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Keeping you informed about TecEco sustainability projects. Issue 53, 12 January 2006
We have contacted Ian Campbell the Australian Federal Minister for the Environment's staff and advised them that we we can solve the problem of global warming economically. We hope that he is actually given our email, realises the enormous implications of this statement and does something about it.
2005 has been the hottest year on record and associated with it has been some of the wildest weather. The Arctic sea ice is melting fast; there was 20 percent less of it than normal this last summer and much less than thirty years ago. In the tundra of Siberia, the permafrost has begun to melt rapidly, and, as it does, frozen methane, a more potent "greenhouse gas" than carbon dioxide is escaping into the atmosphere. The same could happen in sediments off Antarctica with catastrophic effects.
Climate change is the single biggest challenge facing the planet, greater than the nuclear threat that transfixed us during the past half-century and a threat we haven't even begun to deal with. According to John Harrison of TecEco Pty. Ltd. and Professor Chris Cuff from Greensols Pty. Ltd. they have a solution to getting carbon dioxide out of the air that is very low cost.
The key is the development of an industrial technology that will totally solve the climate change problem by adding value to causative chemicals like CO2 so that the process once developed pays for itself possibly even without factoring in a legal value for greenhouses gases under the Kyoto protocol. By using carbon dioxide we can mimic the way nature solved global warming in previous geological epochs when the planet overheated such as the late permian and carboniferous by permanently sequestering the gas as carbonates.
The process is simple in concept however involves some very clever technology. The first hurdle to overcome was to find a source of magnesium oxide that would virtually never run out. For this Chris Cuff turned to the sea and solved one of the oldest riddles known to geologists - that of precipitating magnesium carbonates from sea water. To do this he uses waste acid from many industries including power generation and mineral processing. An added plus was that the process is potentially solar driven and could be coupled with desalination to produce salts, gypsum and sodium bicarbonate thereby avoiding the production of damaging brine effluent. Sodium bicarbonate, gypsum and the various salts are input chemicals for many other industrial processes. Gypsum is also an excellent soil conditioner.
The next two stages are where John Harrison and TecEco are involved and they use the magnesium thermodynamic cycle and a Hydroxide/Carbonate slurry process to repeatedly capture CO2 for as many cycles as required as long as there is non fossil fuel or waste energy available. To do this John has designed a kiln that operates in a closed system thereby not allowing the escape of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Once produced the magnesium oxide can then be used to scrub more CO2 out of the air, to make Tec and Eco-Cements both of which are much more environmentally friendly than conventional concretes, as a feedstock for plastics or for feeding genetically modified algae to produce cellulose and oxygen or even hydrogen. Until other large scale uses for CO2 being developed are commercialised the CO2 could be geologically sequestered.
Eco-Cements uniquely mimic nature in that they use wastes, carbon dioxide and water to create concretes. At around 15 billion tonnes concrete is the single largest material flow on the planet after water so the potential for sequestration is huge.
If you are able to contribute money or technology to this great enterprise please contact John Harrison.
I recently finished reading a book by Dr. Ron Nielsen, and Australian physicist living in Queensland titled "The Little Green Handbook"
His closing words were those of Einstein who said "A human being is part of a whole, called by us 'Universe', a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings and something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is itself part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security." (2).
What riveted me to my chair whilst reading Ron's book, was no so much the shear volume of facts that he has assembled, but the compassion of the man for this planet. What else could drive him to assemble the massive compendium of frightening facts about our impact on it. Ron lives the credo espoused by Einstein and even though I have not yet met the man, I admire him for it. Ron has helped me understand who I am and why I struggle so hard to change the way we impact on earth.
The Little Green Handbook puts into print the evidence about global trends we all fear are true but avoid as they spell the end of our dominance of the planet. As Ron states in his Epilogue on page 263, "We have entered a unique century, in which questions about our survival will be answered and our future decided. This century will mark the conclusion of the first ever population explosion, with all its damaging and ominous consequences. For the first time in human history, we are approaching and crossing the ecological limits of our planet. Never before has the survival of the human race been so threatened. Never before has there been a convergence of so many critical global trends"
He discusses the population explosion as the key driver of environmental degradation, diminishing land and water resources, the destruction of the atmosphere, an approaching energy crisis, conflict and social decline. The Little Green Handbook is a massive compendium of facts and figures delivered as plainly as possible by a scientist and an essential reference for anybody concerned as we all should be about the future of the blue green planet.
Will it be the decline of oil, development of super bugs or atomic war that first trips our unsustainable growth? Nobody is sure but what is frightening is that we are running out of oil, antibiotics are reaching the end of their usefulness and we have enough bombs that are large enough to destroy all life on the planet. Will terrorism be the beginning of the end? What happens if mad people who do not care about themselves or the consequences for the planet get hold of one of these bombs and explode it. Will it trigger world war three? If it does world war four will if we live to fight it will be fought with sticks and stones. Will predicted violent weather as a result of global warming bankrupt us even before we run out of petroleum or will we run out of fresh water to drink, let alone grow our crops with first?
As a consequence of reading Ron's book I am more committed than ever to changing the technical paradigms that can deliver sustainability. Will my ingenuity combined with that of others striving in the same direction be enough to lead us away from disaster through controlled change or will disaster itself be what triggers change? Can we adapt ourselves and our techno processes and remain navigators to our own destiny or will the inevitable consequences of uncontrolled growth be chaotic decline? Will we be like bacteria in an agar dish and reach the edge before we have sufficient compassion to understand and control our own impacts?
For the first time in the history of the planet we may be in charge, but are we? Will the inevitable consequence of such power be the degradation and corruption of the all around us or will the human race learn to live in spaceship earth?
(1). Ron, Nielsen, The Little Green Handbook, a guide to critical global trends, Scribe Publications, Melbourne.
(2). Albert Einstein, What I Believe, 1930
ELEANOR HALL: Now to some alarming scientific research on the state of the planet: destructive climate change; the depletion of energy, food and fish stocks; a looming shortage of fresh water and social chaos.
According to a detailed survey which will be launched later this month, the human race is facing extinction in a matter of decades and will run out of some critical resources in just a few years.
The Little Green Handbook, which examines the ecological limits of human life on earth, warns that for the first time in human history we are approaching these limits, and in some cases have already crossed them.
But while this research is wide-ranging, looking not just at the physical environment but at social trends as well, it's been conducted by a scientist within a very specific discipline.
Dr Ron Nielsen is a nuclear physicist. Born in Poland he has worked at the Australian National University as well as research institutes throughout Europe and his work has been published in scientific journals internationally.
When Dr Nielsen spoke to me from our Brisbane studio he explained to me why as a nuclear physicist he is qualified to make these warnings about the future of the human race on the planet.
RON NIELSEN: The main advantage which I have is a long research in science, because one has to be very careful with the data which are presented with the discussion and I have to say I was disappointed with people who are very enthusiastic about environmental issues, but they present distorted views, and this is not good, because people, some time, they will discover that they are being misled, so I think what I brought into this book is a sober and clear assessment of the situations which we have in the world.
ELEANOR HALL: It's sober and clear and very mathematical in its way, and yet you also paint a quite frightening picture. You say that never before has the human race been so threatened and that we're reaching the ecological limits on a number of fronts. Were you surprised at just how dire the evidence was as you did your research?
RON NIELSEN: In a way, I was. I felt that the situation is not good, but in many areas I was surprised at how bad it is. The aim of my book was not to frighten people, not to make them panic or not to paint a doomsday scenario.
My aim was to analyse the problem, present the problem as it is and then leave to the people to use their intelligence and their initiative to do something about it.
ELEANOR HALL: So where are we reaching ecological limits?
RON NIELSEN: As far as global consumption is concerned, which includes food and energy and material resources, we are already over the limit. We have reached the limit around 1975, 76.
This is measured by so-called footprint, global footprint. So we have crossed this limit. But we are going to various limits, and you have to look to regional areas.
Globally water supply, we still have the adequate amount of water, but if you look at regional areas we are over the limit in a wide range of countries, so we are crossing the limits in various areas, but definitely in overall consumption we have passed the limit.
ELEANOR HALL: So what do people need to do to address these problems?
RON NIELSEN: Well, we can't solve everything, but in the area of destruction of atmosphere and climate change, definitely we have to do it quickly, immediately, take steps to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, of carbon dioxide and develop alternative sources of energy, we have to do it much faster and much more energetically.
This could have the most dramatic effect on our planet. I mean, it is unbelievable, it is unthinkable that we human beings can change climate, global climate, that we can influence the atmosphere.
Now, the new research, which I don't mention in the book because it is just the latest research, the results this year show that we are changing acidity of the oceans. Can you imagine that?
We have influence on the acidity of the oceans on the huge reservoirs of water. This will have devastating affect on life in oceans, on coral reefs, and again on protection of coastal regions.
We have strong influence on our planet, and this is probably the area which might bring us to our knees.
ELEANOR HALL: Do you think that your book will have an impact on world leaders to change their point of view on global warming and to make them confront this more urgently?
RON NIELSEN: Look, Eleanor, I believe that I have strong confidence in people's power. I have strong belief in people's intelligence and I believe that the book which will be read, I hope that it will be read by the common people, people have so much ability to invent various ways of solving problems.
I hope that this book will create a tide of response among common people and they will be able to influence the leaders in the Government and whatever leaders in business, there is a lot of power there and I expect that this will be the response because I have written the book in such a way that anyone can read.
ELEANOR HALL: If things don't change though, you seem to be suggesting that the survival of the human race is in peril?
RON NIELSEN: Yes it is, unfortunately it is and we have to take it, uh, we have to face the fact. We are facing global crisis. We are facing the problem of our survival for the first time in the history of the human race we have many things which are happening which threaten our survival on this planet.
ELEANOR HALL: If there is so clearly a rapidly approaching crisis, why do you think that there is no real sense of panic yet amongst world leaders?
RON NIELSEN: I think in a way human nature is that we still hope that things will go on as they were going on for ages and ages. We cannot accept that something unusual is happening because we don't have the whole picture of it, and that's why I wanted to paint a whole picture of it, I've included all critical trends.
When we have all in one place, then we shall be able to appreciate it. I don't think that we can do everything, we can solve all the problems, but we have… we still have a chance to soften the blow, to have perhaps a softer landing. If we do it quickly, we have a chance.
ELEANOR HALL: And that's Dr Ron Nielsen, an internationally renowned nuclear physicist whose survey of the state of the planet, The Little Green Handbook, will be launched in Australia later this month.
We have reprinted this letter as it shows tremendous insight into the way the world sadly is.
"I concur with the ideas about linking and closing the resource and energy
use cycles and sequestation to match use of oil/gas/coal desposits. That's the
ultimate aim. The problem you need to solve in achieving this aim is the same
one that causes socio-economic disparities - human behaviour, particularly greed.
Basically the rich get richer at the expense of the poor and the environment.
As you point out the technology for solving our environmental problems has existed
for a long time but it is not in the "best interests" of those who
are making the profits. Look behind just about any environmental
problem and examine those who are profiting and those who are paying and you'll see what I mean.
In XXX country for example it is easy to get cheap labour without costly health/safety/environmental regulations. The poor who provide the cheap labour and the environment suffer as a consequence while the business owners dream of owing the lastest luxury car, or moving up to a more modern home and sending their kids overseas for a very expensive education. I talked to some business people about TecEco and was told flatly that in XXX business is about "profit" not about the environment.
The only tactic that will work is the one which impact the bottom line favourably and that will partly depend on government rules/regulations. No amount of persuasive arguments around altruistic ideals will work. The technical solutions are only part of the answer; in my view the harder part is figuring out, and implementing, the use of economic instruments to achieve social and environmental objectives. For that to be achievable you'll need global cooperation otherwise loopholes will be vigourously exploited. The name of the business game is profits and growth; that paradigm has to stop and we need to incorporate social and environmental indicators into public perceptions about living conditions.
While I concur with your ideals, from the prespective of TecEco I still think we are a long way off from having the technology developed and accepted. Given your workload and stress, I'm not sure spreading your efforts even thinner is going to help either cause in the end. I'd much rather see TecEco off and running before tackling the global carbon and recycling issues."