Approaching the Switch-point.

Two recent news items are rather disturbing. They strongly indicate that the effect of our Carbon Dioxide emissions will accelerate, bringing us faster to the point at which natural forces start to work against us, instead of for us.

The news items in question are:-

Ships’ CO2 ‘twice that of planes’ and

Oceans are ‘soaking up less CO2’

The first reference may come as a surprise. The fact that ships in general have now departed from their age-old practice of cruising at 11 kts – the optimum speed for fuel conservation – and are now using more fuel to go faster in order to keep up with demand, was not generally known. The fact that the demand for shipping has increased as the result of world trade policy and other factors, such as increasing population, should, however, come as no surprise.

The second reference should be no surprise either. It is quite normal for a solution to slow down absorption as it approaches its saturation level. It is also quite normal for a solution’s saturation level to go higher with increased temperature. This would mean that the oceans will continue to absorb CO2, albeit at a slower rate, as they warm up. Unfortunately, with increasing acidity, marine life – including another major carbon sink, Coral, is likely to suffer badly.

As temperatures continue to increase, our Rainforests, (such as are remaining to us after years of devastation), will stop sinking CO2, and become a source of it. Furthermore, increasing temperatures will thaw permafrost, releasing Methane into the atmosphere, and compounding the problem immensely.

At this point, our carbon sinks will be no more, and the Earth will be locked into a warming phase which is constantly accelerating as new mechanisms are triggered.

It comes to mind that if shipping is now a major polluting factor, what other mechanisms also cause increasing pollution that we are still unaware of? The pollution from cars and other road vehicles has long been under discussion, although without useful result as yet. Trains, however, are also subject to the same pressures as shipping and other forms of transportation, but are not yet included in our overall picture.

Nor is one other factor that could yet prove to be significant, as the resulting effluent is Methane. I refer in this case not to “Cow Belch”, but to “Flatus”. The ‘Flatus factor’, with a world population of 6.5 billion or so humans, is quite likely to prove our undoing if not included in our calculations in time. Flatus is a result of the digestive process, and is produced by anything that digests food – ranging from humans to termites.

It should be clear that without carbon sinks of any description left functioning, the temperature of our planet has only one way to go – up!

If we are at all interested in surviving this global environmental catastrophe, we have to start sequestering Carbon Dioxide now, and not just that from dirty (or even cleaner) coal-fired power stations. The requirement is to reduce the atmospheric CO2 content to a level where the Earth is once again in temperature balance.

The power for this sequestration must come from our daily input of solar energy, and not from fossil fuels, otherwise we are only “shooting ourselves in the foot”.

The technology for this purpose is already in widespread use. BOC, (British Oxygen) for example, produces Carbon Dioxide in steel cylinders, for sale. The gas is then released again into the atmosphere as the customer uses it. When cooled to its freezing point, however, it should be easy to sequester it as “Dry Ice”, where it will return to its gaseous form under storage. The one problem with this process is that it uses fossil fuel as its power source.

With a change of technology, however, it should be an easy matter to convert the process to an environmentally friendly one. The Free-Piston Stirling Engine using solar radiation, for example, can produce cryogenic temperatures directly, and Carbon Dioxide is one of the easiest gases to extract from the atmosphere by this means.