Nuc Eng

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Climate Change and Related Issues
A collection of information related to climate change.
  • Thinking critically about global warming / climate change (pdf 89kb) - This is a draft document presented here for discussion purposes. Comments welcome.
  • Understanding the Global Warming Debate by Warren Mayer - a good, easy to read summary. Worth the read. [archive copy (pdf 139kb)]
  • Personal commentary (Bill Garland) on global warming - I got into nuclear as an outgrowth of high school discussions on the impact that humans have on the earth - that was back in the late 60's when the Club of Rome stuff was all the rage. The developed world is already aware of environmental issues, thanks to the environmental movement from the 60's onward. We understand. We get it. There is a general widely held perception that humankind had better tread softly. I fully agree. But how best to tread lightly? I feel that people need to be empowered if they are to tread lightly. And you cannot be empowered if you don't have power / energy. We need to acknowledge the good progress that has been made over the years, which is not to say that all is well. But let's be clear. It is ONLY BECAUSE we are relatively well off that we have the luxury to care about the environment and the power (both the societal kind and the energy kind) to provide solutions. We need to make many more people well off so that they too are empowered to act. For every one of us who can afford to reduce our carbon load, there are 100 who, by necessity, will have to increase theirs dramatically to better their life. I cannot, ethically, deny them that right. So if I really do care about the planet and its inhabitants (present and future), I should focus on the bigger issues first. Simple compassion compels me to help the people in immediate need in whatever small way I can. There are many more important issues than greenhouse gases - one person dead of hunger every 3.5 seconds. Aids. Third world conflicts. China and India ramping up in coal usage at 10% (?) per year ...... We had better address those issues first. The Koyoto frency, while well meaning, is misdirected. Like radiation, emissions need to be put into context so that considered judgments can be made and meaningful actions can be taken. For instance, our chronic carbon based emissions should be placed on a chart next to natural emissions (including volcanic eruptions, biota decay, ...), and human-made accidental ones (Hemel Hempstead oil depot fires in England in December 2005, for instance). We need to balance the footprint of our industrial progress against the likely footprint that will occur if developing countries are NOT assisted in moving quickly to a state where they are no longer denuding the planet. Farming, for instance, is by no means a benign activity. And so on. My concern is the opportunity cost of the misdirected attention. There is a direct cost in time, effort and resources but there is a deeper indirect cost of an increased mistrust of the scientific world when the penny finally drops that the scientific community sold its integrity to the political process.
  • Climate Change - Water we worried about? (pdf 221kb) by David Brian Barber, dbinid[at] No Models. No Predictions. Just a simple collection of data facts and the one thermodynamic implication that should be understood by all. Dave Barber has degrees in Physics, Radioecology and Chemical Engineering, is wholly devoted to advancing nuclear energy and, as of December 2005, is a staff member at the Idaho National Laboratory. Think global warming is a sure thing? Don't be so sure.
    • Supplementary information: It is instructive to superimpose the solar energy spectrum on the graph on page 4 in the pdf file above. About 50% of solar energy is in the visible range and there is little absorption by water in that range (I guess we evolved sight in that range for that reason). The bulk of the remaining 50% is in the infared, and about 1% in the UV. This reinforces the notion that water vapour is the biggest single player even if you can't see it. It is an interesting aside that we animals are well equipped to detect 99% of the solar emissions - we can see half and feel the heat of the other half. Since we need energy to survive, that is not surprising, I suppose.
  • So tell me again how human activity, and not something else, is causing global warming? If that were true, how come we see these temperature trends over the ages?
  • Think you can believe the dire predictions on climate change? Here's what the IPCC has to say about it:
    " In climate research and modeling, we should recognize that we are dealing with a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible. " - IPCC ( Chapter 14,, Working Group 1, The Scientific Basis)
  • Click for enlarged imageThe infamous Hockey Stick (click on the image to the right for an enlarged view) - In 1999 Michael Mann published a peer-reviewed paper showing that global temperatures were taking off as per the image on the right. The temperature trend over time looked like a hockey stick. That graph became a cornerstone of the IPCC pronouncements. Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick found critical errors in the work - there was no hockey stick after all. It appears that Mann's paper was not properly vetted through the peer review process before being published. So much for the sanctity of peer-reviewed literature - one must keep one's critical thinking hat on. See for details. At that link you will find a link to the Feb. 1, 2005 edition of Natuurwetenschap & Techniek (NWT) , a prominent European science magazine which gives a good and very readable summary that is well worth the time to read [local archive (pdf 850kb)].
  • Scientific Global Consensus...Not! - We hear often that “98% of all scientists believe in global warming”. That sounds impressive and convincing until you realize that that figure came from a 2009 survey sent to 10,257 earth scientists who were asked 2 questions: The first: “When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?” [Well yes, we are coming out of the Little Ice Age after all]. The second: “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?” [This is vague and open to intrepretation. Define 'significant' and 'changing'.] The survey reported that of the 3,000 respondants, 77 had recent peer reviewed papers in climate science journals of which 75 answered yes to the two questions.
  • Some interesting links re global warming: