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The Costly Lessons of Climate Change

The writer Upton Sinclair may have taught the world’s first climate lesson when he commented, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

It is pretty well established that the world needs to get off fossil fuels; yesterday, but the political establishment, which is well funded in the US and Canada, are perfectly happy, at best, to wait for manyana.

In the case of the Trump administration at least their message is consistent, they love fossil fuels. But the Prime Minister of Canada is trying to channel Marie Antoinette. He professes Canada can have fossil fuels and still be a global champion of the environment but the first part isn’t working out for him, or more precisely for the citizens of Canada. The oil majors have been walking away from the country in droves and the pulling of the plug last week by Petronas on its $27-billion plan to ship liquefied natural gas to Asia all but puts paid to the wet dream of a massive LNG industry for Canada.

What slays this writer/inventor is’ the fact that the Trudeau government doesn’t see it as its responsibility to support technology that actually solves the problem of climate change while providing the energy needed to replace the fossil fuels much of the rest of the world is gradually weaning itself off of. Witness the current announcement, Britain To Ban Fossil Fuel Vehicles By 2040.

This week Jonathan Aberman in the Washington Post defined innovation as “the process of creating new things that people care about.”

Many of us care about the environment, a lot, as does the government of Canada or at least it says it does.

Some of us, however, believe we know how to fix the climate problem but are being stymied in that effort.

The following schematic shows how the surface of the planet absorbs and radiates solar energy and how this, in turn, creates a thermohaline circulation in the ocean that drives the global heat engine.

Figure 1

The down and up arrows in Figure 1, above the ocean surface, represent the heating and zones of the ocean and as shown in the red box the up and down cancel each other out, as they do across the surface of the planet, but for the excess 335 terawatts a NOAA team determined  in 2010 the oceans were accumulating annually.

Climate Scientist calculate radiative forcing or climate forcing in terms of Watts per square meter of the total surface of the globe but since the surface arrows cancel each other, but for the warming that occurs only near the equator, it seems to me this heat can and should be productively captured in an accumulation of heat engines, represented by the purple box, to produce all the energy the world needs. Which is to say 80% more than we currently derive from fossil fuels.

A recent paper, Deep-Subsea OTEC, available here, by Vicente Fachina, confirms the claim of a patent application of the Los Alamos physicist Melvin Prueitt that a deep water condenser design can convert 7.6% of the ocean’s heat to produce 25.5 terawatts of primary energy annually. What’s more, Fachina points out that the deep-water design produces 22/6 or 3.67 times more energy than the topside approach currently favored by most OTEC advocates, as few and far between as those have been.

The following diagram shows how, with the deep-water design the total accumulation of warming heat can be isolated for at least 250 years, which is the existing length of the era of fossil fuels, plus the fact that the OTEC era and the isolation of heat can be extended at least 13.4 times longer.

Figure 2

(Each colored block represents a 12.5-year long unit of heat moved by a heat pipe to a depth of 1000 meters at a speed of 75 meters/sec and then returning at a rate of 4 meters/year, as was the determined vertical diffusion rate of ocean water by Walter Munk in his 1966 paper “Abyssal recipes”.)

Essentially global warming can be halted in its tracks and if necessary can be turned back to pre-industrial levels simply by producing energy the world in any case wants and needs.

The following shows in contrast how conventional OTEC, which is essentially a dilution solution, can only isolate heat from the surface for about 25 years and what’s more massive upwelling of water moves heat rapidly out of the OTEC prime producing region, in purple in Figure 1, therefore the nascent era of OTEC is reduced to only about 1000 years and what’s more, at an efficiency rate of only about 2%, about 7 terawatts is the maximum amount of energy that can be produced each year.

Figure 3

The heat that we do not convert continues to run-a-muck in the environment.

Aberman says it’s time to broaden our definition of innovation. To grow our economy, we need to stop unicorn hunting and reset why innovation matters.

Innovation should matter to Canadians if for no other reason than the fact that we are losing an industry that has provided us with a pretty good living for a lot of years while turning our back on its, gift-wrapped, replacement.

That could be the blunder of the century and a lot of salaries will be on the line for those incapable of understanding this lesson.

As the saying goes, someone’s loss is another’s gain!

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