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A Seven Percent Solution Will Never Remedy Global Warming

Sherlock Holmes was a fictionalized “consulting detective” celebrated in the works of Arthur Conan Doyle for his powers of observations, reason and skill in forensic science.

No skilled scientist approaches an impossible to understand or unexplained problem by throwing out 93% of the evidence at their disposal. In crime fighting this is a sure-fire way to incriminate the innocent and to free the guilty but for the top global threat to the world’s population, according to the Pew Research Center, it is a recipe for disaster.

Nonetheless that is how we are approaching global warming.

In literature Sherlock Holmes occasionally used cocaine in a seven-percent solution with a syringe kept in a Morocco leather case because, “I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation,” he said.

There is nothing routine about the preservation of human existence and for mental exaltation the pursuit is better than any narcotic.

The following graphic based on IPCC AR4 data for the period 1993 to 2003 tells us over 93% of the heat of global warming is going into the oceans.


Only 2.3% of the heat is going into the atmosphere yet the science tells us the ocean and the atmosphere ultimately have to come into equilibrium. The more heat we put into the oceans the more heat they have to ultimately give back to the atmosphere yet we are treating the oceans like they are our free lunch, or as Sherlock Holmes would have deduced the dog that didn’t bark because it was devouring our lunch.

The 2.3% of the heat accumulated in the atmosphere is a problem is in its own right but when you consider the oceans have accumulated enough heat already to warm the upper 10 kilometers of the atmosphere by an additional 36°C were this heat instantly released into the atmosphere the problem becomes clearer. Specially since April, 2016 was the 12th consecutive month of warmest recorded temperatures ever recorded principally on account of the release of a small fraction of the ocean’s heat to the atmosphere due to El Nino conditions.  For the most part this heat came from no deeper than about 300 meters whereas in the past 18 years the oceans have accumulationed as much heat in the past 18 years as they did in the previous 133 years with two-thirds of that heat going into the upper 700 meters of the oceans, 20 percent between 700 and 2000 meters and the remainder below 2,000 meters.

NOAA’s global State of the Climate report for April found the temperature over the Earth’s surface was 1.10°C above the 20th century average about slightly less than the March temperature of 1.22°C which crushed the previous warmest record.

In the estimation of Gavin Schmidt, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, the average global temperature in 2016 could range from about 1.1 °C above preindustrial to only slightly below 1.5 °C, based on the GISS’s temperature record per the accompanying graphic.


The 1.22°C mark for March however stands as the high-water mark for now but two hundred years from now the Nature Climate Change article of Tokarska et al. points to the potential for global mean warming of 6.4–9.5 °C, mean Arctic warming of 14.7–19.5 °C, and mean regional precipitation increases four times higher were we to burn the five trillion tonnes of carbon corresponding to the lower end of the range of estimates of total fossil fuel resources.

As the authors point out, “Concrete actions to curtail greenhouse gas emissions have so far been limited on a global scale, and therefore the ultimate magnitude of climate change in the absence of further mitigation is an important consideration for climate policy”.  But unsaid in the article is the point that we are yet to address or do not have any plan or policy for mitigating 93% of the problem.

M.J. Kelly of Cambridge University says in the 2015 paper Lessons from technology development for energy and sustainability, says, “An examination of successful and failed introductions of technology over the last 200 years generates several lessons that should be kept in mind as we proceed to 80% decarbonize the world economy by 2050. I will argue that all the actions taken together until now to reduce our emissions of carbon dioxide will not achieve a serious reduction, and in some cases, they will actually make matters worse. In practice, the scale and the different specific engineering challenges of the decarbonization project are without precedent in human history. This means that any new technology introductions need to be able to meet the huge implied capabilities. An altogether more sophisticated public debate is urgently needed on appropriate actions that (i) considers the full range of threats to humanity, and (ii) weighs more carefully both the upsides and downsides of taking any action, and of not taking that action.”

The full range of threats to humanity is probably the easiest of these questions to answer.  Richard E. Smalley, 1996 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry said in his paper, Future Global Energy Prosperity: The Terawatt Challenge, “When I have given talks on this subject before, I have often asked people in the audience to name the most critical problems we will have to confront as we go through this century.  In every case, after a bit of discussion, the audiences have agreed that energy is the single most important issue we face,” he said. Because it is the key to solving all of the other problems identified including water, food, environment, poverty, terrorism and war, disease, education, democracy and population.

So successful energy technology has to have the capability to solve as many of these issues as possible.

It can not make matters worth and it will have to make a serious reduction in carbon dioxide levels.

Reducing the ocean’s surface heat load, reducing thermal ocean expansion and sea level rise, utilizing a vast, natural marine carbon storage reservoir to lower carbon dioxide levels, helping mitigate ocean acidification and potable water production are the closes definition of a successful energy technology as we can get. And when added to that mix the avoidance of biophysical and land use limitations posed by negative emissions methods that rely on terrestrial biology, such as afforestation and BECCS you have essentially the perfect solution.

What’s more all of this costs no more than the cost of existing energy sources plus the mitigation of sea level mitigation, storm surge, drought and wild fires that have to be paid for in any case in a single bill.

Holmes would have never been fooled into thinking that cheap energy is the only cost of a sustainable future or that a seven percent solution will ever remedy global warming.

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