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The obvious, but uninformed, response to the 'warming' dilemma, which is being strongly pushed by the financial community and by our political leaders, is a switch away from our reliance on fossil fuels through the agency of a market led expansion of power generation from so called renewables, such as wind power, wave power, tidal power, hydro-electric power, solar power and geo-thermal power. Nuclear power is usually included in the mix but it is not really renewable unless scientists can crack the nuclear fusion riddle, and that seems to be unlikely in the foreseeable future. Also, biomass has been excluded here because it is not really a viable solution using land based crops, if the swelling population of the planet continues to demand to be fed [17]. Europe has already announced (in 2008) cut-backs in recent targets for the percentage of vehicle fuels which should comprise bio-fuel. Seaweed cultivation has recently been mooted as a source of bio-mass but it is highly unlikely to be providing serious quantities of fuel by 2030.

Ingenious, but fanciful, notions of alleviating global warming by reflecting the suns rays back into space, while probably devised for the best of reasons, nevertheless represent, quite frankly, rather inappropriate and misguided applications of geo-engineering. In this geo-engineering category I would place the following: seeding space with 20 trillion metre-sized optically reflective mirrors [18]; seeding stratocumulus clouds over the oceans to make them whiter by spraying huge volumes of sea water into the upper atmosphere [19]; introducing sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight using high flying aircraft [20]. For mankind to pursue the application of any of these, and others, would be not unlike the crew of a ship on the high seas, which is listing dangerously due to a shifting cargo, and instead of correcting the problem by applying all their effort into restoring the cargo to its original position, they choose to try to counteract the list by following the much more risky course of attaching novel list-compensating bow planes to the keel of the ship. Needless to say, some advocated techno-fixes are rather too risky to be treated seriously. As Lovelock [21] has observed 'geo-engineering schemes could create new problems, which would require a new fix - potentially trapping Earth into a cycle of problem and solution from which there was no escape'.

In a late night programme on BBC television (13/3/08) entitled, 'This Week', hosted by the arch right-wing broadcaster Andrew Neil, the regular political commentators Michael Portillo (a former UK defence secretary), and Diane Abbott (UK Member of Parliament), were confronted by journalist Rosie Boycott about global warming and mankind's energy profligacy, which was obviously a topic of great concern to her. She wanted to know what politicians really thought about the issue given that Alistair Darling's first budget, the previous day, had been predictably anaemic on global warming measures. Portillo summarised pretty well the attitude of the political classes when he said, 'First, I don't think the problem (of global warming) is as significant as people (green campaigners) like Rosie think it is. Secondly, they (politicians) don't think people want to address their behaviour.

All sorts of votes are there to be lost (if they are made to). Thirdly, they probably think the problem is solvable not by people adjusting their behaviour, but by (moving to) new technology - nuclear (power generation) and hydrogen powered cars'. Neil then suggests that this means 'the solutions can be painless'? Portillo agrees. With this kind of response from a reasonably intelligent politician, who comes across as possessing a good sense of how 'the political wind is blowing', the prospect for real action in the near future is really rather grim.

Considered views on the issues raised by global warming can be found in the literature if you look hard enough. Readers are referred particularly to Mac-Cracken [3], Monbiot [14], Romm [22, 23], Tickell [24], and Flannery [25]. Mac-Cracken, in particular, provides copious information and detail on the physics, and the mechanisms, causing the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere, with explanations and evidence of the linkages to global warming. All broach the issue of providing techno-fixes to supply future energy needs, although Monbiot concentrates on UK requirements. But a coherent solution seems always to flounder on how it is paid for, when economic growth is sacrosanct, and the 'global market' has to be retained as the only viable mechanism for changing human behaviour away from reliance on fossil fuels. Tickell puts it this way: 'Energy efficiency and low carbon developments are laudable objectives so long as we understand what they are for -to enable continued economic growth and human welfare gains under a greenhouse emissions cap, and so making the cap consistent with economic and political imperatives'. The impression given, which is surely not intended, is that these imperatives are more important than the health of the planet! Population growth is given some space by Tickell, but is otherwise hardly mentioned as an issue. The message from this more 'serious press' is that anthropogenic global warming is real and measurable and that it can no longer be ignored. A transition from fossil fuels to renewables is inevitable - sooner rather than later. The financial and social costs of making it happen are huge, possibly on the scale of waging a world war. But this is for others to ponder.

Unfortunately, the electorates in western democracies, despite the growing numbers of cautioning voices, are mostly being promised, that 'new' sources of power will provide the needs of unremitting growth, and lifestyle changes will not have to be forced upon unwilling populations. Many committed 'greens' and concerned scientist would view this incoherent embracing of 'renewables' as a short term technical fix, which, reluctantly, has to be countenanced at this early stage in the response to global warming, because of the huge inertia to meaningful change in human societies. Recently, even Professor James Lovelock [21], the author of The Revenge of Gaia, and a techno-fix sceptic, has expressed reluctant approval, to the dismay of 'greens', for the introduction of new nuclear power stations into the UK because he has become aware that any productive discussion at influential levels, of the real solutions that are required, is remote. Effective and lasting solutions are too unpalatable to be addressed by politicians seeking a democratic mandate, since in addition to technology, they are likely to involve drastic cuts in energy usage by mankind as a whole (planned recession), together with serious reductions in global population levels within the current century. Unfortunately the 'over egging' by the 'market' of technical fixes, of seemingly unlimited capacity, and the consequential reassurance they offer to the layman that science/engineering on its own can solve our dilemma, has the undesirable effect of convincing the technically ignorant, political class, the financial community and the business community that 'business as usual' is possible. That is, that mankind can continue with its energy profligate and wasteful lifestyles into the foreseeable future. To this Lovelock is quoted as saying 'that carrying on with "business as usual" would probably kill most of us this century'.

This 'business-as-usual' mind set is displayed clearly in the much quoted foreword to the report [26] to the G8 summit written by Tony Blair, the former UK prime minister. In it he writes: 'If we are not radical enough in altering the nature of economic growth (my italics) we will not avoid potential catastrophe to the climate'. In other words, whatever we do to mitigate climate change, cannot harm growth! His solution is the extremely costly nuclear techno-fix, presumably not realising that economically exploitable uranium ore, would soon run out if there were a very substantial rise in nuclear electricity generation. Even at present rates of extraction it will run out in 85 years. There is no mention of measures to address population growth, to curb the market and rampant consumerism, to curtail unsustainable air travel or to introduce measures to drastically reduce reliance on road vehicles. His weak grasp of the seriousness of global warming is highlighted by the following confused utterance:

We are not assisted by the fact that many of the figures used are open to intense debate as our knowledge increases. For example, we talk of a 25-40 percent cut by 2020. But, to state the obvious, 25 is a lot different from 40 percent. Some will say that to have a reasonable chance of constraining warming to approximately 2°C, we need greenhouse gas concentration to peak at 500 parts per million by volume (ppmv); some 450 ppmv; some even less. Some insist that 2020 is the latest peaking moment we can permit, beyond which damage to the climate will become irreversible; some, though generally not in the scientific community, say 2025 or even 2030 may be permissible. [26]

The global warming process and its consequences at each level of temperature rise, have been powerfully and graphically described by several contributors to the global warming debate [3, 14, 22, 23, 24, 25]. There is little room for dubiety, for anyone predisposed towards rationality. For example, Monbiot [14] expresses the view that mankind still has a window of opportunity to forestall runaway warming by doing all we can to stabilise atmospheric carbon at a level that ensures that the planet does not reach the 2°C 'tipping point'. At the present rate of increase it is predicted to occur in about 2030 when the global average temperature will have risen by about 1.4°C from where we are now (2007). As Monbiot says, 'Two degrees is important because it is widely recognised by climate scientists as the critical threshold'. But we must start making really significant reductions in the rate at which we are burning fossil fuels now - not in 2020 or 2030 as Blair seems to be suggesting!

A UK Meteorological Office conference paper [27] published in 2005 predicts that by 2030 the Earth atmosphere's capacity to absorb man-made CO2 will have reduced to 2.7 billion tons a year from the current level of 4 billion tons. What this means is that by 2030 mankind can pump no more than 2.7 billion tons a year of CO2 into the atmosphere if we wish to ensure that the concentration of CO2 remains stabilised at a level (440 parts per million by volume - ppmv) which is consistent with not breeching the 2oC temperature rise bench mark. More recent evidence [24] suggests that 440 ppmv may be too high, and that 300-350 ppmv will have to be achieved by 2050. The problem is that the world as a whole currently pumps three times more than is prudent, namely 8.4 billion tons/year, into the biosphere [3] (and this figure is rising not falling), most of it by Western countries, with China and India making every effort to catch up. The danger in following this course is starkly illuminated in this quotation from Lovelock [21] in relation to a prehistoric period of mass extinction:

The best known hothouse happened 55 million years ago at the beginning of the Eocene period. In that event between one and two teratonnes (2 x 1012 tonnes) of carbon dioxide were released into the air by a geological accident. [ ] Putting this much CO2 into the atmosphere caused the temperature of the temperate and Arctic regions to rise 8°C and of the tropics 5°C, and it took 200,000 years for the conditions to return to their previous state. In the 20th century we injected about half that amount of CO2 and we and the Earth itself are soon likely to further release more than a teratonne of CO2. [24]

Monbiot has done the sums and estimates that by 2030 when the global population will be ~ 8.5 billion, equitable rationing will demand that a maximum allowable emission rate of 0.33 tons/year for each person on the planet is somehow introduced. In prosperous countries, such as the USA, Canada, European nations, Australia, this means that an average cut in CO2 production of the order of 90-95% (on 2005 levels) will be required by then. This percentage figure is massively in excess of anything which has been agreed to by the countries that have signed up to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The protocol came into force on the 16th February 2005 and it commits 36 developed countries plus the European Union to meet specified reduction targets by 2012. The agreed amount varies from country to country but is of the order of a risible 5% cut in total carbon emissions by the target date. Even at this low target level governments have chosen to bend carbon trading rules so that Kyoto targets will not be met [24]. Tickell also suggests that 'Indeed the funds from the sale of carbon credits appear in some instances to be financing accelerated industrial development - and actually increasing emissions'. Yet Blair, in the 2008 G8 report [25] talks about trying to gain consensus on a pathetically inadequate 50% reduction in emissions by 2050! A global reduction of the order of 90% by 2030 would appear to be in the realms of fantasy, particularly when the only solution which is on the political and business agenda is of the market friendly techno-fix variety. The market friendliness of Kyoto is underlined in a quotation from UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown in a speech in 2007:

Built on the foundations of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, with the City of London its centre, the global market is already worth 20 billion euros a year, but it could be worth

20 times that by 2030. And that is why we want the 2012 agreement, the post-2012 agreement, to include a binding emissions cap for all developed countries, for only hard caps can create the framework necessary for the global carbon market to flourish. [24]

In other words the 'flourishing' of the global carbon market is much more important than curtailment of carbon emissions. We now have plenty of evidence to conclude that this market does not seem to be helping the planet.

The dangers of endless procrastination, at governmental level, are placed firmly in the spot-light in a report from the New Economics Foundation [28], which expresses the situation quite uncompromisingly with the following observation:

We calculate that 100 months from 1 August 2008, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will begin to exceed a point whereby it is no longer likely we will be able to avert potentially irreversible climate change. 'Likely' in this context refers to the definition of risk used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to mean that, at that particular level of greenhouse gas concentration (400 ppmv), there is only a 66-90% chance of global average surface temperatures stabilising at 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Once this concentration is exceeded, it becomes more and more likely that we will overshoot a 2°C level of warming. [28]

Notwithstanding the fecklessness of politicians on this issue, it is rather intriguing to observe how the global warming debate, at least where it has been intelligently joined, has firmly gravitated towards, and become focused on, technical solutions based on so called 'renewables', which place heavy reliance on electrical generation and transmission. Despite the 'rights or wrongs' of the global warming debate, the process of switching to renewables will have to be engaged eventually as fossil fuels become exhausted. In so far as this impression of an electricity dominated future is valid, it seems that it is relevant to attempt to provide a view of the transition issue that emphasises and focuses upon the engineering questions. What appears to be missing, so far, is a considered description and evaluation of the technology that might be capable of delivering renewable electrical power in the relevant time scale, plus an assessment of how far these proposed electro-technical developments can advance the search for a solution to the environmental dilemma, or if you prefer the crisis of disappearing fossil fuels. Obviously they are linked, and both have to be addressed. A further aim will be to collect and evaluate the evidence of real technological progress, if any, that is being made to wean mankind off fossil fuels, and to determine how far the currently incoherent 'dash to renewables' can go towards providing a sustainable future with advanced living standards for more than 10 billion people. As presently enunciated and propounded, current market led plans to arrest global warming appear to be little more than 'green-washing', and seem unlikely to achieve even the most modest of sustainability goals. To perform this evaluation the accepted scientific approach of reducing the parameters of a complex problem to a manageable level has been followed without, hopefully, losing its essence. This has been done by largely suppressing those parameters that measure political, economic, ecological and environmental concerns since, although they are obviously important, they are peripheral to the need to develop an appreciation and a proper understanding of the purely engineering implications of the demise of fossil fuels and the transition to sustainable sources of power, should it come to pass.

The question that is still before us is this: can an impending global warming disaster be averted by moving to renewably resourced electrical power? What can be achieved by piece-meal techno-fixes? If we persist with the current, market led, exploitation policies can a sufficient proportion of the global demand for energy by 2030 be supplied from renewables, which would enable the industrial world to meet even the most modest emission reduction targets? In the longer term, can integrated electrical power supply systems based on renewables be constructed to both replace fossil fuels and accommodate the energy demands of modern societies? What sort of technology would be involved in implementing such systems? Do we have the technology? These question are addressed in Chaps. 3 and 4.

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