Fracking: a Study in Stupidity

There is something about humanity that thinks if you can dig up a resource from the good earth, it is free and you can use that resource to enrich humanity individually and collectively. We dig up many resources from coal to oil, and from gold to lithium to enrich ourselves (or some of us) materially with these resources at the same time impoverishing ourselves in ways you cannot judge with mere money.

Nothing is free in this great planet: everything is connected; so if we dig up and burn coal to produce heat and other energy, a by product of digging up coal is to damage our lungs and in some cases to create the deaths of some of those who do the digging as well as those who close to the slag heaps carelessly dumped close to schools and homes.

But people stupidly ignore this inter connectivity of resources in their quest for enrichment, and so has it been with fracking. In theory fracking is a way of getting cheap natural gas from under the earth where it has been stored in shale rock for hundreds and thousands of millennia. Readers of these essays will know that I have always opposed fracking; it has always been clear that the risks to the many are greater than the rewards that the few and the many may reap from fracking.

I have listened to eminent people claim that fracking is safe and will contribute to our energy security by lessening our dependence on imported natural gas by producing home grown energy. I have never subscribed the the view that fracking is safe. I regarded fracking as presenting three major risks in the following order of importance and risk:

  1. Risk of methane leaking into and infecting water tables;
  2. Risk of methane, an insidious greenhouse gas, leaking into the atmosphere and
  3. Risk of causing earthquakes by damage to the rocks from which methane is extracted by explosions.

In the past view days the government has called a moratorium on fracking in this country. An earthquake of 2.9 on the Richter scale seems to have been caused by fracking and the advice the government has got is that it is impossible to predict the probability or size of tremors caused by fracking and so it has suspended all fracking until it can know that fracking is safe.

Having suspended fracking on the basis of the third in importance of risk (in my view) I cannot see that racking will ever return to the United Kingdom, where the geology is unsuitable, there is dense population and where so much of our water depends on clean water tables: all rise to all three potential risks are serious and health and life threatening. However, with humanity you can never say “never” as we stupidly continue to pursue our quest for material wealth at the cost of the environment.

Had the government listened to views like mine the money wasted on fracking could have been better spent on benign energy (like wind and solar) preventing the waste of energy and improving renewable energy and preventing the use of unnecessary energy. Fracking was bound to be dangerous and to me this was obvious.

Andrea Leadsom, the UK minister responsible for science, said that the decision to call a moratorium on fracking follows the science. It is a shame that the government did not follow the science and the common sense when it permitted fracking in the first place. Fracking in the UK has been simply a study in stupidity.

The Outlook for Climate Change

It looks as though 2019 will become the second warmest year on record, since record of global temperatures began to be taken in the later part of the 19th Century. Predictions are always hard but if 2019 does not end up as the second warmest, it will certainly be in the top 5 warmest years, according to the US National Ocean and Atmospheric Adninistration. The trend towards warming is undeniable; there will always be some years which buck the trend but if you consider things on a decade by decade basis this planet is warming at about the rate about a degree Celsius per century. That rate will almost certainly increase over the next decades.

I do not wish to be alarmist – Extinction Rebellion are spreading more than enough alarm without suggesting any real means of mitigating climate change.

I have always thought that the starting point of trying to mitigate or slow done the rate of global warming is through energy use, which is responsible (in my view) for most of the global warming the planet is experiencing. In recent years I have formed the view that to prevent rapid global warming we must not only curtail fossil fuel energy use but also population expansion.

Eventually we can address the use of fossil fuel in energy use. I doubt if humanity will ever be ready to address the growth in population. The planetary outlook is not hopeful unless we can refrain from breeding and curtail our numbers.

Rising Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

In August of this year the monthly average of atmospheric carbon dioxide as measured at Mauna Loa was 409.95 parts per million, an increase of 3 parts per million in the past twelve months. In 1992 the concentration was 367 parts per million. In 1950 it was 310 ppm.

Mauna Loa is a good place to get accurate CO2 measurements; It is 3,400 meters high in the middle of the ocean, so it can sample an air mass that has already been fully mixed from the inputs and outputs of CO2 far below its summit and far away from it. It is surrounded by many miles of bare lava, helping to eliminate variations in the measurement from the respiration of vegetation.

The wheels of climate change throughout history have ground slowly, but those wheels are beginning to turn more rapidly now, as humanity increases its numbers, its industrialisation and its emissions.

Protests about climate change

On Friday many school children gave up a day’s worth of education to protest that governments are not doing enough to combat climate change. It is an odd thing to do.

First and foremost these school children only learned about climate change from their education. To give up a day’s worth of learning is an odd sacrifice to make, if it was regarded by the school children as a sacrifice. Giving up a day’s schooling is not hard work – when i was at school I would have welcomed it, not looked on it as a sacrifice.

If the children gave up a day’s holiday to protest about climate change I could understand that as a possibly worthy sacrifice but I have doubts about the effectiveness of protest and it is clear that most forms of protest, such as trying to close the port of Dover, will create more emissions than if they let the port alone.

I would be impressed and appreciative if the children gave up a day’s holiday to take measures personally to reduce rapid climate change and environmental damage, such as planting trees, or picking up plastic from beaches, rivers, watercourses and sending the plastic to be recycled, spending their holidays thinking about solutions to prevent the climate extinction they fear, instead of protesting that politicians and others are not doing the thinking for them.

Planting trees and cleaning up is harder work than joining a protest.

If you cannot Beat it, live with it

A wind travelling at 185 miles an hour (about 300kph) is a very strong wind indeed. Humans do not build settlements where such winds are even a remote a possibility, or so we thought until Hurricane Dorian devastated the North Bahamas. Thousands of homes have been destroyed or damaged severely. Only seven people have died, thanks to the ability of humans to predict the impact of Hurricane Dorian and the efforts of the local government to warn and prepare people for this apocalypse.

Hurricanes start when there is warm water (around and above 28 Celsius) and warm air.

Warm air from the ocean surface begins to rise rapidly. The air is naturally moist, coming from the ocean. When the warm air meets cooler air as it rises the warm moist air condenses and forms storm clouds and drops of rain. The condensation releases heat, which warms the cool air above the warm air, causing it to rise to bring more warm, moist air from the ocean .

The warm, moist air is drawn into a developing storm and more heat is transferred from the surface of the ocean to the atmosphere. This continuing heat exchange creates a wind pattern that spirals violently around a relatively calm center and so a hurricane is born.

The important word in this explanation is “warm”. The air is warmed, the oceans are warmed and this begets hurricanes.

Hurricanes have always been with those who live where the air is warmed and the sea is warmed but in the last century or more the sea has been warming and so has the air more than usual because the heat that the planet naturally receives cannot escape or dissipate into space as it had done for centuries because now the earth has a blanket of insulation, made up of an increasing thick layer carbon dioxide, deposited by kind permission of humanity and its activities.

I do not blame global warming for the creation of Hurricane Dorian – that would be a far too simplistic approach, but I do blame human activities for making hurricanes like Dorian (the most violent in recorded history in the Bahamas) more likely.

It is probably too late to reverse global warming or do much about climate change except to possibly try to slow it down. Humanity, it is clear to me, does not have the appetite to do what must be done to reverse or slow down climate change. It will probably have the appetite to build better and stronger protection against extreme weather events such as hurricanes and flooding. If you can’t beat it, live with it.

Gender Stereotyping

Two advertisements have been censored by the Advertising Standards Authority. One advertisement showed two men not caring well for a young child. the other advertisement shows men doing adventurous activities while a woman sat on a park bench next to a pram.

The reason for banning these advertisements was that the ASA say that this kind of stereotyping causes “real world harms”.

It is hard for me to see what “real world harms” will arise if some advertisers indulge in humorous stereotyping. It is harder still for me to understand what qualifications the ASA has in being able to assess whether an advertisement can create real world harms.

For example, there are numerous television and newspaper advertisements for gambling companies all permitted by the ASA. Certainly gambling creates more harm than gender stereotyping. Certain types of “fast food” create plenty of real world harm to those who eat the foods and to the environment. Air travel causes almost irreversible real world harms. Fossil fuel based energy probably causes the greatest world harms that we face at the moment probably planet threatening and life threatening as a cause of climate change , but the ASA decides to pick on gender stereotyping, leaving greater real world harms alone.

I do not find the ASA’s behaviour odd. When I was running a solar panel business, years ago, the ASA asked me to prove with documentary evidence that solar panels worked off light, and could produce energy on cloudy days. I suggested they consult an elementary book on physics and educate themselves before wasting people’s time. That suggestion still holds good today.

What I find odd is that the ASA assume gender stereotyping is harmful based on some academic theses, ignoring those theses who claim that it is not harmful. I find it even odder that short humorous television adverts are considered as ascribing to an individual woman or man specific attributes, characteristics, or roles by reason only of her or his membership in the social group of women or men.

Engineering for the future

The disruption to rail and air services caused by the present heatwave shows that our infrastructure in these islands was not designed for extreme heat, any more that it was designed for extreme cold. Continue reading