The “climate change” – or “global warming” – debate has been enlivened by recent events.
On the one hand the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis I, has entered the debate along the lines of Al Gore’s anti-carbon, anti-fossil-fuel position. On the other hand a number of research teams in England, Russia and the U.S. have developed new theories allowing for accurate predictions of the sun’s energy output and its impact on the earth’s atmosphere. Should these theories prove to be correct, we will have made a major step forward in our understanding of global climate.
The “global warming” position is that the release of carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuels is warming the earth’s atmosphere, with potentially catastrophic consequences. Therefore the use of such fuels must be drastically curtailed, regardless of the economic impact.
This approach ignores the role carbon dioxide (CO2) plays in sustaining life on earth. Carbon has a unique ability to combine with other elements to form the complex molecules life is based on. Life on earth began when micro-organisms learned to use sunlight to break CO2 into carbon and oxygen, retaining the carbon for growth and releasing the oxygen. Plant life to this day is based on this process. Animals (including humans) consume plants and combine the ingested carbon with oxygen to produce energy, exhaling CO2. All life as we know it is based on this cycle. Eliminate carbon dioxide, and the earth becomes a barren rock.
In the geologic past the concentration of CO2 was greater than today, allowing for exuberant plant and bacterial life. Over time huge quantity of vegetal and bacterial remains were mixed with sediment, buried and compressed, gradually becoming the coal, petroleum and natural gas our economy runs on. The burning of those fuels does not produce new carbon dioxide. It simply returns to the atmosphere the carbon dioxide that was there to begin with.
Because carbon dioxide concentrations in ages past were far greater than they are today – yet the development of life was not threatened – the argument that burning fossil fuels will produce a climatic catastrophe is questionable at best, if not outright silly. Why then is there such pressure to stop using carbon – in the form of petroleum, coal or natural gas – as fuel? Modern industry was born when the huge potential of coal as an energy source was recognized. Oil and gas were later added to the mix. Stop their use, and our economy collapses, with the survivors returning to a 17th century life style.
Scientifically or economically, such “anti-carbon” policies do not make sense. There must be a political goal behind the anti-carbon crusade, and it could be quite simple: not to eliminate the carbon-based energy industry, but to control it – together with its huge revenues, its influence on the population and its strategic potential.
Shutting down coal-based generating plants on the pretext of “carbon pollution” has already raised the price of electricity in many parts of the country. A repeat of the last two winters could produce acute shortages and, potentially, a full-blown energy crisis.
Are we in for a series of long, hard, old-time winters? In all likelihood we are.
In the short term, the scientific advances mentioned above agree on one thing: we are entering several decades of colder weather, similar to the “Maunder Minimum” of 1645-1715, when temperatures fell across all of Europe, and in London the Thames River froze over. This is based on a reduction of the sun’s energy output, a process already underway.
In the longer term we are nearing the end of the “warm inter-glacial period” that divides successive ice ages. Such periods average twelve thousand years, and the one we are in is about that old.
Such forecasts of course cannot be fully accurate. The risk, however, is on the cooling, not warming, side. We will need heat and power more than ever. Shutting down generating plants is both wrong and dangerous. As for other policies, such as carbon taxes, they are the last thing that a fragile global economy would need.
Born in Poland, Jacek Popiel was educated in Africa, Canada, and the United States. He speaks five languages. His career spans military and international business development in the Soviet Union, Eastern and Western Europe, North America, and Japan.
He is currently a freelance writer and political consultant. His book “Viable Energy Now,” grew out of his military and international business experience and his professional involvement with energy issues.