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Commentary on Climate Change and Greenhouse Gas Management

March, 2015 - Energy for Life - Book Reviews

I reviewed three books recently which are closely related to this websites theme - energy for life. One, Isaac Asimov's "Life and Energy" was first published in 1962. His timeless and fascinating discussion  underlines just how closely energy and our lives  are associated. My review published on Amazon provides more detail and is repeated here for readers convenience. It is too bad there is no Kindle edition.

Readers interested in a more up to date and easily available review of energy and life might be interested in Vaclav Smil's "Energy in Nature and Society: General Energetics of Complex Systems". I suppose the fact there are just two reviews of Smil's book  on Amazon attests to low general public interest in this topic of ultimate importance to present and future human society. A Kindle edition is available.

Alex Epstein's "The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels" published on November 13, 2014, focuses on the role energy from fossil fuels has played in recent human history. Although he does not explain the role of energy in our lives as exquisitely as Asimov and Smil, his appreciation of it's importance is noteworthy and timely. He makes the case for fossil fuel energy very well in the face of clamoring crowds who claim we should cease its use as an energy source. My review of the Kindle edition, as published on Amazon is available here (DRP 15/06/09)

February 10, 2015 - This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus the Climate, Naomi Klein Book Review

I was challenged to read a book by acclaimed Canadian author, Naomi Klein, this past winter. It is titled "This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus the Climate". Ms. Klein is an entertaining writer, but is swimming far beyond her depth on this issue. It does provide some important insight to understanding how strong belief in an issue can be used to rally  political action - no matter how misguided from a scientific and technical perspective.  I submitted a review of the Kindle edition to Amazon and provide it in full here as well. Her ability to impress most of her readers is well illustrated by the vast majority  who give her a 5 out of 5 ranking on the Amazon website. (DRP 15/06/09)

January 18, 2013 - Terra Preta Research in Alberta

There are several letters and articles on this site related to the concept that carbon dioxide from the atmosphere could be processed by nature with human help and deliberately sequestered in the earth's soil to  enhance it's fertility. This would be accomplished by converting plant material to charcoal to be mixed into the soil. A potential geo-engineering opportunity to manage atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and improve soil is thereby established. 

Innovation Alberta has recently begun to consider  the potential merits of this process.  Dr. Anthony Anyia made a presentation to the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs (SACPA) in late 2012. He provides a brief introduction to the concept and describes work underway. (DRP 13/01/18)

June 3, 2012 - Canada Kyoto Withdrawal Status Update

Canada’s Environment Minister boldly announced in December of 2011 that Canada would withdraw from Kyoto.  That was a welcome move, although I thought about 5 years too late.

We didn’t hear much about that in the media since then  and I began to wonder about a month ago,  if Canada had actually proceeded with the formalities. An Internet search of the media and the Environment Canada website, revealed no information, so I asked Environment Canada through pages allegedly designed for feedback to citizens about the status. I’ve had no response to date.

Over the past week we’ve had some attention to the United Nations here in Lethbridge. That reminded me the UN has been quite transparent with respect to posting documentation by the UN and from other countries related to climate change. Sure enough, some searching on the UNFCCC website quickly revealed a receipt of sorts to acknowledge Canada’s request to withdraw.  The effective date stated is 2012/12/15. Now a search on the Environment Canada website brings up documents (Posted May 28, 2012) that indicate Canada has withdrawn and is posting the Kyoto plan as still required for 2012 till December 15. The plan indicates Canada will then move forward with the relaxed targets of the Copenhagen Accord.

The plan should be of great interest to Albertans who now depend on coal. It includes implications of onerous requirements to phase out traditional coal fired electricity and to impose additional requirements on the oil and gas industry. The final regulations for coal fired electricity will be published soon according to the documentation.   I could not find the draft regulations, but this assessment of costs provides an indication. “The proposed Regulations would apply a performance standard to coal-fired electricity generation units. This standard would be set at the emissions intensity level with consideration of natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) technology — a high-efficiency type of natural gas generation — and be fixed at 375 tonnes of CO2/GWh.”  Since older coal plants release 1000 to 1100 tonnes of Co2/GWh this is a tough standard indeed.  The cost estimate of $2.14/ month for Albertans noted in the assessment linked above seems, offhand, to be exceedingly optimistic. From my admittedly somewhat sketchy knowledge of projected costs of carbon sequestration and storage, it seems to me there is huge potential for escalation of electricity prices from coal though.  The recent abandonment of Alberta's Keephills carbon sequestration project by its proponents, despite $1.4 billion of subsides, provides fuel for my expectation.  (DRP 12/06/03)

July 17, 2010 - Wildrose Alliance on energy and electricity

In March of 2010, I was shocked to find the Wildrose Alliance caucus endorsing a Pembina Institute evaluation of in situ oil sands operations technology on the same day that the Pembina report was issued (March 17). I wrote a letter to Danielle Smith on July 17 expressing my concern. She responded with a lengthy tome  which was essentially a repeat of the news release. That compounded my qualms re Wildrose Alliance  policy.

More recently Ms. Smith's position on energy is revealed in a Peace River Record Gazette article of July 27, 2011,  partially quoted below.

"Speaking of nuclear power, Smith says that after conversing with Bruce Power, she does not foresee nuclear power coming to Alberta. According to Smith, Bruce Power needed a guarantee for 30 years of government subsidy at $0.09 - $0.11 per kilowatt hour with a guarantee of cost escalation in the event of unforeseen costs.

"That's just not competitive," says Smith, "I just think that if your proposal requires a subsidy from the government, then you're probably in the wrong business. We are not the kind of party that would support direct subsidies for individual firms, if they can't put forward a business plan that actually makes sense in this market environment then it's not going to happen."

So, if not nuclear power, then what is the future of energy in Alberta?

"I think that we are on the cusp of some major change in the way electricity is generated," Smith says, "In the environment we have now, we have huge coal resources, huge natural gas resources, we've got hydro resources and geothermal resources, and we're seeing an increase in solar and wind power."

The current government has recently put $16 billion toward installing electricity transmission lines all over the province. Her and the Wildrose Alliance would like to use more micro-generation, which is an environmentally-friendly way to generate electricity for your own house or business, local generation, natural gas and renewable resources.

"I think this is the way Albertans want to go. They want to be able to produce electricity in a way that has less impact on the environment. It's up to the government to be able to enable those sort of things rather than to be pursuing some of the failed strategies of the past.

There is also a future for green energy in Alberta, Smith believes. It has already taken root in north-western Alberta in some pulp mills, which use biomass technology to turn the pulp waste into energy. Some firms have even started producing more energy than they need, not to mention wind energy growing in popularity in southern Alberta as well as geothermal and solar power.

"We need to look forward to seeing this generation diversifying."

"I'm of the view that the market should decide these

It seems Ms. Smith has very limited understanding of both energy and electricity production. The article above indicates she is excessively enamored with yet another Pembina Institute report;  "Greening the Grid: Powering Alberta's Future with Renewable Energy". That report espouses many of the ideas expressed in her statements to the Peace River Record Gazette. Our politicians, and Albertans in general, need to be very leery of  self serving non-profit organizations such as the Pembina Institute and it's sister charitable  organization the Pembina Foundation for Environmental Research and Development.

The Wild Rose Alliance, unfortunately,  is not alone with its limited understanding of our electricity system. Designed back in the 1990's with good intentions to encourage competitive electricity production, it seems to be producing some distorted results. Ms. Smith's off the cuff rejection  of relatively inexpensive nuclear electricity is one example. The building of an extremely expensive over-sized transmission system to support the production of wind power in southern Alberta is another. Perhaps it is time to undertake an extensive, engineering, economic, and environmental review to compare actual performance versus design intent. Transmission line  expansion alone is costing tens of billions of dollars. Surely a review costing a few tens of million would be worthwhile to establish a basis for citizens and politicians to better understand the system. With that understanding we can better modify policy to ensure Albertans will be able to continue reaping the benefits of minimal cost electricity. (DRP 11/08/23)

May 2-3 Tour of Idaho National Laboratory

The Canadian Nuclear Society CNS sponsored a tour to Idaho National Laboratory (INL)  which was initiated by Jason Donev from U of C and Bob Cherry of INL. There were twenty five participants, mostly CNS student members from University of Calgary, but including Laurence Hoye, Shaun Ward and Duane Pendergast from Lethbridge. INL organized a most extensive and informative tour of some of their facilities. Participants were impressed with the broad scope of energy related research and development undertaken since the 1950’s and learned a great deal about the  activities undertaken at the facility.

Participants had  long been aware of the lab, but didn’t appreciate the extent of its nuclear research and development accomplishments till the trip brought it home.  INL went overboard to put on a great educational tour providing  on site transportation, three tour guides and several presentations from staff. The site is 850 square miles and quite a lot of on site travel was involved. Twenty – five of us, mostly U of C physics students, participated on May 2-3. 

Highlights included;

The visit to the EBR-1 experimental breeder reactor which produced some electricity in 1951 and was the first reactor to do so - 60 years ago today.  Two experimental aircraft nuclear power plants are displayed at the site too. This site is open to the public as a registered national landmark. Another experimental   breeder reactor (EBR – 2)  was run for many years further proving principles of breeder reactors. It was shut down in 1994 by Congress according to our guide and will be dismantled beginning next year. Laurence Hoye noted from his internet review that over 50 reactors of various types have been built and or tested at INL. 

The Advanced Test Reactor (ATR)  facility was also impressive as were the materials and fuels complex. Both of these appear well utilized. 

We also visited  labs where INL is studying potential interfaces between nuclear energy, fossil fuels and biomass energy sources. This too was illuminating as it illustrated means of developing synergies and integration between nuclear energy and other energy technologies. 

The tour provided an excellent overview of research and development activities related to the utilization of nuclear energy. INL maintains a  website for those interested in the rich role the laboratory has played in the development of nuclear energy. (DRP 11/11/20)

November 5, 2010 - The Lightfoot Institute

Charitable organizations abound which decry human use of energy. Nuclear energy is castigated by many.

H. Douglas Lightfoot has established an institute whose mission is "To generate awareness of today's global energy challenges and to advance a workable and sustainable plan that would solve the universally growing needs."  The Institute's home page  shows deep understanding of the role of energy in society and the part nuclear energy can play in providing the basic element - energy - needed to support humanity.

Mr. Lightfoot has established charitable status for the Institute. Donations to it are thus eligible for tax deduction in Canada. At last we have a charitable organization that understands the importance of human use of energy and the role of nuclear energy. Please visit the Institute and take advantage of this opportunity to lower your taxes and support a worthy energy cause. (DRP 10/11/05)

June 30 2008 - The National Climate Change Process and Canada's nuclear renaissance

Toward the end of the previous century, I was involved with the National Climate Change Process on behalf of the Canadian nuclear industry. The "Process" had been established in 1997 to consider how Canada might meet the  obligation arising from signing on to the Kyoto Protocol. Very extensive studies were established. Computer models of the economy were established to evaluate the best way to reduce emissions. Input data was established by the committees (Tables)  assigned  to each economic sector. Prices on CO2 emissions were estimated and set parametrically ($10/tonne and $50/tonne). Surprisingly, the official results indicated nuclear energy would not play a role even going beyond the Kyoto period (2008 to 2012) to 2020. Close examination of the results indicated the committees had set the input data very pessimistically with respect to construction times and other factors. The nuclear industry, in consultation with those in charge of the modeling, repeated the modeling with more realistic input and lower cost reactors based on what is now known as the Advanced CANDU Reactor. The model then predicted that the the least cost route to GHG emission reduction in Canada would be to build and/or refurbish  nuclear reactors. The number of 665 MWe plants predicted were seven for Alberta, two for Saskatchewan, twelve for Ontario and three for New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The results were presented to the Integrative Group of the "Process" on March 15, 2001. They were not taken very seriously. The results are no longer available to the public via government or Canadian Nuclear Association websites. They are posted here.

Let's move forward to 2008. The National Climate Change Process has been forgotten. The results of the work it completed  have been purged from government websites. No progress has been made in Canada toward meeting the Kyoto Protocol - and that's a good thing. No policy incentives have been implemented to encourage the development of nuclear energy as a means of decreasing GHG emissions. Still, it seems the nuclear industry has endured and the predictions of the modeling undertaken eight years ago may come true. New nuclear plants for Alberta, Ontario  and Saskatchewan are "on the drawing board". Extensive refurbishment of nuclear reactors are completed or underway in Ontario and New Brunswick. Is it possible the need for energy has trumped concern about GHG emissions to  implement a means of energy production that actually reduces them? The world works in strange ways. (DRP 08/07/01)

June 12 2008 - Renaissance: Three Mile Island and the nuclear industry

The nuclear industry is undergoing a renaissance of late - driven by concerns over future energy supply and the possibility greenhouse gas emissions might need to be controlled. The anti-nuclear industry  is also resurging.

I've stated elsewhere on  this  website that; "The safety systems at Three Mile Island (TMI) worked well enough that there was no identifiable damage to the health of any person in the plant or the public." I've also had  a "letter to the editor" exchange with Lethbridge resident Joan Wierzba. She moved to Lethbridge, Alberta from New York city circa 1981 - just a couple of years after the Three Mile Island Accident.  Ms. Wierzba kindly provided me with copies of two articles from the "The Village Voice", via the Lethbridge Herald, to support her letters indicating that radioactive releases from TMI had resulted in "misshapen monster radioactive plants growing from contaminated soils". I thank Ms. Wierzba for these hard to find articles. They've led me to social  aspects of the TMI accident, that as an engineer studying containment aspects of the event, I had not been involved with. My evaluation of the articles in the context of other information is detailed here for readers who have missed or forgotten about the TMI accident. My statement above that there was "no identifiable damage to the health of any person in the plant or the public" is solidly consistent with the evidence, and conclusions of responsible authorities. In addition it seems stories of living plants damaged by radiation from TMI are not  supported by evidence.

December 25, 2007 - Bali ballyhoo

I've been following the climate change issue for twenty years now. As can be seen from many earlier posts I started out with considerable enthusiasm for the topic. I was keen to try to understand the science behind it. I could see that the nuclear industry I worked in  might have an even stronger case for it's minimal impact on the environment.

Somehow I just could not get very interested in the latest annual meeting of the UNFCCC. We couldn't get away from the tired faces of the organizers on TV trying to herd the climate cats by the thousands into some kind of consensus.  Cheerful looking climate change action advocates with dancing protests seemed to be having a lot of fun, in contrast to the dire warnings they are usually regaling us with. Reporters generated many stories. Our own Minister Baird talked up a strong case for getting the developing countries involved. Then we heard he capitulated by agreeing to some new limits proposed by the IPCC panel. Is that the fourth or fifth set of emission reduction targets that have been established by the UN over the past twenty years? Examination of the records of the meeting suggests the new target for discussion is so vaguely referred to  that most anyone could have been tricked into agreeing. I'm taking the whole thing with pinch of salt. Here's a link to the official results for your bemusement and  amusement. At least the results are still made public, which seems more than we can expect from the Canadian  government these days. (DRP 07/12/21)

May 25, 2007 - Reinventing Terra Preta

Several years ago I began to wonder if there might be some way to use  nuclear energy to develop a sink for carbon dioxide rather than to just consider it as a low emission source of energy. It turns out there may be such a possibility linked with energy use in general and the carbon stored in productive soils. A major potential advantage of this means of carbon dioxide management is the side, or co-benefit, of soil improvement. It may turn out that carbon dioxide, after all our concern, is not a significant driver of harmful climate change. The possibility that the world's soil resources could be expanded and enhanced through human use of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels could be of far greater significance in the long run. Recognition of the concept is growing. Discussion of reinvention and links to a fascinating new discussion list and website are provided here. (DRP 07/05/25)

October 1, 2006 - Access to Canada's climate change plans

A letter on this website laments recently restricted  access to two Canadian government websites devoted to climate change policy. There is much anticipation of the new governments promised "made in Canada" plan which is expected to indicate how the commitment of the previous government to the Kyoto Protocol will be accommodated.  Since the two plans of the previous government were on the closed websites, they are no longer easily available. Access to these plans is provided here for the sake of those who wish to make comparisons. (DRP 06/10/02)

September 26, 2006 - Carbon sinks in northern Alberta

There are several articles, letters and papers on this site which are intended to raise awareness of the possible role of simple charcoal in the building of rich soil, while creating a carbon sink from atmospheric carbon dioxide. An introduction to the concept is provided further down this page dated April 4, 2004. Recognition of the potential is building very slowly.  A recent "News Feature" in Nature Magazine might help. Emma Marris's article, "Putting the carbon back: Black is the new green", August 10, 2006, provides a discussion. She writes about the discovery of Terra Preta soil found in the Amazon basin over a hundred years ago and links it to recent initiatives to take the process into consideration as a means of removing  greenhouse gas from the atmosphere and storing the  carbon component in the soil.

My wife and I recently drove the length of Alberta on a trip to Yellowknife in the Canada's Northwest Territories.   We drove through stands of forests for hundreds of kilometers, with tiny settlements and gas stations about two hundred kilometers apart. We crossed several rivers, each dwarfing those of southern Alberta. The extent of undeveloped land and water resources there is impressive. The long drive of some 2100 kilometers one way, provided lots of opportunity for reflection.  My thoughts quite often turn to the consequences of climate change and techniques to manage greenhouse gases.

Expanding human population will certainly increase pressure to develop these northern lands for agriculture.  Indeed, some tracts of land which had just been cleared of forest cover were evident. The "brush piles" waiting to be burned reminded me of the  land clearing activities of my youth. The wood in those piles represents several decades of carbon dioxide absorption from the atmosphere. Burning them completely would simply release the stored carbon back to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, damaging and depleting some soil carbon at the same time.

What a great opportunity to establish a long term investigation of Terra Preta soils. It seems it would be relatively easy to utilize even primitive forms of charcoal production to turn much of the stored carbon into a soil carbon sink. Long term comparative studies could be undertaken to evaluate the effectiveness of the charcoal  as a carbon sink and it's possible role in establishing fertile soil and favorable growing conditions. The last hundred years of agricultural research and development in Alberta has provided great advances in food production and soil protection. I wonder what the next hundred years will bring. The Nature article noted above is (no longer) freely available online. (DRP 06/09/26)  (DRP 06/12/31)

September 25, 2006 - Canada's energy exports

Graham Campbell, Director General of the Office of Energy Research and Development within Natural Resources Canada, spoke to the closing plenary session of the Engineering Institute of Canada Climate change conference in May of 2006. His talk was titled; Energy Science and Technology Strategy. He presented an intriguing information rich overhead showing energy  data for Canada. It quantifies energy from all major sources from production through processing to products, use and waste energy. It is presented here with permission.

Here in Alberta, and in Canada's  press,  we are focused on energy exports related to oil, natural gas and coal. These total 9.34 exajoules. Not so well known is the significance  of our uranium exports. The exported energy derived from uranium is 7.61 exajoules, almost equal to the other three combined. NRCan staff have confirmed that the energy yield from uranium is calculated on the basis of once through use in CANDU reactors. The ultimate total energy that could be derived from our exported uranium, based on the development and use of more efficient systems could be on the order of 100 times that. More details are provided in a paper posted on this site.

This observation begs some questions.  What happens to "depleted", but "fertile" uranium taken from our exports during the enrichment process in other countries? Who owns the depleted uranium? Who owns the unused uranium and other fissile materials in spent fuel from reactors which use our uranium? Is Canada blatantly squandering a valuable future resource for minor short term gain with her uranium exports? (DRP 06/09/25)

July 17, 2006 - Environmental organizations mixed up over oil and water

There is much discussion these days  about providing "green" climate friendly fuels for our cars and trucks. Part of the rationale is that the carbon dioxide  from burning recently grown plants will be reabsorbed by new growth.

Promoters of this concept never point out that plants do not distinguish between the carbon dioxide from recently grown plants or those which were turned into oil and natural gas eons ago by Mother Nature. Nor do they pay any attention to the possibility  that land, soil, fertilizer, and water supplies are already somewhat stretched to produce food for the top predator - humans. What will happen to the cost of food supplies if we implement policy to feed the voracious appetite of our transportation system? Our government seems poised to do just that, with a recent pledge to "merge environmental goals with those of agriculture by requiring an average of 5 percent renewable fuel content in Canadian fuel by 2010".

The governments commitment, if implemented, will actually not have much effect on  emissions from transport. Carbon dioxide will still be be pumped from our cars exhaust pipes. There is a real question as to whether our agricultural system can generate sufficient regrowth to sustain the assumption that new plant growth will be able to compensate for burning bio-fuels without major additional energy input.

Computare has raised questions on the use of food resources for fuel before.  Environmental organizations, perhaps aided by our agriculture industry, may be pushing our government into prematurely implementing policy which will turn out to be a major first misstep. It is time to begin questioning this policy on the grounds  of sustainability and environmental impact of all kinds.

A short report, prepared by Computare, investigates water use to produce oil from canola seed here in southern Alberta in comparison with water used to  produce tar sands oil. It turns out that oil production by our local farmers  requires thousands of times more water than production of oil from the tar sands. (DRP 06/07/17)

January 7, 2005 - "E-Dialogue" Forum on Canadian Energy Futures

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) engaged Royal Roads University to conduct "e-dialogues" with the public. My note of December 12, 2005 below leads to Computare's input to  the NWMO process.

Many of the NWMO "facilitated"  discussions, questionnaires and and polls, with the public on spent nuclear fuel management seemed to provide excessive direction to participants. The net result was not too subtle  warping of "Canadian values" and opinions to suit the "values" and pre-beliefs of interviewers and facilitators. (We are in the midst of a federal election right now and I'm really getting very sick of hearing the "Canadian values" buzz phrase.)

I found the more candid input from participants in the Internet "e-dialogues" undertaken by Royal Roads to be refreshing. Professor Ann Dale lead those and is undertaking  more "e-dialogues. One of these provides an online forum to discuss future energy strategy and policy. The main theme is that fossil fuel use  may be curtailed  due to shortages or managed use of fossil fuels due to greenhouse gas considerations. The "e-dialogue" considers where society will get the energy needed for sustainability. Computare readers might be interested in participating. More information and links to the forum are provided here(DRP 06/01/08)

December 12, 2005 - NWMO Choosing a Way Forward

Three years ago Canada's Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) set out to "develop collaboratively with Canadians a management approach for the long-term care of Canada's nuclear fuel". The final study report, "Choosing a way Forward" was submitted to the Minister, Natural Resources Canada, in November. It was completed right on schedule with no delays as the process unfolded. Remarkable.

In view of the great importance of the disposition of spent nuclear fuel to future  energy supply,  Computare undertook to review aspects of the process and  interim and and final reports. NWMO made good use of the Internet to solicit much of it's input and to display discussion. In addition input  from many  groups of people involved in person on particular aspects of the study is provided. This unique collection of information is available at the NWMO website in a well organized and accessible way. Computare's submissions are posted there in context and are also posted here with some additional background to put Computare's comments in context with climate change and greenhouse gas management.

Overall, it seems NWMO has established a good position from which it can go forward with the management of spent nuclear fuel.  The "adaptive management" approach taken provides a reasonable basis to evolve toward managing spent nuclear fuel in a way consistent with needs for energy which may develop over the coming decades. Computare wishes NWMO success with its stewardship of this potentially major emerging energy resource. (DRP 05/12/12)

June 24, 2004 - Energy & Agricultural Carbon Utilization Symposium

An earlier story on this page (April 04, 2004 below) leads into a discussion of the potential use of charcoal as a soil amendment and carbon sink. I provide a summary of a fascinating symposium on this concept here.  I’m still awaiting a copy of the  proceedings and will prepare a more thorough review of the scientific and engineering basis for this emerging initiative. (DRP 04/06/24)

April 4, 2004 - Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) Activities

My brother and I were raised on a frontier farm in Alberta's bush land during the 40's and early 50's. We had no running water, sewer, natural gas, electricity,  television, telephone, newspapers and other conveniences of the modern world at the time. Our major contact with the rest of the world was through the local one room school, occasionally with our neighbors, and through old books and magazines discarded by others and bought at local auctions by our grandfather. Our parents did make  a major financial sacrifice to buy and operate a battery powered tube radio so they could follow events of World War II.

Some might consider that a depressingly sterile environment. It did imbue in us an interest in our surroundings and a degree of ingenuity in our play activities. Some of those activities involved fire. I recall we heard about the development of nuclear weapons and mushroom clouds. We decided we would try to simulate a mushroom cloud. We put a substantial amount of gasoline in a closed tin and put it on a pile of brush far from the house. Our goal was to  burn the brush, heating the can to pressurize it till it burst. We thought that might mix the gasoline suddenly with the air needed to create an explosion. We lit the pile on fire and retreated to a safe distance to observe. Indeed, we were right. We got a nice little black mushroom  cloud which drifted away with the breeze.   There was a side effect. The explosion scattered the burning brush and started a fire which quickly spread over  much of the  quarter section.  Our father was only  a little piqued with our independent initiative. He had planned to burn the brush off a few days later that spring when it would be drier. Little harm done.

Our father had  built a simple metal heating forge in a workshop made of wooden slabs left over from lumber production at his small sawmill. That was a great plaything. We spent hours there. We  melted Babbitt metal from old bearing assemblies and poured it into moulds. We hammered screwdrivers, chisels and knives from white hot scrap steel rods and quenched them in water to harden them. We built toy brush cutters to mow down small trees.

Usually  we used coal or wood for forge fuel. We decided to make some charcoal. I can't recall where we got the incentive for this endeavor. We went back to the mushroom cloud technique. We filled a big cream can with sticks of wood, punched some holes in the top, put it on a brush pile and burned the brush. As burning progressed, we first saw smoke (likely water vapor) which later turned to flames gushing from the holes in the can. When the fire burned out, and we opened the can, we recovered perfectly formed charcoal replicas of the sticks which went in. It turns out, that while our  environment may have been rather sterile, it did give us some basic appreciation of fire, land use, land use change and forestry activities.

Some recent discoveries and development related to the potential use of charcoal in agriculture as a carbon sink and soil amendment are almost as exciting as that mini-mushroom cloud and can full of charcoal. Researchers are speculating that humans may have accidentally and/or deliberately modified soils through the use of charcoal hundreds of years ago. It seems these soils are highly productive and may retain carbon  for a very long time. This raises the possibility humans could modify their agriculture and forestry practice, with the benefit of modern science and engineering technology, to create enduring carbon sinks while enhancing the soil we have abused in the past. More. (DRP 04/04/04)

March 5, 2004 -  Energy,  Technology and Climate: Running Out of Gas

I recently encountered a very readable essay by Dr. David Goodstein. He is Vice Provost and Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Caltech. He nicely explains the relationship between climate, energy and fossil fuels in a manner pertinent to Computare's mission. His essay  is posted at his website. (DRP 04/03/05) I've subsequently read Dr. Goodstein's related book; "Running out of Gas". It is an excellent  summary (only 140 small pages) of our recent reliance on fossil fuels and the benefits we've derived from them. He explains the history of human use of energy from a scientific basis. He clarifies the reasoning behind theories that humans will soon use up earths oil. He believes we will reach the half way point of oil use within the decade and begin to feel the effects of shortages.  His discussion of the climate change issue is modest once past the explanation of  radiant heating of the atmosphere. The real scientific challenges surrounding  climate change and means to manage greenhouse gas emissions are mostly ignored. Overall, the book is  easy and quick to read.  I recommend it to those seeking to really appreciate our dependence on oil  and the short time it will be abundantly and cheaply available to us. (DRP 04/03/30)

February 3 , 2004 - Our Federal Government is Listening

Yesterday's "Speech from the Throne" includes a  section on sustainable development. It discusses our governments position on climate change and the Kyoto protocol. The statement "go beyond Kyoto" in the context of highlighted phrases  from the speech can be taken at least three ways. Does it mean we will be doing good things for the environment in addition to our Kyoto climate change initiative? Does it mean we will be reducing our emissions to even less than called for by Kyoto over the 2008 to 2012 commitment period? Does it mean we will go beyond the Kyoto commitment period  to develop, over the long term, the technology needed to manage greenhouse gases?

I choose to believe the intent is to re-evaluate the short term Kyoto goal to reduce emissions to 6% below 1990 levels over the commitment period from 2008 to 2012 and focus on the longer term. This will allow time for the development of technology and infrastructure needed to manage greenhouse gas emissions over decades to come while continuing to monitor for signs the climate is being affected. Energy technology needed to sustain our society will be a very useful focus of development. Consideration and testing of technology  to manage greenhouse gas emissions seems a prudent precaution. It seems our federal government is listening to voices of reason on climate change. (DRP 04/02/03)

January 25, 2004 - Climate Change, Energy and Agriculture

Human use of fossil fuels and energy during the past  hundred years is popularly  known  as the root cause of climate change.  The so-called developed world is most often cited as the responsible agent. Primary blame is often assigned  to countries such as Canada and the United States which are deemed to be "energy hogs". Little thought is given to the benefits of energy use which we all enjoy. Little credit is given to the science and technology which has developed modern energy sources for the benefit of all.

A recent paper in the journal "Climatic Change" suggests that human induced climate change  was initiated  with the development of agriculture, thousands of years before  use of fossil fuels and extensive agricultural development in North America. This aspect of climate change  has been begging for some thought and study. Computare's  introduction to the paper is provided here. (DRP 04/01/26)

Update - Professor Ruddiman has just published another paper on this topic in Scientific American. A brief review is provided here. (DRP 05/03/28)

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