Like life itself, environmental buzzwords evolve over the years. A generation ago it was simply “pollution.” As we’ve become more sophisticated, “global warming” has metamorphosed into “climate change.” Today, “anthropogenic (man made) CO2” is how our evil, self-serving race is upsetting the tranquility. What ever happened to acid rain?
The proposed solutions fall into categories such as burning biomass and, as the March 2008 issue indicates, “carbon capture technology” is the new way we’re going to burn coal without having to pay the consequences (“The Evolution of Carbon Capture Technology”). No question about it, “carbon” is the word of the day.
That shouldn’t surprise us, since carbon is a major component of everything that lives and almost everything we touch. What I find somewhat shocking, however, is the degree to which much of our engineering community has bought into the doomsday hype and has plunged headlong into carbon-this and carbon-that technology, when there is little real evidence that those avenues will have any significant effect. There is, in fact, plenty of evidence that acceleration of many of those technologies will create worse problems.
It all comes down to the millenia-old engineering principle that one doesn’t get something for nothing and the simple fact that we pay a price for being an industrialized society. Alarmingly, there is a cult-like aspect to this phenomenon. Those who dare to raise logical questions about its validity have been branded by their own buzzword: “global warming skeptic,” viewed by the climatologists riding this bandwagon as a kind of modern-day heretics. And the media, most of whom have jumped on the same bandwagon, are quick to point out that most of the skeptics are outside of the climatology community.
The lack of knowledge of heat transfer phenomena in this community is obvious to anyone who has read the IPCC (the UN Panel that decided the debate was “over,” and on which Al Gore based his book and movie) report, as I have. Consider a few points.
To begin with, a first-semester statistics student could find several flaws in the IPCC temperature analysis itself. For any statistical analysis to be valid, it must depict data repeatedly taken under the same conditions, in the same location, with instruments of comparable accuracy, preferably by the same individual. This is obviously impossible with date purporting to represent temperature behavior over a 150-year period, especially when the aggregate change in temperature (barely over one degree) is within the error of instruments used for most of that time period.
Second, CO2 makes up less than 5 percent of all greenhouse gases, with anthropogenic CO2 a tiny fraction of that. The feedback “forcing” mechanism that proponents allege results in drastic climate change has been scientifically refuted by several scientists with strong credentials.
That said, the idea that we are going to have any influence whatsoever on global weather by making a 10 percent reduction in manmade CO2 emissions is preposterous from the outset. As several studies by reputable climatologists have shown, the phenomena we see today result from numerous factors, the least of which is anthropogenic CO2.
Further, the IPCC report itself states that even if we were able to put the brakes on any further CO2 emissions today, postulated trends would continue for at least another century. Common sense and logic therefore tell us that we would be much better off spending our resources preparing to deal with climate change rather than making a questionably productive effort to mitigate it.
Third, biomass combustion is not carbon neutral. It takes 50 years to grow a tree to maturity and about two weeks to burn one in a wood stove. As we accelerate the use of biomass, the disparity between emission and reabsorption into plant life will widen. For any fuel to be truly carbon neutral, storing and emission have to happen in the same time frame.
Finally, biomass combustion creates other types of pollution that have far more harmful health effects than CO2. In a study done in Spokane, Wash., a few years ago, wood burning stoves put more particulate pollution into the air in six months than all of the coal-burning facilities in the city emitted in a year.
Does this mean that we should not endeavor to minimize CO2 emissions, or disregard them altogether? Of course not, but it does mean that we should not become so obsessed with a single phenomenon that we lose sight of the big picture.
Just wait a few years. The word of the day and the cause of all evil may be “particulate.”
Michael Cohen, M.E.A., P.E.
Senior Contract Administrator
Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding
To the Editor:
In the March 2008 article “Modular Construction Gains Ground,” credit should be given in the article to Alstom Power ECS. The bag house modules shown in the photo on page 54 for the Elm Road project were designed and engineered by Alstom Power ECS. Sub-assemblies were fabricated by PSP in Iuka, Miss., barged to Milwaukee and assembled by Advanced Boiler and Tank, then transported by barge to the job site. The discussion on the Zimmer project implied that B&W furnished the electrostatic precipitator; in fact Alstom Power ECS furnished the ESP to the Zimmer Station as one large module.
Don Schreyer, Project Engineering Manager, Alstom Power