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Blind Chihuahua

More to religion
than pleasing
your imaginary friend

Running on empty

1."Reserves" are defined as what can be won from the Earth at a profit. So as the price goes up, and as technology improves, known, but sub-economic, oil deposits become economically feasible and move into the reserve column (whereas before they were just interesting mineral deposits — resources, perhaps, but not reserves). Also, we are presently doing a lot of exploring for oil, and continually discovering new reserves, more rapidly than we have for years.

Oil Reserves
15 years
20 years
30 years
All this comes at substantial cost, because modern exploration technology is not cheap or easy. And it cannot keep on forever. We have probably seen the end of "cheap oil", as it is higher prices that convert those sub-economic deposits into reserves. The geologist M. King Hubbert predicted all this in the 1950's.

But things are not bad yet. For the average family (average cars getting average mileage driven an average distance), an increase in gasoline price from $1.50/gallon to $2.50/gallon means an increase in their cost of living of about $50 per month, not enough to make people change their driving habits much, as we have seen from surveys recently published in major newspapers. When gasoline gets to $3.50/gallon or so, we will probably seek cheaper alternatives, such as shopping and commuting on bicycles. (Well, you and I do this now, right? So we won't save anything!)

2.There is a lot of coal remaining in this country, much of it easily extracted with environmentally sound technologies. (Well, that may depend on your point of view, particularly if you live in West Virginia and like mountains.)
Coal Reserves
300 years

If the price of coal goes up only a little per ton, the reserve figure goes way out into the future — 800 years is one number I have seen quoted. Keep in mind, however, that coal makes pretty good gasoline and jet fuel, but at a higher cost than conventional oil at present prices. And the cost of petroleum-based gasoline may soon (all too soon) be at $2.50 to $3.00 per US gallon. At some point it will become economical to make gasoline from coal, the technology for which is off-the-shelf — the SASOL company has been building such plants for more than 20 years, and will be delighted to build a plant for you. But that will consume the reserves more rapidly.

Too Darn Hot
3. Three significant episodes of global warming (ignoring the present one), and going backwards in time, might be the Medieval Global Warming (from about AD 800 to about AD 1250), the Pleistocene/Holocene Global Warming (unless this is the one we are still in, and the Medieval was just a blip on the curve), and the Cretaceous/Tertiary Global Warming (a biggie). There are others, including (apparently) a sockdollager in the Precambrian which rescued the Earth from a complete freeze-up — the Ice-Ball Earth, when the seas froze over entirely! As yet data are limited on this one, but it would make an upstate New York winter seem balmy by comparison.
4. Probable causes for global warming could include:
  1. Anthropogenic forcing — culturally-induced elevated atmospheric CO2
  2. Variations in the energy output of the Sun
  3. Annual changes in ocean currents, such as ENSO — the El Nino/Southern Oscillation.
  4. Multi-decadal oscillations of the major ocean currents
  5. Dissipation of atmospheric dust clouds from volcanic eruptions or meteorite impacts (following, of course, the global cooling periods caused by these dust clouds).
  6. Changes in the spin and/or orbit of the Earth
  7. Volcanic eruptions, which inject CO2 injected into the atmosphere
  8. Mudslides on the continental slopes, which release methane from deep oceanic gas-hydrate deposits

All of the above, and more, have been floated as potential drivers for global warming. The most widely recognized current model(s), on which the Kyoto Accord is based, assumes that anthropogenic forcing by industrial CO2 is the only significant phenomenon at work in the current global warming. The other episodes of global warming don't seem to be addressed or even recognized. Since we know other episodes did occur, if we follow the popularly accepted model to its logical conclusion we would have to the postulate the existence of former civilizations with large fossil fuel consuming industries, something for which there is no archaeological trace. (A major industrial society in the early Tertiary? Before the human race evolved? Whee! Get me Hollywood on the phone, Miss Jones!)

5. This one usually surprises people who have listened uncritically to much that has been published about global warming, which implies that a warm Earth is unnatural and that we are changing God's Creation. The Earth indeed seems to be warming, but it looks like it is just going back to normal.
Average Earth Temperature
over past 65 million years

10 degrees warmer than now

The current temperature is nearly as cool as the Earth ever gets, as we are still climbing out of a recent glacial period. Most of the time during the 65 million years of the Tertiary the average temperature was stable at about 10o Celsius warmer than it is at present, according to several studies of oxygen-isotope paleotemperatures published over the past few years. Such a change back to a warmer Earth is not going to be easy for much of our society, and will cause major shifts in present ecosystems, (to say nothing of where a lot of people live) so we need to spend more time and effort trying to figure out how to adapt to changing conditions. After all, Homo sapiens evolved during a glacial period.
The rising tide

6. Icecaps seem to have been present for only about 15% or so of Tertiary time (similar data to 5 above), which is one reason the sea level used to be so much higher.

Icecaps have been
C. Rare

7. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which could go pretty quickly according to some models, would put about half of the Earth's population out of their homes.

Half the world's people below
6 meters
But the good news is that recent NASA reports indicate that it is not melting (or otherwise going into the sea) at nearly the rate previously supposed. But talk about your major social upheavals!
Waste not, want not

8. We might assume Californians don't conserve energy very well. After all, they did screw up their energy markets through a mix of the greed of consumer advocates who wanted to get electricity below cost, the naiveté of environmentalists who don't realize the physical limitations of alternative energy systems, and the inept planning of the California Electric Power Industry who made super profits until the state supply no longer met the demand.

CA Energy Consumption per capita
47th in US
Their vision wasn't 20-20, to say the least, because the supply didn't hold up and they are now in a mess. But, in fact, Californians do a great job of conserving energy, and are among the most energy-efficient folks in the USA. 47th is the correct answer according to a DOE report summarized recently in the WSJ.
9. We do a remarkably good job of keeping our cars out of the landfills. In fact, I have recently heard that the number is now over 80%.
Car components recycled
Location, location, location
10. Russia holds just over 51% of the Earth's identified natural gas reserves. You can have all you want. Just bring convertible currency. Venezuela, currently in the news with offerings of rich gas leases, holds only 10% as much as Russia's proven reserves.
Most Natural Gas Reserves
11. Huge volumes of methane are trapped in solid methane-hydrate (clathrate) found in some deep ocean sediments. All we have to do is figure out how to recover it economically, a trick beyond current technology (like missile defense systems?).
Largest fossil fuel source
C. Methane clathrates
It's all bad news
12. To everyone's surprise, after all the dire predictions of the demise of the caribou if we drilled on the North Slope and built the Alaskan Pipeline, the caribou thrived after all our intrusions, increasing their number dramatically. I'm not sure anyone knows exactly why, so it would be well worth researching.
Caribou after oil drilling
13. Recently published studies on forest growth indicate that CO2 is a stimulant to tree maturation and seed propagation. The scientists who did these studies made clear plastic tents that covered entire groves of trees in their natural state, and then artificially raised the CO2 inside the tents.
CO2 effect on trees
Speeds growth
What a project ! It must have been bigger than the Millennium Dome, and certainly to more purpose. And the increased tree growth removes CO2 from the atmosphere, at least until you burn the trees in a forest fire.
14. The biggest current threat to young forest saplings is deer overpopulation. The sweet little Bambis and their parents have become so numerous that they threaten the expansion of their own habitat. Bow-hunting, anyone?
Biggest threat to reforestation
Deer overpopulation
The winds of change
15. Despite The Weather Channel and their repeated features about an increase in storm frequency and severity, 1933 was the worst year for hurricanes of the 20th Century.
Worst hurricane year
Indeed, we have has some bad weather lately, but are we sure that is abnormal? Our detailed storm records go back only about 120 years, which is a very short time. Figuring out how bad a storm was 5,000 years ago is difficult, although there are a number of researchers working on the problem.
That's all for now!