Sanjay Negi's thoughts on Current Affairs and Information Technology Directions.

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Global Warming

It is estimated that the entire treasures fossil fuels stored in the oceans and the bowels of the earth in the form of coal, crude, tar, shale, natural gas, ocean bed methane, represent just a few weeks sunshine that the planet receives from its parent star. This energy has been painstakingly sequestered over the aeons by the life sustaining processes of photosynthesis and the consequent food chain. It is thought that coal represents fossilised plants and oil is the animal equivalent.

The delicate yet complex process of photosynthesis detached the carbon atom from the carbondioxide molecule and made it available for combining with organic compounds which recombined to form living matter. This process lowered the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere making the earth more hospitable for higher forms of life like mammals and eventually homo sapiens. Sometimes perhaps mother nature overdid it, ushering in the great glacial periods called the ice ages and it is surmised that the current epoch would have been just a brief interglacial before the heavy evaporation and precipitation cycles triggered the growth of amazonian rain forests across the globe and sucked up the entire supply of carbon dioxide to bring back another ice age.

Carbon in the gaseous form whether as carbon dioxide or methane is proven to be a potent greenhouse gas which help keep the planet warm. Reduce the amount and we have the ice ages, increase the amount and we have more rains and floods....till now that is.

In the first billion years of its life, the planet successfully captured and quaranteened carbon through the brilliant process of photosynthesis. This gave us 4 billion years of relatively stable temperature profiles with tolerable ice ages and reversible intergalacials. This gave nature sufficient time to playout the evolution sequences climaxing in the anthropological life form of today...the modern human who for some reasons not understood by anyone is threatening to disrupt the 4 billion year old thermostatic cycle.

Maybe there is some evolutionary purpose behind all this madness. We are development fixated. All mainstream media except the lunatic environmental fringe eulogises large development initiatives like new oil and gas finds under the ocean floors and in Antartica, more efficient conversion of shale and tar sands to oil, mega coal fired power stations, mega steel plants which use coke for reduction of ore and on and on.

It is perhaps safe to assume that the development momentum is too high and therefore we will not and cannot willingly stop till we have greedily used up all the fossil reserves unless because of global warming we become extinct before the fuels do. This hurtling downhill could however be interrupted if the cost of energy extraction from fossil fuels exceeds the cost of energy extraction from sunlight received by the earth and also fondly called renewable energy...whether directly through solar cells or indirectly from windmill farms, hydro energy or biomass.

The dice presently seems loaded in favour of the first happening sooner than the second...and then there may be no time for the second as the planet may rapidly become non-habitable with soaring temperatures and vanishing life forms disrupting the food chain for ever.

Small beginnings have been made in the form of carbon credit trading but it may be a case of too little too late. This is where real global scale intervention only would work. Carbon credits could be priced higher and higher every year with a built-in appreciation. Fossil fuels could be taxed higher and higher every year again with built-in escalation. The funds so collected would be used to create a global forest authority with a strictly defined mandate and sovereign territorial rights over all existing forest lands on the planet where humans and their development structures would not be allowed to encroach. This forest authority would be charged with the responsibility for extracting the right amount of carbon from the atmosphere and would advise on formulating tax policies for regulating use of fossil fuels to maintain an optimum atmospheric carbon balance.

We are of course far off from getting anywhere near to a softlanding on the global warming front. Even the USA refuses to come on board citing economic constraints and people welfare. The perception is that the present economic standards cannot be maintained if cheap energy is not made available or even worse energy consumption is cut. The first argument has already got rebutted in a way as doubling of oil prices has not so far negatively impacted US growth. As for the second, only a transition from fossil fuel energy to renewable energy is expected not a real cut in energy use. This change can be hastened by taxation and other monetary policies which nudge and incentivate a preferred behaviour.

At a broader level it can be argued that civilizational development is not about digging more coal and oil, burning it and letting the smoke into the air. Development is about organizing, specialising, awareness improvement, education and health and last but not least having some control over our fates. This is precisely what would get strengthened by controlling global warming. Indeed by prescribing a slightly different mix of energy sourcing, we may be opening up an entirely new range of specialization possibilities with their own eco systems and may even be accelerating growth in the conventional meaning of the term. I really fail to see any conflict with development goals and aspirations....unless all this this is part of a greater design.

Maybe the almighty wants the Human race and its food chain to spread out from Planet earth. They have been restricted to this one rock for too long. May be they need to be shaken out from their comfort zone. So in the planned scheme of things humans may have been hard coded to destroy their present environment on this planet so that they have strong motivations to seek alternatives elsewhere. A few decades of hell on earth may prod them to migrate quicker.

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