to pre-industrial levels of carbon dioxide. If we use our metaphor, environmental groups and government agencies are proposing that we keep pushing harder on the side of the spinning pot. Climate disruption is inevitable with that strategy since a "wobble" has already started.
Even if we stop using fossil fuels, there will still be residual effects from negative feedback loops already started, such as warming of the deep ocean water. The feedback loops will be like increasing the side pressure on one side of the spinning pot--the "wobble" will keep increasing from the added pressure. We need to create balance by reducing the total amount of carbon dioxide in the air.
Myth #5: Most of the carbon dioxide going into the air each year is the result of burning fossil fuels. Incorrect.
Over 90% of the carbon dioxide going into the air each year is released from the natural decay of vegetation. Burning fossil fuels adds another 3% - 10% of the carbon dioxide each year. Although 3% seems like a small amount, the excess has accumulated because carbon dioxide can stay in the air for hundreds of years. Further, oceans are getting acidified by absorbing the extra carbon dioxide and this is causing them to absorb carbon dioxide at a slower rate.
Since the distant past, oceans and soil have been absorbing about the same amount of carbon dioxide each year as decaying vegetation has been putting into the air, creating a balance. We now have about 30 percent more carbon dioxide in the air than at any other period in the last 800,000 years. We need to find a way to restore some of the balance.
A strategy to reduce climate disruption.
We do need to reduce our use of fossil fuels as part of our strategy. However, reducing the use of fossil fuels--even stopping the use of fossil fuels--is no longer sufficient to avoid climate disruption; climate disruption has already started.
The most powerful strategy we can use to minimize climate disruption is to pyrolyze a percentage of decaying vegetation. In pyrolysis, most of the carbon in the vegetation converts to a solid (biochar) instead of releasing the carbon into the air as carbon dioxide. The biochar, in turn, can be used in the soil to increase the soil's productivity.
To pyrolyze is to heat to 500 degrees Celsius, without oxygen. Existing or abandoned coal-fired power stations could be adapted to pyrolyze massive amounts of decaying vegetation. Existing coal-fired power stations have the infrastructure that pyrolysis of vegetation needs: furnaces to pyrolyze the vegetation and rail systems to bring the vegetation to the stations. The coal-fired stations also have the generators and other necessary support for distribution of electricity resulting from using the vegetation as fuel.
Municipalities could collect yard waste and provide it for fuel. Forestry departments could provide forestry waste for fuel. Farmers could provide crop waste for fuel. Prairie grass could be planted on non-arable land and harvested for fuel. We can do this now.
Problem: We are at the tipping point of catastrophic climate change and we are not responding with a solution.
Solution: Pyrolyze 70 gigatons of organic waste (biomass) to sequester carbon dioxide as carbon char (biochar) instead of having the waste emit that amount of carbon dioxide into the air; this can reduce the total amount of carbon dioxide in the air. Also reduce use of fossil fuels. The combination of pyrolysis and reduction of use of fossil fuels needs to get carbon dioxide levels down to 285 ppm globally.
Action: Work with environmentalists to ensure effective use of pyrolysis at the city, county, state, and federal levels. Work with environmentalists globally, especially China, the United States, and India, to reach the goal of converting at least 1,000 coal-fired power stations to biomass-pyrolysis power stations. Keep a running tabulation on the number of power stations converted to biomass pyrolysis and location.
Work with your local legislators to pass laws supporting the conversion of coal-fired power stations to biomass-pyrolysis power stations.
Work with the media to ensure that the public knows about the myths and the truth of climate disruption. Work with media to measure the amount of biochar generated in each city, municipality, county, and state. Pressure the EPA to put measurement of biochar creation on their list of high-priority measures for climate change.
1. Environmental organizations need to make pyrolysis of biomass a priority.
2. Governments at all levels need to make support of pyrolysis an urgent priority.
3. Humanity needs to make the conversion of at least 1,000 coal-fired plants a priority globally.
Provides an approach to using vegetation waste (grass and straw) as a fuel for a 3 million watt (megawatt) pyrolysis power station. The station also keeps carbon dioxide in the waste from entering the air by conveting it to a solid carbon, biochar, that can be used to improve soil productivity."
Save Our Climate: Pyrolize