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Science and Technology Development to Integrate Energy Production and Greenhouse Gas Management 

Duane Pendergast, Computare 

Human knowledge and use of energy has allowed us to flourish in numbers and with living standards unimaginable to our ancestors. Humans now influrence a great deal of life on earth. Some are concerned that greenhouse gas emissions from the fossil fuels we burn for energy will lead to changing climate with possible disastrous consequences. Many propose that we improve the efficiency of energy use and conserve resources to lessen greenhouse gas emissions and avoid climate catastrophe. 

Sadly, it seems such initiatives are doomed to failure. We have depended on fossil fuels for two or three hundred years.   We have greatly improved the efficiency of the machines which deliver useable energy. Improved efficiency, in turn, encourages new applications.  Our population grows, thanks to the rich economy and improved food supplies resulting from efficient access to energy. Our neighbours in developing countries recognize the benefits of energy use and strive to emulate our ways. Our collective greenhouse gas emissions increase enormously as efficiency increases.   Improving energy efficiency is a commendable way to spread energy benefits to more people now and in the future. Striving toward energy efficiency does not reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions. Clearly, we need to develop a different paradigm if we are to control the greenhouse gas content of the atmosphere.  

How can we break out of this efficiency improvement trap? Perhaps we need to step back and re-consider the role of humans and their knowledge of energy use. Life on earth depends on the cycling of carbon. Plants take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, lakes and oceans to manufacture their food using water and energy from light. Plants, and animals, use that carbon carrying food as an energy source. Lifeless carbon bearing material from plants and animals is incorporated into the soil, oceans, fossil fuel and other carbon reservoirs or “sinks”. Humans have learned how to recover fossil fuels. We are recycling them by burning them in power plants, planes, trains, and automobiles to release carbon dioxide and water vapor to the atmosphere. Their carbon content is thus returned to the cycle of life. The whole complex process is driven by flows of energy. Perhaps close examination of the carbon cycle will reveal means to assist natural forms of carbon storage outside of the atmosphere. 

Humans have some quantitative information on the magnitude of the carbon cycle. This paper reviews the carbon cycle from the point of view of past and present human influence. Potential future human modifications to the cycle through science and technology to manage atmospheric greenhouse gas are considered. The review suggests that humans will need to ingeniously exploit even more energy to integrate its use with control of atmospheric greenhouse gases.

The  presentation is provided as a slide show with notes. A paper, which provides more details and references is presented in the "Publications" section of this website.


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