More Greenwashing From Sir Richard?

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If I were half as smart as Richard Branson and just half as rich—hell, a tenth as rich—I'd have a Gulfstream in my hangar instead of a J-3. Branson, whose Virgin Atlantic is one of the world's high-profile airlines, has a flair for showmanship and perhaps a talent for greenwashing, too.

At least that's what I thought when this week's story on his plan to begin fueling his airliners with an alternative fuel made from the effluent of steel and power plants appeared. Recall that previously, Branson got involved with a proposed bio-fuel project using palm oil as the feedstock. He even flew one of this 747s on a blend of such fuel. Here's a quote from the story that deserves further parsing.

"With oil running out, it is important that new fuel solutions are sustainable…this new technology is scalable, sustainable and can be commercially produced at a cost comparable to conventional jet fuel." Such statements are quite maddening because they lack credibility and people as smart as Branson should know better. Bio-fuel and alternative-fuel initiatives have emerged and died like flies one after the other because the claims for them, if not overstated, are flat out wrong. In case you haven't noticed, it's a chore to fill up your fancy Flex-Fuel SUV with E85 because there are so few E85 stations. And even if you could, you probably wouldn't because it would cost more. Bio-diesel has made some nice gains, but still only accounts for a paltry 2 percent of world production.

The overwhelming reason that this is true is because Branson's "with oil running out" statement is complete hogwash. Most people in the energy industry know this but only the radical fringe in the alternative fuels industry continue to push the idea that "peak oil" is upon us. They have been saying this for 120 years and have been consistently wrong.

In his new book, The Quest: Energy, Security, And the Remaking of the Modern World, author Daniel Yergin points out that there have been five great eras predicting the demise of oil. The first was in 1885, after oil was discovered in northwestern Pennsylvania. No less than the state geologist predicted that oil was "a vanishing phenomenon" that would soon run out. After World War I and again in the 1920s, as Ford cranked out cars in thousands, oil supplies were seen as soon depleting. In fact, Henry Ford put Charles Kettering to work developing a fuel alternative, one of which was to be ethanol. By the 1960s and 1970s, the work of M. King Hubbert came to the fore. A geologist, Hubbert developed a depletion curve that bears his name. It's sometimes called the Hubbert Pimple.

But in his predictions, Hubbert and subsequent peak oilers failed to consider two things, says Yergin: The advance of technology and price effect on demand and production. Price has shown to substantially impact oil usage and is subject to forces that are impossible to predict, what Yergin calls "above ground" factors. But just as big a driver is the advance of technology in finding and producing vast volumes of oil heretofore unreachable. That mess that BP made with the Macondo well in the Gulf last year poked a hole in one of the richest offshore finds yet. The more oil we use, the more we seem to find. Price has one other effect: When oil prices are high, oil companies get busy investing in new exploration and technology. Thus far, such investments have paid off.

Says Yergin, by 2010, oil production was four times higher than Hubbert's models predicted. At the end of 2009, proven oil reserves were, at 1.5 trillion barrels, slightly higher than they were at the beginning of the year. That means discoveries and additions in existing fields were more than enough to replace what was used. This pattern has proven true in many years. And I haven't even touched on the revolution going on natural gas and gas to liquids projects, such as Shell's Pearl GTL.

This is diametrically opposed to Branson's "with oil running out" comment and is at the heart of why bio and alternative fuel proposals always seem like such pie in the sky and why so many fail. When their supporters claim these projects are "scalable and sustainable" I suspect they do what Hubbert did. They view oil resources as static and finite, despite 150 years of history showing just the opposite. Further, oil and gas exploration respond dramatically to technological innovations.

This may be true on the bio-fuels side, but the economics just don't seem to be catching up to petroleum. Enzyme-based processes look particularly promising, but there's no there there just yet. Predictions about scalability have widely missed the mark because of over optimistic assumptions.

In this article, the CEO of LanzaTech, the company whose technology Branson was touting, said the technology was "close to being able to make ethanol without subsidies." This is a little silly on its face and rather like saying we're just about to turn the corner on making coal from compressed sea weed. Ethanol has proven itself to be a marginal fuel at best, although it's a valuable chemical for other purposes. LanzaTech's technology, by the way, uses organisms to eat the gas effluent from steel mills. Its larger value may be to reduce emissions while producing a saleable byproduct that, even if more expensive than oil-derived fuel, still has value.

None of the foregoing is to suggest bio-fuels are hopeless and research on them should stop. Quite the contrary. Even in the oil industry, it's generally accepted that alternatives will be part of the energy mix, although if proven oil reserves keep expanding, they'll struggle to make inroads, such are the overwhelmingly favorable economics of oil.

As pilots and aircraft operators, we use gobs of fuel and electric airplanes, diesels and other advances aren't going to change that. So we need to keep an eye on alternative fuel ideas. My larger point is that as readers, we ought to be informed enough to recognize when we're being fed a line or at least when claims don't seem to add up. A good place to start, by the way, would be Yergin's book.

Comments (155)

I couldn't agree with you more Paul. It may even well be that oil is just a by-product of processes deep in the Earth's crust.
"With oil running out" is just a statement to get more funding to research a myth.

Posted by: John Piepers | October 19, 2011 11:59 PM    Report this comment

Not to mention the huge amounts of shale oil available in Canada and Australia. A bit more expensive than pumping it out of the ground, but Australia ran on this before cheaper underground oil became available

Posted by: Richard Woodhouse | October 20, 2011 4:47 AM    Report this comment

Unfortunately, Paul's accurate assessment of our oil supply will not get the same media coverage as the misinformation Branson blurts out. Last time I checked Branson isn't a geologist. As for ethanol, this political boondoggle has cost the taxpayers enough! Politicians know even less about energy supply than Branson.

Posted by: Steve Smith | October 20, 2011 6:47 AM    Report this comment

There _is_ that pesky carbon dioxide problem. Burning oil adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. On the other hand, a fuel that is grown and then burned, be it firewood or a liquid fuel derived from biomass, is a carbon-neutral event.
That, combined with the rising cost of getting oil from the ground, is reason enough to vigorously support continued research into biomass-based fuels.
Proven reserves grew slightly during 2009. For how many years will that trend line maintain that slope?

Posted by: John Schubert | October 20, 2011 7:10 AM    Report this comment

An advantage of ethanol is, its octane rating is over 100. Unfortunately its energy content is only 63% that of gasoline. I would suggest that Mr. Branson use ethanol (as E-85) in his ground vehicle fleet if he wants to be green.

Posted by: Alex Kovnat | October 20, 2011 7:18 AM    Report this comment

Of course there's plenty of oil. The big questions are: 1) how much is it going to cost, as extracting it gets more difficult and dangerous? and 2) What costs in environmental destruction are we willing to pay for extracting and burning it?

Branson is guilty of shorthand speaking, but he is not guilty of greenwashing.

Posted by: Dan Luke | October 20, 2011 8:26 AM    Report this comment

Burning wood is only carbon neutral if it is cut without a chainsaw by someone who does not have any brothers or sisters......
If this process works as advertised, its main advantage might well be cost -- oil prices show no signs of falling significantly, and have been high for four years now.
Like you say, Richard Branson is someone who knows where the profit margins are.

Posted by: Brian McCulloch | October 20, 2011 8:30 AM    Report this comment

Although Branson no doubt said "oil is running out", his main concern for using bio-fuel is to reduce CO2 emissions in order to control "climate change". THAT, is a whole other story...

Posted by: Al Secen | October 20, 2011 8:32 AM    Report this comment

I believe Branson's main concern is good public relations so his ventures can continue to earn large profits. That's perfectly okay. But let's not get our pants snagged on his altruism.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 20, 2011 9:27 AM    Report this comment

What many fail to consider is oil is a finite resource while world population continues to explode. The demand for oil will continue to steadily increase and the cost will spiral out of control. Alternate fuels will be needed sooner that later in my opinion.

Posted by: Ric Lee | October 20, 2011 10:09 AM    Report this comment

Oil is not running out any time soon. World population is not "exploding". Even the UN is predicting a leveling off of global populaiton in, what, 50 years or so.

As far as global warming goes, never mind that there's a lot of contradicting evidance regarding the extent of mankind's contribution, I'd rather live in a warming world than a cooling one. The advantages of warming outweigh the disadvantages. The opposite is true for a cooling world.

Posted by: Andrew Upson | October 20, 2011 11:04 AM    Report this comment

While I accept that oil reserves are not yet declining due to continuous exploration, it is foolish to assume that there never will be a problem. We will eventually reach a point where there is no more oil to find, nor new technology to extract even more from what has been found. At that point, it's over. There are already oil-producing middle-eastern nations who are transitioning from an oil-based economy to something else because they know those days are numbered, but it seems like we, the oil consumers, will not accept that the supply is NOT endless. We are the first to use, but it seems we will also be the last to learn.

Posted by: Brian Turk | October 20, 2011 11:06 AM    Report this comment

Hmmm...very oily subject...the term "Abiotic" has not come up in this discussion. It indicates that the oil we use is being procuced through natural processes taking place within the earth. Russin and Norwegian scientists drilled down to 40,000 feet and found oil to prove their point on "abiotic" oil that they started looking at back in the "50's. Any Alternative fuel that uses agricultural land in which to produce it, is totally tragic given the population explosion that is taking place with many mouths to feed. Can't imagine what would happen when the day comes that people are starving while the others are putting "food" in their fuel tanks. We do need to look at alternative fuels, however, it seems that it needs to be done in a sane manner and not cost the livelihoods of numerous folks in the process. By the way, this "carbon credit" scheme is as crooked at it can get. As is always said, "follow the money" and you will find the source of most of this misguided madness that we see with the "alternatives" to petroleum useage.

Posted by: Blaine Banks | October 20, 2011 11:06 AM    Report this comment

If the limits to how much fossil fuel we can burn are dictated by limits of our atmosphere's ability to absorb carbon dioxide, I would favor a carbon tax on coal and oil and also, natural gas obtained by hydraulic fracturing (but not if obtained by fermenting cow leavings on diary farms). Said tax will create a firm and yes, painful but also very flexible incentive for society to pursue a broad range of initiatives to limit fossil fuel use. This includes driving smaller cars and also, car-pooling if one insists on having a larger car. Or, living without driving so much.

Biomass is everywhere you look, so another fossil fuel CO2-reducing initiative is to develop processes to produce ethanol, high-octane hydrocarbons (for spark-ignited piston engines) and hydrocarbons without an octane requirement (for jet and turboprop planes) from various forms of biomass such as what we find in our back yards.

Posted by: Alex Kovnat | October 20, 2011 12:35 PM    Report this comment

Very well written. Thanks you.
It seems that every time there is a shortage, there is always someone selling "snake oil".

Posted by: Mark Fraser | October 20, 2011 2:30 PM    Report this comment

As my wife commented a few more facts from both points of view would be helpful. A Paul notes, oil while not yet running out is becoming harder to recover. This together with estimates that we can only afford to use 25% of the presently known reserves without causing catastrophic environmental damage should be encouraging a greater sense of urgency to find alternatives. The ¨market¨ signals will not appear in time for appropriate action to be implemented.

Posted by: Keith James | October 20, 2011 3:42 PM    Report this comment

"a few more facts from both points of view would be helpful."

I get this a lot. Let me give you a journalist's perspective. In the climate research field, scientists complain about what has come to be called "bias by balance." What that means is that reporters writing stories about climate change balance their stories with studies and claims by climate change skeptics, thus there are people who believe climate change is a hoax. But even a person with minimal technical background can evaluate the quality of the science on both sides of the argument.

If you can separate your own bias--often political, since climate change is so politicized--you would have to concede that climate change science is quite well developed. And a fair-minded person would be unlikely to conclude that there's no scientific consensus. Yet because of bias by balance, some people continue to argue that point; mostly the more ignorant politicians.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 20, 2011 6:15 PM    Report this comment

There is a similar phenomenon in reporting about energy and especially bio-fuels and alternative energy sources. But in reverse. Claims are made for certain ideas, programs and initiatives which are neither challenged nor placed in perspective by reporters writing these stories.

Because it's "green" or somehow addresses "dwindling oil" or CO2 emissions, it must be good. The reader is given no context in how these barely modest energy sources fit into the whole of a 100-quad energy economy. When the numbers are crunched, they often don't add up, yet reporters take the claims at face value.

In this blog, I guess I have said that I don't take the claims at face value because I have seen enough of them fail to potentiate. I still support the idea of bio-fuel and alternates. But they will be bit players, part of a mix of energy sources which will be dominated by hydrocarbon primary sources for quite some time.

I try to point readers at neutral sources to put all of these energy source claims into perspective while at the same time resisting bias by balance.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 20, 2011 6:31 PM    Report this comment

Paul I don't think you're operating from any kind of journalistic high ground while you collect ad money from such naked huskterism as "aerofusion fuel optimizer". And to add to the irony it's placed right next to the Branson statement you're nitpicking.

Have you read the claims on that bit of snake oil? I can't decide which is my favorite. It could be the special molecules searching out water in the fuel and dragging it to the sump for you. But I have to go with after leaving the exhaust the special "nano" molecules are somehow able to re-enter the internals of the engine to lubricate it. What do you think the scientific consensus on that is? Bransons exaggerations are pretty minor by comparison.

Posted by: BYRON WARD | October 20, 2011 6:57 PM    Report this comment

If the earth has lots of oil left, why does avgas cost $8/gallon at KBED where my aircraft is based? (No, I don't buy it there.)

I'll grant that the world still has abundant amounts of fossil fuels, but it isn't getting easier to extract - example: the tar sands in Canada are only economically productive if oil is over $70/barrel. The cost will continue to go up as the easily extracted resources are consumed - because the expensive stuff is what's left after the easy oil is gone.

You're 100% right about 'alt-fuels' - so far, they are all just marketing BS. And they all depend on an infrastructure built on cheap fossil fuels. But an argument that we don't have a problem because the world has more fossil fuel available is difficult to accept in the face of continually increasing prices.

Posted by: David Senzig | October 20, 2011 7:03 PM    Report this comment

Look, that ad surprise me as much as you. I'm looking into it.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 20, 2011 8:32 PM    Report this comment

I've never made the direct association between advertising and the content of the speaker or writer being sponsored. Seems just one of those things sometimes we have to make allowances for in today's highly competitive world. Whether a fuel additive or 96 week boner pill, treat it like the fashion industry - for those with the eyes to see, they're good sources of humor.

The immense power, money and nation status of oil is too big for me, so I like to hear about guys like Willie Nelson and Branson doing what they can with biofuel and alternates. And I'm really looking forward to flying over to Hatch, NM to watch with envy a few launches of Spaceship One when they start hurtling peoples to weightlessness. Provided I can still afford the fuel.

Posted by: David Miller | October 20, 2011 8:36 PM    Report this comment

I do when it's that blatantly scammy. Lie down with dogs etc. I'm sure Paul wasn't aware of it before it was posted but how Avweb reacts will change my opinion of them for better or worse.

Posted by: BYRON WARD | October 20, 2011 9:35 PM    Report this comment

"And a fair-minded person would be unlikely to conclude that there's no scientific consensus."

Science (by definition) is neither "fair minded" nor does it work on a "consensus". Science is skeptical and science must be proven. Just because groups of scientists "think" something is occurring is irrelevant. Future Global climate is too complex for simple extrapolations, single variables, or even scientists at this time.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | October 21, 2011 7:12 AM    Report this comment

Of course science is fair minded. Fair minded means you let the data form and support your conclusions, rather that letting bias--political or otherwise--shape the view.

Consensus refers to acceptance within the climate science community, meaning some may question details in the data, but few question the conclusions. Hoaxers and deniers claim the community is split. It isn't. Reasonable skeptics have at least reviewed the actual science to form an informed opinion. They may be wrong or right. But thus far, no cigar.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 21, 2011 7:47 AM    Report this comment

Paul B.,

You say, "If you can separate your own bias--often political, since climate change is so politicized--you would have to concede that climate change science is quite well developed. And a fair-minded person would be unlikely to conclude that there's no scientific consensus. Yet because of bias by balance, some people continue to argue that point; mostly the more ignorant politicians."

Do you know that Burt Rutan is among the people arguing that point? Of course, he's an engineer, so you could argue he doesn't know much about atmospheric science, but he does know a few things about data analysis. It's been noted that many of the AGW skeptics are physicists. In other words, many of the skeptics are people well-versed in the scientific method and data analysis, but who are not biased by the fact that all the funding on AGW comes from governments, and is directed toward demonstrating that AGW is a problem. It's best not to ignore motivation bias: scientists suffer from it too. Even if they're all honest, only the ones who honestly believe in AGW get funded; few of the ones who honestly don't believe in it have jobs.

Posted by: Thomas Boyle | October 21, 2011 8:00 AM    Report this comment

You're right about motivation bias and it's a fair point. I'm familiar with Rutan's views on the climate change theory. I would characterize him as an informed skeptic.

My larger point is that motivation bias works both ways. So does group think. There is a well-formed scientific community supporting the AGW theory with what appears to be good science. In my estimation, the dissenting community appears less well formed and, in some ways, more shrill. Christopher Monckton is a leading proponent. Google his name for more.

Monckton has raised the point of group think, but his questioning of some of the methodologies used for temperature data don't convince me that the people doing the research have built a house of cards.

Someone may yet do that. Just because a consensus exists, doesn't mean it's not wrong. I've read two books on the subject, John Houghton's The Complete Briefing and Kerry Emanuel's monograph on the topic. There's a spate of new work on the subject, but I haven't gotten to any of these yet. Reading the reviews, it's obvious that some of these have political agendas to advance, both left and right. I try to avoid these.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 21, 2011 8:34 AM    Report this comment

Outgoing long-wave IR radiation(OLR)measured by the "IRIS" satellite (1970-2006) shows no reduction in radiant losses. Measured increases in atmospheric CO2 is not causing a measurable "heat trap" in the global atmosphere.

Obviously human activity on the surface is changing recorded temperatures on the surface. It's called a heat island. We will have these no matter what power source we end up using.

AGW is a surface anomaly that is not corrected by lowering atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Q.E.D.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | October 21, 2011 9:27 AM    Report this comment

Branson's claims of the end of oil and LanzaTech's claim of 'near subsidy-free' production of ethanol from flue gas is no more disingenuous than the claim that carbon dioxide causes global warming. In fact it is probably more honest than the IPCC's or Al Gore's conclusions because in LanzaTech's case, it could happen. Branson just wants our money. The IPCC and Al Gore want to control our lives.

The genetic engineering done to create a critter that converts CO into a hydrocarbon is described here: rsc*org/chemistryworld/news/2009/november/15110901.asp

So at least it's really been done. One wonders if the genetically engineered organism phobics will object to making fuel this way?

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 21, 2011 9:53 AM    Report this comment

>>If the earth has lots of oil left, why does avgas cost $8/gallon at KBED where my aircraft is based?

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 21, 2011 10:04 AM    Report this comment

>>a fair-minded person would be unlikely to conclude that there's no scientific consensus. Yet because of bias by balance, some people continue to argue that point; mostly the more ignorant politicians.>>

Paul, I just don't see the balance you reference in the public press. Indeed, I see media reporting a storm, ice shelf calving, wandering polar bears and other phenomena blamed on AGW than the suggestion that it might just be natural variation. . I find that disturbing, because from my feeble understanding of the scientific method, AGW is still a hypothesis and does not meet the standard of a theory, and a hypothesis should be discarded or revised as necessary to explain the data. Sharing methodologies and data and debating conclusions is the very heart of the scientific method. Claims to the contrary are simply efforts to deny a different analysis of the data and methods. Indeed, I see data adjusted to resonate with what the theorists want us to believe AGW is true, which is what 'Climategate' was all about. The climate skeptics present data that should at least be considered but is not. Is that the scientific method?

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 21, 2011 12:26 PM    Report this comment

S. Fred Singer, Chris Moncton, Andrew Neil, Richard Lindzen, Steve Milloy, Chris Landsea at al make convincing arguments against the hypothesis that CO2 and global temps are linked. Some can demonstrate using NASA satellite data that global temps are cooling and not rising as others using land sensor data claim while all agree that CO2 concentrations have increased. Indeed, the fossil and ice record data sets indicate the earth has spent more of recent time under huge ice sheets than with tropics at the poles, so statistically it's more likely the planet will cool again. And then there is the problem of the Sun, sunspots, solar wind and cosmic rays affecting cloud cover, a phenomena that has been demonstrated in the lab. It just might be responsible for solar gain and heat loss, but AGW proponents ignore it.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 21, 2011 12:27 PM    Report this comment

When I got my B.S. 40 years ago we were taught that the scientific method was the search for the truth and not proving a point of view. Until these competing hypotheses are disproved we should not use a questionable hypothesis to create public policy. And those who promote the precautionary principle need to consider the consequences of voluntarily carbon-taxing yourself and giving that money to governments and banks proven to do stupid things with it. Or denying the next generation a way of life that has doubled lifespan over the last 120 years.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 21, 2011 12:28 PM    Report this comment

AGW is based on computer modeling using data from land sensors 'corrected' for heat island effects using undocumented algorithms. Until about 15 years ago Jim Hanson at NCAR ignored the effect of the oceans 'because it was too hard.' Is it 'scientific' to ignore 4/5 of the planet to describe 'global' effects? Richard Lindzen at MIT and others objected and Hanson begin incorporating data from ocean sounders and vessels. That was the result of review and debate.

'Climategate' revolved around manipulating the data sets to create a more dramatic hockey stick graph for the IPCC report. They made the well documented Medieval Optimum and little ice age disappear. That created a more dramatic graph Al Gore used to show cause and effect between CO2 and temps that won him a Nobel prize. Adding the MO and LIA data back shows no change, and indeed suggests that temps drove CO2 concentrations as warmer seas released CO2, much like a warm beer goes flat.

Consensus: Some of the 2500 'scientists' listed on the second IPCC report on climate change are not scientists nor are they climatologists. Would you go to a climatologist for an opinion about a health problem? So why are MDs listed as reviewers of a climatology report? Of the others, some, like Landsea, Moncton and Lindzen were listed but asked to be removed because their inputs were ignored. Is that a consensus?

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 21, 2011 12:28 PM    Report this comment

Paul, I admire your open mindedness and I like to think that I'm cut from the same cloth, but so far the arguments for AGW seem speculative or unproved while ignoring competing hypotheses I've read or at least have many of the books you recommend, but don't recall such a tome on AGW. Can you point me in the direction of works done that support or prove AGW or disprove competing hypothesis?

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 21, 2011 12:29 PM    Report this comment

"Can you point me in the direction of works done that support or prove AGW or disprove competing hypothesis?"

I've been looking and haven't found it. The latest volumes are politically slanted, such as "What They Don't Want You to Know About the Global Warming Hoax." Sorta telegraphs the intent.
Houghton's book is dense, but not political.

My own opinion at this point is that AGW is real alright, but not as large a threat as portrayed. There's an awful lot of CO2 going into the atmosphere and much more on the way.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 21, 2011 1:13 PM    Report this comment

Oh, and not directly related, but on the anthropological side is Jared Diamond's Collapse, which details why societies destroy themselves. It somehow informs the larger argument about how societies do or don't behave in their own interests.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 21, 2011 6:06 PM    Report this comment

One needs to be precise in the use of the term bio-fuel. It is clear there are limitations on the ability to scale bio-fuel to be a significant source of our energy requirements (see August 2011 Scientific American). The use of waste streams from steel production may possibly be scalable and doesn't strictly count as bio-fuel.

Posted by: Rip Sessions | October 21, 2011 7:41 PM    Report this comment


What would you call it?

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 21, 2011 8:32 PM    Report this comment

I'd call it a bio processed fuel.

According to the LanzaTech release they are using waste CO from the steel making process to make syngas and other related products using microorganisms in the process. The usual term bio-fuel refers to source material being plant based such as corn, sugar cane, soybeans etc. The only thing bio in the described process in the use of microorganisms in the conversion process, but I suppose the name is supposed to appear green for marketing purposes.

Posted by: Rip Sessions | October 21, 2011 8:57 PM    Report this comment


Seems like a distinction without a difference eh?

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 21, 2011 10:29 PM    Report this comment

Tom, there is a difference because the primary feedstock is not biomass but a chemical stream, more akin to a refinery.

I call it an alternate or unconventional fuel. The hangup on scaling is the perennial problem such initiatives have always faced: predicting how the organisms or bio side of the process will behave at larger volumes and keeping it from tanking for some reason. Bio doesn't always scale the way chemistry does.

But it has one large advantage over traditional bio-fuels: No need to gather up and transport all that biomass. The feedstock simply comes in via the exhaust pipe. If it works, it's "green" because it turns what would otherwise be a pollutant into a useful fuel.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 22, 2011 4:25 AM    Report this comment

Paul and Rip

Perhaps I lumped it all into one category out of ignorance. My understanding of various processes stem from this Oct 2007 National Geographic article: ngm*nationalgeographic*com/2007/10/biofuels/biofuels-text/6 where they lump all non-fossil fuels as bio-fuels. If you skip to page six you'll read where the GreenFuel Technologies project used powerplant CO2 flue gas to feed algae beds to produce oils. and they called it bio fuel. Replace algae with bacteria and CO2 with CO and we have lanzaTech's precess that you want to call something else. Hence my confusion.

As a side note the NG article concludes with a shrillness that seems unjustified by what I know: "If we don't act now global warming will end it all." Ahh, the last gasp of a dying planet.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 22, 2011 6:22 PM    Report this comment

The main distinction of bio-fuel as compared with fossil fuel is that the SOURCE of the bio-fuel is usually plant derived (including algae). This depends upon photosynthesis, which consumes CO2 in the process and hence the label "carbon neutral". Feeding CO2 to plants (including algae) aids growth rates, but still requires photosynthesis and chemical nutrients. The big problem with this approach is that it requires large land areas, lots of water, and fertilizer. Craig Ventner has calculated that to replace our current fuel needs with oil seed crops such as corn, soy beans, etc would require a land area greater than North America. See the August 2011 Scientific American article "The False Promise of Bio-fuels" for details.

The big difference in Branson's proposed solution is that he uses a waste product and directly converts the CO into a fuel. No photosynthesis is required and hence none of the limitations of traditional bio-fuels. To scale it up requires more waste gas from additional steel making plants and I don't know what the actual potential of that really is.

Posted by: Rip Sessions | October 22, 2011 8:12 PM    Report this comment

If there is really an unlimited supply of oil as you suggest Paul why is the price of oil higher now than its ever been?

We are running out of the "easily reached" oil and will eventually run out of the "harder reached" oil and although the earth is continuously producing new oil from the decay of bio material we are consuming it significantly faster than it is being produced. And even faster now than ever before as people in the developing world start to demand the same standard of living as those of us in the West.

Like coal, which was much more significantly used before oil, it will likely become uncompetitive as a fuel before we switch away from it and we will never run out of it entirely. But there is nothing wrong with the statement "With oil running out".

Posted by: Geoff Engelbrecht | October 23, 2011 1:31 AM    Report this comment

"No photosynthesis is required and hence none of the limitations of traditional bio-fuels."

Rip, I don't think that's entirely accurate. Bio-fuels are limited by the cost and mechanical handling of the bio-mass, plus the scalability and reliability of the bio processes that convert them--fermentation, microorganisms, photosynthesis and so forth.

While the Lanza process doesn't have the limitation of the former, it definitely could suffer from the latter. The microorganisms can work only so fast and often need special conditions related to water, temperature and so forth.

The history of bio-fuels is littered with scale up and development problems because of this. The failure of cellulosic ethanol to potentiate is just one recent example. But there are others.

That's not to suggest that they'll never work. They just haven't yet.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 23, 2011 5:59 AM    Report this comment

"If there is really an unlimited supply of oil as you suggest Paul why is the price of oil higher now than its ever been?"

You answered your own question. But it's not as simple as oil being found in places where it's more expensive to produce. The oil industry has been famously cyclic, more so even than aerospace. In at least eight of the last 50 years, oil has sold for below its inflation adjusted price and for almost a decade, gasoline was cheaper in inflation adjusted terms than it was in 1918.

As recently as the early 2000s, there have been oil gluts that tanked the prices to $28. The reason for this is that there is vast production capacity and the slightest demand pull backs result in huge oversupply and falling prices. Further, as the price fell, the oil companies got stingy with developmental capital and contracted their efforts. When the next great wave of demand materialized, they were short on capacity and prices spiked. None of this has anything to do with the long term outlook of the basic resource.

Historically, the price shocks have been demand driven, but recently, they have become supply driven, according to Yergin. That suggests shortages, but everyone in the industry knows that a sharp economic downturn in Asia--as happened in 1997--could drive prices back down into the 20s or at least half what they are now. 80 to 90M barrels of daily production isn't a spigot you can turn off and on like a sink tap.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 23, 2011 6:25 AM    Report this comment

In any case, with proven reserves increasing, not falling, the statement "with oil running out" is demonstrably false and inaccurate. It's essentially Hubbert logic, which has repeatedly been proven wrong; never proven right on the global scale.
It would be better to say the planet will eventually transition from the age of oil to a new primary energy source.

Bio-fuel supporters believe this will be bio-fuels but many seem to resist the basic calculations that show there's just not enough biomass to produce other than a fraction of the 600-plus quads the world will need by 2014 or 2015.

Bio will probably be in the mix, unless something else comes along. But it's hard to see how it could ever be a primary energy source.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 23, 2011 6:28 AM    Report this comment


Excellent summary of petroleum production and marketing on a global scale. That the USA has to participate is partly of our own making because of certain attitudes toward a cheap and plentiful energy source: Coal.

One of the claimed issues for alternate fuel sources is energy independence, which probably will never happen again, but reducing the amount of imports from countries we invade to keep the supplies moving seems a worthy goal having served multiple sentences in the desert. The proposed XL pipeline is a move in that direction, importing from Canada - a friendly country last I checked. The Bakken formation in ND and MT is also becoming a heavy producer and a cash cow for the tax collector, with MT and ND one of the few states in the black. A drawback is that the product has to be moved by truck or rail to a refinery. The XL pipeline proposes a loading terminal to put the Bakken oil in the pipe and the Sierra Clubbers are in a tizzy over it. There was also proposal to build a refinery in the Dakotas to handle the output but apparently that idea died in the crib.

Countering the energy independence effort are two other points: The duck squeezers convinced congress to withdraw huge acreages of the Rocky Mountains from exploration which runs counter to the idea of independence and second, IMHO we are not using petroleum wisely.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 23, 2011 2:20 PM    Report this comment

Why burn natural gas and oil to run a power plant when they can be sited near a rail line and use coal? Few of us heat or run our cars on coal, but most of us compete for the oil and gas. That's foolish, and based on a lot of disinformation. MT sits on one of the largest low-sulfur coal deposits in the world. Governor Sweitzer - a Democrat - has lobbied for more coal use where it is economical to do so and expressed dismay at the Sierra Club's successful lawsuits of a proposed MT coal power plant called the Highwood station. One of the SC's arguments was that coal produces more CO2 than gas, a claim that I find suspicious on a magawatt per ton basis if you ignore the slag, which has many uses. The SC finally won over 'spot zoning' issues and agreed to 'allow' the plant if it converted to natural gas and the coop agreed to never convert it to coal. A much smaller natural gas Highwood station came on line last month after seven years of litigation, and is now competing with us for home heating fuel from the Canadian supplier. Thanks, sierra club!

Another one of the SC's campaigns is anti-clean coal, where coal gasification and liquification projects come under fire. the Beuhlah ND Synfuel plant is a good example, and there are others. I wish we could send all of the card carrying Sierra Clubbers on an expense paid back to back tour of some distant cradle of hatred to dodge IEDs and angry men to see if their attitudes change.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 23, 2011 2:21 PM    Report this comment

Drat, forgot to doctor the carbon cycle link. Here 'tis:


Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 23, 2011 2:27 PM    Report this comment


The carbon output of burning fossil fuels is a serious concern. Burning coal adds the problem by "What to do with the ash?". Oil can be taken out of the ground, using modern techniques and protocols with minimum impact on the environment. The same is not true of the oil shale extraction and the more exotic and expensive ways to extract oil from “unusual” sources.

Whether or not we are “running out of oil” is only part of the problem. Another question is whether or not oil production, from whatever sources can increase to match the increase in the number of petroleum consumers?

According to the UN, in 1900 the population of the world was 1.7 billion. What percentage of that population used petroleum oil was probably a miniscule percentage. By the start of WW2, the population of the world was 2.2 billion and the major consumption of petroleum oil was still limited to the “developed” world. By 1975, the population of the world was 4 billion, and the use of petroleum had begun to penetrate the “developing” countries.

Posted by: THOMAS OLSEN | October 23, 2011 4:55 PM    Report this comment

Continued - Today, the estimated population of the world is 5.97 billion and places like China, India and other Southeast Asian Countries have become major consumers of petroleum oil.

By 2050 the UN estimates of world population range from 7.5 billion and 10.5 billion.

The implications of this seem obvious. The standard of living in the “developing” countries has to increase, along with that increasing standard of living will come an increased demand for petroleum products. Based on those population numbers alone, the development and use of additional sources of liquid energy to power our means of air transportation, is absolutely necessary. Exactly what the price of oil will become when the greater percentage of 7 to 10 billion people are demanding and using oil, in competition with the rest of the “Western World” is a serious question that probably trumps the argument about how much oil is still left in the ground.

Posted by: THOMAS OLSEN | October 23, 2011 4:57 PM    Report this comment

Continued - The expense of extracting some petroleum oil sources added to the demand does not bode well for rational oil prices. When the “Oil Crisis” happened in the mid 1970’s, (with an estimated 4 billion people on the planet) the major oil consumers were the developed countries. When the developed countries started consuming less oil, the supply of oil exceeded demand by several percentage points and the “Oil Crisis” pretty much diminished.

While we still see flashes of that situation with the oil price varying in the past six years from $145.29 on July 4, 2008 to $36.51/bbl on January 16, 2009, it is clear that there must be alternative energy sources with less carbon output to assure that with billions more consumers of oil now on the planet, that the price of oil does not become the boulder that breaks the economic back of the developed countries.

World Aviation consumes 5 billion barrels (not gallons) of jet fuel a day. With the predicted growth of aviation, that number is likely to increase. Also, today’s jet fuel is not exactly a clean fuel and emissions standards are going to require cleaner burning fuels. The question is how do we get there?

Posted by: THOMAS OLSEN | October 23, 2011 4:59 PM    Report this comment

Continued - Certainly, the amount of land required to extract bio-diesel from plant sources is a serious consideration. I read one source that said to replace 15% of the jet fuel of the domestic airline fleet would require a corn field the size of the State of Florida. For more on this check out

While wishful thinking that we can go on forever using petroleum oil that we keep “finding” is the best or only solution is a short term pipe dream. The idea that bio-diesel, solar, wind and nuclear can replace most or all of the petroleum sources of fuel that most folks think are finite, is also a pipe dream for the next several decades. However, we urgently need to develop and realize the benefits of stable competitors to petroleum oil, that have fewer emissions, that can be produced without relying on foreign sources. Without domestic sources of clean energy, we are going to be at the mercy of folks that might not have our best interest at heart.

Tom Olsen

Posted by: THOMAS OLSEN | October 23, 2011 5:04 PM    Report this comment

Paul: To be clear, the Branson proposal completely avoids the dilemma of growing the feedstock used for his bio-fuel. The processing limitations you cite are indeed there as they are for most fuel products, including conventional petroleum refining. Whether Lanza can effectively scale up an economical production remains to be seen.

Posted by: Rip Sessions | October 23, 2011 5:21 PM    Report this comment

Oil *is* running out -- unless you know of any places where millions-of-years-old plants and animals are being compressed by enormous pressure for millions of years to make more of it?

Posted by: Jeff Rankin-Lowe | October 24, 2011 2:34 AM    Report this comment

"World Aviation consumes 5 billion barrels (not gallons) of jet fuel a day"

You need to move your decimal point Tom.

Posted by: Bob Merritt | October 24, 2011 9:50 AM    Report this comment

Let's get the consumption in perspective. Currently world oil consumption is between 80 and 90 *million* barrels a day. Daily jet fuel is about 6 percent of the total or...around 5 million barrels, with an m not a b.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 24, 2011 10:26 AM    Report this comment

The concept of 'finite' resources seems rational but Julian Simon argued in his book 'the Ultimate Resource' that it is not true. As Paul pointed out, as price rises consumption falls, not only because we use less, but we use less in a smart way while producers produce more.

Paul Ehrlich predicted the opposite in his 1968 book 'the Population Bomb' where he opined food shortages would lead to mass starvation by the mid-70s, which was also a rational concept based on Soviet and Chinese food production collapses. Producers saw an opportunity, ramped up and filled the void.

In 1980 Simon bet Ehrlich that any commodity Ehrlich chose would be cheaper and more plentiful ten years hence, a sort of Malthusian vs the cornucopian wager. Simon won. stanford*edu/group/CCB/Pubs/Ecofablesdocs/thebet*htm

Here we are 30 years later making the same arguments and I think Paul B. has rationally explained that while the price in dollars of oil my fluctuate wildly, the supplies continue to flow as long as producers can produce and we become more efficient. Yay for the free market!

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 24, 2011 11:24 AM    Report this comment

tom connor said: "While searching the web I came across a short article about the carbon cycle - the version I learned 40 years ago that discusses gas equilibrium and how the major source of CO2 is from the earth's core as limestone is subducted and the main reservoir is coral and diatoms that sink to the bottom of the ocean and become limestone, and over the long haul they balance. That discussion is missing from all of the AGW lectures I've been subject to."

The subduction of limestone (and subsequent release by volcanic action) and sequestering of carbon by coral and diatoms occur on millenial time scales. That time scale is not particularly relavent to the current AGW discussion. The part of the carbon cycle that is relevent to the current situation is the balance of carbon between the atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere and the total increase in carbon in the cycle from the release of formerly sequestered carbon in fossil fuels.

Posted by: Dave Werth | October 24, 2011 1:18 PM    Report this comment

David, you are not allowing for dynamic adjustment in the carbon cycle. CO2 is critter food: C3 and C4 plants exposed to raised CO2 levels in sealed greenhouses add more mass per unit of time than the same plants at lower concentrations. The same happens in algae farms. I suspect that ocean carbon fixers react the same way producing more tons of dead critters that fall to the bottom of the ocean on their way to becoming limestone when there is more CO2 available than when there is less, and once they are on the bottom of the ocean the carbon in their little bodies probably doesn't have much to do with AGW.

You suggest that does not occur. Help me understand why?

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 24, 2011 4:08 PM    Report this comment

What works in a greenhouse where you can also control the water and other nutrients doesn't necessarily work as well in the wild where water and nutrients may be problematic. Regarding the oceans, the acidification from excess CO2 which becomes carbonic acid when disolved in water has made it more difficult for the creatures that use calcium carbonate in their shells, not easier. I suspect there is probably less carbon being fixed by ocean creatures now because of that acidification.

Regardless of that to expect natural processes to keep up with the carbon we are releasing from fossil fuel burning that originally took millions of years to lay down is unrealistic to me.

Posted by: Dave Werth | October 24, 2011 7:19 PM    Report this comment


I couldn't believe it either. I thought it was millions of gallons, but the source in the oil industry trade magazine said 5 billion barrels.
Tom Olsen

Posted by: THOMAS OLSEN | October 24, 2011 7:36 PM    Report this comment

,rather than be a whinny booger baby sierra club jerk!'

Why don't you and tom connor join us at our next Grand Canyon Chapter meeting and look us in the eye, call us 'duck squeezers!' and bring money to offer to send us in harms way to Afghanistan for an attitude adjustment to comply with, of course, your attitude! You just might make our day if we learn from you that all our efforts with our personal environmental goals have been nothing but demonstrations of what 'whinny booger baby Sierra Clubber jerks' we are. If you don't want to show your face, you can get us all tingly by wearing an Al Gore halloween mask if you like, or even one of you-know-who in our White House!

Few if any I know of read aviation blogs (a likely place for slamming us, who knew? we thought pilots were cool!) so this would be a golden opportunity to show us how real men think and act concerning our environment. Free refreshments.

Posted by: David Miller | October 24, 2011 8:18 PM    Report this comment

I suspect there is probably less carbon being fixed by ocean creatures now because of that acidification.

Regardless of that to expect natural processes to keep up with the carbon we are releasing from fossil fuel burning that originally took millions of years to lay down is unrealistic to me.

David: I think the opposite, and we are both guessing so lets learn together. I'll spend some time researching and sharing what I find out if you'll do the same. Logncrk at gmail*com

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 25, 2011 1:09 AM    Report this comment

David Miller

Tell us what your "personal environmental goals" are and we'll discuss it.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 25, 2011 9:25 PM    Report this comment

Tell us what your "personal environmental goals" are and we'll discuss it.'

Uh, they're personal.

Staying with an oil and water theme, however, what replacement of hatred and ridicule for environmentalists would be the new emulsifier for discussion? Nay, previous comments have shown the distinct possibility of a wolf in sheeps clothing here - perhaps a technical workshop for me to dodge an arrow that had been feathered from my own plume.

The health of the environment is important to me as a person and a pilot, I only try to balance man's delusion of superiority of it with a comment here or membership there with people of like minds with what little help I can offer. Like pointing out occasionally how intolerance of others strengthens the accused yet weakens the accuser, not its illusory opposite. But we all knew that...

Posted by: David Miller | October 25, 2011 11:59 PM    Report this comment

Dave Miller

I'm sorry you feel that way and I apologize for using the term 'duck squeezers'. I didn't think anyone would be sensitive to it.

I've presented what I know and am open to different ideas, both supported by data and the whimsical. I spend a few hours a month on the Montana Environmental Information Center's web site - a front group for the SC, as well as the SC's web site. I do the same with Steven Milloy's Junkscience*com site and Scientific american and others, looking for a balance. Paul Bertorelli's suggested reading list is also clogging the nightstand and I need to get back to speed reading to digest more of it. My point is, I'm not a single issue activist on either side of the wall, and if you have an interesting or convincing argument I'll shut up and listen. One would assume you'd extend the same courtesy so we can debate the merits of both sides.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 26, 2011 11:20 AM    Report this comment

David Werth said "Regarding the oceans, the acidification from excess CO2 which becomes carbonic acid when dissolved in water has made it more difficult for the creatures that use calcium carbonate in their shells, not easier."

Thank you for motivating me to look it up and gain a broader perspective.

After several hours of research it appears you're right WRT calcium carbonate fixers in shallow seas. Deep water may be a different story because the ocean is at saturation with calcium that buffers the acidity of the carbonate ion, so flushing the shallows with water from the open ocean resolves the problem.

Wikipedia does an adequate job of covering the chemistry. Here's a bit of research free for the downloading. The study was an evaluation of satellite observation of Coccolithophorid blooms. I'm including it because the author does an adequate job of describing the chemistry of ocean CO2 sequestration.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 26, 2011 1:17 PM    Report this comment


Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 26, 2011 1:20 PM    Report this comment

I had a one on one argument with Sir Richard when he was bad mouthing U.S, foreign policy at a conference at Aspen. I pointed out that Europe does almost nothing for the world these days. I got the impression that he was very full of himself and his main activity these days is making "heroic" photo ops and claiming to save the world while doing little of substance.

Posted by: ARTHUR THOMPSON | October 26, 2011 1:36 PM    Report this comment

Tom, I appreciate your pursuit for balance with environmental issues. I try and do the same. Your point is my point - there is a left, middle and a right in most things just like in politics, and I think people get caught up in needing to categorize and label far too easily nowadays. We are still emotionally immature collectively, despite repeating mantras like how 'exceptional' we are. Whether a ducksqueezer or treehugger I'm not really concerned about such label silliness, they just point to the quick judgements that bring out my 'sensitivity' I suppose.

Mr. Thompson provided an example of this also. The effectiveness of past U.S. foreign policy aside, citing Sir Richard's eccentric ego detracts from the possible future success in his bio-fuel project or its affect on societies everywhere. Should we ignore the genius and brilliance of Mozart because he indulged in tawdry behavior away from the piano? Of course not.

So what if a guy hugs a tree or loves photo ops, step back and give them the space to turn around fully and see themselves clearly in their own time. It's their right and their freedom, just like we would want for ourselves.

Posted by: David Miller | October 26, 2011 2:59 PM    Report this comment

"I'm sorry you feel that way and I apologize for using the term 'duck squeezers'. I didn't think anyone would be sensitive to it."

What about the ducks?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 26, 2011 3:15 PM    Report this comment

The ducks are in a big quack, about the sierra clubbers fondling them!

Posted by: Ron Brown | October 26, 2011 3:55 PM    Report this comment

The ducks are probably more concerned about being shot at by men with guns who feel the need to prove how manly they are by killing something.

Posted by: STEPHEN EGOLF | October 27, 2011 7:45 AM    Report this comment


You had me at "free refreshments"

Posted by: Dick Merrill | October 27, 2011 8:48 AM    Report this comment

Looks like HTML links are stripped, now I understand why people used asterisks... ;-)

This is the link:


Posted by: Luca Bertagnolio | October 27, 2011 9:32 AM    Report this comment

At some point we will probably need to synthesize aviation fuel since the energy to weight ratio is uniquely critical. But at this time all magic bio-fuels will find a far larger market for ground motor vehicles so I am very skeptical of anything claimed to be developed just for aviation.

Posted by: ARTHUR THOMPSON | October 27, 2011 9:41 AM    Report this comment

Steve, I'm not sure what the ROE is for including URLs, but by trial and error I've found out that replacing periods with asterisks and deleting the h-t-t-p slash usually keeps the essential parts of a web address intact.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 27, 2011 11:27 AM    Report this comment

Have we missed something called "scale"?
So the earth's average temp increases a degree is 50 years?
So, farming regions move slightly north.
So, it rains more or less in certain areas.
So, the sea level increases an inch.
Give humanity some credit. We can adapt to a slight temp increase.

As expected, AGW eventually would eventually transcend objective science out in the everyday world and politicians and such would embrace it as "the carrier of doom" unless they "save us".

Now, if I want to, I can argue AGW with all sorts of AGW zealots - even ones who are genuinely concerned about the new threat to mankind: O2!
It's always hard to argue with a religious zealot.

Posted by: MARC SALVISBERG | October 27, 2011 12:46 PM    Report this comment


Even one degree is probably on the high side. the second IPCC report - SAR - Says "the anthropogenic signal was still emerging from the background of natural climate variability." Taken from:


What exactly does that mean? coming from a group who's purpose is to report on climate change, should we think they will give up cushy jobs and generous paychecks by saying " Our conclusions are based on measurement variation and statistical noise?"
Probably not. Few bureaucracies eliminate themselves when they no longer serve a purpose. In this case 'emerging data' gives them purpose, however shaky it might be.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 27, 2011 1:32 PM    Report this comment

I do not doubt that the earth is getting warmer hut why is this a bad thing? Why is it not a good thing? Most of the warming is occurring at where it is cold (near the poles) so the earth will have a milder climate.

How ironic that scientists, who dislike religious dogma, are just as fanatical with the new "warming earth = disaster" religion. Even the weather expert that writes for "Professional Pilot" joined the chorus. Was he afraid of being burnt at the stake? Would you really rather fly the WX of Quebec compared to that of Miami?

Posted by: ARTHUR THOMPSON | October 28, 2011 10:30 AM    Report this comment

Is the planet warming? Sure. Has been doing so since the last frigid minimum of the current ice age some 10,000 years back, and will continue to do so at least until the next interglacial peak is reached, probably a few thousand years from now. Are humans contributing to the current RATE of warming? Almost certainly. Does it matter? Depends on your viewpoint.

If you move back & take the long view, you immediately see that we live on a planet where radical climate change is perfectly normal. While most people think of the most recent glacial period 10,000 years back as being “The Ice Age”, it was only one small peak in a long cyclic period running back about 2.6 million years during which there has been permanent ice at least somewhere in the northern hemisphere. That whole 2.6 million year period is actually only a part of the current planetary ice age, roughly defined as having begun with the start of ice accumulation in Antarctica some 20 million years ago, and there have been at least five such over the history of the planet. In between these five (or more) extended ice ages the Earth was apparently totally ice-free and considerably warmer, which would seem to make a warmer ice-free planet the “normal” state of affairs.

Posted by: John Wilson | October 28, 2011 1:38 PM    Report this comment

Another blog corrupted into the heated debate whether man should even consider any responsibility toward that which he uses, or abuses, for survival. Ok, fine. If you hike (or mule ride) to the bottom of Grand Canyon you can see and touch Vishnu basement rock that is 1.8 billion years old - not as old as Larry King but, amazing, unforgettable experience in my opinion. So when folks use the geological time frame as an argument for the natural changes of the earth over great spans of time, I'm sure it's valid reasoning. And even if man leaves the scene in a few thousand or million years for whatever reasons, he won't even likely will have been noticed in the 'long view' of geologic history on earth. Unless perhaps we exit via a nuclear path.

But for some reason, touching those incredibly old Basement rocks doesn't sway me that we still shouldn't be the best caretakers we can be of what we need to survive for our geologic nanosecond on earth. China seems excited about expanding GA there, but how can one fly VFR in any of their cities? I couldn't see my hand in front of my face in Beijing during the '08 Olympics, and they scrubbed the air for weeks beforehand. LA's beloved smog occasionally obscures a condor over the GC, so if man is contributing to that it's a problem for us now, in our geologic nanosecond of existence.

Posted by: David Miller | October 28, 2011 2:50 PM    Report this comment

I'm not worried the earth will carry on indefinitely, I just want to give my son clean air and water to live a long, healthy life now, not a billion years from now.

Posted by: David Miller | October 28, 2011 2:50 PM    Report this comment

"I do not doubt that the earth is getting warmer but why is this a bad thing?"

There are plusses and minuses. Plusses are longer growing seasons, favorable habitat for warm weather animals and plants, more biomass, plus lots of others. Minuses are higher sea levels, migration and loss of some species, especially marine types, and population explosions of species to put things out of balance.

Deniers ridicule such things, skeptics raise reasonable doubts and believers take it as gospel. Unknown are such things as how a few degrees of ocean temperature change can reverse major currents like the Labrador and Humbolt. Historically, this has happened and the impacts on growing seasons and climate are considerable.

A real worry is massive melting that will raise sea levels and threaten low-lying areas with frequent or permanent flooding. Twenty years from now, we may have clearer picture of whether this is likely or possible.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 28, 2011 3:00 PM    Report this comment

Actually, my point in mentioning the many long-term changes in Earth's climate was intended to point out that while what we are doing at the moment may indeed be affecting the rate of change, it is not within our power to STOP change. If we all paired up and committed mutual suicide tomorrow, change would continue right along perfectly well without us.

Now there are some, perhaps many, who subscribe to the "negative dynamic stability" theory of Earth climate. They feel that Earth's habitability is balanced precariously and what we are doing is going to push the planet off its balance point, causing runaway greenhouse effect that will turn Earth into Venus. I can't jump on that bandwagon. The planet is very old and has suffered far greater impacts than we are making without tipping over, which proves to me that the contrary is true….our environment has very pronounced positive dynamic stability and while we may push it in some direction it will absorb the push and stay within habitable bounds.

But again, all this is speaking long-term. It is obvious we need to plan and work toward a logical energy plan for the long haul. The way to do this is not, however, the method encompassed by the old bit of doggerel: “When uncertain, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout.”

Posted by: John Wilson | October 28, 2011 3:38 PM    Report this comment

"Is the planet warming? Sure. Has been doing so since the last frigid minimum of the current ice age some 10,000 years back..."

Actually the warming that started the current interglacial period started around 20,000 years ago and the interglacial warming hit a peak during the Holocene Climate Optimum about 8,000 years ago. Since then it's been slowly cooling until the recent sharp upsurge. The issue isn't so much that it's warming but that the warming is occurring at a rate seldom seen in natural change. Warming that normally takes thousands of years is occurring in a few hundred.

Posted by: Dave Werth | October 28, 2011 3:59 PM    Report this comment

"All pollution is local.' Or at least it was until AGW and ozone holes came along. 20 years ago Dr. Dixie Lee Ray wrote a little tome called 'Trashing the planet,' in which she took on most of the scares of the day and worked through the science, data and realities of Alar, PCB's, pesticides, nuclear power, ozone holes, asbestos, acid rain, smog and others.

Ozone holes differed from the rest because it wasn't local. In that scenario a heavier than air gas leaked' from air conditioners in the Northern Hemisphere and crept undetected to the southern hemisphere to do it's mischief. Noting the logical error, proponents belatedly 'proved' that it was affecting northern ozone too. The truth is, Dr. Dobson, a AEC researcher - noted variations in Antarctic stratospheric ozone in the 1950s while studying the effect of atmospheric nuclear testing, and the units of O3 concentration bear his name.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 28, 2011 5:30 PM    Report this comment

Stratospheric ozone is a form of oxygen created by sunlight. Dobson noted that ozone concentrations declined during the six month Antarctic winter of darkness, and replenished as Antarctic spring arrived and the sun rose. The media never mentioned either, but they really liked re-characterizing the decline in concentration as a 'Hole'. It was later shown that the original O3 hole proponents were using Dobson's 30 year old data sets to claim recent measurements but by then the damage was done and CFCs were outlawed or heavily regulated. Thank that deceit for your $300 halon fire extinguisher or AC recharge and if you want to figure out who would promote such a thing, follow the money.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 28, 2011 5:30 PM    Report this comment

Some claim the meek acceptance and rousing success of such a campaign gave encouragement to those who need to control other parts of our lives, so when 'global cooling' morphed into 'global warming' it fit the requirement for a worldwide phenomena that needed a worldwide solution.

Chem 101 teaches that the perfect combustion reaction results in heat, CO2 and water, and the byproducts are food for green plants that use sunlight to reverse the reaction. Now we have what science describes as perfection re-characterized as a pollutant that will soon cook the earth to a crackly crunch and people are buying it. We need more critical thinkers. Too bad there isn't a requirement for basic Chem, bio, physics and logic in school to help do that.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 28, 2011 5:31 PM    Report this comment

Enter the Montreal Protocol. Some claim it is designed to reduce carbon emissions because they directly affect global temps as proven by the IPCCs hocky stick graph, but let's look under the hood: Oddly, some areas like the USA need to be purged of carbon faster than others like India and China, suggesting that the 'pollution' is really a local and not a global problem. In reality, the protocol allows for an increase in overall CO2 so developing countries can 'catch up.' Who decides when they do that is unclear. The USEPA says that if all 'carbon' production ceased it might result in a 0.6C drop in global temp by 2050. But zero carbon is not the goal of the protocol, and neither is a decrease. In fact an overall increase is allowed. So if carbon makes the temps rise, and carbon is allowed to rise in certain countries, then temps will rise.

What was the point again?

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 28, 2011 5:32 PM    Report this comment

'What was the point again?'

I know what mine was, but at first glance I'd venture some might be attemptingdeliberatedistractionwithtechnicaloverloadtopromoteobfuscationofanyconsensustoaccomplisheitheraknownorsuspectedconditionofpotentialharmtolifeonearthofbeingdiscussedforalltounderstand....

oh sorry, I got in a hurry there - go Rangers! Have a great weekend all -

Posted by: David Miller | October 28, 2011 6:34 PM    Report this comment

While it may be true that the earth is warming at a much faster than historical rate but it is also true that we can adapt at a vastly faster rate than ever before. By many orders of magnitude. In fact most Americans have been experiencing warming at an extreme rate for 50 years. They have been moving from the Dakotas to Florida, etc.

At a climate conference I attended the great panic was that Minneapolis would have the winters of Kansas City. Oh death, where is thy sting?

We will definitely lose very low land to the sea. My God, we have already lost the entire Bering land bridge! But we will gain more habitable land as Canada and Siberia get wetter and warmer.

Posted by: ARTHUR THOMPSON | October 28, 2011 11:12 PM    Report this comment

I think people should just step back and take a deep breath. The whole global warming issue is a controversial one, and there is no way an agreement can be reached. So why waste any time on this?

What about scarcity of oil, and the fact that it takes more and more effort to extract crude, effort means energy, and thus effort means money. Extracting oil today is more expensive than it used to be, and this has and will have a rising impact on the price of petroleum-based products in the future.

I think this is the problem we should reflect upon. Again, you should really find the time to watch this movie, it opened my eyes on a problem I did not know was so bad:


Posted by: Luca Bertagnolio | October 29, 2011 1:26 AM    Report this comment

Yes Luca, the really serious problem is the increasing scarcity of oil and aviation's utter dependency on oil because of the high energy density. Almost all other forms of transportation can be nuclear/electric powered as weight is much less critical. The time will come (perhaps it's here already) when we will make aviation fuel from coal which is a long proven technology.

Posted by: ARTHUR THOMPSON | October 29, 2011 12:10 PM    Report this comment

Julian Simon points out that the 'Ultimate Resource' is a well educated human mind allowed to solve a problem. Some, like Steve Jobs, solved problems we didn't know we had. Others, like Bob Oppenheimer,solved a problem identified in a smoke filled room. Some say the cold war was a distraction created in a smoke filled room, and others say the environmental movement filled that void when the Warsaw Pact collapsed. I just hope they aren't expensive distractions to real problems.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 29, 2011 12:58 PM    Report this comment

Producing a resource requires a motive. Profit will do, and profit is what's left over after deducting the cost of production. Those costs include environmental compliance and taxes.

Early gold and oil discoveries were the easily recovered deposits. They were also readily abandoned because there were more easy discoveries down the road.

The second gold rush used modern techniques to recover gold from mine tailings piles. The new process recovered more gold per ton of rock than the first miner.

Likewise, Oils service companies are quietly in the midst of a second oil rush as they uncap abandoned wells and use modern technologies to make them produce equal to or better than the original discovery.

My point is, mineral deposits are rarely depleted to zero, they just become uneconomical to produce with current technologies at the current market price.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 29, 2011 1:56 PM    Report this comment

One of the costs of production is environmental compliance, which includes the cost of permitting, litigation and reclamation, so a higher percentage of a deposit is abandoned as uneconomical to recover. A second cost is tax. The feds tax coal to fund the Superfund, the lawyer's playground. State Legislatures also heavily tax coal at the mine mouth. Other states don't, making their coal cheaper and more efficient by mining closer to the margin of the deposit while still making a profit. Once profits stop mining stops and reclamation begins regardless of how much mineral remains. Such are the unintended consequences of environmental and tax laws.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | October 29, 2011 1:57 PM    Report this comment

"The whole global warming issue is a controversial one, and there is no way an agreement can be reached. So why waste any time on this?"

This strikes me as defeatism. There is little chance that public policy will shift toward reducing carbon emissions for political, practical and economic reasons.

But public policy can be nudged to adjust to living in a warmer world. Chicago is doing that by taking steps to reduce the urban heat core--rooftop planting, reduction of blacktop and so forth. Low lying cities can (and are) looking at flood control gates and facilities to protect themselves against recurrent flooding that used to be rare.

So you can sit around and deny that ice is melting and temperatures are on the rise and hope things will grow cold before you have a problem or you can begin to plan and prepare just in case you're wrong.

You can leave the reason for the warming out of the argument. It doesn't really matter when you get right down to it.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 29, 2011 2:26 PM    Report this comment

Paul, I think you misread what I meant. I am a true believer in the effects of climate change, so I share completely your message.

I was only hinting to the fact that reaching a consensus on an Internet forum on a topic so controversial such as this is next to impossible.

On the other hand, the scarcity of oil, and all the pain that will result from that is a much bigger league, in my opinion, and I was merely pointing my finger at that. Using alternative fuels such as the ones mentioned by Branson would also not be done unless real reasons dictate for it.

I think you were the one dismissing Hubbert's peak oil theory many messages ago. I wish you were right and Hubbert was wrong, but I am afraid it's the other way round. And I am a big believer in nuclear power as a future energy source, very different from the nuclear energy we know today, which will help us transition into a lifestyle without oil.

We only need to figure out something for our small aircraft. I wonder how small can a thorium liquid fuel reactor be built...

Posted by: Luca Bertagnolio | October 29, 2011 5:16 PM    Report this comment

As far as Hubbert's curve in concerned, it's somewhat of a fantasy in that people who believe in it can point to no large-scale examples of how the data has ever borne it out. That's not to say the supply of oil is infinite, but to note that consistent data has always shown that oil field production increases, then plateaus for a period, before declining gracefully, rather that following Hubbert's steep-sided downward curve.

So a theory that's fundamentally flawed in real world demonstration is probably fundamentally flawed in predicting oil production on a global scale. Another book I might recommend is Matthew Simon's Twilight in the Dessert, in which he predicts Saudi oil has already or will soon peak, especially the giant Ghawar field. Yet as recently as 2009, the Saudis were able to effortlessly turn the tap to produce an additional 200,000 bbd a day.

My point is to show this inconsistency in theoretical claims--Hubbert's curve as a predictor and peak oil theory--not to show that oil is infinite. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut, so eventually peak oilers will be right. But not next week.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 30, 2011 6:37 AM    Report this comment

But let's remember that that fuel can easily, if not cheaply, be made from far more abundant coal. Just ask your favorite ex-Nazi. Or even somebody Johanesburg from.

Posted by: ARTHUR THOMPSON | October 30, 2011 10:08 AM    Report this comment

For that tiny minority that is actually interested in learning facts as opposed to opinionating the 14OCTOBER11 edition of "Science" magazine, p. 173, has an article stating that while a warming earth is almost certain the effects are very uncertain and that many future climate models contradict each other.

Posted by: ARTHUR THOMPSON | November 2, 2011 9:50 AM    Report this comment

One principle of risk management is the more uncertain the risk the more effort to mitigate it is justified. If the risks are clear then it's obvious what steps you need to take but if the risks are uncertain and potentially bad then it's worth a lot of effort to try and avoid them.

Posted by: Dave Werth | November 2, 2011 1:39 PM    Report this comment

It is unfortunate that some equate the healthy application of skepticism to scientific theories as proof that the whole thrust of a particular investigation is flawed. As Paul Gilding points out there is a difference between denial and questioning. I agree with David, where the consequences of an action are severe and the evidence unclear the prudent action is caution - in this discussion reduction of CO2 emissions.

Posted by: Keith James | November 2, 2011 3:10 PM    Report this comment

Caution? Sure. But at what cost? The consequences of a comet or asteroid strike would be far more severe than almost any probable climate change. So how much of the worlds wealth should we devote to preventing this?

I see little evidence that a warming world would really be a worse world. A COOLING world would be catastrophic. The resulting massive crop failures and encroaching glaciers would hardly be offset by the landmass we would gain from a falling sea level.

The disappearance of fossil fuels is a a major problem so we should conserve them as much as is practical; the resulting CO2 reduction is just a possible side benefit.

BTW, having once owned a 35 MPG Mooney Mite, I have been arguing for a new truly high MPG airplane (certified or homebuilt) but nobody seems to be interested.

Posted by: ARTHUR THOMPSON | November 2, 2011 4:58 PM    Report this comment

The difference between threats from asteroids and human induced damage such as that caused by mining and burning fossil fuels is that the latter threat can be minimised by changing our behavior. Schemes have been suggested for dealing with wayward potentially catastrophically damaging asteroids and are likely to be very expensive. This expenditure could well be justified but expenditure on developing alternatives to fossil fuels offers the additional advantage of long term environmental and economic gain. Present production of ethanol from corn is a nonsense. Apart from the opposition of vested interests, much of the present opposition to phasing out fossil fuels is due the inbuilt human aversion to any change that does not produce immediate gratification.

Posted by: Keith James | November 2, 2011 7:52 PM    Report this comment

When imposing the precautionary principle you need to consider the unintended consequences, much like the physician's oath "First, do no harm." For example, the reaction to Three Mile Island was a ban on new nukes rather than fix the problem, leaving the USA more dependent on foreign energy. Because of that fear, all of our nuclear medicine isotopes come from outside the USA. The mining and smelting industry were crippled by endless environmental laws and left the USA: Now we depend on China for most of the rare earths needed for catalysts, hybrid generators, motors and exotic batteries required in electric windmills, cars and iPads.

It seems prudent that we do nothing while the IPCC continues to "tease the AGW signal from the natural climate variation."

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | November 2, 2011 11:33 PM    Report this comment

Keith James:
But as soon as a workable fossil fuel alternative is mentioned there is massive opposition. Think dams and fission. Fusion may never work. Wind and solar are very expensive and only exist because of subsidies which means they really don't work economically. And the only rational fuel for aviation is a hydrocarbon and the cheapest source is fossil.

The opposition to non-fossil is not human aversion to change but nothing good to change to (except fission and hydro). I certainly have no aversion to pumping with electricity because some of it comes from the Palo Verde fission plant.

Posted by: ARTHUR THOMPSON | November 3, 2011 10:23 AM    Report this comment

What law was it that banned nukes after TMI? It has more to do with finance. It was cheaper and more profitable to build coal plants. Nukes can't be built without massive government subsidies in the form of loan guarantees and the Price-Anderson Act that covers catastrophic disasters. No private entity is willing to risk the money.

Posted by: Dave Werth | November 3, 2011 11:55 AM    Report this comment

David Werth

You're right, nukes weren't made illegal, but none have been built since TMI and those under construction shut down claiming regulators kept changing the requirements, which resulted in the same thing.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | November 3, 2011 12:13 PM    Report this comment

The fact that no nuclear power plant has been built after TMI is a false myth. What about Watts Bar, opened in 1996, or Palo Verde, opened between 1986 and 1988?

True, the lower price of carbon fuel made the effort to build nuclear more difficult to justify, but now things have changed again, and Vogtle unit #3 and #4 are being built as I type this, and Watts Bar unit #2 construction will begin again next year.

Nuclear is the way forward, if we want to save oil for transportation. And, as said in other messages, we should not forget that coal can be turned into liquid fuel too, leaving the crops to their original role of feeding humans, not vehicles.

Posted by: Luca Bertagnolio | November 3, 2011 12:24 PM    Report this comment

I'm not sure what nuclear power, used primarily to produce base load electricity, has to do with petroleum. There is little crossover in the usage each is put to (although as plug-in cars (or airplanes) become more common the crossover increases).

Posted by: Dave Werth | November 3, 2011 12:30 PM    Report this comment

Luca Bertagnolio said: What about Watts Bar, opened in 1996, or Palo Verde, opened between 1986 and 1988?

You're right and thanks for pointing out my error. Butt: Construction on all three began in the 70s, so I assume they had the money to survive the regulators and go into operation - in the case of Watts Bar #1 23 years after construction began. #2 was mothballed. Palo Verde took 12 years to get units 1 and 2 on line.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | November 3, 2011 12:51 PM    Report this comment

Sure, Tom, but the fact remains, new nuclear power plants entered active service after TMI, not many but the lower cost of carbon-based fuel to generate electricity was the true reason.

Meanwhile, Vogtle unit #3 and #4 are brand-new projects, and are proceeding well. So those who say that no new nuclear is being built in the US are once again proven wrong.

Unfortunately, we would need far more new nuclear builds to have a dent in the CO2 emissions and the pollution, irregardless of what anyone thinks about global warming or climate change.

Posted by: Luca Bertagnolio | November 3, 2011 1:05 PM    Report this comment

David Werth said:I'm not sure what nuclear power, used primarily to produce base load electricity, has to do with petroleum. There is little crossover in the usage each is put to "

True, but about 25% of electricity is gas generated and 1% is oil generated. Is there a better use for those products? Isn't the gas powered plant competing with those who heat homes with gas or propane?

Once upon a time propane was popular for autos: It was cheap and easy to find. I don't see it any more. I wonder why?

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | November 3, 2011 1:06 PM    Report this comment

Vogtle #3 and 4 do not yet have all their permits, so yes, construction can continue because they have the money to do so and Obama's blessing, but can they operate? I hope so, but it's not a done deal.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | November 3, 2011 1:16 PM    Report this comment

Well, I did say petroleum, not (natural) gas. NG power is used a lot for peaking power and not so much for base load although that's probably changing somewhat. Oil generated power is probably mostly from diesel generators that serve as emergency backup and remote sites where it's not practical to bring in grid power.

Posted by: Dave Werth | November 3, 2011 1:32 PM    Report this comment

I agree with Tom the concern should be to minimise harm. Unfortunately some of the economists quoted by the media often have a rather myopic view of how the world operates, which has led to the ¨economy¨ they describe failing to account for many important factors. Is maintaining the status quo going to protect us from the deficiencies of a less than robust fossil fuel economic model? Economists such as Stiglitz have a much more considered view of how economic theory can take account of the many factors imposed by the physical and biological world.

The economy depends on a healthy environment – not the other way round. If an economic activity degrades the envirnonment, the economy will suffer and increasingly it will do so within the degraders lifetime.

I fully appreciate that the energy density of petroleum products make them difficult to replace and do not expect that any magic bullet will be found. A wide range of measures will be necessary ranging from the efficient use of fuel to finding petroleum substitutes. What I do question is the assumption that the price paid at the pump for petroleum products represents the total cost to society of their production and use.

Posted by: Keith James | November 3, 2011 2:07 PM    Report this comment

From a purely logical standpoint what we should be concentrating on is preserving remaining economically available hydrocarbon resources for those uses where there are no truly viable alternatives, a major category among those being powering aircraft.

The way to do this is to commit to converting virtually all stationary and a major portion of the ground transportation energy consumers over to the non-hydrocarbon sources: Nuclear would be the logical lead as the prime source and recipient of support and subsidy, with hydro, wind, solar, geothermal and lesser niche sources playing supporting roles only supported by their true economic viability.

Instead we are throwing out money and effort in an uncoordinated and wasteful fashion on band-aid projects that ultimately are not capable of providing the long-term bulk energy we will require. I view this as akin to committing to building ever higher walls to hold back the ocean from a continually sinking New Orleans as a long-term strategy…yes, you can do it for a while and at huge expense, but should you?

Posted by: John Wilson | November 4, 2011 10:31 AM    Report this comment

Is nuclear energy the answer when it needs a subsidy to be viable, the other potential sources noted may be even better sources given the same amount of money to research and build them. Nuclear energy also uses a finite resource, fusion neclear energy looking to be a distant, very expensively developed alternative.

Sufficient solar energy reaches the earth to provide many times the amount of energy even our wasteful society needs, the question is how do we harvest it. Current harvesting methods range from direct use via solar furnaces to biomass via photosynthesis. Integrated use of a variety of methods will likely be what evolves, consider the energy production if all house roofs were covered with solar tiles - yes I know no electricity will be produced at night.

Conserving hydrocarbon fuels for particular uses in a transition period is a good strategy but not to investigate long term alternatives is not. The unpalatable logical answer for New Orleans may be to abandon it just as abandoning fossil fuels is a logical way to avoid suspected environmental damage which will aggravate New Orleans problems.

Posted by: Keith James | November 4, 2011 3:47 PM    Report this comment

Keith James said: The economy depends on a healthy environment – not the other way round. If an economic activity degrades the envirnonment, the economy will suffer and increasingly it will do so within the degraders lifetime.

Can you give examples?

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | November 4, 2011 3:55 PM    Report this comment

For starters, the Newfoundland Cod Industry collapse through degradation by over fishing.

Posted by: Keith James | November 4, 2011 4:09 PM    Report this comment

The timber industry in the northwest has suffered in part because of over logging in the 1980's.

Posted by: Dave Werth | November 4, 2011 4:19 PM    Report this comment

Keith James, unfortunately renewable energies are simply not enough "dense" in terms of how much you can "harvest" per unit of area. Moreover, solar and wind depend on natural factors that cannot be controlled by mankind, and our society needs energy 24/7, not only during daytime or when the wind blows somewhere.

Today's nuclear reactors use enriched uranium, which is relatively scarce, but newer reactor designs use depleted uranium or thorium as fuel, and there is no scarcity of those two elements.

Our society is wasteful, and should do better to conserve as much energy as possible. But don't be fooled, just saving will not change much, as the growth in energy needs is much much larger than the savings that can be achieved, even if everyone starts to conserve as much as possible.

If you're curios and like to know more, I suggest Prof. David MacKay excellent book "Sustainable Energy - without the hot air" available online as a free PDF:


Posted by: Luca Bertagnolio | November 4, 2011 4:30 PM    Report this comment

As a volunteer pilot that has flown many tree huggers (via Lighthawk) I have to keep reminding my pax that environmentalism is a rich man's sport. Poor people have more pressing concerns.

Posted by: ARTHUR THOMPSON | November 5, 2011 10:29 AM    Report this comment

Per Keith…“Is nuclear energy the answer when it needs a subsidy to be viable, the other potential sources noted may be even better sources given the same amount of money to research and build them. Nuclear energy also uses a finite resource, fusion neclear energy looking to be a distant, very expensively developed alternative.”

Since all the other “alternate” sources also require massive subsidies to compete with oil/coal that obviously isn’t a killer factor. I’m not against subsidies per se, sometimes they are an appropriate way to jump-start something, and for various reasons I pick nuclear as the most deserving of the alternatives.

Nuclear has huge advantages as a power source, particularly over solar and wind. It is clean and dependable, providing power 24/7 without requiring the extremely inefficient storage schemes needed to bridge the intermittent availability of wind and sun. It is also compact and unobtrusive, a factor whose importance is becoming painfully obvious to those of us who are watching miles of mountain ranges being covered by windmills and thousands of acres of farmland by ugly acres of flat panels, all interconnected by webs of new power lines (I live in such an area, and it ain’t pretty). While nuclear does depend on finite resources there is more than enough for many centuries, enough to solve the fission puzzle….maybe.

So all in all, that’s my choice…not that it makes any difference.

Posted by: John Wilson | November 5, 2011 10:31 AM    Report this comment

Oops, make that FUSION puzzle :-)

Posted by: John Wilson | November 5, 2011 10:52 AM    Report this comment

Keith James Wrote that an example of environmental degradation is: "the Newfoundland Cod Industry collapse through degradation by over fishing".

David Werth said the same about logging in the NW.

Keith and David, on the surface they both sound more like resource depletion than environmental degradation.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | November 5, 2011 11:29 AM    Report this comment

Keith James states that nuclear power needs a subsidy to be viable. In my little world a subsidy is a direct payment to a producer for a unit of production, like farm subsidies. I was unaware that nuclear power was subsidized so I did a little research. Taxpayers have paid for nuclear R&D, but I cannot find a subsidy based on unit of production. In some jurisdictions it is taxed by unit of production. Is that a sign of an industry that cannot survive without subsidy?

Taxpayers also paid to build the power dams on the Columbia River system and many others, and paid for R&D on magneto hydrodynamics and liquid synthesis from coal in addition to R&D plus direct payments to renewable energy producers. Apparently there is enough pork for everyone. It should be noted that a lot of that R&D plus the superfund is paid for with coal tax money.

world-nuclear*org/info/inf68.html has some interesting information about energy costs and subsidies and they claim that renewable subsides have exceeded nuclear since 1994.

According to Valclav Smil's 'Energy Myths and realities' Nuclear power was predicted to be 'too cheap to meter' with power from central energy dense reactors and huge distribution systems. 'Soft energy' was the reverse with so called 'clean' energy from distributed, small 'village' power sources. Both were oversold but fission persists so I suspect there is something to it.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | November 5, 2011 12:59 PM    Report this comment

Thanks to Luca for the reference to Prof MacKay´s book. I commend it to all who are contributing to this discussion for its marshalling of relevant facts, logical analysis and his entreaty that individuals carry out their own unbiased analysis. His conclusion that the present energy consumption per person of the western world can not be supported by implementing existing renewable resource strategies is not as bleak as it appears. The figures for energy consumption and renewable energy production Prof MacKay quote suggest that gains in human health and wellbeing need not be lost by adopting a lifestyle based on renewable resources.

However, this cannot be achieved by continuing business as usual. We need to change before nature forces unpalatable changes on us, unlike human constructs such as the economy, there is no negotiating with nature for privileged deals for particular groups. Continued ---

Posted by: Keith James | November 5, 2011 5:44 PM    Report this comment

It is disappointing to read comments such as ¨environmentalism is a rich mans sport¨ and the two industry collapses referred to as depletion problems, not environment problems. Depletion of a resource is a degradation of the environment. Every action has consequences although until recently relatively low population densities have often hidden the consequences.

Consider the transnational effect of the Chernobyl design faults and operating errors.

Continued -- Have some mistaken the ¨environment¨ for ¨chocolate box¨ scenery rather than the totality of the world we live in? Humans are part of the environment, to damage it is to damage ourselves.

Posted by: Keith James | November 5, 2011 5:45 PM    Report this comment

@John Wilson;
The fusion puzzle is on the very brink of being solved, probably this winter. Check -- if it succeeds, within about 5 yrs. 5MW mini generators, waste-free, will be selling and cranking out power at about 1/20-1/10 the best North American costs. World-wide.

Posted by: Brian H | November 5, 2011 7:44 PM    Report this comment

The same kinda loons who squawk Peak Oil also think CO2 is a problem.
News flash: oil supplies will outlast our need for them, and CO2 is a lovely resource that plants use and needs to be driven up from the current near-famine levels.

Posted by: Brian H | November 5, 2011 7:45 PM    Report this comment

There are so many factors involved in the overall energy field that it is impossible to discuss every one - or indeed even mention all the main ones - in a forum like a blog, which is why blog threads develop in a “yes, but…” fashion.

Regarding subsidies & the cost-effectiveness of nuclear power, I consider it beyond question that had “nuclear” not been so effectively branded as terribly hazardous technology which must be opposed but instead been embraced and developed from the start as a viable alternative to coal, oil and gas we would be in a better energy position today. It is even possible that for individual residential service it would indeed be producing electricity “too cheap to meter”.

Instead we have intentionally crippled the development of this source via a whole universe of disincentives, ranging from manipulated public opinion to reams of crippling rules and regulatory hoops to jump through.
The attitude toward nuclear has always been that it must in essence be guaranteed 100% safe, and the result is that current nuclear power is very, very safe indeed. The Navy, for example, operates hundreds of reactors and has accumulated some 5,400 reactor-years of operation without a reactor accident. The only really major “commercial” nuclear power accident was Chernobyl, all others have been, at worst, “could have” incidents which in fact proved the effectiveness of the safety provisions and acted as learning processes which improved the breed.

Posted by: John Wilson | November 5, 2011 8:21 PM    Report this comment

Keith J wrote: It is disappointing to read comments such as ¨environmentalism is a rich mans sport¨

Sorry that you are disappointed at a point of view that differs from your own, but it seems clear to some that those who have satisfied their basic needs are more than happy to impose their ideals on others. Consider Maslow's hierarchy: Popular environmentalism enables the anointed to self actualize by doing things to those lower on the hierarchy by saying it's for the poor. Or better yet, the children. Not everyone can afford the Kool Aid.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | November 5, 2011 9:44 PM    Report this comment

Skeptics don’t deny global warming or climate change. The atmosphere probably has warmed slightly and on an average basis over the past 200 years (for unknown reasons), and recognize that climate is continually, albeit slowly, changing.

However, skeptics disagree that manmade emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases are having either detectable or predictable effects on climate — and have at least two key means of establishing this point.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | November 5, 2011 9:58 PM    Report this comment

First, atmospheric CO2 concentrations have increased by about 8 percent or so since the mid-1990s. According to climate alarmists, this should have caused measurable global warming. But none has been observed, a fact that was finally admitted by climate alarmists in the wake of the ClimateGate scandal.

Next, if it were true that global temperature was so sensitive and dependent upon atmospheric CO2 levels, then climate models (essentially elaborate scientific formulas) could be constructed so as to accurately predict the temperature effects from changing CO2 levels. But not only do existing models not predict the future temperature, they can’t predict the past when historical data is put through them.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | November 5, 2011 9:59 PM    Report this comment

But shouldn’t we err on the side of precaution and reduce emissions anyway? As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has already demonstrated and admitted, we could shut down the U.S. in terms of CO2 emissions for 100 years and we would make precious little difference in atmospheric CO2 level — possibly on the order of 5 percent.

Given that an 8 percent increase in CO2 over the past 15 years has amounted to zero global warming, we are on firm ground wondering whether a 5 percent increase over 100 years is worth wrecking the economy over.

Distractions like melting polar ice, threatened polar bears, bad weather and the like are simply that - distractions.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | November 5, 2011 10:00 PM    Report this comment

Many claim that “the rising seas, spreading deserts and intensifying storms, absent a change in policy, loom large on America’s horizon.”

Natural disasters, topographic changes and population booms and busts have always occurred and will continue to occur. Moreover, none of these phenomena can be scientifically tied to manmade emissions of CO2. So they are simply irrelevant sideshow issues.

Carbon dioxide should also not be referred to as a “pollutant.” It is colorless, odorless, and tasteless and is an essential nutrient for plants and, therefore, humans. Alarmists call it “carbon pollution;” Biologists call it “life.”

One last science point is the ClimateGate scandal. Alarmists claim that numerous subsequent investigations of the matter by independent groups have failed to uncover wrongdoing or faulty science. But none of these whitewashes were truly independent or anything more than superficial. No input from skeptics, even those mentioned in the emails, was included.
The central point of the science debate is whether manmade CO2 emissions are causing harm. There is no evidence that they are.

People often ask, “What if you’re wrong about the science?” or “Shouldn’t we err on the side of better-safe-than-sorry?” But of course it’s the alarmists who need to be second-guessing themselves. They’ve been repeatedly wrong and never right since they started forecasting climate doom almost 25 years ago.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | November 5, 2011 10:00 PM    Report this comment

tom connor;
No. The "Precautionary Principle" is garbage. The odds of bad results from emitting CO2 are very, very, low. The odds of bad results from trying to cut back are very, very high. (The only proven method is recession, depression, economic collapse.)

Posted by: Brian H | November 6, 2011 2:14 AM    Report this comment

The tenor of some comments suggest that the US EPA regards greenhouse gases and climate change either not to be a problem or that no matter what we do, we can only go along for the ride. A quick check of their website belies this. A direct quote prominently featured on their home page is;

¨Climate change is a problem that is affecting people and the environment. Greater energy efficiency and new technologies hold promise for reducing greenhouse gases and solving this global challenge. EPA's website provides information on climate change for communities, individuals, businesses, states, localities and governments.¨

A statement such as CO2 is not a pollutant, is simply an irrelevant sideshow. The Apollo 13 astronauts would have died had an emergency CO2 scrubber not been devised. Normally benign elements and compounds can cause problems if in the wrong concentration or in the wrong place.

Please take the time to read Prof MacKayś book google ¨Sustainable Energy without the hot air¨. He has gone to the trouble to assemble in very readable form, testable facts establishing what is physically possible, climate change information and punctures a number of cosy assumptions held both by alternative energy promoters and sceptics.

Posted by: Keith James | November 6, 2011 2:36 AM    Report this comment

MacKay is mostly sensible, but still thinks CO2 is a problem, and wants to tax it. Lukewarm BS is still BS.

Posted by: Brian H | November 6, 2011 3:33 AM    Report this comment


Read "Climate of Extremes" by Michaels.

Why do we keep assuming that a warming world will not be a better world? I think it is totally irrational to state that the world at this very moment has the best possible climate. A warmer world would open up more land to farming and overall precipitation would increase. Surely you know that warm air holds more moisture than cold air and at the time of the last ice age there was a world wide drought. The statement that the warming would occur at a faster rate than in the past is more panic mongering. Our species NOW adjusts very quickly to change. Look at the massive migration from north to south, in just a few decades, seeking a WARMER climate. Now you can just stay in Maine.

The REAL problem is running out of energy not a milder climate.

Posted by: ARTHUR THOMPSON | November 6, 2011 8:49 AM    Report this comment

Keith J. The usepa says climate change is problem. NASA data says global temps have gone down since 1990. Which should I believe?

Usepa does not connect CO2 and climate change in the statement you quoted. The reason is clear: There's no testable connection so they don't want to go there. They are happy to let you infer the connection however. That way they benefit without actually lying.

And yes, most mammals oxidize carbohydrates into CO2. It's a waste product to us oxidizers. Plants reduce CO2 back to carbohydrates and oxygen. It's all part of the carbon cycle.

Yesterday you were making claims that on a global scale we should consider any change (perchance just the changes you don't like) as pollution. To those out living it, it's just change. Successful organisms adapt.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | November 6, 2011 11:35 AM    Report this comment

Keith: Regarding the EPA website quote “”Greater energy efficiency and new technologies hold promise for reducing greenhouse gases and solving this global challenge.””: It is THIS type of global warming sales pitch that drives me up the wall!

They say “..hold promise…”, as in ‘well, it might do some good if we try it’ but neglect to add ‘and although trying it will be grossly costly to society, hey, it isn’t our function to consider such things’. This is like advocating mortgaging your home to pay for some unproven experimental treatment that might stop the fungus in your lawn.

But the real killer is the “…and solving this global challenge”. As everyone knows, or should know, controlling natural cyclic climate change is beyond our capability. We don’t even understand what causes these ice age glaciations and subsequent tropical periods, much less what could be done to “solve” it. The only sure thing we know is that dramatic climate change has happened over and over throughout the planet’s history and will continue with or without our CO2-releasing activities.

Yes, by all means we must rationalize our out-of-kilter energy situation, which as a consequence will reduce CO2 release, but we need to do it logically, not through wasteful and expensive flailing around without concrete understanding of what the results will be.

Posted by: John Wilson | November 6, 2011 11:39 AM    Report this comment

Public perception of things nuclear: When I was in college we studied Nuclear magnetic Imaging: It uses a strong magnetic field to change proton spin in atoms. That change in spin is detectable and a valuable form of non-invasive, non-oxidizing imaging.

NMR has disappeared, boycotted by the anti-nuclear groups. It has been replaced by Magnetic Resonance Imaging - MRI. MRI is NMR, same machine, different label.

When uninformed activists can sway the public with easily disproved propaganda It's an indicator of the sad state of science knowledge and critical thinking in this country.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | November 6, 2011 12:03 PM    Report this comment

Keith J wrote: Please take the time to read Prof MacKayś book google ¨Sustainable Energy without the hot air¨. He has gone to the trouble to assemble in very readable form, testable facts establishing what is physically possible, climate change information and punctures a number of cosy assumptions held both by alternative energy promoters and sceptics."

Will do. I read his ten page summary and his novel approach of using individual energy needs in perspective rather than large numbers may be useful. However, he assumes we abandon what works and turn to what might work or has not proven to scale up very well. There's a lot of assumin' going on.

This glib statement caught my eye and is simply wrong:
"Jevons made the bold prediction that the end of British“progress” would come within 100 years of 1865. Jevons was right. British coal production peaked in 1910, and by 1965 Britain was no longer a world superpower."

I seriously doubt that a decline in coal production was the key factor in the decline of GB as a superpower. He ignores the effect of two wars and resultant backruptcy, their withdrawal from resource-rich colonies that resulted in a decline in 'subjects' from 700 million to 5 million and expansion of the cold war.

keith J. says it punctures a number of cosy assumptions held both by alternative energy promoters and sceptics. I've searched for both and found neither. A point-out would be helpful.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | November 6, 2011 1:33 PM    Report this comment

An interesting comment regarding easily disproved propaganda. I am not aware of any boycotting of NMR, and substitution of it by MRI. MRI is a particular application of NMR with equipment designed for medical use rather than materials investigation. As it produces images and uses magnetic resonance the name is just as appropriate as NMRI – a bigger mouthful. Given that radiation therapy is an accepted treatment I doubt that the word nuclear would lead anyone requiring a scan to reject it on semantic grounds. To suggest otherwise is to impugn the medical profession´s professionalism in explaining treatment risks.

There is a small health risk from MRI scans which is explained to one (your wallet suffers more) just as there is from X rays.

Regarding the US EPA being wary of making statements linking CO2 and climate change here are two quotes from an easily accessible file on their website labeled ¨Greenhouse Gases¨.

¨During the past century, however, human activities have substantially increased the
amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, changing the composition of the atmosphere and influencing climate.

¨The major greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere through human activities are carbon dioxide,
methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases particles.

Posted by: Keith James | November 7, 2011 3:59 AM    Report this comment

Continued ---
Nowhere did I claim that all change was pollution, the Chernobyl event was quoted to illustrate that the consequences of events are no longer necessarily restricted to the country in which they occur. I did state that all actions have consequences even if the consequences are not initially apparent. I made no value statement about the consequences.

I fully concur with the last sentence in the post about things nuclear, I would add that superficial research and poor analysis as also contributes to misunderstanding.

Posted by: Keith James | November 7, 2011 4:00 AM    Report this comment

One thing that has always bugged me about the bio-mass carbon neutral idea is this. For co2 in to equal co2 out it must occur in the same time frame for self-sustaining carbon neutrality. So to be truly CO2 neutral we would need a substance that absorbs co2 at the same rate we burn it which defies the laws of physics.

I support any energy research but calling something carbon neural because it is biomass based is not reality. It may reduce the net co2. It would probably be cheaper and cleaner to build co2 scrubbers that clean the atmosphere than to invent a truly zero emission transportation fleet. Maybe a carbon tax could pay for this?

Any burned fuel will have a positive co2 output. For clean energy you need either a closed cycle system (recover what you put out), or a non burned fuel (solar, wind, etc). Then the chemicals used to store from these forms of energy are worse for the environment than co2 (lithium, lead, etc).

Do I have the answer, no, should we research all possible energy areas, yes. Branson is a marketing genius he says what he needs to sell his products. Is he greenwashing, to a certain extent, but so is the idea of biomass fuels.

One could argue that cementing and paving large areas of land (cities) causes as much warming as all the CO2. Earth's climate fluctuates over time, do we have enough data to measure how much humans have effected it, no we need another 200 years of data, and we need to consider more factors than pollution.

Posted by: Joseph Chambers | November 7, 2011 9:51 AM    Report this comment

"NASA data says global temps have gone down since 1990. Which should I believe?"

What an absurd statement. 2010 tied with 2005 for the hottest year on record in the NASA data.

Posted by: Dave Werth | November 7, 2011 3:13 PM    Report this comment

Nuts. did it again. Here are the links missing from my post.



Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | November 7, 2011 8:35 PM    Report this comment

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