Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Climate change theory by professionals does not add up

Above (l to r): Myles Allen, moderator Reto Brennwald and Bjorn Lomborg battling it out at the Climate Forum in October

Switzerland - A FASCINATING debate took place on 9 October between author and polemicist Bjorn Lomborg and scientist Myles Allen at the Climate Change Forum held in Switzerland.

Although Lomborg believes climate change is real, he says that the world should have other priorities for spending money, such as curing malaria and clean water supplies. Allen says that this would be the Russian model where the old Soviet government chose to spend money on irrigation for agriculture rather than nuclear safety, in other words we should spend money on reducing global warming. Myles Allen says the only way carbon is safe is if it follows his acronym SAFE standing for Sequestered At time of Fossil Extraction, but how is this done?

Myles Allen took ten pieces of coal, one of which represented all the coal used between 1750 and now, which he calls one global warming unit (gwu) and is roughly 500bn tonnes of carbon and is responsible for increasing global warming by one degree. One piece of coal represents all the oil and gas left in the worlds reserves, and the remaining five pieces of coal represent all the coal left in the world, with the other three pieces representing tar sands and oil shales. It took 250 years to burn the first gwu and will take around 25 - 35 years to burn the next one.

What was interesting to me was the lack of consideration given to the existing embodied energy stock of the world. My guess is that based on his figures, around 1 gwu of energy is embodied in the world's existing built infrastructure. So we should reuse the world's building materials rather than crush or recycle them. More importantly we should not demolish any building or road, or any built item, in the first place. The only reason for demolition should be if the energy cost of not demolishing is higher than that of demolishing.

In other words, if it takes more energy to keep something in place than to remove it then it sould be removed. But that decision cannot be made by the building's owner. It must be made by the global community. If the world decides a building should be demolished then all the materials from that building should be kept in as large a lump as possible and reused to make whatever is being built in place of the demolished building, or as near to that building as possible.

The harder it is for the western developed world to demolish buildings then the easier it would be for the undeveloped world to build up their infrastructure. There would be capital flight from the west to the undeveloped world.

Instead of carbon emission trading schemes each country would have an embodied energy audit and would be responsible for maintaining its energy capital stocks, both above and below ground. This would slow down the western world's use of energy.

It is no good looking at solely at energy flows and emission trading schemes. We must look at energy assets and human health trading schemes.

Bjorn Lomborg's famous book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, was deemed by the Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty to be dishonest, which he challenged and their pronouncement was withdrawn. In November 2001 Lomborg was made Global Leader of Tomorrow by the World Economic Forum, and in 2007 he was named as one of the 50 people who could save the planet. Rolling Stone wrote Lomborg pulls off the remarkable feat of welding the techno-optimism of the Internet age with a lefty's concern for the fate of the planet. He comes across as a cool media-savvy dude, like someone who you would see on Saturday morning TV showing you how to cook Thai curried asparagus.

Myles Allen is a climate change physicist at Oxford University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He recently suggested that poor countries affected by climate change should sue oil companies. He also says that we will soon be living in the climatic equivalent of the Cretaceous age. He contributed to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as a Lead Author of the Chapter on detection of change and attribution of causes. He comes across like a young John Steed of the Avengers.

Another debate in New York on Tuesday 13 January 2009 with the motion Major reductions in carbon emissions are not worth the money also features Lomborg and will be broadcast on BBC World News on 7 and 8 March. Moderator: John Donvan. Speaking for the motion: Peter Huber, Bjorn Lomborg and Philip Stott. Speaking against the motion: Daniel Kammen, Oliver Tickell and Adam Werbach

Myles R Allen v Bjorn Lomborg debate on video
Bjorn Lomborg's web site
Myles Allen's web site

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